Bill Henske, Introduction, June 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – June 26, 2015

Mission: Coral Reef Condition Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping, and Fisheries Acoustics Characterizations
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: June 8, 2015

Personal Log

This is a picture of me in the St. Francis Mountains of southeast Missouri doing planning for a student backpacking trip.

This is a picture of me in the St. Francis Mountains of southeast Missouri doing planning for our middle school summer field study class.

As a middle school teacher, I often think about the experiences I had through my education that brought me to where I am now – what led to my passion for science and exploration.  Giving students experiences, experts, and opportunities are essential to promoting a lifelong love of learning.  When I learned about the Teacher at Sea  program with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) I eagerly applied.  This is a tremendous opportunity to grow in my capacity as a science teacher, role model, and colleague.  Best of all, it would be an adventure where I would learn lots of new things!

Teacher at Sea bling will come in handy on this June's cruise through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Teacher at Sea bling will come in handy on this June’s cruise through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

I am very lucky to teach and learn at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School in a small, but diverse school district just outside of St. Louis, Missouri.  We have a wonderful program of expeditionary learning at our public school.  Our classrooms go from the watershed of our neighborhood, to the Mississippi valley, to the Appalachian Mountains,  to the Gulf of Mexico.  Through expeditionary learning, we can give students many similar experiences that led us teachers to enter STEM fields.  Through field experiences and connections to scientists, students have opportunities to explore their interests and ignite passions.

This is a photo from 1993 when a friend and I canoed from college in Wisconsin to my home in St. Louis.

This is a photo from 1993 when a friend and I canoed from college in Wisconsin to my home in St. Louis.

One of the important lessons we learn at our school from our study of watersheds during our 7th and 8th grade years is that we are really one giant watershed.  The motto that “We all live downstream” is not just a metaphor for the way that our actions have consequences.  “We all live downstream” is also very literal.  My school community exists in the largest drainage area of North America, the Mississippi River.  Our collective actions, whether they are positive or negative, have quantifiable effects downstream.

The interconnected systems of the hydrosphere, geosphere, and atmosphere also connect all of us humans.  Because these resources are “free”, they have gone a long time through Western history without the respect of economic value.  Students across our country are confronted with the sad statistics of environmental decline.  They are bombarded with figures and facts about the negative trend in marine ecosystems.  What truly drives my and many other teacher’s passion is the opportunity to provide the next generation with the hope of science and research.  These tools will help us define problems and propose solutions that can stop or even reverse the situation.

This June I will be joining the crew of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.  We will be cruising the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Dry Tortugas region where NOAA scientists will conduct  fish sampling and acoustic tagging in order to determine the connectivity of fish populations between the various geographic entities.  This essential work will help determine the fragmentation or cohesiveness of different populations of marine organisms as habitat is protected but in fragments.  It would be interesting to incorporate this information and the techniques used as we set up our yearly pond study back in Missouri.  Do fish move from one side of the pond to the other?

On this cruise we will also be deploying and installing the Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Animals in the Gulf of Mexico (iTag) array network.  This system will help monitor the movement of marine organisms to determine larger scale movement of different populations and species.  I can see this project leading to classroom lessons on population biology, genetics, and even speciation.  The complexity of interactions between hundreds of species and dozens of distinct populations is truly astounding.  Our scientists policy makers are often asked to distill this complexity down to a harvest number or population level. I want to bring back to my students the important role science has in, not only explaining the world around us but, shaping our future and helping develop or maintain the world we want.

Area of June NOAA cruise on the Nancy Foster

Area of June 2015 NOAA cruise on the Nancy Foster

I am so excited to be a part of the Teacher at Sea program and cannot wait to share my work and experiences with my students and school community.  Every year we take our 8th grade class to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab where we study the marine science that others have discovered.  This August, when I go back to the regular classroom, I will be one of the folks who helped make those discoveries!

As I finish this entry, I am thinking about how the coral, sponges, and mollusks of the Gulf will soon be filtering through the water that we floated through last week on the 11 Point River, here in Missouri.  The water flows so easily and generously from the ground that an unfortunate majority here take its presence for granted.  The water carried little bits of all of us, a connection, as it traveled its thousand plus miles to the ocean.  On Saturday, June 14, I cycle myself through the atmosphere and hydrosphere to begin my adventure as a Teacher at Sea.  Check back regularly for updates on our mission aboard the Nancy Foster and a taste of life on a research vessel.

My students and I became part of the watershed this past week, floating towards the sea along Greer Spring Branch in southern Missouri.

My students and I found a great way to cool off last week in Missouri.  How long can you stand the 55º F spring water?

Caitlin Fine: Mississippi River Chasers! August 3, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Onboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 6, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 3, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 10:18pm
Air Temperature: 29.5°C
Water Temperature: 31.59°C
Wind Direction: North
Wind Speed: 3 knots
Seawave Height: calm
Visibility: good/unlimited
Clouds: Partially cloudy (cumulos and cirrus)
Barometer: 1011.0mb
Relative Humidity: 72%

Science and Technology Log

The oceanographic work on the boat can be divided into three categories: physical, chemical, and biological. In this log, I will explain a little bit about the part of the research related to the physics of light. Upcoming 5th graders – pay attention! We will be learning a lot about light in January/February and it all relates to this research project.

Brian and Maria are two PhD students who are working with the physical components. They are using several optical instruments: the SPECTRIX, the GER 1500, the Profiling Reflectance Radiometer (PRR), and the Profiling Ultraviolet Radiometer (PUV).

