Jill Bartolotta: All Aboard, Shipping Out, May 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

 

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: May 30, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 24° 47.7 ‘N
Longitude: 080° 20.2’W
Wave Height: 2-3 feet
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: 114
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 28.2°C
Barometric Pressure: 1013.5 mb
Sky: Few clouds

 

Science Log

Today we depart Key West. The days in port have been spent readying equipment, training mission crew, and exploring the beauty that is Key West. We say our final goodbyes to terra firma and head out to sea.

Ship sign board showing departure date
Departure time!
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
Home for the next two weeks.

The ship we are aboard, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, is managed by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps commands and operates the ship in combination with wage mariners. Equipment on board is managed by NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research (OER) in collaboration with the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration.

If you visit OER’s website, you will see in their mission that they are the “only federal organization dedicated to ocean exploration. By using unique capabilities in terms of personnel, technology, infrastructure, and exploration missions, OER is reducing unknowns in deep-ocean areas and providing high-value environmental intelligence needed by NOAA and the nation to address both current and emerging science and management needs.” The purpose of OER is to explore the ocean, collect data, and make this data publicly available for research, education, ocean management, resource management, and decision-making purposes.

One of OER’s priorities is to map the US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) at depths of 200 meters or greater. This is some deep stuff. The EEZ distance from shore is dependent on a variety of factors such as proximity to territorial waters of other countries and the continental shelf. If you want to learn more about how EEZs are established visit the United Nations Oceans and the Law of the Sea Website https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/oceans-and-law-sea/. Within the EEZ a country has exclusive rights to various activities such as fishing, drilling, ocean exploration, conservation, and resource management.

Map of U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for the United States. We are mapping in the Southeast Region (lime green). Photo Credit: NOAA

We are currently en route to our mapping area so we can map previously unmapped areas. The mapping that will occur on this mission will be used to help inform dive locations for the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) mission that will take place after our mission. Mapping allows us to understand sea floor characteristics and learn more about deep sea ecosystems that can be later explored with an ROV. An ecosystem of interest for this mapping mission is deep sea coral habitat. The area where we will be mapping is thought to be the largest deep sea coral habitat in US waters and it is largely unmapped. As data is collected, it is cleaned (more on this at a later time) of noise (unwanted data points). Products such as multi-beam geospatial layers are made available to end users on land roughly 24 hours after data is collected. End users could include other researchers, educators, ocean policy and management decision-makers, and more specifically those who will be joining the ROV mission happening in two weeks.

If you want to follow Okeanos Explorer and her crew on our mission, see the live feed available through this link https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/livestreams/welcome.html.

Personal Log

We have just left port. The dolphins are jumping, the sea is the most perfect turquoise blue, and the wind blows on our sun-kissed faces. I have left port many times on my various trips, but today was magical. I think what makes this departure from port so magical is the journey that lies ahead. I am nervous and excited all at the same time. It is slowly settling in that I am able to participate in this once in a lifetime experience. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be aboard an ocean exploration vessel. Wow! Just Wow!

View of Key West from shore
Fondest farewell Key West.

So far everything is good. Dabbled pretty hard in the seasickness world today. I tried to get on my computer too early and it went down swell from there. However, some wind on my face, ginger soup, and bubbly water made everything better. Many people have told me it is important to embark on a task to get my mind off feeling unwell. I have taken this to heart and have been meeting all the wonderful people on the ship, learning more about them and their role on the ship. In the coming two weeks, I plan on learning about every facet that it takes to operate an exploration mission. From what makes the ship move forward to the detailed intricacies of mapping the sea floor to those who make it all possible.

I hope I will be able to share my experience with you so it feels like you are with me on the ship. Using words and pictures I will try to make you feel as if you are aboard with all of us. I will do my best to show you the blue hues we encountered today and explain what it is like to be out to sea with land many miles away. But I still encourage you all to try it for yourself. Words and images will only give you half the story. You need to feel the rest firsthand.

Blue water out of Key West
Bluest of blues. Words and images fail me here. The blue hues we saw today are the most spectacular colors I have ever seen.

Sunset is upon the horizon so I leave you for now. Stay tuned for more about our grand adventure.

Sun sets over the ocean
First sunset at sea

Did You Know?

You can use sonar to learn more about the organisms living in the water column. For example, sonar has the ability to show you the migration of zooplankton and their predators to the surface at night and back down when the sun rises. This phenomenon is called vertical diurnal migration.

