John Bilotta, More Colors than a box of Crayola Crayons: Coral, Fish, Sunsets, and the Color of my TAS Experience.  My final blog. Days 10 &11, June 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 27, 2014

 

Weather: Hazy sun.  27 degree Celsius.  8.0 knot wind from the southwest.

Locations:  North Florida MPA.        LAT 30°45’N, LON 80.4.9’W

These have been my finals days aboard the Nancy Foster.  We have explored so much, seen so much, yet we didn’t even scratch the surface (or should I say the bottom) of the vastness of the MPAs, the Atlantic, or any of the oceans.  It has been said that the entire science community has explored less than 5% of the world’s oceans.  I can relate much better to this fact after my TAS experience.  In all, we completed 29 separate dives with the ROV.

The ROV on the deck of the Nancy Foster shortly before launch.

The ROV on the deck of the Nancy Foster shortly before launch.

John and the little ROV that could, that would, and did explore 29 dives with us.

John and the little ROV that could, that would, and did explore 29 dives with us.

After our last dive, we were gathered in lab and someone said “I call it a success if the number of launches matches the number of recoveries.”  While that certainly is a good measure, my measure of success is the amount of new knowledge I have acquired, the re-kindling of science knowledge I once used more readily, and the many ideas I have acquired to incorporate and advance the earth and water science classes and workshops I design and teach.

Science and Technology Log

Science Part I.  Let there be color

Hint:  See the pictures LARGER.  If you click on any of the pictures in any of my blogs, they should open up full screen so you can see the detail better

I won’t begin to identify everything in these pictures in part because I can’t without the expertise of the researchers and marine biologists I had the honor to be with.  So they are here for their sheer beauty and awesomeness.  Here are two good websites to checkout for more information:  The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council has a good EcoSpecies database to explore and www.marinespecies.org

 

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Science Part II.  The ocean floor changes and the habitat moves

Our last three dives with the ROV were in the North Florida MPA – about 100 miles east of Jacksonville.  Stacey and the team had explored these reefs and habitats a year ago.  We returned to the same areas using the MB maps where they expected to find good to excellent grouper habitat with high rugosity they observed the year before.  During the first portions of the ROV dive we just could not find that habitat; it was in fact buried in sand in many places.  The Gulf Stream and currents are strong here and they move the sand on the ocean floor.  In addition, hurricanes and tropical storm activity probably also lead to shifts in sand and sediment on the ocean floor, exposing and covering areas all the time. This seemingly paled in comparison to erosion and sedimentation I am more familiar with in Minnesota and in places in the Midwest.  Another example of how the Earth is always changing the way it appears.  In 5-8th grade Earth Adventure programs we often discuss processes that form and shape the planet; plate tectonics, erosion, and weathering are the highlights.  Now with my new knowledge, we will add the ideas of the oceans and currents that shape the planet.

Science Part III.  What will the scientists do with all the research and information we have collected?  

Over the next year, Stacey Harter, Andy David, Heather Moe, John Reed, and Stephanie Farrington will examine the hundreds of digital pictures, hours of HD video, and study the fish, invertebrate, and habitat logs we wrote during each ROV dive.  A summary report about the fisheries and health of the MPAs will be written that will help the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council with management decisions for both commercial and recreational fishing in the areas.

The Nancy Foster – a NOAA ship on the seas – what makes her go?

Most of my blog has been devoted to the science of the mission, but to make that happen, the Nancy Foster has to make its way through the ocean.  Here is a little about the people and the technology that make that happen.

The crew of the NF and a career with NOAA:  The NF has a compliment of 22 crew members including the Commanding Officer (CO), the Executive Officer (XO), and three Junior Officers (JO’s).  How does one get the privilege and honor to pilot a 187 foot ship?  One career entry point is the NOAA Corps. Here is a great video link about the NOAA Corps.  I had a chance to visit with all the officers and spent time with them on the bridge and can’t say enough good things about them. Wish I could include a picture of me with all of them.

John and Junior Officer Felicia Drummond on the bridge of the Nancy Foster for a morning of navigation.

John and Junior Officer Felicia Drummond on the bridge of the Nancy Foster for a morning of navigation.

