Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 6, 2019
I’m glad to get my land legs back. As I reflect on the wonderful experience of 2 weeks out at sea with scientists, I wish to sum it all up by two images below.
I re-posted (above) an important slide I presented earlier, that of a food web that includes plankton, krill, fish, birds, whales, and even us. Both the above images drive home the important message that all species are threads in this delicate fabric of life, coexisting and interdependent in a fragile planet with an uncertain and unsettling future. The loss of threads from this tapestry, one by one, however minuscule or inconsequential they may seem, spells doom for the ecosystem in the long run. The NOAA Corps personnel and NOAA scientists are unsung heroes, monitoring the ecosystems that sustain and support us. In this age of fake news and skepticism of science, they are a refreshing reminder that there are good folks out there leading the good fight to save our planet and keep it hospitable for posterity.
The Teacher at Sea (TAS) program gives hope that the fight to study and protect precious ocean ecosystems will be taken up by future generations. I was privileged to work with NOAA’s Teacher at Sea staff (Emily Susko et al.) in their enthusiastic and sincere work to set teachers on a stage to inspire students towards conservation and science. They too are unsung heroes.
And one final note. Why is the TAS program predominantly K-12 in nature? Why aren’t more college professors participating? In the past few weeks, I have directly connected with hundreds of college students, many with the impression that being a biology major was all about going to med school or other health professions. Research, exploration, and science are unfortunately not in their horizon. If the TAS program makes one Harvey Walsh (our Chief Scientist) or Michael Berumen (my former student!) or even the iconic Jacques Cousteau in the future, imagine the positive impact it will have on our oceans for decades to come. I urge readers to forward this blog to college teachers and encourage them to apply for this fantastic program. We owe it to our planet and to all its denizens (including us) to recruit more future marine scientists.
In my final blog from the ship, I included a poster on Right Whales that covered NOAA’s strict policy guidelines for ships when the endangered Right Whales are around. It turns out it was a timely posting. Just as our cruise ended, Right Whales were seen just south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. NOAA triggered an immediate bulletin announcing a voluntary vessel speed restriction zone (see map below). While I am sad that we so narrowly missed seeing them, it is good to know that they are there in the very waters we roamed.
had a flurry of whale sightings as we passed over the famous Stellwagen Bank
National Marine Sanctuary. It’s a small
underwater plateau in Massachusetts Bay flanked by steep drop offs. Nutrients from the depths rise up by
upwelling along the sides, feeding phytoplankton in the shallow light-abundant
waters, and this creates perfect feeding habitat for whales.
Much of my time aboard this ship has been on the flying bridge (the highest point of access for us on the ship) scanning the seas for marine vertebrates. I have basically been an extra pair of eyes to assist my colleagues Chris Vogel and Allison Black, the seabird observers on board. From nearly 50 feet high above the water, the flying bridge gives nearly unimpeded 360° views of the horizon all around. I call out any vertebrate animal seen—fish, birds, reptiles, or mammals. Chris and Allison enter all of our data in a specific format in a software program called SeaScribe.
To calculate densities of each species, we need an estimate of how far the animal is from the ship for each sighting. For that we use a rather low tech but effective piece of equipment. The pencil!
This is how it works. The observer holds the pencil (photo above) upright with arm outstretched, aligning the eyes and tip of the eraser to the horizon (see photo below), and simply reads the distance band (Beyond 300m, 300-200, 200-100, or 100-50m) in which the animal is seen. Thanks to some fancy trigonometry, scientists found a way to estimate distance by using the height of the observer’s eyes from the water surface, the distance from the observer’s eyes to the eraser tip of the pencil when it’s held upright with arm outstretched, and the distance to the horizon from the height of observer’s eyes above water. I’ll spare you the trigonometric details but those curious to learn more can find the paper that introduced the technique here.
Seabirds are a challenge for a rain forest biologist like me. They move fast and vanish by the time you focus the binoculars! And the fact that the deck heaves up and down unexpectedly adds to the challenge. But slowly I got the hang of it, at least the very basics. I’ve recorded hundreds of shearwaters, storm-petrels, boobies, gannets, jaegers, and skuas. Whales (sea mammals) seen include Finbacks, Humpbacks, Minkes, and Pilots. I am hoping to see a Right Whale but I know that the odds are against me. Time is running out, both for our voyage, and for them. Unfortunately, only a few 100 are left and the ocean is huge—the proverbial needle in the haystack. Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh tells me that this year so far, 8 Right Whales have died due to accidental collisions or net entanglements. Sadly, the future looks bleak for this magnificent animal. (More on Right Whales at the end of this blog).
I note that marine vertebrate biologists are good at extrapolating what little they can see. Much of their subjects are underwater and out of sight. So they have become good at identifying species based on bits and pieces they see above water. All they need often is a mere fleeting glimpse. Sharks are told by the size, shape, and distance between the fins that stick out, sea turtles by the shape and pattern on their carapace (top shell–see photos below); whales based on their silhouette and shape of back; and Molas based simply on the fact that they lazily wave one large fin in and out of the water as they drift by. (I thought it was the pectoral fin they waved, but it’s actually the massive dorsal fin. I’ve noted that the pectoral is rather small and kept folded close to the body).
Scientists can identify individual humpbacks based solely on the indentations and color patterns on their tail flukes. In effect, each individual animal’s tail fluke is its unique fingerprint. Since the tail fluke is often seen when the animal dives from the surface, scientists have a huge photographic database of humpback tail flukes (see photo below). And they track individuals based on this. My ecology students should know that scientists also estimate populations based on a modification of the capture-recapture method because each time an individual’s fluke is photographed, it is in effect, “tagged”. We do a nice lab exercise of this method by using marked lima beans masquerading as whales in my ecology lab.
spoke with Allison Black, one of our
seabird observers on board.
Q. Tell us something about yourself
A. I really love seabirds. I’m fortunate to have been able to do my Master’s work on them and observe them in their natural habitat. I have an undergrad degree in zoo and wildlife biology from Malone University in Canton, Ohio.
Q. You’re a graduate student now in which university?
A. Central Connecticut State University
Q. What’s your research project?
A. I conducted a diet study of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls on Tuckernuck and Muskeget Islands, Massachusetts.
Q. You have done these NOAA seabirds surveys before?
A. Yes, this is my third.
Q. What happens next, now that you are close to finishing your Masters?
A. I’m looking for full time employment, and would like to work for a non-profit doing conservation work. But until the right opportunity arises you can find me on a ship, looking for seabirds and marine mammals!
Q. What’s your advice to anyone interested in marine science?
A. I had a major career change after I did my undergrad. I thought I’d always be a zoo keeper, which I did for about two years until I decided that birds are really my passion, and I needed to explore the career possibilities with them. To focus on that avenue I decided to return to graduate school. So I would encourage undergrads to really find what drives them, what they’re really passionate about. I know it’s hard at the undergraduate level since there are so many fields and avenues under the Biology umbrella. And it’s OK if you haven’t figured that out for a while. I had a real change in direction from captive wildlife to ornithology, and I’m here at sea in a very different environment. I’m so glad I did though because following my passion has opened up some exciting avenues. I’m lucky to be getting paid to do what I really love right now. So grab any opportunity that comes by. It’s never too late to evaluate your career path.
My feelings are bitter-sweet as this wonderful 16-day voyage nears its end. My big thanks to NOAA, the ship’s wonderful command officers and staff, our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh, and my colleagues and student volunteers aboard for making the past 2 weeks immensely absorbing. Above all, kudos to the ship’s designers, who have clearly gone out of their way to make life aboard as easy as possible. In addition to the unexpected luxuries covered in my previous blogs, there is even a movie lounge on board with an impressive DVD collection of over 700 movies! Yesterday I saw our student volunteers play bean bag toss on the winch deck. Yes, you can throw darts too. The ship’s command even organized a fun sea animals-bingo game one evening, with winners getting goodies from the ship store (see below).
The engine rooms tour
As part of our grand finale, we were given a tour of the engine rooms (which are usually off bounds for non-crew members) by our genial First Engineer, Kyle Fredricks.
Did You Know?
NOAA has strict policies to avoid collision with whales, especially the highly endangered Right Whale.
We entered Canadian waters up north in the Gulf of Maine, and sure enough, the waters are cooler, the sea choppier, and the wind gustier than before. And the organisms are beginning to show a difference too. Our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh showed me a much longer arrow worm (Chaetognatha) from the plankton samples than we had encountered before (see photo below). And there are more krill (small planktonic crustaceans) now.
far in my blogs, I have focused on sampling of biological organisms like
plankton. But recall that in an
ecosystem monitoring survey like ours, we need to measure the abiotic
(non-biological) aspects too because the word Ecosystem covers a community of
organisms along with their biotic and abiotic environment.
today’s blog, I will highlight the ways various important abiotic components
are measured. You will learn about the
interdisciplinary nature of science.
