Julia West: Neuston! March 25, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: March 25, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 0900; mostly sunny, clouds 25% altocumulus; wind 5 knots, 120° (ESE); air 21°C, water 21°C, wave height 1-2 ft.

Science and Technology Log

We continue to zigzag westward on our wild plankton hunt. When we are closer to shore, navigation is tricky, because we are constantly dodging oil platforms, so we can never quite do the straight lines that are drawn on the chart.

Plankton stations 3/25/15

Here’s what we have covered through this morning. We’re making good time!

One of our Oak Meadow math teachers, Jacquelyn O’Donohoe, was wondering about math applications in the work that we are doing. The list is long! But don’t let that deter you from science – no need to fear the math! In fact, Commanding Officer Donn Pratt told me that he was never good at math, but when it came to navigating a ship, it all became more visual and much more understandable. I think it’s cool to see math and physics being applied. So, just for fun, I’ll point out the many places where math is used here on the ship – it’s in just about every part of the operations.

Today’s topic is neuston. As soon as we get the bongo nets back on board, the cable gets switched over to the neuston net. This net is a huge pipe rectangle, 1 meter x 2 meters, with a large net extending to the cod end to collect the sample. The mesh of this net is 1mm, much larger than the 0.3mm mesh of the bongo nets. So we aren’t getting the tiniest things in the neuston net, but still pretty small stuff! We lower the net to the surface, using the winch, and let it drag there for ten minutes. The goal is to have the net half in the water, so we have a swept area of 0.5 x 2 meters, or 1 square meter. (See, there’s some math for you!) That’s the goal. Sometimes with big waves, none of the net is in the water, and then all of it is, but it averages out.

Deploying neuston net

Here I am helping to deploy the neuston net. Photo credit: Kim Johnson

Neuston net

Neuston net in the water. Photo credit: Madalyn Meaker

Then we hose the net off thoroughly to get what is stuck to the net into the cod end.

Neuston net cleaning

Andy is hosing off the neuston net.

As I mentioned before, neuston is the array of living organisms that live on or just below the surface. Some of it is not plankton, as you can also catch larger fish, but mostly, the sample overlaps with the larger plankton that we catch in the bongos. There tends to be more jellyfish in the neuston net, so we sometimes wear gloves. Pam got stung by a man o’ war on the first day while cleaning out the net!

 

neuston sample

Pam is sorting an interesting neuston sample. See her smile – she clearly loves plankton!

Collecting neuston

Madalyn funneling the neuston into a jar with ethanol

Sometimes we end up with Sargassum in our nets. Sargassum is a type of brown “macroalgae” (seaweed) that grows in large clumps and floats on the surface. Have you ever heard of the Sargasso Sea? It is a massive collection of Sargassum in the Atlantic Ocean, held in place by the North Atlantic Gyre.

Sargassum

Sargassum taken from a sample

Sargassum

Sargassum in the water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sargassum often collects in our nets. Sometimes we get gallons of Sargassum, and we have to carefully hose the organisms off of it, and throw the weeds back. We get the most interesting variety of life in the Sargassum! It supports entire communities of life that wouldn’t be there without it. If you want to know a little more about Sargassum communities, check out this website.

Here are a few examples of some of the photographable organisms we have collected in the neuston net. I’m working on getting micrographs of the really cool critters that are too small to see well with the naked eye, but they are amazing – stay tuned. All of the fish, except the flying fish, are very young; the adults will be much, much larger. (If you click on one of these, you will see a nice slide show and the full caption.)

Lastly, here is a really cool neuston sample we got – whale food!

copepods

This sample looks like it is almost entirely made up of copepods; this species is a beautiful blue color.

Personal Log

Now let’s turn to the other life form on the ship – the people. There are a total of 26 people on this cruise. Everyone is really great; it’s a community of its own. First, let me introduce the NOAA Corps crew who run the ship.

