Christine Webb: August 23, 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: 8/23/2017

Latitude: 48.19 N

Longitude: 125.29 W

Wind Speed: 7.9 knots

Barometric Pressure: 1021.70 mBars

Air Temperature: 62.1 F

Weather Observations: Partially cloudy

Science and Technology Log

For today’s science and technology log, I interviewed my roommate Tracie. You only have to talk to Tracie for five seconds to learn that she’s passionate about marine chemistry and marine biology and marine physics…all things marine. She’s the HAB (harmful algal bloom) specialist on board, and she’s been squirreled away in the chemistry lab every day collecting lots of great samples as we travel up the coast. Before we left Newport, she taught me a bit about algae by taking me to the beach to see some bioluminescent dinoflagellates. When we stomped in the water, the dinoflagellates would glow! It looked like puddles full of blue lightning bugs, and it was amazing. One of her quotes from that night was, “I imagine this is what unicorn footprints would look like if they were traipsing over rainbows.” Everyone should have the chance to see that at some point in their life. It gave me a taste of why it makes sense to be so passionate about algae. So, without further ado, here’s your chance to learn a bit more about HABs from my friend Tracie!

  1. What is a HAB, and why should we care about them?

HABs are phytoplankton that have negative consequences either for us or the ecosystem. Some can release neurotoxins that can be damaging to mammals (including humans), amongst other things. A harmful algal bloom (HAB) can also create a dead zone by a process called eutrophication. Bacteria eat the phytoplankton once they begin to die, which removes oxygen from the water.

  1. What makes it a bloom?

A “bloom” is when there is so much algae that the ecosystem can’t support it and they start to die off. There aren’t enough nutrients available in the water. Some people call this a “Red Tide.” There are certain species, such as Alexandrium spp., where even one cell per liter would be enough to create a harmful effect.

  1. What made you decide to study HABs?

During a lab in college, we were allowed to go to the beach and sample phytoplankton. When we got back to the lab with our samples, we found a huge amount of Pseudo-nitzschia spp. It releases a neurotoxin that gives mammals amnesiac shellfish poisoning. That year, we couldn’t eat shellfish and crab from our area because of this bloom. There’s no antidote to this toxin, and it affects the brain function of mammals who eat it. Whales died that year because they forgot how to breathe. This made me super interested in studying more about these types of species.

  1. What are you specifically hoping to find in your research aboard this cruise?

We’re trying to find where blooms start, how blooms begin, and follow them within the California Current system. It’s part of an ongoing study of the California Current system and how species are transported. California fisheries have been dramatically affected by HABs.

  1. Have you been finding what you need so far?

It’s been really interesting…we’ve seen quite a few Dinophysis species (which I find to be the cutest), and some really interesting Pseudo-nitzschia spp., but no blooms. Close to the coast, within 15 nm of shore, I see a lot more diversity in my samples. This is mostly due to upwelling.

  1. Has anything in your research so far surprised you?

There are very few species that I haven’t recognized, which is interesting because we’re so far north. We have fjord-like environments up here by Vancouver Island, so I expected there to be a higher abundance of phytoplankton up here than I saw.

  1. What is a common misconception about HABs?

The term “HAB” itself – they’re called harmful because they’re harmful to us as humans and to various industries, however – they provide a huge amount of support to other animals as primary producers and as oxygen producers.

They’re basically plants that can swim, and they’re all food for something. They’re not harmful for most things, so the name is kind of a misnomer. In defense of the HABs, they’re just trying to survive. Phytoplankton are responsible for around 50% of the world’s oxygen, and they’re the primary producer for marine and freshwater ecosystems.

  1. Anything else you want people to know?

There’s still a lot that we need to learn, and I would like everyone at some point in their life to see how beautiful these fragile organisms are and appreciate how much they contribute to our world.

  1. If you weren’t a marine chemist, what would you be?

I would write nonfiction about the beauty of the world around us. Or maybe I’d be an adventure guide.

  1. What are some fun facts about you that not a lot of people know?

My motto for life is “always look down.” There’s so much around us, even the dirt under our toes, that is so full of life and beauty.