Ship Technology and Engineering:  There is a team of ~15 engineers, technicians, and crew that make this virtual self-sustaining ship the ability to sail the ocean for up to 14 days at a time without going into port.  While at sea, each has their unique and important role.  During my last full day onboard, I spent ½ of it up on the bridge and ½ down in the engine room.  Here are a few technology tidbits:

  • Electronics and computers have a significant role to make the Nancy Foster plow through the ocean’s waters, in addition to its skilled captains and large propellers.  I cannot begin to list and describe all the computers and the high technology aboard the NF and all it does.  I would consider myself to have a high level of computer literacy, but this was daunting.
  • D.P. – Dynamic Positioning.  A computer system calculates and performs many of the navigational moves the NF makes.  The DP also uses wind and motion sensors to predict how the propulsion systems should respond in order to hold position or make precise movements. The DP can literally put the ship within meters of where the science team requests her to go (of course under the direction of the crew).  Simply amazing!
  • The D.P. drives the main engine, two Z-drives off the stern that turn 360 degrees and a bow thruster.
  • Multiple engines and generators churn away in the depths of her not only providing propulsion, but electricity, compressed air, air conditioning, etc.
  • The NF can make 1700 of fresh water daily either through an evaporative process connected to the main engine or through a reverse osmosis system.

 NEW – two short videos of the launch and recovery of the ROV 

 

A view off the Nancy Foster as we sail for port on the last day.

A view off the Nancy Foster as we sail for port on the last day.

What is next for me –what am I am hoping to do with my experience?

The NOAA TAS experience is a privilege that also comes with some requirements that I am excited to fulfill.  Over the course of the next few months I will be developing a classroom lesson plan (K12, grade to be determined) based on my experience.  I have at least seven new ideas to work into existing Earth Adventure programs.  I will also be preparing a presentation to my peers about the TAS, the MPAs, the research, and my involvement.  I will also be highlighting careers in NOAA for young adults.  Some of these materials will be posted to this blog – so don’t delete the link just because I am done sailing!

Personal Log:

Yes, we were able to watch the USA vs Germans play in the FIFA World Cup.  The Nancy Foster does have Direct TV and it so happens we timed our ROV dives to allow us to watch either of the two large screen TV’s aboard the ship.

I finished the The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman.  The last quote I will end my blog with

“Water is unpredictable.  Water is fickle.   But that is water’s nature. The fickleness, the variability, is itself predictable.”  (p775)

I watched a number of sunsets (when not playing Mexican Train – a game with Dominos) and I forced myself up a couple of mornings for sunrise, including this one on our last morning sailing back to Mayport.

One of the many colorful sunsets and sunrises I saw from the Nancy Foster.

One of the many colorful sunsets and sunrises I saw from the Nancy Foster.

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.  In the meantime, some might have links to further information. 

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at

http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/education/workshop/docs/workbook_definitions.pdf

  • D.P.  dynamic positioning
  • CPA – closest point of approach
  • BCR – Bow crossing range

John Bilotta, Totally Awesome Turtle, An Ocean of Stars, and Fancy Fish – Days 7-9 in the South Atlantic MPAs, June 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 25, 2014

 

Weather: Partly cloudy to sunshine.  27 degree Celsius.  8.0 knot wind from the southwest.

Locations:  North Cape Lookout 3 Proposed MPA, South Cape Lookout Proposed MPA (both off the coast of North Carolina) and the Edisto MPA (off the coast of South Carolina.)

LAT 32°24’N, 79°6’W  LON 32°24’N, 79°6’W

 

Hint:  See the pictures LARGER.

If you click on any of the pictures in any of my blogs, they should open up full screen so you can see the detail better.

 

Science and Technology Log  with more than 20 ROV dives completed, here are five new items to share

Science Part I.  Totally Awesome Turtle!

On Tuesday, June 24th during our first of four dives of the day a Loggerhead sea turtle came for a visit in front of the ROV.  Loggerheads are common for the MidAtlantic and other oceans in the mid-latitude regions. Loggerheads grow up to 250lbs and are named for their relatively large heads.

