Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska
Date: 1 July 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 60’ 15” N Longitude: 145’ 30” N Wave Height: Wind Speed: 7 knots Wind Direction: 101 degrees Barometric Pressure: 1020 mb Air Temperature: 13.2° C Relative Humidity: 94% Sky: Overcast
Science and Technology Log
When I read some the material online about the NGA LTER, what struck me was a graphic that represented variability and resiliency as parts of a dynamic system. The two must coexist within an ecosystem to keep it healthy and sustainable; they must be in balance. On board, there is also balance in the studies that are being done. The Main Lab houses researchers who are looking at the physical aspects of the water column, such as sediment and plankton. The Wet Lab researchers are looking at the chemical aspects and are testing properties such as fluorescence, DIC (dissolved inorganic carbon), and DOC (dissolved organic carbon).
Today we deployed Steffi’s sediment traps, a process during which balance was key. First of all, each trap was composed of four collection tubes arranged rather like a chandelier.
These were hooked into her primary line. Her traps were also attached to two sets of floaters: one at the surface and one as an intermediary feature on her line. These allowed her traps to sit at the proper depths to collect the samples she needed. The topmost trap sat 80m below the surface, while the next three were at subsequent 25m intervals.
We also collected more samples from another run
of the CTD today. Again, the Niskin
bottles (collection tubes) were “fired” or opened at various depths, allowing
sampling through a cross section of the water at this particular data point
PWS2. Unlike our previous collection, these samples were filtered with .45
micron mesh to eliminate extraneous particles.
This is a very careful process, we needed to be very careful to
eliminate air bubbles and replace the filters regularly as the clogged
quickly. For one depth, we did collect
unfiltered samples as a comparison to the filtered ones. Many groups use the CTD to collect samples,
so there must also be careful planning of usage so that there is enough water
for each team. Collection is a
complicated dance of tubes, syringes, bottles, labels and filters all circling
around the CTD.
Later this evening, we’ll have the chance to pull up Steffi’s sediment traps and begin to prepare her samples for analysis.
Balance is key in more ways than one when
you’re living aboard a research ship. Although it’s been very calm, we
experience some rolling motion when we are transiting from one site to the
next. The stairways in the ship are
narrow, as are the steps themselves, and it’s a good thing there are sturdy
handrails! Other than physical balance,
it’s important to find personal balance.
During the day, the science work can be very intense and demanding. Time schedules shift constantly, and it is
important to be aware of when your experiments or data collection opportunities
are taking place. Down time is precious,
and people will find a quiet space to read, go to the gym (a small one), catch
up on sleep or even watch a movie in the lounge.
A couple of weeks before I left, the Polynesian Voyaging Society hosted a cultural group from Yakutat, who had shipped in one of their canoes down for a conference. We were able to take them out sailing, and the subject of balance came up in terms of the worldview that the Tlingit have. People are divided between being Eagles and Ravens, and creatures are also divided along the lines of being herbivorous and carnivorous. Rather than this being divisive within culture, it reflects the principle of balance. Both types are needed to make an ecosystem whole and functional. And so, as we progress, we are continually working on maintaining our balance in the R/V Sikuliaq ecosystem.
Animals seen today:
A few dolphins were spotted off the bow this evening, but other than that, Prince William Sound has been relatively quiet. Dan, our U.S. Fish and Wildlife person, remarked that there are more boats than birds today, which isn’t saying much as I’ve only seen three other boats.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Beverly Owens Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow June 10 – 24, 2013
Mission: Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat: Ground-Truthing and Exploration in Deepwater Canyons off the Northeastern Coast of the U.S. Geographical Area: Western North Atlantic Date: June 13, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 16.70 oC (62.06 oF)
Wind Speed: 25.17 knots (28.96mph)
Science and Technology Log
“You get to go on a two-week cruise for vacation!”
This is the misconception that some people had, when I told them initially that I would be participating as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. On a vacation cruise and a research cruise, participants stay an extended period of time on the ocean, and they receive three meals a day. That is pretty much the end of the similarities between these types of cruises. During a scientific research expedition, there is a mission to accomplish. For example, this trip is examining sites that are known or predicted to be deep-sea coral and sponge habitats.