(Feel free to pass this blog on to physics, chemistry, and engineering
majors you know—it may open up some career paths they may not have explored!). I will come back to biotic factors in my next
blog (seabirds and marine mammals!).
The CTD is a device that measures Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. We lower a heavy contraption called a Rosette (named due to its shape, see photo below) into the water. It has bottles called Niskin bottles that can be activated from a computer to open at specific depths and collect water samples. Water samples are collected from various depths. Electrical conductivity measurements give an idea of salinity in the water, and that in turn with water temperature determines water density. The density of water has important implications for ocean circulation and therefore global climate. In addition, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) is also measured in labs later to give an idea of acidity across the depths. The increased CO2 in the air in recent decades has in turn increased the ocean’s acidity to the point that many shelled organisms are not able to make healthy shells anymore. (CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid). Addressing the issue of increasing ocean acidity and the resulting mass extinction of shell-building organisms has become a pressing subject of study. See the photos below of CTD being deployed and the real-time data on salinity and temperature transmitted by the CTD during my voyage.
The ship is equipped with a highly sensitive sonar device called EK-80 that was designed to detect schools of fish in the water. (See photo of it attached to the hull of our ship, below). It works by sending sound waves into the water. They bounce off objects and return. The device detects these echos and generates an image. It also reflects off the sea bottom, thus giving the depth of the water. See below an impressive image generated by our EK-80, provided kindly to me by our amicable Electronics Technician, Stephen.
The Acoustic Doppler
Current Profiler (ADCP)
use this instrument to measure how fast water is moving across an entire water
column. An ADCP is attached to the bottom of our ship (see photo below) to take
constant current measurements as we move.
How does it work? The ADCP measures water currents with sound, using a
principle of sound waves called the Doppler effect. A sound wave has a higher frequency as it
approaches you than when it moves away. You hear the Doppler effect in action
when a car speeds past with a building of sound that fades when the car passes.
The ADCP works by transmitting “pings” of sound at a constant
frequency into the water. (The pings are inaudible to humans and marine
mammals.) As the sound waves travel, they bounce off particles suspended in the
moving water, and reflect back to the instrument. Due to the Doppler effect,
sound waves bounced back from a particle moving away from the profiler have a
slightly lowered frequency when they return. Particles moving toward the
instrument send back higher frequency waves. The difference in frequency
between the waves the profiler sends out and the waves it receives is called
the Doppler shift. The instrument uses this shift to calculate how fast the
particle and the water around it are moving. (From whoi.edu)
The University of Hawaii monitors ocean currents data from ADCPs mounted in various NOAA ships to understand global current patterns and their changes.
Hyperpro is short for Hyperspectral profiler, a device that ground truths what satellites in outer space are detecting in terms of light reflectivity from the ocean. What reflects from the water indicates what’s in the water. Human eyes see blue waters when there isn’t much colloidal (particulate) suspensions, green when there is algae, and brown when there is dirt suspended in the water. But a hyperpro detects a lot more light wavelengths than the human eye can. It also compares data from satellites with what’s locally measured while actually in the water, and therefore helps scientists calibrate the satellite data for accuracy and reliability. After all, satellites process light that has traversed through layers of atmosphere in addition to the ocean, whereas the hyperpro is actually there.
Three enterprising undergraduate volunteers.
Volunteers get free room and board in the ship in addition to invaluable, potentially career–making experience.
David Bianco-Caron is doing his B.A. in Marine Science from Boston University (BU). His undergraduate research project at the Finnerty Lab in BU involves a comb-jelly (Ctenophore) native to the West Atlantic but which has become an introduced exotic in the East Atlantic. David studies a cnidarian parasite of the comb-jelly in an attempt to outline factors that could limit the comb-jelly. The project has implications in possible biological control.
Jessica Lindsay finishes a B.S. in Marine Biology later this
year and plans to get her Small Vessels operating license next year. This is her 2nd year volunteering
in a NOAA ship. She received a NOAA
Hollings Scholarship which provides up to $9500 for two years (https://www.noaa.gov/office-education/hollings-scholarship). It
entailed 10 weeks of summer research in a lab.
She studies how ocean acidification affects shelf clams.
Jonathan Maurer is a University of Maine senior working on a B.S. in Climate Science. He studies stable isotopes of oxygen in ocean waters to understand ocean circulation. The project has implications on how oceanic upwelling has been affected by climate change. He intends to go to graduate school to study glaciers and ocean atmosphere interactions.
See my previous blog for information on how to become a volunteer aboard a NOAA research ship.
I also had the pleasure of interviewing our Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Claire Surrey-Marsden. Claire’s smiling face and friendly personality lights up the ship every day.
Claire is a Lieutenant Commander in the NOAA Corps:
The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is made up of 321 professionals trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, fisheries science, and other related disciplines. Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA. Learn more: https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-commissioned-officer-corps
Q. Thanks for your time,
Claire. You’re the XO of this ship. What
exactly is your role?
A. The Executive Officer is
basically the administrator on board. We
help with staffing, we manage all the crew, we have a million dollar budget for
this ship every year that we have to manage.
Everything from food to charts to publications, all these get managed by
one central budget. I’m kind of the paper work person on board.
Q. What’s your background?
A. I have a marine biology
degree from Florida Tech. I’ve done marine mammal work most of my career. I joined
NOAA in 2007, before that I was a biologist for Florida Fish and Wildlife
Q. I heard you have done
necropsies of marine mammals?
A. I was a manatee biologist
for FFW for 3 years, we also dealt with lots of whales and dolphins that washed
up on shore. I’ve also done marine mammal work in my NOAA career. Worked with Southwest Fisheries Science
Center on Grey Whales and dolphins, and worked with Right Whale management with
the maritime industry and the coast guard.
Q. About a 100 college students,
maybe even more are following my blog now.
What’s your advice to them, for someone interested in marine biology/NOAA
Corps, what should they be doing at this stage?
A. Great question. Volunteer!
Find all the opportunities you can to volunteer, even if it’s unpaid. Getting your face out there, letting people
see how good a worker you are, how interested and willing you are, sometimes
you will be there right when there is a job opening. Even if it seems like a
menial task, just volunteer, get that experience.
Q. NOAA accepts volunteers
for ships every summer?
A. Yes, ecomonitoring and
other programs takes students out for 2-3 weeks, but there are other
opportunities like the local zoo. Even
stuff that isn’t related to what you’re doing. Getting that work experience is
Q. What’s the most
challenging part of your job as an XO in a ship like this?
A. Living on a small boat in the middle of the ocean can be challenging for people working together harmoniously. Just making sure everyone is happy and content and getting fulfillment for their job.
At the end of the interview, Claire handed me a stack of brochures describing the NOAA Corps and how you can become part of it. Please stop by my office (Math-Science 222) for a copy.
The seas have become
decidedly choppier the past few days.
It’s a challenge to stay on your feet!
The decks lurch unexpectedly.
Things get tossed around if not properly anchored. I have fallen just once (touchwood!) and was
lucky to get away with just a scratch.
I’ve had to take photo backups of my precious field notes lest they get
blown away. They came close to that once
The ship has a mini library with a decent collection of novels and magazines plus a lounge (with the ubiquitous snacks!). I found a copy of John Grisham’s The Whistler, and this has become my daily bed time reading book.
Interesting animals seen lately
I started this blog with a photo of an exceptionally long arrow worm. The cold waters have brought some other welcome creatures. I created a virtual stampede yesterday in the flying bridge when I yelled Holy Mola! Everyone made a mad dash to my side to look over the railings at a spectacular Ocean Sunfish (Molamola) floating by. The name Mola comes from the Latin word meaning millstone, owing to its resemblance to a large flat and round rock. I have been looking for this animal for days! Measuring up to 6 feet long and weighing between 250 and 1000 kg, this is the heaviest bony fish in the world. The fish we saw was calmly floating flat on the surface, lazily waving a massive fin at us as though saying good bye. It was obviously basking. Since it is often infested with parasites like worms, basking helps it attract birds that prey on the worms.
Another animal that almost always creates a stir is the dolphin. Schools of dolphins (of up to 3 species) never cease to amuse us. They show up unexpectedly and swim at top speed, arcing in and out of the water, often riding our bow. Sometimes, flocks of shearwaters circling around a spot alert us to potential dolphin congregations. Dolphins drive fish to the surface that are then preyed upon by these birds. My colleague Allison Black captured this wonderful photo of Common Dolphins frolicking by our ship in perfect golden evening light.
Did You Know?
(Ocean Sunfish) are among the most prolific vertebrates on earth, with females
producing up to 300,000,000 eggs at a time (oceansunfish.org).
NOAA does multiple concurrent missions, some focused on fisheries, some on oceanography, and some hydrography. It has a ship tracker that tracks all its ships around the world. Our ET Stephen Allen kindly shared this image of our ship’s location (marked as GU) plus the locations of two other NOAA ships.