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

This was a dream come true for me.  I have always had this fascination with turtles stemming from catching them on Keller Lake in my early childhood to the snappers that have been visiting and nesting in our gardens the past few years at Goose Lake.  Every turtle is entitled to a name, this one I am calling “TJ.” (Hi Taylor!)   I hope we will see more.

Science Part II.  Discoveries of Dives in the Deep – the fish

Scamp Grouper

Scamp Grouper & Cubbya Dive067054 12 04 27

Scamp Grouper & Cubbyu. This grouper is probably 16-22 inches. Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014

Scamp Grouper. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

Scamp Grouper. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

Speckled Hind

Speckled Hind.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014.

Speckled Hind. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014

Cornetfish

Cornetfish.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

Cornetfish. Can grow to be 2-4 feet in length, 6 feet maximum. Although not possible to fully detect, when we photographed these it appears two males were courting a female. They almost danced together in the water. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

Science Part III.  An Ocean of Stars – Echinoderms and other Invertebrates

A brief bit of science, then you can see the pictures.  Echinoderms have three main characteristics:

1.  A body plan with 5-part radial symmetry
2.  A calcite skeleton
3.  A water-vascular system

Here are a few we have found on the ocean floor the past few days with the ROV.  By the way, it’s also a sky of stars at night from the ‘iron beach’ on the top deck aft of the bridge of the Nancy Foster.

Asterporpa Star wrapped around the backside of a diodiordia photographed during ROV dive.  Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW. June 2014.

Asteroporpa Star wrapped around the backside of a diodogorgia photographed during ROV dive. Look hard past the purple and you can see it. Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW. June 2014.

Seastar photographed during ROV dive.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW June 2014

Sea star photographed during ROV dive. Photo by NOAA / UNCW June 2014

Brittlestars photographed  during ROV dive.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW.  June 2014

Brittlestars photographed during ROV dive. I magnified this photo so you could see two close up, but in one of the photos we took with the ROV there were more than five visible. Photo by NOAA / UNCW. June 2014

Longspine Erchin.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014.

Longspine Urchin. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014.

One of the mollusks we found. 

Thorny Oysters.  There are three in this picture.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV 2014.

Thorny Oysters. There are three in this picture; the middle one is slightly open. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV 2014.

Science Part IV.  Iceberg Scours dead ahead!

Many of the ridges and valleys Stacey Harter our chief scientist choose for us to investigate with the ROV are actually scours along the Atlantic Ocean seafloor created by icebergs that moved in a southwesternly direction towards the Carolina’s. Yes, I said icebergs!  These scours I learned were probably created during the last deglaciation period, (~29,000-15,000 BP (before people)). I found this great blog post that summarizes some research on these and has a good graphic too.   The scours are revealed through the multibeam mapping (MB) that the science mapping team conducts overnight. The image below is a MB map that shows the ridges and valleys (iceberg scours) and the red dots that form the line our ROV took exploring it on Sunday.

Multibeam (MB) Map showing iceberg scours and ROV dive track.  Image courtesy of NOAA and Harbor Creek.  June 2014.

Multibeam (MB) Map showing iceberg scours. The red dotted line near the middle of the image is our ROV track from the dive, going east to west. Image courtesy of NOAA and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute . June 2014.

The earth science education I teach with the Earth Balloon and Earth Walk programs cover processes that shape and form the planet and I can’t wait to incorporate iceberg scours and the habitat they now provide into these programs!

A call out to Jennifer Petro and her class at Everitt Middle School in Panama City, Florida. Jennifer participated as a TAS in 2013 on this same research project. Her class sent a collection of decorated styrofoam cups with Andy David from the Panama City NOAA lab for us to bring to the bottom during one of our dives.  This is what happens when Styrofoam is subject to increasing pressure.

Styrofoam cups predive

Styrofoam cups postdive

Science Part V.  I think we placed it here…I think it is here…It is here!

Earlier this spring, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources in cooperation with the Army Corp of Engineers sank two barges to create artificial reef systems and habitat for groupers, tilefish, and countless other species.

Artificial reef barge sank spring 2014 by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources with cooperation from the Corp of Engineers.

Artificial reef barge sank spring 2014 by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources with cooperation from the Corps of Engineers. Its difficult to say for sure, but to give you a sense of scale, typical shipping containers like the green on one on top are are 40-50 feet in length.