Many multibeam bathymetric maps are consulted to find the most suitable sites to investigate. Bathymetric maps are similar to topographic maps with the exception that bathymetry applies to the topography of the ocean floor. Most of the major structure-forming deep-sea corals are found on hard substrate. Thus, areas of soft sediment are not the most likely places to find the majority of coral species, however many other organisms like brittle stars and anemones, may be found there.
There is a lot of preparation that goes into planning and coordinating a research “cruise.” The Chief Scientist must put in a request for a research vessel, and must assemble a science crew that has the skills and research interests that align with the research mission. In the months leading up to the research trip, the science party will discuss specific science objectives, protocols and potential study sites. Every participant must receive medical clearance, which includes having a TB (tuberculosis) test, and a recent tetanus vaccination.
The Chief Scientist, with input from the science team, determines which areas of the ocean to examine, and what type of technology to use to explore the ocean. Weather and waves may prevent some of the “dives” from taking place. Safety first – the conditions must be safe enough for the TowCam operators and deck crew to be outside during deployment as they lower TowCam safely into the ocean.
During TowCam deployments, many things must be done to make the dive successful. The Chief Scientist selects several points (waypoints) along a survey line within a canyon. These points help guide the ship during the TowCam deployment. To get TowCam into the water requires a lot of communication and coordination of efforts. The winch operator and deck crew are responsible for getting TowCam into the water. The winch operator is in constant contact with the TowCam pilot and controls the wire that lowers TowCam into the water. At a certain depth, the control is passed to the TowCam pilot in the lab who uses a joystick to lower the camera to the ocean floor. The pilot and the Bridge are in constant communication during the dive. The Bridge controls the ship and follows the track for the survey. The TowCam pilot analyzes data displayed on several computer monitors in order to make the most informed decisions as they guide the camera through the water column by moving TowCam and up and down in the water column. In addition, a variety of data are collected during the deployment. I have been logging data during the night shift deployments. I help keep track of variables such as depth, winch wire tension, latitude, longitude, and altimeter readings along the survey track. All this information will be invaluable to scientists examining the data collected during this research cruise.
At Crest Middle School, we try to teach our students critical thinking skills: think for themselves, make informed decisions, gather data, predict, and draw conclusions. This research trip is a prime example of how skills that students acquire in school will be beneficial for them in the future. When completing a task such as logging data, I have to decide what the important events are that have occurred in the TowCam dive, and to phrase those items in a way that others will understand.
Did You Know?
TowCam is about the size of a refrigerator. It has one large high-resolution camera that takes pictures every 10 seconds. It also has a CTD, which records conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth. TowCam also carries several Niskin bottles, used for water collection at depth and a slurp pump that pulls sediment from the ocean floor into a container for later analyses.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Bhavna Rawal Aboard the R/V Walton Smith August 6 – 10, 2012
Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey, South Florida Geographic area: Gulf of Mexico Date: Aug 7, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time: 21.36 GMT
Longitude: 080 17’ 184
Latitude: 250 3’ 088
Water temp: 29.930 oC
Wind direction: East
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea wave height: 3 ft
Science and Technology log:
Hello students! We know how to do water testing in our lab class using the testing kit. Today, I am going to explain to you the way ocean water is sampled and tested in the South Florida coastline.
Our 5 day cruise consists of over 80 stations along the Atlantic and Gulf coast of Florida. At each station we take water samples, and at about 20 of the stations we tow nets to catch fish, seaweed or plankton and sometimes scuba dive to recover the instruments mounted on the seafloor.
Our journey begins at station #2 at Dixie shoal, which is near Miami; you can see this on the South Florida bimonthly Hydrographic survey map below (see fig).
At each station we performed CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) operations. The CTD is a special instrument to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll and the depth of water in the ocean. It is an electronic instrument mounted on a large metal cage that also contains bottles to collect samples. These bottles are called niskin bottles and every oceanographer uses them. They are made of PVC and are specially designed to close instantaneously by activation from the computer inside the ship. Collecting water samples at various depths of the ocean is important in order to verify in the lab that the instruments are working properly. Each bottle has an opening valve at the bottom and top to take in the seawater. The top and bottom covers are operated by a control system. Once a certain depth is reached, the person sitting at the control system triggers and it closes the bottles. You can control each bottles through this system to get a pure water sample from different depths. For example, when the ocean floor is 100 meters deep, water is sampled from the surface, at 50 meters deep, the very bottom.