Ship Words

Different terms are used to describe items, locations, or parts of the ship. As I learn new words I would like to share my new vocabulary with all of you. If there is a ship term you want to know more about let me know and I will find out!

Port: Left side of ship

Starboard: Right side of ship

Bow: Front of ship

Stern: Back of ship

Mess Deck: Where we eat

Head: Restroom

Scuttlebutt: Water fountain (and gossip)

Bulkhead: Walls

Overhead: Ceilings

Deck: Floor

Rack: Bed

Aft: Towards the back of the ship

Forward: Towards the front of the ship

Animals Seen Today

One dolphin

Hundreds of flying fish

Dozens of various seabirds

Jill Bartolotta: Introduction, May 21, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 29 – June 14, 2019


Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau 

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: May 21, 2019

Weather Data (from Cleveland, OH):

Latitude: 41.53° N

Longitude: 81.67° W

Lake Wave Height: 1ft

Wind Speed: 8.6 knots

Wind Direction: 0 degrees

Visibility: 8.6nm

Air Temperature: 11°C

Barometric Pressure: 1021.7 mb

Sky: Overcast

Introduction

In one week I will be landing in Key West, Florida ready to begin my journey as a Teacher at Sea aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. As a native to the northern shores of Ohio along the coast of Lake Erie, the ocean is a distant place only visited on family vacations, through books, or in my dreams. Throughout my childhood we visited the ocean several times and I fell in love with all things ocean. My curiosity and love for the ocean deepened as I let Jules Verne and Captain Nemo take me “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” where I saw a colossal squid, massive schools of fish, and learned about animals that glow in the dark. As I watched shows, read magazines, and saw pictures, I began to learn more about what lies below and was fascinated by how little we actually know about the ocean. Did you know we know more about space than we do about the ocean? My curiosity intensified as I began to realize a career in marine biology was possible for a young woman from Cleveland, Ohio. But my curiosity only ever stayed near the shore. I was always interested in the ships that went out to sea for weeks on end to discover new sea life, conduct fish population assessments, or map the ocean floor. However, they were out to sea and my close-toed shoes and I were still on land…well, more accurately, in the tide pools. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be on one of these ships. Well I am! My close-toed shoes and I are heading to sea!

photo_jillbartolotta
Exploring the coast of Maine in my tide pooling boots. Photo Credit: Joshua Layne

Before I get too wrapped up in the weeks to come I would like to tell you a little bit about myself. I grew up east of Cleveland, Ohio on the southern shores of Lake Erie. I spend most of my free time out on the water on my paddleboard or taking my dog, Luna, on grand land adventures. We tried the whole paddling thing with her. It failed epically. My love for water led me to the most amazing job. I work as an Extension Educator for Ohio Sea Grant. There are 34 Sea Grant programs across the country that work with coastal communities to sustainably manage and use their coastal resources. Much of my work is centered on educating youth on the human-caused issues of Lake Erie such as invasive species, harmful algal blooms, and marine debris (trash in waterways). I also conduct research on the use of disposable plastics to better understand why humans use so many of them and what behaviors can we change to encourage them to use less. My career is very rewarding because every day I teach others about Lake Erie and together we learn how to improve her health. My time as a Teacher at Sea will allow me to learn more about the ocean so I can bring all her wonders home to the people of Ohio. Many people where I leave have never even been to Lake Erie so the chances of them visiting the ocean is slim. I will be able to bring the ocean to them making this experience so important to those I teach.

marine-debris-outreach
Sarah, Sue, and I teaching students about marine debris at Cedar Point Match, Science, and Physics Week. Photo Credit: Kathy Holbrook

Mission Information

The journey will be epic, the days long, and the sunsets magnificent. Truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am so excited and honored to be able to share my time at sea with all of you. Together, we will explore the ocean deep, map areas of poorly understood ocean floor, and dabble in some seasickness. Don’t worry! I will only give you the play by play for the first two. To begin our trip we depart from Key West and cruise for 16 days until we make landfall in Port Canaveral. Our mission is to map poorly understood areas of the ocean floor off the southern and eastern tips of Florida known as the Southern Atlantic Bight and Blake Plateau. Operations will take place 24/7 (don’t worry I got you covered when you need to get your zzzs) and will rely on the use of sonar to map these poorly understood areas. I promise to learn all about the equipment on board and share it with all of you. We will be tech wizards by the time we are done.