Life aboard this research vessel is fast-paced and absorbing. I feel like I am a child in a toy shop, eager to learn and blog about so many of the happenings around me! I spend much of my time high above in the flying bridge (above the bridge) with a panoramic 360 degree view of the horizon, documenting seabirds and mammals with colleagues—more on this later. We suspend our surveying when the ship reaches a sampling station. We have about 150 random sampling stations out in the ocean, ranging from close to coast (depth about 15 m) to right at the edge of the continental shelf (up to 500 m so far). Cruising about 9 knots (about 10 mph), the ship zigzags along a predetermined track, stopping anywhere between 15-30 minutes at each sampling station.
each station, an array of measurements are taken or specimens sampled.
In my previous blog, I described a state-of-the-art device called the Imaging FlowCytoBot (IFCB). But plankton are also sampled using more traditional methods. We deploy Bongo Nets for plankton sampling. Can you guess why they are called Bongos? See the photo below.
Note that there is a pair of bigger bongos and a pair of “baby” bongos. These nets are lowered by a j-frame (arm that can be extended off the side of the ship) and winch, at various depths into the water and towed for particular distances through the water. The time spent inside the water (5 minutes minimum) and the depth traversed (up to 200 meters) varies with station depth, but there is a Flowmeter at the mouth of each net that counts volume of water sampled. So all measurements are standardized by volume. The mesh size is 333 microns (1 micron = 1 millionth of a meter; 1 meter = 3.3 feet), meaning anything over 333 microns will be trapped. (To put that in perspective, most cells in your body are about 100 microns).
When they are pulled out, research personnel swing into action. Most of them are undergraduate volunteers from various universities eager to get their hands wet (literally and figuratively) doing marine science. The bigger bongo nets are hosed to flush all organisms to the bottom. Then the bottom is opened and contents flushed into a sieve. These samples are then preserved in formalin for future examination in labs on the mainland.
What happens to the contents of the pair of smaller bongos? Our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh freezes the sample from one of them into small ziplock bags for a Florida lab which will conduct Stable Isotope Analyses. The other one’s contents are preserved in ethanol for genetic testing (Ethanol is far easier on DNA than formalin) to determine such aspects as taxonomy and phylogenetic (evolutionary) relationships and use in larval fish age and growth studies.
what are Stable Isotope Analyses? If you are a beginning college student, you
may be unaware of this sophisticated and widely-used technique. (My ecology students should be well aware of
this!). Basically, the ratio of isotopes
of a chemical element in a given sample is used to yield insights into aspects
such as food preferences of the organism or to reconstruct its past
environmental conditions. It can also be
used to determine where the plankton originated and thus get insights into
ocean circulation. The analyses are done
with a device called mass spectrometer.
spoke with our Chief Scientist Harvey
Walsh about his career, research, and his advice for students.
Q. Harvey, tell us how a man from land-locked Minnesota ended up as a top marine biologist.
A. When I graduated from college I looked for a job with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but they were very competitive. So I applied for several NOAA positions from North Carolina down to the gulf coast. I got a job offer in NC. This was after my B.S. in Aquatic Biology from St. Cloud State University.
Q. You did an M.S. while working with NOAA?
A. Yes, I went back to school part-time and got my Masters. I then went to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute [WHOI]
From WHOI you came back to NOAA?
Has ocean acidity changed since NOAA started EcoMon?
It is hard to say because of seasonal variability. We need more long-term data.
Is ocean acidity world-wide increasing?
That’s what I see in the scientific literature.
How about temperature?
A. Yes, the Northeast has seen an increase in water temperatures, especially in the Gulf of Maine, where it has increased about 0.9°C in about 4 decades.
Has EcoMon helped document declines in sharks or whales?
Again, we need long-term data for that.
Q. Can you name one recommendation from EcoMon that has benefited sea life?
We get larval fish data. Recently we
started calculating Atlantic Mackerel Egg Index in collaboration with Division
of Fisheries and Ocean Canada and the data indicated that there is a decline in
the adult population. This aided in the
determination to lower catch limits for that species.
Has the politics of climate change influenced your work?
A. No. I have not had anyone try to change my research or findings in any way. We have within NOAA good scientific integrity rules. We feel we have the ability to publish sound science research without any interference.
You are highly published. One of your
papers on larval fish otoliths was with my former student Michael Berumen. How are larval otoliths helpful in research?
A. One of the projects we have is trying to use larval hakes to examine stock structure (fish stock is a group of fish of the same species that live in the same geographic area and mix enough to breed with each other when mature) and estimate spawning stock biomass (the amount of mature fish). We have interns in the lab who remove otoliths and get daily growth increments. That allows us to estimate age of the larva and spawning seasonality.
Can you tell based on this where they hatched?
That’s where we are headed. Once we get
information on when they were born and where they were collected, we hope to
use oceanographic conditions to see if we can back-calculate where they may
have come from and thus plot spawning locations to aid in stock structure
One of the findings of past warming episodes is shrinking of foraminiferans and
other small shelled organisms. Is NOAA
monitoring size of plankton?
A. We are. That’s one of the projects we have just started: estimating size of Calanusfinmarchicus, or Cal fin [see photo below]. This is a copepod crustacean and an important food for the endangered Right Whales. We have a 40-yr time series and have seen evidence of declining size of late-stage and adult Cal fin. We are trying to see if this has resulted in a decline in their energetic value. They are a lipid-rich zooplankton. If their size is related to their lipid storage they may be less nutritious for their predators.
One of your papers indicated that about a third of fish and plankton species
assessed in the northeast are vulnerable to climate change. Is that trend continuing?
A. Yes, as we monitor we continue to see shifts
in fisheries, plankton, seabirds, and mammals.
Q. What is your advice to early college
undergraduates interested in marine science?
Be flexible. When I first started I
thought I’d stay in Minnesota and work on adult fish stocks. I ended up working
on larval fish and zooplankton. Not
focusing on one skill set and being able to adapt and look at various aspects
will help you in the long run.
At the end of the interview, Harvey gave me this card and encouraged students to contact him for volunteer opportunities with NOAA.
One of the best aspects of this voyage is the daily spectacular views of sunrises and sunsets. I spend a lot of time high up on the fly bridge assisting in sea bird, sea mammal, and sea turtle surveys. It’s also a treat to look around 360 degrees and see nothing but the horizon, nothing man-made except this big old ship gently bobbing up and down in the center, leaving a wide frothy wake behind. Yet, in the vastness of the ocean, we are but a mere speck. It really is humbling to experience this vista.
The ship crew are very serious about safety. We have periodic Fire and Emergency, Abandon Ship, and Man Overboard drills. A billet posted on my door advises where to report in each of these scenarios. We have “muster” points, meaning, where to meet, for each. I was trained to get into my Anti Exposure Suit in less than two minutes. That was easier said than done!
The food continues to be sumptuous and delicious, cooked by two expert stewards Margaret and Bronley. Never did I dream I will enjoy eggplant curry and coconut jasmine rice on a NOAA Ship far out into the sea.
Did You Know?
Hakes (see photo above) are lean whitefish belonging to the Cod family. They are known as Gadoids (Order Gadiformes) and are grouped with cods, haddocks, whiting, and pollocks. They are much sought-after for their delicate texture and mild flavor. We get some hake larvae in our plankton tows. Hake larvae are used by scientists for all kinds of studies. For example, their otoliths (tiny ear bones) can enable identification of species and even help determine where they were hatched (by Stable Isotope Analysis—see above). This information, combined with data on ocean currents and circulation, can help determine hotspots for hake reproduction to enable conservation and sustainable fisheries.
Interesting animals seen
Spotted Dolphins (riding the bow!)
In addition, several land birds on their south-bound autumn migration rested briefly on the ship. I was not expecting to see Prairie Warblers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Brown-headed Cowbirds on a pelagic (=ocean) cruise!
my previous blog posting, I explained the importance of plankton as base of the
ecological pyramid upon which much of marine life in this ecosystem
depends. The past few days, I have
witnessed and experienced in-person how scientists aboard this sophisticated
research vessel collect and analyze sea water samples for plankton.
I spent some time with Kyle Turner, a guest researcher from the University of
Rhode Island doing his M.S. in Oceanography.
He operates a highly sophisticated device called the Imaging FlowCytobot
(IFCB). I was fascinated to learn how it
works. It is basically a microscope and
camera hooked up to the ship’s water intake system. As the waters pass through the system, laser
beams capture images of tiny particles, mostly phytoplankton (tiny
photosynthetic drifters). As particles
do, they scatter the light or even fluoresce (meaning, they emit their own
light). Based on this, the computer
“zooms in” on the plankton automatically and activates the camera into taking
photographs of each of them! I was
amazed at the precision and quality of the images, taken continuously as it
pipes in the water from below. Kyle says
this helps them monitor quality and quantity of plankton on a continual
students (especially bio majors). In
this corner of my blogs, I will interview some key research personnel on the
ship to highlight careers. Please learn
and be inspired from these folks.
