NOAA Teacher at Sea
(Almost) aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada April 28 – May 9, 2016
Mission: CINMS Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Channel Islands, California
Date: April 20, 2016
Stardate 8130: Well, not really, but isn’t that the way all logs should start? My name is Nichia Huxtable and I teach biology at Fillmore High School in beautiful Ventura County. Fillmore is a wonderful small town with a rich agricultural history and a picturesque downtown. The best part about Fillmore, however, is the absolutely amazing students that I have the pleasure of working with every day. They are friendly, curious, polite, and funny, and are the reason why I am participating this NOAA expedition.
So, you ask, how can a teacher participating in a research expedition benefit the students? Are you taking them with you? Ah, good question! No, I am not taking them with me, although they will be joining me in spirit. First, I will need to learn. The mission of this trip is to create high resolution maps of sections of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS). We will be using scientific equipment and techniques that I never even knew existed and I will be interviewing the scientists and crew members to get a better understanding of who they are and what they do. The whole time I will be posting updates and pictures on this very blog, so be sure to check back often!
Second, when I return to Fillmore, I’ll use my newly acquired knowledge to develop classroom lessons that will bring this amazing science back to my students. These lessons will revolve around three learning goals: 1) the ecological importance of marine sanctuaries, 2) methods scientists use to collect, analyze, and share data, and 3) exposure to new career pathways and possibilities. In order to reach as many students as possible, these lessons and activities will also be shared with other teachers in my district and, in fact, any teacher who would like them.
I cannot even explain how excited I am to participate in this research trip! My background is in wildlife biology, so while I have plenty of experience with kangaroo rat and leopard lizard surveys, I am far less familiar with the science of oceanography.
The next time you see me, I will be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean helping to identify what’s under the water surrounding the Channel Islands. See you then!
Mission: Water conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) readings; marine bird and mammal counts
Geographical Area: Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries; Sonoma County Coast, Pacific Ocean
Dates: July 17, 2014
Weather Data from the bridge: Wind speed variable, less than 10 knots; wind waves less than 2 feet; visibility about 3 km, temperature range from 57-66 F
Science and Technology Log: During our week long cruise we take CTD readings with the CTD device and record marine bird and mammal sightings from the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank Marine Sanctuaries, marine protected areas (MPA) off the northern coast of California. CTD readings tell us the levels of salinity of the water and the temperature of the water, and the depth at which these two conditions exists, along with the number of marine birds and mammals in the area, can tell scientists a lot about the health of the ocean. The scientist aboard the R/V Fulmar are looking for correlations between the number of birds and mammals along the transects and the CTD readings. Are conditions changing, staying the same? Has any kind of natural or manmade disaster affected the numbers?
Today’s mission was extra special because these two MPAs are currently undergoing a proposed expansion, and for the first time the science team took samples from this proposed expansion area. The transect lines covered today were 14, 13, and N13.
An expansion of these two MPAs would increase the area allotted to the protection and preservation of our coastal waters and, by extension, marine life within those waters. The reason behind the expansion of the MPAs is due to the upwelling that starts north of the current MPA, at a spot along the coast called Point Arena. The large amount of upwelling that begins at Point Arena eventually moves down the coast with the California Current, creating the spectacular assortment of rich life that exists in the Gulf of the Farrallones and the Cordell Bank Sanctuaries. By protecting the starting point of the massive upwelling, we are ensuring the protection of the explosion of life that continues along California Current.
Personal Log: Todays begins with my alarm clock going off at 5:30 am. Why so early? Because we leave port no later than 7am, and with 11 people on board one ship, I don’t want to be the last one in line for the bathroom. Plus I like to have coffee in the morning. And I’m a little nervous because it’s my first day at sea. Any one of these excuses work.
Once everybody’s is up and ready to go, my first task is go over emergency procedures with Dave Benet, the mate of the ship. We go through the safety protocols and when done I don the immersion suit, which looks like a giant red gumby suit and leaves you with as much dexterity as do ski mittens. I’m told it will keep you warm in the water if you manage to zip it up before you hit the water; I do not want to test out this theory, so I take Dave’s word.
As we head out to sea and towards out first transect, everybody is excited that the water and weather are calm; very little to no wind, glass-like water, no waves. This is a treat for all on board because during the last cruise the waves were so bad that the boat had to return to shore because it was too dangerous to be out at sea.
The first task of the day is on the top deck, where scientists monitor the marine birds and mammals within the transect line. As birds and mammals are spotted along the transect, data is collected about each organism. Among this data is type of organism, the direction of travel, the sex (if known), age (if known), the behavior, and location of the organism. There is one spotter for birds and two spotters for mammals, and as each organism is spotted, a series of numbers and names is called out to the recorder, the scientist who inputs the data into a log on a laptop. Today is mild, weather-wise, so the crew calls out the information and logs it in as the boat gently sways back and forth along the transect; last month I would’ve seen the same crew holding on for dear life, trying to keep in their meals, while still recording the data.
Because I’m not trained on how to spot birds and mammals, my task while on board is to assist with CTD and plankton net deployment. Along predetermined spots along the transect the boat stops and we drop the CTD to about 5 meters above the seafloor. Our first CTD reading had us at 200 meters to the bottom, so we sent the CTD down to 195 meters below. Once it hits 195 meters we immediately bring it back up and secure the device back to the boat. After that we then launch the hoop net, which is a big plankton net that is dragged behind the boat till a depth of 50 meters. Once it’s down to 50 meters, we then bring the net back up to the boat, empty the contents into a jar, and add preserving agent to bring the samples back to the lab. Once at the lab the plankton samples are counted and recorded, giving us a picture of the biological activity in that particular area of the transect.
The handling of the hoop net and CTD take practice to properly deploy, and the parameters of the deployment have to be very exact or else we risk losing the very costly tools. If the measurements for depth are not accurate, the CTD could hit the bottom of the ocean, causing damage to the CTD. We could also risk snagging and losing the hoop net if it is dragged along the bottom, so these measurements are doubled- and triple-checked by the captain and the scientists to avoid costly mistakes.
Did you know? Just as there are hotspots of magma flow on land, there are hot spots of life at sea. The transect lines monitored aboard the R/V Fulmar help to pinpoint these hotspots of sea-life activity.
Question of the Day? What does the acronym MPA stand for? Provide 2 examples of MPAs.
New Term/Phrase/Word: CTD; hoop net.
Something to Think About: The more you eat while on a cruise, the less seasick you will become, which is counterintuitive.
Challenge Yourself: How might wind waves affect the efficiency of a cruise?