The CTD instrument is very large, and is operated by a hydraulic system to raise it, to place it and lower down into the ocean. Rachel (another fellow member) and I were the chemistry team; we wore hard hats and life vests while we guided the CTD in and out of the water. This is always a job for at least two people.
The team usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean, in the middle layer and surface of the ocean. We closed the bottles in the middle layer because the characteristics of the water are different from at the bottom and the surface. Remember, the ocean water is not all the same throughout, at different depths and locations it has different chemical characteristics. We closed two bottles per layer, just in case something happened with one bottle (it is not opened properly, for example) then the other bottle can be used.
Rachel and I took water samples from the CTD bottles and used them in the lab to conduct experiments. Before I explain the analysis, I want to explain to you the importance of it, and how a “dead zone” can happen. Remember phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients to live and survive. The more nutrients, the more phytoplankton can live in water. As you all know, phytoplankton are at the base of the food chain. They convert the sun’s energy into food. Too many nutrients mean too much phytoplankton.
If certain species of phytoplankton increase, it increases the chance of a harmful algal bloom. Too much of one kind of plankton called the dinoflagellates can release toxins into the water which harms the fish and other ocean life and it can even cause people to feel like they have a cold if they swim in the water that has those plankton.
Large amounts of plankton die and fall to the sea floor, where bacteria decompose the phytoplankton. Bacteria use available oxygen in water. The lack of oxygen causes fishes and other animals die. The zone becomes ‘the dead zone’.
We prepare the sample for nutrient analysis to measure nutrients such as nitrate, nitrite, phosphate, ammonium and silicate in the water.
We also prepare the sample for chlorophyll analysis. In the lab, we filter the phytoplankton out of the water. Phytoplankton contains special cells that photosynthesize (chloroplasts) which are made of chlorophyll. If we know the amount of chlorophyll, we can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in a given area of the ocean.
Phytoplankton needs carbon dioxide to grow. Carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it provides an estimate of total carbon dioxide in the ocean. It is also important in understanding the effects of climate change on the ocean. If you increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (like when you drive cars), it enters into the ocean. If you think about a can of soda it has a lot of CO2 dissolved into it to make it fizzy, and it also tastes kind of acidic. This is similar to when CO2 dissolves into seawater. When the ocean becomes more acidic, the shells of animals become weaker or the animals cannot produce the shells at all.
Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) analysis informs us where this water comes from. The dissolved organic matter comes from decomposing plants, and some of these dead plants entered the water through rivers. You can tell for example that water came from the Mississippi River because of the CDOM signal. You can then follow its circulation through the ocean all the way to the Atlantic.
From the CTD instrument, we measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it on a computer (see figure) to analyze it.
Generally, I see that ocean surface water has high temperature but low salinity, low chlorophyll, and low oxygen. As we go deeper into the sea (middle layer), temperatures decrease, dissolved oxygen increases, chlorophyll and salinity increases. At the bottom layer, chlorophyll, oxygen, temp and salinity decrease.
I arrived on the ship Sunday evening and met with other people on the team, tried to find out what we are going to do, how to set up, etc. Asked so many questions… I explored my room, the kitchen, the laundry, the science lab, the equipment, etc. Nelson (the chief scientist) gave me a really informative tour about the ship, its instruments and operations. He showed the CTD m/c, the drifter, the wet lab etc. He also gave me a tour of a very important instrument called the “flow-through station” which is attached to the bottom of the ship. This instrument measures temp, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM, when the boat drives straight through a station without stopping. I was really stunned by how precise, the measurements taken by this instrument are.
The next morning, Nelson explained that if we have enough tide the ship would leave. We had to wait a bit. As soon as we got the perfect tide and weather, R/V Walton Smith took off and I said ‘bye bye’ to Miami downtown.
I learn so much every day in this scientific expedition. I saw not only real life science going on, but efficient communication among crew members. There are many types of crew members on the ship: navigation, technology, engineering, and scientific. Chief scientists make plans on each station and the types of testing. This plan is very well communicated with the navigation crew who is responsible for driving the ship and taking it to that station safely. The technology crew is responsible for efficient inner working of each scientific instrument. 10 minutes before we arrive on a station, the ship captain (from navigation crew) announces and informs the scientific team and technology team in the middle level via radio. So, the scientific team prepares and gets their instruments ready when the station arrives. I saw efficient communication and collaboration between all teams. Without this, this expedition would not be completed successfully.