My art is on Axial Seamount, 1400 m below sea level, 300 miles off the coast of Oregon! I drew an octopus high-fiving ROPOS the ROV that placed it there!

Also, I’m a high school dropout who is now a straight-A senior in environmental science at the University of Washington, Tacoma. Other people’s perceptions of you don’t control your destiny.

Here are a couple pictures of some of the HABs Tracie has seen during this trip (she took these pictures from her microscope slides):

329 D. fortii
Algae under the microscope: D. fortii. Image by Tracie.
329 hobbit house 2
Algae under microscope. Image by Tracie.

Personal Log:

Since today’s science log was about Tracie, I’ll feature her in the personal log too! She’s my partner in the ship-wide corn hole tournament, and we won our first-round game yesterday. Look at these awesome corn hole boards that were specially made for the Shimada!

Shimada corn hole board!

We mostly credit our fabulous war paint for the win. Today we play against our fellow scientists Lance and Tim. Wish me luck!

corn hole victory
Christine and Tracie celebrate corn hole victory

Another down-time activity that Tracie (and all the scientists) enjoy is decorating Styrofoam cups. The cool marine biologist thing to do is to sink them to very low ocean depths (3000+ meters). Apparently the pressure at that depth compresses the Styrofoam and shrinks it, making the cup tiny and misshapen but still showing all the designs that were put on it. I’m not kidding: this is a thing that all the marine biologists get really excited about. Tracie even decorated a Styrofoam head (the kind that cosmetologists use) in advance of this trip and brought it with her to sink. Look how cool it is – she’s an amazing artist!

Styrofoam head, decorated by Tracie, for shrinking

There are shrunken heads in the lab already from other people who have done this. Sinking Styrofoam is a legit marine biology hobby. Well, as the saying goes, “When in Rome…” so I worked on a Styrofoam cup today. I’m making a hake tessellation, which takes longer than you might think. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Styrofoam cup decorated with hake tesselation

We’re having lots of fun at sea on this beautiful day. Someone just came over the radio and said there’s been a marine mammal sighting off the bow…gotta go!

Special Shout-out:

A special shout-out to Mrs. Poustforoush’s class in Las Vegas, Nevada! I just found out you’ve been following this blog, and it’s great to have you aboard. If you have any questions about algae (from this post) or about life on a ship, please feel free to e-mail me. I can hopefully get your questions answered by the right people. Work hard in Mrs. Poustforoush’s class, okay? She’s a great teacher, you lucky kiddos. Learn a lot, and maybe one day you can be a scientist and live on a ship too!

Sue Zupko: 12 What’s in the Water?

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Mayport, FL to St. Lucie, FL
Date: June 8, 2011
Time: 1900

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 25.3°N  79.6°W
Present weather: 3/8 Alto Cumulus
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind Direction: 065°true
Wind Speed: 10 kts
Surface Wave Height: 3 ft
Swell Wave Direction: 110°
Swell Wave Height: 3 ft
Surface Water Temperature: 28.4°
Barometric Pressure: 1013.2 mb
Water Depth: 363 m
Salinity: 36.28 PSU
Wet/Dry Bulb: 27.7/24.8

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

Take this quiz before reading this post.

Bucket hanging by rope in water
Straining bucket

Dr. Diego Figueroa and I went fishing over the side of the ship this evening with a straining bucket to try to catch zooplankton (animals which cannot swim against the current–free floating).  We had no plankton net so we had to improvise.

Diego pouring a cup of water into a bucket from the bottom
Diego pours water into the bottom of the bucket

Diego, a zooplankton expert, got a plastic container like you’d use to store food in the fridge, and we headed to the lab with what we hoped would be a good catch.  He got a cup of salt water from the special faucet in the ship’s science lab and poured it into the bottom of the bucket.  As he poured the water, he had the plastic container at the top of the it to retrieve our catch.

Diego peering into a plastic food container with water
Diego examines our catch

We  then examined the container to see what the naked eye could find.

Wow!  Our first specimen was a shrimp.  It’s huge.  Well, huge in comparison to the other zooplankton.  We still saw it best under the microscope.  He left that in to container to pull out later and caught some copepods with an eye dropper.