Here is my interview with Kyle Turner.
Tell us something about your graduate program.
A. My research focuses on phytoplankton using bio-optical methods. Basically, how changes in light can tell us about phytoplankton in the water.
How does this IFCB device help you?
It gives me real time information on the different types of phytoplankton in
the location where we are. We can
monitor changes in their composition, like the dominant species, etc.
Why are phytoplankton so important?
They are like trees on land. They produce about half the oxygen in the
atmosphere, so they’re super important to all life on earth. They are also the
base of the marine food web. The larger
zooplankton eat them, and they in turn are eaten by fish, and so on all the way
to the big whales. They all rely on each
other in this big ocean ecosystem.
How are phytoplankton changing?
The oceans are warming, so we’re observing shifts in their composition.
What brought you into marine science?
I grew up on the coast. I’ve always
liked the ocean. I love science. So I
combined my passions.
What is your advice to my students exploring a career in marine science?
A. Looking for outside research opportunities is important. There are so many opportunities from organizations like NASA, NSF, and NOAA. I did two summer research internships as an undergrad. First was with NASA when I was a junior. I applied through their website. That was a big stepping stone for me. A couple of years later, I did another summer project with a researcher who is now my advisor in graduate school. That’s how I met her.
What are your future plans?
A. I’d love to get into satellite oceanography to observe plankton and work for NASA or NOAA.
I am pleasantly surprised by how comfortable this ship is. I was expecting something more Spartan. I have my own spacious room with ample work and storage space, a comfortable bed, TV (which I don’t have time for!), and even a small fridge and my own sink. Being gently rocked to sleep by the ship is an added perk!
food is awesome. We have two expert
cooks on board, Margaret and Bronley.
Did You Know?
NOAA Ship GordonGunter played a big role in recovery operations following Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Some interesting animals seen so far
Flying fish (they get spooked by the ship, take off and fly several yards low across the water!)
Cow-nosed Rays (see photo and caption below)
Leather-backed Sea-turtle (I’m used to seeing them on the beach in Trinidad—see my previous blog. It was a treat to see one swimming close by. I was even able to see the pink translucent spot on the head).
Seabirds (lots of them…. four lifers already—more on this later!)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 1, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge
I’ll update this when I get on board.
Greetings from land-locked Arkansas!
I am thrilled at the chance to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. In the latter half of August, I will be aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter assisting scientists on a Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Ecosystem. I am particularly excited about surveying for marine mammals and sea turtles, although a lot of our work will involve monitoring spatial distribution of plankton. I cannot wait to learn novel techniques and measurements that I can later incorporate into my classes at the University of Arkansas—Fort Smith.
While aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter I will blog about my experiences. My students will follow my blogs and hopefully learn a lot from them. I hope to make my blog postings fun and informative at the same time. I will cater to a broad audience, from biology majors and non-majors (college students), to even some school children who are keen on following me and exploring potential science careers. So don’t be offended if I define basic terms or explain concepts you may have learned decades ago!
Science and Technology log
I will be embarking on an Ecosystem Monitoring mission. As my ecology students should know, the term ecosystem refers to a community of organisms along with their physical (or abiotic) environment. And a community is a group of organisms living and interacting in an area. To monitor the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf ecosystem, we will take extensive data on various components, both biotic (biological) and abiotic (physical). Such measurements are important because they alert us of possible changes in our environment and what that could mean to our well being and that of other life forms. In effect, we keep a finger on the pulse of our planet.
What is continentalshelf? It’s the relatively shallow (generally up to
about 100m or 330 feet depth) area of seabed around land. Much of this was exposed during glacial
periods when water was locked up as ice. This zone teems with life because of
its shallow nature, which allows light to penetrate and photosynthesis to
occur. It is therefore vital for the
fisheries industry in which many coastal human communities depend on for
The Project Instructions document we were all sent (by the
Chief Scientist, Dr. Harvey Walsh) indicates that the principal objective of
the survey is to assess the “hydrographic, planktonic, and pelagic components”
of the ecosystem. Hydrography (Ancient Greek–hydor, “water” and graphō,
“to write”) is a branch of the applied sciences that deals with
measurements and descriptions of the physical features of water, like ocean
currents and temperature. Plankton (Greek—errant or wanderer) are organisms,
both plants and animals, in the water that drift in the currents (most of them
are microscopic). Pelagic (Greek—of the sea) means oceanic, or belonging to the open
I will be part of an elite multi-disciplinary team, meaning,
we will have experts from various disciplines of science. We will be measuring
the distribution of water currents and water properties, plankton, sea turtles,
sea birds, and marine mammals. Much of
my career I have focused on ecology and behavior of vertebrates, especially
birds. The chance to learn hands-on and
in-depth on aspects like water chemistry and plankton biology challenges and
excites me. It gets me out of my comfort
zone and has the potential to make me a better-rounded biologist. After all, I regularly teach the impacts of global
warming and ocean acidification on coral reef organisms. Can there be a better way to hone my teaching
skills than actually do these studies hands-on, in the company of world’s
leading experts, in a state-of-the-art research ship?
Since much of the survey focuses on measuring plankton
distribution and abundance, it begs the question:
Why are plankton important?
Well, consider this.
Phytoplankton, the plant-like photosynthetic drifters, produce half of all oxygen on earth. That’s about the same as ALL oxygen produced
by land plants! So that alone should
convince you why they are vital.
But there is more. Their productivity (meaning, photosynthetic activity that converts sun’s energy into fuel) forms the energetic foundation of the food pyramid, and most of life in sea depends on it.
So, you take away plankton, and much of oceanic life will
collapse. No fish, no whales, no sea
turtles, no sea birds. Ultimately it
will affect all life on earth, including humans.
The disturbing news is, plankton are in trouble. Phytoplankton have declined 40% since the
1950s. Since the beginning of the
industrial age, they have dwindled about 1% a year. There seems a connection between warming waters
and this decline. In the North Atlantic,
the melting of Greenland ice has changed the physics and chemistry of ocean
waters. This has resulted in a decline
in ocean circulation and its upwelling of nutrients that the phytoplankton
So as you read this and take breaths of air, contemplate this: that oxygen you just took in probably came from phytoplankton. That’s why we need to start with measuring them to monitor our planet’s health. Our future depends on their well-being!
So I will be blogging quite a bit on these minuscule
creatures—what kinds there are out there, how they appear, how to measure their
abundance, and so on. Stay tuned.
For nearly 40 years, I have been mainly a terrestrial ecologist. I love taking people outdoors and making them into naturalists and field biologists. My forays into the oceanic realm have been limited. I once went on a sea birding cruise, which I described in this article.
Earlier, in my college days, I did a number of “turtle walks” – 10 km walks along the beach in my hometown of Chennai, India, to collect Olive Ridley Seaturtle eggs and relocating them to a protected hatchery. Since 2009, I have taught a tropical biology course in Trinidad, West Indies, where I take the class to a remote beach to observe massive Leatherback Seaturtles nest. A letter of mine on this appeared in the September 2009 issue of National Geographic (below).
So, my exposure to the other 70% of the earth’s surface, the
ocean, has been rather limited. I hope that
this NOAA program helps in my quest to fill that void.
My home for two weeks – NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
This is an ultramodern oceanographic research vessel whose main mission is to study marine mammals and other living resources. “Bigeye” 25 x 150 binoculars are used by scientists to scan for marine mammals. This includes a scale to enable distance measurement. A hydrophone array is towed to hear and record marine mammal sounds 24 hours a day.
She was once USNS Relentless, designed to assist the US Navy in collecting underwater acoustical data in support of Cold War anti-submarine warfare operations. After the end of the Cold War, she was transferred to NOAA. In 2010, NOAA used this ship to define the subsurface plume near the BP Deepwater Horizon site.
I am honored to be assigned to this vessel. I hope you will join me and enjoy and learn from my adventure out in the seas in this amazing ship.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 30, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 39.115 N
Longitude: 74.442 W
Water Temperature: 26.4◦C
Wind Speed: 11.7 knots
Wind Direction: SW
Air Temperature: 28.2◦C
Atmospheric Pressure: 1017.03 millibars
Depth: 22 meters
Science and Technology Log
As we wind down this cruise and start packing up all the gear, I find myself reflecting on all I’ve learned while acting as a Teacher at Sea. Tomorrow I’ll watch my last sunrise on the deck of NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter and it has truly been a once in a lifetime experience. Here are some of the lessons I’ll take away:
The ocean is huge and filled with so much life, it is hard to comprehend.
The actions of humans all over the world are so impactful, they are changing the basic ecosystem functions in the sea.
Scientists are doing SO MUCH more than I ever knew or ever will fully know.They have discovered more than most of us understand.The ones I have been spending time with are inquisitive, intelligent, and open to sharing what they know.Find a scientist and ASK lots of questions!
There are a lot of salps out there.