I have also seen that safety is the first priority on this oceanic ship. When any crew member works in a middle deck such as CTD, Net Tow etc, they have to wear a hard hat and life jacket. People are always in closed toe shoes. It is required for any first timer on the boat to watch a safety video outlining safe science and emergency protocol. People in this ship are very friendly. They are very understanding about my first time at sea, as I was seasick during my first day. I am very fortunate to be a part of this team.
The food on the ship is delicious. Melissa, the chef prepares hot served breakfast, lunch and dinner for us. Her deserts are very delicious, and I think I am going to have to exercise more once I come back to reduce the extra weight gained from eating her delicious creations!
My shift is from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. and I work with Rachel and Grant. After working long hours, we watch TV, play cards and have dinner together. I am learning and enjoying this expedition on the ship Research Vessel Walton Smith.
Question of the Day:
Why we do water testing in different areas of river and ocean?
Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM)
Something to think about:
How to prevent dead zone in an ocean?
Animals Seen Today:
Two trigger fishes
Three Moon Jelly fishes
Did You Know?
In ship, ropes called lines, kitchen called galley, the place where you drive your ship is called bridge or wheel house.
It seems my background in chemical oceanography is coming into some use this cruise. Since one of the scientists was not able to make the journey, the oceanography lab was short-handed. So, I immediately was put to work to help collect and process the oceanography samples. Below is a bit more about what that entails.
Scientists use an instrument referred to simply as a CTD (acronym for conductivity, temperature and depth) to electronically collect much of the physical ocean data. Shown to the right, the CTD is a rosette with numerous electronic sensors and water collection bottles (known as Niskin bottles) that is slowly lowered into the ocean. A cable electronically transmits data from the apparatus back up in real-time to the computer screen monitored by the scientists. Viewing the data, an immediate decision can be made as to where (at what depth) a water sample should be retrieved for further analysis.
Jeanette, the oceanographer on board, is viewing the screen with her log book. She’ll look at the pycnocline and fluorescence data to decide where she’ll “fire the Niskin bottles”. This simply means to send an electronic signal down to trigger the closing of the tube and thus capturing a water sample at that specific depth. The general plan is to capture samples from 5m above the seafloor, two samples on the bottom and then top of the pycnocline. Two additional samples will be also taken at the fluorescence maximum as well as near the surface.
The fluorescence maximum is where the fluorometer has identified the greatest biomass of phytoplankton in the water column.
Once the CTD has been recovered back onboard, we take samples from the Niskin bottles for further study… So what will we do with our samples??
– Sample for nutrients such as nitrates and nitrites (food for the phytoplankton)
– Sample for Oxygen-18 isotopes
– Sample for different sizes of phytoplankton by filtering various aliquots using filter paper with different pore sizes.
Once the samples are recovered from the Niskin bottles, (Each sample is given number associated with the depth from which it was collected) the samples are taken back to the oceanography lab for processing. Samples are filtered for a given size of phytoplankton. These sizes range from greater than 10 micrometers all the way down to GFF (greater than fine fraction) meaning anything smaller will be bacteria and viruses. The filter papers are recovered from the processing and will be brought back to shore for plankton analysis. Ultimately, this data will help confirm the analysis completed electronically by the fluorometer on the CTD. Our lab on the Oscar Dyson is quite nice and as long as seas remain calm as they have been, I have to say that my new job is one that I feel quite comfortable with…
Oceanography Wet Lab
I have to say that I have gotten accustomed to the layout of the Oscar Dyson quite quickly and easily. The levels are numbered with the Bridge being Level #1. My berth is on Level #4 and the Oceanography Lab and the Mess hall are both on Level #3. That’s pretty much all that I really have to know.. Since seas have been calm, the gentle rocking has simply acted as a sedative to make you want to eat Oreo cookies and then take a nap. I think I better locate the two gyms on board in the near future.. I have very much enjoyed getting to know the crew and scientists on board and look forward to learning much more from all of them. Even drills are a bit different on the Dyson…