White buglike creature, transluscent, with long antennae
Calanus copepod

Eureka!  There were at least six Calanus copepods.  Cope– is Greek for oar or handle and pod–  means foot or limb.  These are very common off the coast of Florida and about 80% of all the zooplankton on the planet are some type of copepod.  He explained that the Calanus has five rows of legs that flap downward (like the doggie paddle that most of of use when learning to swim) in order to move around.  The Calanus eats phytoplankton (algae), making it a primary consumer.  It has five pairs of mouth parts.  The hairy seta (the plural is called setae)  act like a sieve when it eats.  This is so interesting.  The Calanus opens its mouth parts and gathers water molecules toward its body.  Then, it pulls its mouth parts in and squeezes the water out. What’s left is a scrumptious meal of diatoms.  The grazing copepod we watched was a female.  Her tail is shaped differently than the male’s tail.

The shrimp is at least 20 times bigger than the Calanus.  Diego hasn’t studied the shrimp like he has the copepods.  That’s because the shrimp are one of the bigger zooplankton and large ones make up only about 5% of all zooplankton.  He says that there are more copepods in the world than all the insects combined.  That makes sense since the earth’s surface is  71% water.

Jellyfish with tentacles spread against a black background with white particles near
Jellyfish in snow

When the ROV was flying through the ocean, we always saw snow in the water.  I used to scuba dive a lot and I never really noticed the snow.  If it was deep, they weren’t there.  Andy David explained that we see them so well since we’re shining light on them.  These are mostly zooplankton in the water.  In addition, there is a bunch of decaying organic matter called detritus flying along.

Curled up bee looking creature

Further examination of the water yielded a Microsetella rosea, a hyperiid, and a Chaetognath (arrow worm). The Microsetella is a detritis-eating filter feeder, but it is only about 1/5 the size of the Calanus.   Well, with micro in its name, small had to figure into it somehow.  Since it’s small, it eats smaller things.

Clear ghost-like arrow-shaped creature surrounded by lines of white
Arrow worm

The arrow worm is like something from a horror movie because it attacks its prey viciously (it’s a carnivore and is a voracious predator).  I asked what all the other floating bits were in the water.  Detritus.  It’s the snow we kept seeing.

White shrimp with one claw showing viewed through microscope

Diego has a special camera which attaches to the microscope.  We would examine the zooplankton in the petri dish and then he would take off the microscope eyepiece and insert his camera.  Then, through the viewfinder, he would try to find the zooplankton resting somewhere.  Apparently, they don’t rest much, but he still got photographs.

Diego searches for our catch under the microscope while Sue looks on
Diego hunting for zooplankton

I really enjoyed this mini lab.  Diego taught me things about plankton in general and I now better understand this amazing  world of particulates in the ocean a bit better.  Jana and I had gone on deck last night to see what it was like in the pitch black.  We discovered it isn’t totally dark, though your eyes do have to adjust.  The moon kept peeking from between clouds off the starboard (right) side and lights shone from portholes below deck.  These lights reflected off the waves and were so fascinating to watch.  I’ve only had a beachside view of the ocean at night so this was a real treat.  Jana and I watched for bioluminescence in the water, a sign of some plankton.  We found little sparkles of green in the wave and hypothesized these were zooplankton.  After explaining what we had seen to Diego, he confirmed that these were zooplankton rather than phytoplankton.  Zooplankton have little sparkles in turning water while phytoplankton will cover a large area and just glow.  Too interesting.

Special thanks to Diego for sharing his knowledge with me after a long day and to Jana for helping get some pictures of this.

And the answer to the quiz above….Copepods.  They are so small you don’t notice them, but there are almost as many copepods as there are grains of sand on the beach.  It’s hard to fathom that many creatures swimming around.  Diego said that they eat the phytoplankton so fast that often there are more zooplankton than phytoplankton.