Satellites are cool and tell us A LOT of information.
LIGHT is an incredible thing.It allows life to exist.It moves and changes and bounces and bends and scatters in thousands of different colors, many of which our eyes can’t see.By studying what light is doing we can learn all kinds of things about what’s happening on Earth.
Plankton is cool.So is science.
Everything on our Earth is the way it is because of water and light.Surround yourself with both and you will feel connected to everything.
There are a lot of salps out there.
I know that after this journey I will continue to ask a lot of questions, research and explore what is happening in the scientific world, and connect my students to it as well. I hope I have inspired you to explore and wonder.
A little interview with the Deck Department
There are still lots of people on this ship who I have not interviewed, and I wish I had time to interview them all! But I did want to shed light on the Deck Department of the ship. These are the people who are the backbone of all of the ship’s daily tasks. They assist with every aspects of the ship’s operation, including navigation, sanitation, maintaining equipment, deploying scientific gear, and more. While waiting for the plankton nets to tow at our stations, I had the opportunity to ask some members of the Deck Department a few questions. Thanks Steve, Jeff, John, and Jerome (our Chief Bosun)!
Me – What would you be doing if you were not working for NOAA?
Steve – I have no idea.
Jeff – web development or traveling
John – I used to be a bricklayer
Jerome – I almost became a highway patrolman
Me – Do you have an outside hobby?
Steve – I dabble in the stock market and current affairs. I also love stargazing.
Jeff – piano, photography, and backpacking
John – I used to be on two softball leagues.
Jerome – time with family
Myself, the other volunteers, and the Deck Department had many a brief chat while waiting for the plankton nets or the CTD. We talked about financial decisions, travel locations, and life at sea. Thanks for keeping the ship operations running smoothly Deck Department!
I am looking forward to seeing a new city tomorrow from the perspective of the ship as we head in to port in Norfolk, VA, where I will catch a plane to fly home. It will be a bittersweet ending to an amazing experience. I am definitely looking forward to seeing my family and sharing stories at home. I am inspired to get out on the water more and become more involved in the local science happening around my home in the Florida Keys. I will miss the expansive view of water and sky and the constant learning that I have experienced on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. But I am inspired and excited and ready to head home!
Did You Know?
We saw two leatherback sea turtles today! The leatherback is the largest of all living turtles and is the fourth heaviest reptile (some crocodilians are heavier). They get so huge on a diet of only jellyfish!
DO Try This At Home
Do you live near the water? You can make your own plankton net and tow for plankton. You’ll need a nylon stocking and a clean peanut butter jar. Cut the foot off of the stocking and cut a circle out of the top of the jar. Fit the ankle of the stocking over the top of the peanut butter jar and screw on the lid so that the hole in the lid faces into the stocking. Now you have a basic plankton net. Drag your net through the water, allowing the water to flow into the net and into the jar. After a couple of minutes, look in your jar. Do you see any tiny critters moving around? That’s plankton! Make sure you release your plankton after you get a good look at it.
Premier marine ecologist Dr. Robert Pitman is a member of our cruise. He works at the NOAA Fisheries at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division. He has traveled the world in search of cetaceans, turtles, flying fish, and seabirds. Currently he is doing extensive work with killer whales. Dr. Pitman has viewed almost all of the 80 plus species of whales known to man; however, seeing some of the Mesoplodon beaked whales in person has been elusive… until now. Dr. Pitman gave an excellent presentation on the different species of beaked whales that we might to see in the North Atlantic Ocean.
The Blainville’s beaked whale was first identified by Frenchman Henri de Blainville in 1817 from a piece of a jaw. The average length of a Blainville’s beaked whale is 4.4 meters. The most prominent feature of the whale is a high arching jaw. Blainville’s beaked whales have scars from raking which heal white. Males are very aggressive and proud. Dr. Pitman stated, “They want a pair of horns but only have a pair of teeth.” They leave deep scars with their pairs of teeth, because they will savagely charge each other. Sometimes barnacles will settle on their teeth. The head of a Blainville’s beaked whale is flat to expose the teeth.
Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
The Cuvier’s beaked whale was first identified by Frenchman Georges Cuvier from a skull in 1823. The skull had a large cavern in the head which was the reason for the name cavirostris (cavi means hollow or cavernous in Latin). Cuvier’s beaked whales also go by the name of goose beaked whale. The whale can grow to a length of seven meters. Cuvier’s beaked whales have the most variable coloration. Some Cuvier’s will be grey in color while others may be reddish brown in color. They have white sloping melons.
Gervais’ Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon europaeus)
The Gervais’ beaked whale was first identified by Frenchman Paul Gervais in 1855. The average size of a Gervais’ beaked whale is 4.8 meters. The prominent feature of the Gervais’ beaked whale is the vertical striping along its back along with a dark band just behind the melon. A white circular spot is located just below the melon. The dorsal fin is dark. The male Gervais’ beaked whale has one set of teeth located about one-third of the way back from the tip of the beak. Males turn dark and lose their striping with age. Males also rake each other; however, scars from the encounters re-pigment a darker color.
Sowerby’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens)
The Sowerby’s beaked whale was first identified by Englishman James Sowerby in 2804. The average size of a Sowerby’s beaked whale is 5.5 meters. They are one of the few whales that have a long beak. Males have one pair of teeth that are located about two-thirds of the way back from the tip of the beak (or rostrum). Males have make scratch marks along their backs; however, since the teeth are positioned so far back, scratch marks are from just one tooth and not a pair which would create parallel tracks. Scientists believe the scarring is due to male competition. The dorsal fin is located approximately two-thirds of the way along the back. These whales are not very aggressive and more than one male will be seen in a group. These animals do not usually travel alone unless it is a male.
True’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon mirus)
The True’s beaked whale is the dominant subject of study of this cruise. The True’s beaked whale was first identified by American Frederick True in 1913. Due to his excitement over his discovery of the marine mammal, he named it mirus, which means wonderful in Latin. A True’s beaked whale can grow to be about 5.4 meters. The identifying features of a True’s beaked whale include: a dark band behind the melon, a large light spot behind the dark band, a pale melon, two tiny flippers, dorsal fin that is small and triangular, and for males two tiny teeth at the front of the rostrum. These whales will have paired parallel scarring because their teeth are so close together.
First and foremost, I am in awe every day at the different things I see in nature on this cruise. I have seen so many birds that I cannot remember one from the other… not to mention the dolphins. I did not know there were so many kinds of dolphins. I watched the television series “Flipper” when I was a little girl, and now I can say I have seen a bottlenose dolphin in person. I think the scientists get almost as excited as I do about seeing an animal even though they have probably seen them hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Nature is always amazing no matter how many times you see it.
During Dr. Pitman’s presentation, I was captivated by the way he spoke about the whales like they were his best friends he had known forever. I found out why. He has spent most of his life studying them. Dr. Pitman is an amazing resource for me on this cruise. Being a marine mammal observer newbie, Dr. Pitman took the time to answer all of my questions about whales. I really value the conversations I have had with a famous whale lover.
The weather has not been ideal for marine mammal observation for several days. If the swell is too high, it makes it hard to see the animals, because they can breach in the waves where we cannot see them. The fog also makes it difficult to see the animals, and it is not safe on the flying bridge if it is raining. During times of foul weather, the scientists are busily working on projects except for the seabirder. The seabirder sees several birds during foul weather. The chief scientist, Dr. Danielle Cholewiak, has assembled an international crew of scientists who are as passionate as she is about beaked whales.
During the foul weather when people are not working on other projects, the galley is place to be. The scientists have taught me how to play a card game called Peanut. It is a wild version of a multiplayer solitaire. I am usually pretty good at catching on how to play card games, so learning another game was fun. It gets fast and furious, and you cannot be faint of heart. The first person to 100 wins, but the person with the lowest score which can be negative also gets to be the winner of the lowest score. Sometimes even a NOAA Corps officer will join in on the excitement. All kinds of fun happens on board the Gordon Gunter!
One of the best experiences I have had so far on this cruise is talking with the crew. They are from all over the country and take their work very seriously. As different NOAA Corps officers on board get promoted, they may not stay with the Gordon Gunter and may move to other ships. Most of the crew, however, sticks with the Gordon Gunter. I thought when we went on the cruise that we were basically going on a “fishing” trip to watch whales and dolphins and no machinery would be on board. Oh how I was wrong! There are several pieces of heavy machinery on board including a crane and a wench. The boatswain is in charge of the anchors, rigging, and other maintenance including the heavy machinery. Boatswain is not a term I was familiar with before this cruise. The word is pronounced like “Bosun” not “Boat Swain.” Boatswain Taylor is the first one I see in the mornings and last one I see at night. He works tremendously hard to make sure the “work” of the ship is done.
Did You Know?