The NOAA Corps, or NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States (can you name the others?). It seems that many have never heard of the NOAA Corps, so it’s worth telling you a little bit about them. Officers are trained to take leadership positions in the operation of ships and aircraft, conducting research missions such as this one and much, much more! NOAA Corps has all the career benefits of the U.S. military, without active combat. Our officers all have a degree in some kind of science, often marine science or fisheries biology.

The crew members generally keep 4 hour watches, twice a day. I really enjoy going up to the bridge to hang out with them. It’s a whole different world up there, and they have been gracious enough to explain to me (as best as I can understand it) how they navigate the ship. Conceptually, I get it pretty well, but even if I was allowed to, I wouldn’t dare touch one of the buttons and dials they have up there!

Our XO (Executive Officer) on the Gunter is LCDR Colin Little. Colin has been with NOAA for eleven years now, and his previous assignments include Sea Duty aboard Oregon II and Oscar Elton Sette, and shore assignments in Annapolis, MD and Newport, OR. His background is in fish morphology and evolution.  His wife and two sons are currently living in Chicago.

ENS Kristin Johns has been on the Gunter for almost a year. She joined NOAA after getting a biology degree at Rutgers. She is currently being trained to be the next Navigation Officer. Kristin is the safety officer, as well as the MPIC (Medical Person in Charge). Kristin is the one who suggested I use the word “thalassophilia” as the word of the day – something she clearly suffers from!

Our Operations Officer (OPS) is LT Marc Weekley. Marc is in charge of organizing the logistics, and coordinating between the scientists and the crew. He’s been with NOAA for ten years (on the Gunter for two years), and has had some interesting land-based as well as offshore posts, including a year at the South Pole Station (yes, Antarctica) doing clean air and ozone monitoring.

ENS Melissa Mathes is newest officer with NOAA, but spent 6 years in the Army Reserves in college, and then 6 years of active duty with the Navy. Melissa loves archery and motorcycles, and she has been rumored to occasionally dance while on watch.

Melissa and Marc

ENA Melissa Mathes and LT Marc Weekley

ENS (which stands for Ensign, by the way) David Wang, originally from New York City, is our Navigation Officer (NAV). He’s been with NOAA for two years. His job, as he puts it, is “getting us where we gotta go, safely.” He is the one who charts our course, or oversees the other Junior Officers as they do it. Dave used to be a commercial fisherman, and when he’s not on duty, those are his fishing lines extending out from the back deck. He’s also an avid cyclist and ultimate Frisbee player.

ENS Peter Gleichauf has been on the Gunter since November, but finished his training over a year ago. He is also an aviator, musician, and avid outdoors person. In fact, for all of the officers, health, fitness, and active lifestyle is a priority. Pete is in charge of environmental compliance on the ship.

Dave and Pete

ENS Dave Wang and ENS Pete Gleichauf

King mackerel

Lead fisherman Jorge Barbosa and a king mackerel caught today on Dave’s line! It took 2 deck crew men to pull it in!

 

Term of the Day: USS Cole – you can look this one up. Next blog post I will explain what in the world it has to do with a plankton research cruise. I promise it will all make sense!

 

Valerie Bogan: The Journey Ends, June 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date
: Wednesday June 20, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sea temperature 28  degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius.

 Science and Technology Log:

Well we have come to the end of the cruise so now it is time to tie it all the pieces together.  The Gulf of Mexico contains a large ecosystem which is made up of both biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) factors.  We studied the abiotic factors using the CTD which records water chemistry data and by recording information on the water depth, water color, water temperature, and weather conditions.  We studied the living portions of the ecosystem by collecting plankton in the bongo and neuston nets.  The health of the plankton depends on the abiotic factors such as water temperature and water clarity so if the abiotic factors are affected by some human input then the plankton will be unhealthy.  The trawl net allowed us to collect some larger organisms which occupy the upper part of the food web.  Some of these organisms eat the plankton while others eat bigger creatures which are also found in the trawl net.  Despite what they eat all of these creatures depend on the health of the levels below them either because those levels are directly their food or because those levels are the food of their food.