The mapping operation is actually part of a multi-year, multi-national collaboration campaign called the Atlantic Seafloor Partnership for Integrated Research and Exploration (ASPIRE). The purpose of the campaign is to further our knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean which is a goal of the Galway Statement of Atlantic Ocean Cooperation. The US, Canada, and the European Union developed the Galway Statement of Atlantic Ocean Cooperation to further our understanding on the Atlantic Ocean in support of increased knowledge and ocean stewardship. I will learn more about ASPIRE and the Galway Statement of Atlantic Ocean Cooperation while on board and share a more detailed account so we can all better understand why mapping operations and increased knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean are important for current and future generations.

Not only will I provide you with detailed accounts of all the science happening on board, I will learn about those who call the sea their home. I will share their stories and journeys in case an ocean career is of interest to you. I will share the crests (ups) and troughs (challenges) of life at sea. Such as what we do for fun. I have heard through the grapevine cribbage is a popular pastime. I am not familiar with this game so any tips you want to share with me will be greatly appreciated. Help give me an edge on the competition.

Luna is ready for sea!
Luna is ready for sea!

I hope my first blog has given you a glimpse of what is to come over the next three weeks. My time at sea quickly approaches and my last days at home will be spent playing with Luna, packing as lightly as possible (very challenging), breathing in the non-salty Lake Erie air, and mentally preparing to be completely out of my comfort zone. As I have said already, I am happy to take this journey to sea with all of you, thank you for your support, and I look forward to our three weeks together. See you in Key West!

paddleboard
Farewell Lake Erie! The ocean awaits! Photo Credit: Connie Murzyn

Elizabeth Nyman: The Science Continues, May 31, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Nyman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 28 – June 7, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: May 31, 2013

Weather Data:
Surface Water Temperature: 24.55 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 25 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1016.3 mb

Science and Technology Log

Work continues here on NOAA Ship Pisces. By the end of today, we’ll have sent the camera array down to 35 spots and caught at least 45 fish with the bandit reels. I’ve personally gotten to see some of the camera footage, as well as help the scientific crew with their analysis of the fish we caught.

Fish

Here’s a screen capture of some video taken yesterday from the Florida Middle Ground. The big fish on the left is a red grouper, the fellow poking his head up with the crazy eye is a spotted moray eel, and the yellow fish not far above him are reef butterfly fish. Note that “crazy eye” is not a scientific term. (Picture courtesy of NOAA.)

This work goes on for the entirety of daylight hours, beginning with our arrival at the first location sometime between 7 to 7:45 a.m., and not ending until around 6:30 to 7 p.m. It’s a long day, with 8-10 drops of the camera array and 4 different attempts to catch fish with the bandit reels. But the Pisces doesn’t sleep just because the sun goes down. When most of the ship goes to bed, the crew continues scientific work by driving the ship around in circles. The circles are actually well-plotted lines, and the route is chosen to allow the ship’s ME70, a multi-beam sounding unit, to map the sea floor.

Map

Here’s an example of the routes we do at night. It will take all night to do one of these three blocks pictured here. (Picture courtesy of NOAA.)

Every possible moment of time is devoted to gathering as much data as possible, whether it’s fisheries data from the camera array and the bandit reels, or the mapping data that goes on at night. It’s expensive and time consuming to send a ship out here, 60-80 nautical miles off the west coast of Florida, and so everyone has to work hard while we’re out at sea. I have nothing but admiration for the entire crew of the Pisces, from the officers to the scientific crew to the deck crew, stewards, and ship’s engineers, because they all are always hard at work making NOAA’s scientific mission possible. But you might be wondering, what’s the point of all this? Why are we out here taking pictures and video of fish, and catching them to take back to the lab for testing?

This voyage is part of the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey, which has been going on for over 20 years. The point is to gather information on the abundance of certain species of fish, which is why we need to see how many there are down there, through the cameras, and what their size, age, and fertility look like. This crew is based out of Pascagoula, MS, and that’s where the video taken of the fish is analyzed. They determine how many fish are present, and can actually measure the size of the fish by taking pictures with stereo cameras and using parallax, the difference in position from one camera to the next. They combine this data with the information that the Panama City lab generates from the ear bones and the sex organs, as well as any relevant external data from fishery observers and the like, to create a full a picture as possible about the overall health of the fish population.