Bryan and Maria

Brian and Maria take optic measurements with the SPECTRIX and GER 1500

The SPECTRIX is a type of spectroradiometer that measures the light coming out of the water in order to understand what is in the water. For example, we can measure the amount of green light that is reflected and red and blue light that is absorbed in order to get an idea about the amount of chlorophyll in the water. This is important because chlorophyll is the biggest part of phytoplankton and phytoplankton are tiny plant-like algae that form the base of the food chain on Earth.

PUV

Brian lowers PRR into the water

The PRR and the PUV measure light at different depths to also understand what is in the water and at what depth you will find each thing in the water. The light becomes less bright the further down you go in the water. Most of light is between 0-200 meters of depth. The light that hits the water also becomes less bright based upon what is in the water. For example, you might find that chlorophyll live at 10 meters below the surface. It is important to understand at what depth each thing is in the water because that tells you where the life is within the ocean. Most of the ocean is pitch-black because it is so deep that light cannot penetrate it. Anything that lives below the light level has to be able to either swim up to get food, or survive on “extras” that fall below to them.

Personal Log

These few days have been very fun and action-packed! I arrived on the ship on Sunday afternoon and helped Nelson and the crew get organized and set-up the stations for the cruise. Several other people had also arrived early – two graduate students who are studying the optics of the water as part of their PhD program, one college student and one observer from the Dominican Republic who are like me – trying to learn about what NOAA does and how scientists conduct experiments related to oceanography.

On Monday morning, we gathered for a team meeting to discuss the mission of the cruise, introduce ourselves, and get an updated report on the status of the Mississippi River water. It turns out that the water is going in a bit of a different direction than previously projected, so we will be changing the cruise path of the ship in order to try to intersect it and collect water samples.

CTD

I am helping lower the CTD into the water

Monday we all learned how to use the CTD (a machine that we use to collect samples of water from different depths of the ocean) and other stations at the first several stops. It was a bit confusing at the beginning because there is so much to learn and so many things to keep in mind in order to stay safe! We then ate lunch (delicious!) and had a long 4-hour ride to the next section of stops. When we arrived, it was low tide (only 2 ft. of water in some places) so we could not do the sampling that we wanted to do. We continued on to the next section of stops (another 3 hour ride away!), watched a safety presentation and ate another delicious meal. By this time, it was time for the night shift to start working and for the day shift to go to bed. Since I am in the day shift, I was able to sleep while the night shift worked all night long.

Today I woke up, took a shower in the very small shower and ate breakfast just as we arrived at another section of stops. I immediately started working with the CTD and on the water chemistry sampling. We drove through some sea grass and the optics team was excited to take optical measurements of the sea grass because it has a very similar optical profile to oil. The satellites from space see either oil or sea grass and report it as being the same thing. So scientists are working to better differentiate between the two so that we can tell sea grass from oil on the satellite images. The images that Maria and Brian took today are maybe some of the first images to be recorded! Everyone on the ship is very excited!

Several hours later, we came to a part of the open ocean within the Florida Current near Key West where we believe water from the Mississippi River has reached. Nelson and the scientific team believe this because the salinity (the amount of dissolved salt) of the surface water is much lower than it normally is at this time of year in these waters. Normally the salinity is about 36-36.5 PSUs in the first 20 meters and today we found it at 35.7 PSUs in the first 20 meters. This may not seem like a big difference, but it is.

The water from the Mississippi River is fresh water and the water in the Florida Keys is salt water. There is always a bit of fresh water mixing with the salt water, but usually it is not enough to really cause a change in the salinity. This time, there is enough fresh water entering the ocean to really change the salinity. This change can have an impact on the animals and other organisms that live in the Florida Keys.

Additionally, the water from the Mississippi River contains a lot of nutrients – for example, fertilizers that run off from farms and lawns into gutters and streams and rivers – and those nutrients also impact the sea life and the water in the area. Nelson says that this type of activity (fresh water from the Mississippi River entering the Florida Current) occurs so infrequently (only about ever 6 years), scientists are interested in documenting it so they can be prepared for any changes in the marine biology of the area.

For all of these reasons and more, we took a lot of extra samples at this station. And it took almost 2 hours to process them!

In the evening, we stopped outside of Key West and the director of this program for NOAA, Michelle Wood, took a small boat into the harbor because she cannot be with us for the entire cruise.

Key West

Sunset over Key West - a beautiful way to end the day

She asked me if I’d like to go along with the small boat to see Key West, since I have never been there before, and of course I agreed! I got some great pictures of the R/V Walton Smith from the water and we saw a great sunset on the way back to the ship after dropping her off with Jimmy Buffet blasting from the tourist boats on their own sunset cruises.

We will be in the Mississippi River plume for most of tonight. Everyone is very excited and things are pretty crazy with the CTD sampling because we are doing extra special tests while we are in the Mississippi River plume. We might not get much sleep tonight. I will explain in my next blog all about the chemistry sampling that we are doing with the CTD instrument and why it is so important.

Did you know?

On a ship, they call the kitchen the “galley,” the bathroom is the “head,” and the bedrooms are called “staterooms.”

One interesting thing about the ship is that it does not have regular toilets. The ship has a special marine toilet system that functions with a vacuum and very thin pipes. If one of the vacuums on one of the toilets is not closed, none of the toilets work!

Animals seen today…

  • Zooplankton that live in the sargassum (a type of seaweed that usually floats on the water) –baby crab, baby shrimp, and other zooplankton. The sargassum is a great habitat for baby crab, baby shrimp, and baby sea turtles.
  • Baby flying fish
  • Two juvenile Triggerfish

    Triggerfish

    We caught a young triggerfish in our tow net