The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem

An illustration of how the food web in the gulf works. (picture from brownmarine.com)

The ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico has taken a couple of large hits in the recent past, first with Hurricane Katrina and then with the Deepwater horizon oil spill.  When an ecosystem has undergone such major events it is important to monitor the species in order to determine if there is an effect from the disasters.  Hurricane Katrina left its mark on the people of the Gulf coast but did minimal damage to the biotic parts of the ecosystem.  The effects of the deepwater horizon oil spill are still unknown due to the scope of the spill.

Today’s portion of the ship is the engine room.  I was recently taken on a tour of the engine room by William.  The ship is powered by two diesel engines which use approximately 1,000 gallons of fuel per day.  The ship obviously uses the engines to move from location to location but it also uses the energy to power generators which supply electrical energy, to air condition the ship and to make fresh water out of sea water.

The engines.

The twin diesel engines.

Generators

Generators

There are two vital positions on the Oregon II that I have not discussed, deck worker and engineer.  We could never have collected the samples that we did without the immense help of the deck workers.  They operated the winches and cranes that allowed us to deploy and bring back the nets which captured our samples.  The engineers kept the ship’s engines running, the electricity on, and the rooms cool.  Some of these men started out their careers as merchant marines.  A merchant marine is a person who works on a civilian-owned merchant vessel such as a deep-sea merchant ship, tug boat, ferry or dredge.  There are a variety of jobs on these ships so if you are interested in this line of work I’m sure you could find something to do as a career.  A few merchant marines work as captains of those civilian ships, guiding the ship and commanding the crew in order the get the job done.  More of them serve as mates, which are assistants to the captains.  These people are in training to one day become a captain of their own ship.  Just like on the Oregon II there are also engineers and deck workers in the merchant marines.  Engineers are expected to keep the machinery running while the deck workers do the heavy lifting on the deck and keep the ship in good condition by performing general maintenance.

During this cruise I have met a lot of people who have different jobs all of which are related to collecting scientific data.  The bridge is wonderfully staffed by members of the NOAA Corps.  These men and women train hard to be able to sail research ships around the world.  To find out more about a profession with the NOAA Corps go visit the Corps’ webpage.  There are a large number of scientists on board.  These scientists all specialize in the marine environment and there are many wonderful universities which offer degrees for this field of study.  Go here to get some more information on this scientific pursuit.  The engineers and deck crew keep the ship running. To learn about these professions go to The United States Merchant Marines Academy.  The stewards are instrumental in keeping the crew going on a daily basis by providing good healthy meals.  To learn more about working as a steward read about the Navy culinary school.  The ship could not continue to operate without each of these workers.  Nobody is more or less important than the next–they survive as a group and if they cannot work together the ship stops operating.

Personal Log

Well my journey has come to an end and it is bitter-sweet.  While I’m happy to be back on land, I’m sad to say goodbye to all of the wonderful people on the Oregon II.  When I was starting this adventure I thought two weeks was going to be a long time to be at sea, yet it went by so fast.  Although I’m tired, my sleep and eating schedule are all messed up, and I have some wicked bruises, I would do it again.  I had a great time and in a couple of years I have a feeling I will be once again applying for the Teacher at Sea Program.

It should be no surprise to those that know me best that I love animals which is why I volunteer at the zoo and travel to distant locations to see animals in the wild.  So my favorite part of the trip was seeing all the animals, both those that came out of the sea and those that flew to our deck.  So I’m going to end with a slide show of some amazing animals.

Pelican.

This pelican decided to stop and visit with us for a while.

angel shark

An angel shark

Moray eel

A moray eel

Bat fish

Two bat fishes of very different sizes.

Sand dollar

A sand dollar

Hitchhikers

A group of sea birds decide to hitch a ride for a while.