Looking at numbers

Ariane Frappier, graduate student volunteer, examines NOAA reef fishery data from the Dry Tortugas for her thesis.

Cool. I like gathering data, and I definitely think that more knowledge of our fish and oceans is better than less. But we aren’t looking at fish out here just to look at fish, as awesome as that would be. This survey has a purpose. Data collected here is used by the SEDAR program, which stands for Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review. SEDAR will examine a particular species and analyze all the data collected about that species, before holding a series of workshops open to the public about that fish. At the end of the process, a series of experts will recommend how much fishing should be allowed for that population, in order to properly manage the fishery and prevent overfishing.

Personal Log

What we don’t get to record in our data, but is still pretty awesome, is the ability to view wildlife from the boat. I don’t mean the stuff we catch, though that’s pretty cool too, but the creatures that we just get to observe.

Me and Shark

Okay, some of the stuff we catch is really cool. This is me with a silky shark.

So far, I’ve seen loggerhead sea turtles, just kind of relaxing and swimming not too far from our boat. I also got to see a pod of Atlantic spotted dolphins – I saw several of them, but the way they were swimming around in the waves, it’s hard to be precisely sure how many. I missed seeing at least two other dolphins – the seas have been kind of choppy, and so they disappear from view pretty quickly.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins swimming very near the Pisces.

Then, pretty much right as I was writing this up, I got to see a leatherback sea turtle who surfaced for air pretty close to our boat. I didn’t get a picture, since you pretty much have to have the camera in hand for these things, they happen so quickly.

Sea turtle

So here’s a picture from NOAA for you. The zoom on my camera’s not that good anyway. (Picture courtesy of NOAA.)

Did You Know?

The leatherback sea turtle is an Appendix I creature under CITES, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. Appendix I creatures are those at risk of extinction, and international trade in these species or any part of these species is forbidden.

Jeff Lawrence, May 23, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Lawrence
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 22 – June 2, 2006

Mission: Hydrography survey
Geographical area of cruise: Alaska
Date: May 23, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge

Visibility: 5 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 90 degrees
Wind Speed: 15 knots (kts)
Sea level pressure: 1001 millibars (mb)
Present weather: Partly cloudy
Temperature:  51 degrees dry/ 50 degrees wet

Science and Technology Log 

I began today by getting aboard RA #8 for boat launch operations in the Wrangell Narrows at 0800. The crew went to check a tide gauge that had been placed on a pier in the narrows six weeks ago. A data logger was attached by assistant survey technician, Matt Boles, to a laptop computer and the data for the past two weeks was downloaded onto the laptop. The tide gauges give a more accurate representation of what the tide is doing in a certain area. Tide gauges are positioned throughout the narrows but may be miles apart.  To get more precise data of the narrows, temporary gauges are used when the RAINIER is mapping areas where boating occurs.  Also, a horizontal GPS position was measured from a known GPS location to make sure the tidewater data was correct and reliable.

At 0930 hours we returned to the RAINIER to pick up operations officer LT Ben Evans who showed ENS Laurel Jennings how to use the Trimble Backpack to map piers and dock areas in the narrows. The Trimble Backpack is a GPS system that is carried on the back of a person. As they walk the perimeter of an area, it downloads data onto a logger that then can be downloaded to a computer later for data analysis.  This gives precise information to the cartographer to place the pier in the exact location that it needs to be on the map.

Upon returning to the RAINIER at 1530 hours we had several emergency drills including fire and abandon ship. The drills were interesting to watch as everyone went to their designated location for muster and directions on what to do next.  A ship’s personnel must always be prepared for an emergency.  Your shipmates may be the only help you will receive in an emergency.  Drills are conducted on a routine basis so that the crew stays sharp and ready in case of a real emergency.  The crew of the NOAA ship RAINIER is well-trained and prepared in the case they may have to use their training to get control of the ship in an emergency.  Several members on board have specialized training that allow them to take the lead in case of a ship emergency.

Personal Log 

Throughout the day I learned many new facets of global positioning and how it is used to make more accurate maps that can be used by boaters, ships, and people who live in the area. Collecting science data for NOAA maps is a slow, yet precise method that can take many weeks to get an accurate map that can be relied upon by mariners.  The fire emergency and abandon ship drill was done with precision and professionalism. I am sure I am in good hands in case of an emergency aboard the RAINIER.

Question of the Day 

The mapping of the characteristics of oceans, lakes, and rivers is known as___________.