During the overnight hours of June 24th & 25th the mapping science team (see below) set out to find these two barges somewhere within a 2 square mile box using the MB aboard the Nancy Foster; that’s a lot of ocean to cover!    I stayed up late with them and at about 10:00pm images began to emerge that resembled the barges.  By 10:30pm, the mapping team had combed through the data and generated 3D maps that were strong evidence they had found them.

MB barge1

3D multibeam image of one of the sunken barges near the Edisto MPA. The barge is the rectangle, however there appears to be a mass of objects off one of its corners – keep reading.

However, a hypothesis emerged; one of the barges may have flipped upside-down during its initial sinking and that some of the cargo containers had actually fallen off and came to rest on the ocean floor separate from the barge.  During this discussion with the mapping team, I had this huge smile and was in awe with what they could do with sound waves!

So on Wednesday afternoon, June 25th the ROV team went to work to explore the sunken barges.  I watched as Lance Horn slowly guided the ROV down below 100 meters.  Eventually we could make out the barge.  Lance had to use his many years of ROV piloting to carefully maneuver.   We could not let the umbilical fiber optic and power cord get caught on any of the metal debris and towers that projected outward.  What did we discover?  Unfortunately I am unable to show you the pictures.  At 90 meters in depth it was so dark, the digital camera could not capture quality images – even with two LED lights.  However, the HD video gave us clear visual and conclusions.  The barge settled upright on the sea floor (it wasn’t upside down).  However, we speculate that it came down with such force that the shipping containers and structures collapsed and broke away.  Indeed four of them are lying on the ocean floor off the northwest corner of the barge. It’s only been a few months so habitat and few fish have yet to call it home, but schools of Amberjack were all around.

 

Career highlight: 

Kayla Johnson and Freidrich Knuth are our mapping scientists we brought on board as part of the science team and Samantha Martin and Nick Mitchell are fulltime NOAA mapping scientists assigned to the Nancy Foster.  All four of them have very interesting stories about how they use their education and expertise to be eyes through the water column deep into the ocean.  Freidrich and Kayla accompanied the science team as graduates from the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences at Charleston College.

Mapping science crew aboard the Nancy Foster.  From left to right:  Freidrich Knuth, Nick Mitchell,Kayla Johnson.  Not pictured - Samantha Martin.

Mapping science crew aboard the Nancy Foster. From left to right: Freidrich Knuth, Nick Mitchell,Kayla Johnson. Not pictured – Samantha Martin.

It is really inspiring to hear about their experiences in MB mapping in many of the oceans worldwide.  They are experts of combing through data we receive through a number of ship-mounted devices, applying complex GIS software (geographic information systems), and creating 2D & 3D maps that the science team can use to direct the ROV to the next day – which means this team works through the overnight hours and sleeps during the day.

Personal Log:

I have been running on the treadmill which is located in a small fitness center low in the ship.  It’s a very awkward feeling when there are large waves and the treadmill and I are going up and down and swaying side to side.  The way I look at it I am running on water so it has to be easier on my knees.

I have lost track of the number of birthdays we have celebrated while offshore.  From somewhere, seemingly daily, birthday cards and cakes emerge.

And for another quote from The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman that I am reading while aboard the Nancy Foster.

“Water is a pleasure.  It is fun.  Our sense of water, our connection to water, is primal.  Anyone who has ever given a bath to a nine-month-old baby – and received a soaking in return – knows that the sheer exuberance of creating splashing cascades of water is born with us.  We don’t have to be taught to enjoy water.”  (p760)

We are sailing for the Florida MPA overnight tonight (10-12 hours) and will be ready to launch the ROV again tomorrow.

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.  In the meantime, some might have links to further information. 

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at

http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/education/workshop/docs/workbook_definitions.pdf

  • Ehinoderms
  • Radial symmetry
  • A ‘clip’
  • Latitude/Longitude
  • Heading
  • Hypothesis
  • GIS
  • TED – turtle exclusion device (Andy and I had a conversation about other work NOAA is doing in the Gulf related to turtles, TEDs and their work on trawlers.   Perhaps another NOAA at sea adventure for me in the future.)