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Marine Mammal Program created a beaked whale identification guide. Check out the website: http://vertebrates.si.edu/mammals/beaked_whales/pages/main_menu.htm
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 26, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 39.487 N
Longitude: 73.885 W
Water Temperature: 25.2◦C
Wind Speed: 13.1 knots
Wind Direction: WSW
Air Temperature: 26.1◦C
Atmospheric Pressure: 1017.28 millibars
Water depth: 30 meters
Science and Technology Log
As if catching plankton and sneaking a peak with the microscope wasn’t exciting enough (see the picture of the larval eel!), there’s a lot more data being collected on this ship. All of it helps scientists understand what’s going on in this part of the Ocean. And some of it I am able to help with, which is my favorite thing about this cruise (well, maybe that and the incredible views).
At some of our stations, we lower a big and important science tool (called a rosette) into the ocean that contains niskin bottles (bottles used for water sampling) and a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth meter (CTD). As the rosette is lowered into the depths and raised back up, the scientists can remotely operate the open niskin bottles to snap shut at specific depths. This allows each bottle to come up to the surface with a sample of water from many different depths! Meanwhile, the CTD can take measurements of conductivity (which indicates the salinity of the water), temperature, and pressure, among other things. Scientists have thought of many ways to collect A LOT of data at one time.
When the CTD comes back onto the ship, it’s time for us to use the samples for different purposes. We collect water from 3 different bottles (so 3 different depths) to test the amount of chlorophyll in the water. Do you know what the chlorophyll comes from? If you said plants, you’re right! What are some plant-like things that are drifting all over the ocean? You guessed it! Phytoplankton! So the amount of chlorophyll gives scientists evidence as to how much phytoplankton is in the water. But first, we need to extract (take out) the chlorophyll from the water. We run the water through special filters and soak the filters in a chemical that extracts the chlorophyll. Then we can put the sample through a special machine that uses light to sense the amount of chlorophyll. Wow. One thing I am learning on this trip is how important light is in understanding a water ecosystem.
Do you remember what a hypothesis is? It’s an educated guess that answers a scientific question. When scientists come up with a hypothesis, it gives them something to test in an investigation. If you were presented with the question, “At what depth is phytoplankton most abundant?”, what would be your hypothesis?
Another thing we do with the water samples is collect a bit from most of the bottles to preserve and send to the lab to test for the amount of nutrients. When you think of nutrients, you probably think of healthy vitamins for people. But nutrients for plants are actually made from broken down waste of animals. It’s important for ocean water to have a balanced amount of nutrients so that phytoplankton can be healthy. But too much nutrients can also cause algae and phytoplankton to overpopulate!
But that’s not all! The scientists also take samples from the niskin bottles to test for Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DIC). That sounds fancy, I know. Doing this basically helps scientists understand the pH of the water and look for evidence of ocean acidification (a result of climate change).
Can you believe how much scientists can learn from dropping a big science tool into the water?
Scientist Spotlight – Harvey Walsh
Harvey is our Chief Scientist on the mission, meaning he oversees all of the scientific work happening on the ship. He has been so kind as to answer all of my many questions, including these:
Me – If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient, what would it be and why?
Harvey – I would like a tool that allows you to easily and quickly identify fish eggs and larvae. Currently, it is a time consuming process that involves sorting through samples and identifying them in the lab. There have been and continue to be efforts to use image analysis and genetics to speed up the process. An image analysis has progressed quicker for phyto- and zooplankton, but fish and fish eggs still lag behind.
Me – When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in ocean science?
Harvey – I always thought I would end up studying freshwater fisheries in Minnesota, where I grew up, but after the first two ocean cruises I participated in, I knew the ocean was more for me and the lakes had less of an appeal.
Me – How long has EcoMon (the ecosystem monitoring program we are using) been conducted and how was the protocol (the methods we use) created?
Harvey – EcoMon started in 1992 but it was modeled after a program that started in 1977. The bongo plankton sampling has not changed much since it started, but with new technology we have added the water chemistry
testing, optics, and other instruments.
To create the protocol, scientists from around the North Atlantic region got together to form the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries. This council had the job of looking at plankton sampling techniques and deciding the best way to monitor plankton communities.
Me – Can you share an example of a way that people have used EcoMon data to form and test a hypothesis?
Harvey – Our data helps scientists make connections between different species in a food web, for example. After people noticed that Atlantic herring (fish) populations were getting low, they used EcoMon data to come up with a hypothesis like this:
“Increasing haddock populations lead to a lower stable state of herring because haddock feed on herring eggs.”
If people want to know more about a certain species of fish and how it survives and thrives, they need to understand the whole ecosystem, including the food web!
This cruise continues to amaze me. Sometimes we’ll have several hours between stations when I love to learn from others, bring a pair of binoculars up to the fly bridge and join the seabird observers, or catch up on a good book. Being around the water all day is calming and serene. I feel that this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
Another rare opportunity came yesterday when I was able to launch my drifter buoy as part of the NOAA drifter buoy program! First, I decorated the buoy with our school’s name and a symbol for each of the classes at our school – the Sharks class, the Rays class, the Dolphin class, and the Sea Star class. Then, after gaining permission from the ship command, we dropped the buoy overboard!
The buoy has a long canvas tube that extends out like a spring after you release it. This allows the buoy to have a long tail that reaches into the water so that it can catch the ocean currents and drift. If it was just the floating buoy, it would get moved by the wind instead of the currents.
The buoy has a satellite tag that sends a signal to a satellite wherever it goes. This way, back home my students and I can track the buoy online and see where it ends up! Where do you think the buoy will go?
Everyone on board gets excited when we spot a pod of dolphins or a whale spout! I can’t wait to see what’s out there tomorrow!
Did You Know?
Great Shearwaters are sea birds that spend most of their lives out at sea and only come to land to nest. They can dive deep to catch fish but do not have to dry out their wings like some other birds. They are almost always found soaring by air currents and they prefer stormy and rough weather for stronger air patterns to lift them up.
If a plankton sample with 5,000 individual plankton contains 60% salps, 10% hake larvae, 20% arrow worms, and 10% crab megalops, how many arrow worms are in the sample?
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 24, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 40.15 N
Longitude: 68.71 W
Wind direction: NE
Wind speed: 14 knots
Water temperature: 23.8 degrees C
Air pressure: 1023 millibars
Air temperature: 24.2 degrees C
Water depth: 165 meters
Science and Technology Log
What an exciting first full day out at sea! I have been so grateful that our science team has allowed me to be completely hands-on and take responsibility for some of the science happening on the ship. In addition to checking the Imaging Flow Cytobot (IFCB) periodically, I am very much involved in the data collection at each of our stations.
There are specific stations along our course where scientists need to collect data. The crew announces when we are close to the station. At that time, along with another volunteer on watch, I don my foul weather gear to head out to the deck. We get pretty splashed as we are working with the equipment so the gear is a good idea. We help the crew as they lower “bongo nets” into the water using a cable and pulley system. Can you guess why they are called bongo nets? These nets have a very fine mesh that helps collect, you guessed it, PLANKTON!
We also help raise the bongo nets after several minutes dragging them through the water. We rinse all of the plankton down to the bottom of the net and then open up the end of the net to allow all of the plankton into a sieve where we will collect it. I have been surprised by the amount of jelly-like animals that have shown up in the nets!
Then it’s time to use special liquids (ethanol or formalin) and water to wash the plankton into collection jars. These chemicals will preserve the plankton so scientists can study it back in the lab!
It has been so much fun working with this equipment, asking the scientists questions about the plankton, and being a part of it all.
Harvey, our chief scientist, explained to me that many scientists can use the plankton samples for all different studies. Some of the samples can be used to study larval fish (baby fish) otoliths, the tiny ear bones that can verify the identification of larval hake using genetics. Knowing this, scientists can do research to determine where the larval fish were born! What a great example of the beginning of a scientific
Question – Where are most larval red hake fish born in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean?
Research – Scientists might research currents in the area, wind patterns, and other things that would push plankton from place to place. They also would research what other scientists have already learned about larval red hake.
Hypothesis – Most larval red hake fish are born in the Southern New England and Georges Bank regions in the northeast US shelf.
Didn’t I tell you plankton were amazing?
At some of the stations, we also lower Niskin bottles and CTD instruments into the water to collect a lot more data! More on that to come!
NOAA Corps Corner
Today I spoke with Lola Ajilore, Officer with NOAA Corps, and asked her a few questions about her important work. A pod of humpback whales off the bow stole the show! Here’s what we got in before the exciting interruption…
Me – Tell me more about your roles on the ship.
Lola – I am the Navigation Officer, Medical Officer, Environmental Officer, Ship Store Officer, and Morale Officer. As you can see, we all have multiple roles on the ship. As Navigation Officer, for example, I plot charts, track directions, and coordinate with the Operations Officer and Commanding Officer on track lines and routes that are requested by the scientists.
Me – Where do you do most of your work?
Lola – I am always with NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. The ship’s home port is in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Our missions often take place in the Gulf of Mexico but we also run these Northeast Shelf cruises for Ecosystem Monitoring every year.