Justin Czarka, August 12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Czarka
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II (tracker)
August 10 – 19, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Date: August 12, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 

Sunrise: 06:25 a.m.
Sunset: 20:03 (8:03 p.m.)
Weather: isolated showers/patchy coastal fog
Sky: partly cloudy
Wind direction and speed: North 10-15 knots (kt)
Visibility: unrestricted to less than 1 nautical mile (nm) in fog
Waves: northwest 4-6 feet
Air Temperature: 17.3 °C
Water Temperature: 16.6 °C

Science and Technology Log 

Justin Czarka collects water samples to use in nutrient and chlorophyll research.  While on the deck during “ops” (operation) all personnel must wear a life jacket and hardhat.
Justin Czarka collects water samples to use in nutrient and chlorophyll research. While on the deck during “ops” (operation) all personnel must wear a life jacket and hardhat.

This log discusses the purpose behind the scientific cruise aboard the McArthur II. The cruise is titled, “Hydrographic and Plankton Survey.” The cruise is part of a larger study by many scientists to, in the words of chief scientist, Bill Peterson, “understand the effects of climate variability and climate change on biological, chemical and physical parameters that affect plankton, krill, fish, bird and mammal populations in Pacific Northwest waters.”  This specific cruise focuses on hydrology, harmful algal blooms, zooplankton, krill, fish eggs, fish larvae, and bird and mammal observations.

I will provide an overview of these aspects of the cruise. The McArthur II is set up with sensors for salinity, temperature, and fluorescence that provide a continuous monitoring of the ocean (hydrology) throughout the cruise.  In addition at various points along the transect lines (see the dots on the diagram of the cruise route on page 2), the CTD is deployed into the water column at specific depths to determine salinity (via measuring conductivity), water temperature, and depth (via pressure), and collect water samples (which we use to measure chlorophyll and nutrient levels at specific depths). The transects (predetermined latitudes that forms a line of sampling stations) have been selected because they have been consistently monitored over time, some since the late 1980s.  This provides a historical record to monitor changes in the ocean environment over time.

The dots represent planned sampling station. Due to sea conditions, these have been slightly modified.
The dots represent planned sampling station. Due to sea conditions, these have been slightly modified.

One scientist, Morgaine McKibben from Oregon State University, is researching harmful algal blooms (HAB). HABs occur when certain algae (the small plants in the ocean that are the basis of the food web) produce toxins that concentrate in animals feeding on them.  As these toxins move up the food web through different species, they cause harmful effects in those species, including humans.  Bill Peterson (NOAA/ Northwest Fisheries Science Center) and Jay Peterson (OSU/Hatfield Marine Science Center) are studying copepod reproduction. They are collecting data on how many eggs are laid in a 24 hour period, as well as how the copepod eggs survive in hypoxic (low oxygen) conditions.  Mike Force, the bird and marine mammal observer is keeping a log of all species spotted along the cruise route, which is utilized by scientists studying the species.

Personal Log 

Tiny squid collected in a vertical net and viewed under microscope on Crescent City transect line at 41 deg 54 min North.
Tiny squid collected in a vertical net and viewed under microscope on Crescent City transect line at 41 deg 54 min North.

Who said you never find the end of the rainbow? All you have to do is go out to sea (or become a leprechaun!). We have been going through patches of fog today, putting the foghorn into action.  When it clears out above, yet is foggy to the horizon, you get these white rainbows which arc down right to the ship. We have become the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Who knew it was the McArthur II! If you follow the entire rainbow, you will notice that it makes a complete 360° circle, half on top the ocean and half in the atmosphere near the horizon.

I enjoyed using the dissecting microscope today.

The water collected from the vertical net is stored in a cooler on the deck to be used in experiments.  I was able to collect a sample of the water, which contained a diverse group of organisms, from tiny squids to copepods to euphausiids.  These tiny organisms from the size of a pinhead to a centimeter long are critical to the diets of large fish populations, such as salmon.  Under magnification, one can see so much spectacular detail.  I have learned how essential it is to have an identification guide in order to identify the names of each copepod and euphausiid.  On the other hand the scientists tend to specialize and become very adept at identifying the different species.

Animals Seen Today 

Arrow worms (long clear, with bristles)
Shrimp Copepods
Tiny rockfish (indigo colored eyes)
Fish larvae