Me – What kind of training is needed for your line of work?
Lola – We undergo an application process that includes several interview steps. We then train at the Coast Guard Academy. Much of our training parallels that of the Coast Guard, but we also do our own NOAA Corps training as well.
Me – What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?
Lola – Radar! [Radar aids navigation by detecting things that are far away such as an island or another ship]
I cannot believe the amazing views that we have on this ship 24 hrs. a day! The water has been super calm and the sunrise, sunset, breaching whales, and pods of dolphins have taken my breath away.
Yesterday was emergency drill day! Libby, our Operations Officer, had given us directions on how to respond to emergencies prior to leaving the
dock. There are emergency drills for a fire (just like at school!), abandon ship (in the case that we had to immediately leave the ship in an emergency), and man overboard.
We practiced a fire drill and an abandon ship drill. The Officers on the ship sounded the alarm, using a different number and duration of blast based on the type of emergency. For a fire, we all “mustered” (got together in one place) in assigned areas. All of the science team members mustered together. For abandon ship, we all mustered near the life boats along with our life jackets and immersion suits (suits that can help you survive if you end up in the water).
The fun part of the abandon ship drill was donning our immersion suits in one minute or less! This was a great thing to practice so if there ever was a real emergency, we would know how to put on the suit. I thought I looked pretty cool in my immersion suit.
Did You Know?
Salps are barrel-shaped planktonic tunicates. Our plankton bongo nets always contain some jelly-like salps. Where I live in the Florida Keys, we see mangrove tunicates growing on mangrove roots. Here in the open ocean, salps stick together in long colonies and drift! Sometimes there are so many salps in our nets, we have to filter them out with sieves and put them back in the water.
Something to Think About
We have been finding up to 4,000 phytoplankton in 5 mL of water. A gallon of water is equal to about 3785 mL. There is about 352,670,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of water in the Atlantic Ocean. How much plankton is in the Atlantic? You do the math.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 22, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 991 N
Longitude: 590 W
Water Temperature: 22.3◦C
Wind Speed: 1 knots
Wind Direction: WSW
Air Temperature: 23.3◦C
Atmospheric Pressure: 66 millibars
Sky: Mostly Cloudy
Science and Technology Log
Haven’t you always dreamed of having your own Imaging Flow Cyto Bot (IFCB)? What an interesting scientific instrument that I am lucky enough to be taking care of while on this cruise! Before we even left the dock, Jessica Lindsey (volunteer from the Maine Maritime Academy) and I were trained by Emily Peacock, research associate at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, on how to run this amazing piece of equipment!
The IFCB is a computer, microscope, camera, and water flow controller all in one. Emily describes it as “plumbing combined with electronics”. It uses a water intake system from the ship to run a constant flow of water into extremely tiny hoses. As the water flows through these hoses, a laser beam of light shoots at every tiny particle that is in the water. The tiny particles in the water, mainly phytoplankton (microscopic drifting plants), react to the sudden burst of light. The phytoplankton scatters the light and also can react by fluorescing (reacting to one wavelength of light by giving off a different wavelength). The computer detects this scattering and fluorescing to determine where the phytoplankton is in the water flow. The microscope focuses in on each phytoplankton cell and the camera takes a picture! Scientists simply get the IFCB going and at the end of the day they have hundreds of pictures of plankton! Isn’t that incredible?!
One thing I’ve learned about this particular cruise is that it’s all about plankton! We are collecting samples and data for scientists at the University of Rhode Island, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and NOAA’s own Narragansett Lab, just to name a few. What are all of these scientists studying? Plankton! Why? Plankton is the microscopic lifeblood of the ocean. The word plankton comes from a Greek word, oikos, meaning “drifter.” Plankton refers to all the living things of the ocean that are drifting with the currents. They are present throughout the water column and consist of two types: phytoplankton and zooplankton. Can you guess the difference? Phytoplankton is like a plant. It has chlorophyll and does photosynthesis. Zooplankton is an animal. There are many zooplankton species that hunt, hide, and do other things that larger animals do. Most plankton is microscopic or close to it. Phytoplankton does at least half of all the photosynthesis in the WORLD. So you can think that every other breath you take contains oxygen created by phytoplankton.
Both types of plankton are the base of the marine food chain. If major changes happen in the community of plankton in the sea, these changes will impact the entire food chain all the way up to the apex predators (top predators). So, as you can see, plankton is SUPER important. If plankton populations are healthy, it indicates that much of the rest of the ecosystem is healthy too.
Some scientists use equipment, like the IFCB, to study samples of phytoplankton.
We also are collecting zooplankton in nets (called “bongo” nets) and preserving samples for scientists to analyze in the lab. More on that to come soon!
My students have been learning that scientists always start an experiment with a question.
Scientists on this mission are not exactly leading an experiment, but they are responsible for monitoring. The monitoring of an ecosystem tells us WHAT is happening there. Scientists from all over the world can then use the monitoring data that we find to research and experiment WHY things are happening the way they are. This is where the scientific method will come in and an experiment will start with a question.
For example, through the plankton samples that we take on this monitoring mission, scientists may notice a change in the amount of larval hake (tiny baby hake fish). They can then ask the question, “Why are larval hake populations decreasing?” which may lead them to a hypothesis such as, “larval hake populations are decreasing due to climate change”. They can test this hypothesis by comparing the plankton data to other types of data (such as pH and water temperature) in the same areas over time. Thus, an experiment!
So our job now is to collect the important data that can help scientists understand what’s happening and think of ways to investigate “why” and “how”.
Bottom line, I really love plankton. And you should too. That breath you just took? Thank plankton.
Scientist Spotlight – John Loch – Seabird Observer
Enough about plankton! During all of this plankton excitement, I have also spent some time on the fly bridge (the top level of the deck of the ship), asking questions to our two seabird observers, John and Chris. Their job is to stand watch all day, looking for and identifying seabirds, marine mammals, sea turtles, and any notable (large) animals. Here’s a little interview with John Loch, Seabird Observer:
Me – Why is your job so important?
John – My job is to monitor seabird populations to help detect changes in numbers or distribution of species. We estimate a 300 square meter area around the ship and record all birds seen within that area. We enter our data into a computer, noting species, life stage, number seen, and direction of flight. Over time, we may notice trends in numbers and distribution which is important to understand this ecosystem.
Me – What do you enjoy most about your job?
John – I enjoy seeing anything new or rare.
Me – How could scientists use your monitoring data to lead an investigation (using the scientific method)?
John – Our data has shown, for example, that some populations of birds, such as the gannet, have steadily declined over the last 20 years. Researchers can ask “Why are gannet populations declining?” and can use oceanographic data in combination with bird observation data to come up with a hypothesis to test.
I was excited to get underway this afternoon! Although many of us slept on the ship last night, we have been on the dock until 2:30 this afternoon, when we finally watched the crew release the lines and the ship cruise through the harbor and out to sea!
We began our day with a scientist meeting where Harvey Walsh, our Chief Scientist, explained our route and the “stations” where we would be slowing down or stopping the ship to take our data. He explained our 3am-3pm/3pm-3am shifts that we alternate so that whenever a station is reached, day or night, data can be collected. I’m lucky to intersect these shifts and work “on watch” from 8am-8pm! This means that I will support and assist scientist in their data collection during this time, and generally be present and available.
We also heard from Libby, our Operations Officer, who explained our state rooms, bathrooms, shared spaces, and general “do’s and don’ts” of the ship.
I have to say I am pleasantly surprised by our living quarters aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. I have my own state room with a shared bathroom, small closet, sink, and even a desk. It is quite spacious! I’m also excited about the food options on board, but more about that later!
Tonight is our first night out at sea! Luckily, I’m not feeling seasick, but rocking and rolling as I type this does feel pretty strange! Everyone says we’ll get used to it and it will feel normal in no time.
I am so excited for our first morning and sunrise out at sea! Stay tuned!
Did You Know?
Phytoplankton come in all different colors, just like the flowers in your garden. Since they are so tiny, we don’t see the colors unless there is a lot of plankton all together. They also contain more than one color in their cells, similar to leaves that change from green to brown, red, or orange.
Question of the Day
Do you think the amount and type of plankton in an area can affect how many sharks live there? Why?
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 18, 2018
Hello from the Florida Keys! I am so excited to be embarking on my Teacher at Sea excursion in just 4 days. I will be joining the crew aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter to participate in a Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey in the Northeast Atlantic, departing from Rhode Island and returning to port in Virginia. I am looking forward to working side by side with NOAA scientists, sharing knowledge with my students, and having the experience of a lifetime!
My students at Ocean Studies Charter School are prepared to follow me along on my journey via this blog and our online classroom. They have even practiced their own Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey of the Hardwood Hammock forest surrounding our school!
I hope you’ll join us in this adventure and check back here for more blog posts in a few days!
Weather Data from the NOAA weather station at Molasses Reef in the Florida Keys
Latitude: 25.130 N
Longitude: 80.406 W
Water Temperature: 85.6◦F
Wind Speed: 11 knots
Wind Direction: ESE
Air Temperature: 84.4◦F
Atmospheric Pressure: 30.13 in
Sky: Partly Cloudy
Science and Technology Log
I am very much looking forward to participating in the Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. At Ocean Studies Charter School, we do projects to monitor the seagrass, mangrove, and coral reef ecosystems each year while out in the field. It will be interesting to see how NOAA scientists conduct these surveys; what tools and equipment they use, what animals and plants they will find, and what aspects of water quality they will measure.
The ecosystem we will be monitoring on the mission is called the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem (NES LME). You can just call it the “Northeast Shelf.” This ecosystem spans the coast and out to sea from North Carolina up to Maine. Scientists want to know a lot about this part of the ocean because it is very important for something we love to do here in the Keys: FISHING. Fishing is fun, but it’s also the way that many people in our country get their food and make money to live. Fishing is a major industry along the east coast, so the Northeast Shelf Ecosystem is considered a very important natural resource that we need to protect.
How can scientists understand and protect this resource? It starts with Ecosystem Monitoring.
An ecosystem is a place where living things and non-living things work together like a big machine. Each part of the machine, both living and non-living, is important for the whole system to work. For example, in an ocean ecosystem, every type fish is needed for the food web to function. Clean water and plenty of sunlight is needed for the ocean plants and phytoplankton to be healthy. The ocean plants are needed for the invertebrates that the fish eat… and the cycle continues! In order for scientists to understand the fish that are important to us, they need to understand EVERY piece of the ecosystem since it is all connected. That’s why we will be measuring lots of different things on our mission!
Monitoring means “observing and checking something over a period of time”. NOAA scientists observe, measure, and check on this ecosystem 6-7 times per year. Monitoring an ecosystem lets people know WHAT is going on within the ecosystem. Scientists can use this information to research WHY things are happening the way they are. Then, they can use modeling to find out WHAT might happen in the future. This helps the government make decisions about our precious resources and make plans for the future to keep our oceans healthy and our fish populations strong.
On our mission, scientists will collect plankton, invertebrates, and fish with special nets to count and measure them. They will look and listen for marine mammals and sea birds. They will take measurements of the water such as temperature, salinity (amount of salt), nutrient levels, and ocean acidification. These measurements will help them understand the quality of water and changes of the climate in this area. What other aspects of the ecosystem do you think are important to measure?
I can’t wait to see how we will take all of these measurements and what we will see out there!
I am proud to call myself the Marine Science Teacher at Ocean Studies Charter School in Tavernier, Florida Keys. We are a small public charter elementary school, focused on the surrounding marine environment and place-based learning. I teach science to all grades (K-5) and lead our weekly field labs. I even drive the school bus! We use the term “field labs” instead of “field trips” to highlight that we are not simply visiting a place. We are using the outdoors as our learning laboratory, working on projects, collecting data, and partnering with local organizations on our excursions. We study the local habitats of the shallow seagrass beds, mangrove forests, and coral reefs that we are so lucky to have in our backyard.
Upon my return from my Teacher at Sea mission, we will be hosting the grand opening of our new Marine Discovery Laboratory in the center of our school! After teaching marine science in an outdoor classroom for the past 7 years, I am excited for the opportunities that our state-of-the-art indoor lab will bring (no more visits from the local iguanas)!
My students impress and amaze me every day with their ideas and discoveries. I have watched them create and present model ecosystems, examine hurricane protection ideas by studying animal survival, and help scientists tag sharks to learn more about their populations. At the start of this new school year, I cannot wait to see what ideas they will come up with next!
It will be hard to be away from my family, especially my two awesome sons, ages 6 and 9. I hope they enjoy following along with Mom’s blog and that they are inspired by my experience!
I originally hail from New Hampshire but have lived in Florida for all my adult life. Prior to teaching, I worked on boats as an environmental educator and earned my captain’s license along the way. I have been a SCUBA instructor, marine aquarist, and guide for summer travel adventure camps. As a teacher, I have been lucky enough to also participate in “Teacher Under the Sea” through Florida International University. In this program, I assisted scientists under the ocean at the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory right here in the Florida Keys. Throughout my life, I have loved the ocean. One day, I hope to sail out to sea and travel the world on my own boat.
But for now, I’m not sure exactly what to expect in terms of living aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. I look forward to sharing adventures and stories of life at sea! Stay tuned to this blog and check for my updates in a few days. Sea you soon!
Did You Know?
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter was named after an American marine biologist and fisheries scientist who was considered a pioneer in the field of fisheries ecology.
The ship was originally built in 1989 as the U.S. Naval Ship Relentless and was transferred to NOAA in 1993.
Word of the Day
Ichthyoplankton – The planktonic (drifting) eggs and larvae of fish.
When scientists tow for plankton, studying the icthyoplankton helps them understand fish populations.
The visual sighting team started early this morning at 6:00 am and had rotating shifts of 30 minutes each until 7:00 pm. The different shifts included watching with regular binoculars on the port and starboard sides, watching with the big eyes on the port and starboard sides, and being the data recorder for sightings. I had the opportunity to shadow scientists in each of these positions throughout the first day and actually performed the duties on the second day.
One of the important jobs the data recorder has is to input the environmental conditions at a certain point in time. The first measurement to input is the percent of cloud cover which is just a number from 0 to 100. Then the glare magnitude is determined on an ordinal scale from 0 to 4 with a value of zero meaning none and a value of four meaning severe. After determining the glare magnitude, the percent of glare cover is determined. Since the two sets of big eyes cover from 90 degrees left of the bow to 90 degrees right of the bow, the glare covering this spaced is what is determined. The data recorder also has to determine the degree angle and height of the ocean swell. Swell is not the wind waves generated by local weather. It is the wind waves that are generated by distant weather systems. Then the Beaufort scale is used to determine the amount of wind on the ocean. The scale was developed by Sir Francis Beaufort of the United Kingdom Royal Navy in 1805. The scale ranges from 0-12. A zero score means the surface is smooth and mirror like, while a score of 12 means there are hurricane force winds. Rain or fog is also determined by the data recorder. Finally, the data recorder has to determine a subjective condition of the weather overall. This is on an ordinal scale from 1 to 4 with 1 being poor and 4 being excellent.
When a marine animal is sighted by one of the observers, the data recorder has to input several measurements about the event. The bearing of the location of the animal has to be determined using the big eyes. Also, the big eyes have a scale in the lens called reticles that determines distance from the ship to the animal. A conversion scale can then be used to determine how far away the animal is in meters or nautical miles. The number of animals sighted, including any calves that are in the group, has to be given. The group’s swim direction has to be determined based on bearing from the ship. If possible, the species of the group has to be given. Since the objective of this survey is to find the occurrence of Mesoplodons in the North Atlantic Ocean, determining the species is very important. Also the observer has to give the initial cue as to what determined the identification of the species. Several different cues are available such as the body of the animal, the blow of a whale or dolphin, or the splash.
The software used to input the occurrence of a marine mammal automatically inputs the GPS of a sighting. The initial route for this survey is a zig zag pattern out of Rhode Island towards Georges Bank. There are several canyons with very deep waters (over 1,000 meters) which is where the Mesoplodons make foraging dives to get food. Instead of making a straight line through the canyons and only making one pass through the area, using zig zag routes gives the survey a better chance of locating Mesoplodons. The chief scientist uses the information from sightings to track a path for the ship to take the next day. Sometimes the acoustics team hears possible Mesoplodons. If the acoustics team can find a convergence of the area of an animal, they will tell the ship to go at a slower rate or turn.
The map here shows the sightings of Mesoplodons from the beginning of our journey and the zig zag pattern taken by the chief scientist. The first day of our journey, a storm was coming up the East Coast. The Gordon Gunter‘s Commanding Officer (CO) determined that we could run from the storm by going east in a straight line direction instead of doing the zig zag motion. The CO was correct, because we did not have bad weather. The ocean had a lot of high swells which made the boat rock tremendously at times but no rain.
I have found my favorite place to be on the visual sighting team…being the data recorder. Statistics is my passion, and being the data recorder puts me in the middle of the action getting mass amounts of data. It also helps that the data recorder sits in a high chair and can see a wide area of the ocean. The scientists have been very helpful in finding me a milk crate, because that chair is so high I cannot get onto it without the milk crate. Being the data recorder can be intense sometimes, because multiple sightings can be made at the same time. In any free time I have, I will fill in as the data recorder. It is lots of fun!
One thing that was a little intimidating to me at first was the intercom system. I would hear things like, “Fly Bridge Bridge.” Then the data recorder would say “Bridge Fly Bridge.” I had no clue of what they were talking about. Then all of a sudden it made sense to me. In “Fly Bridge Bridge,” someone from the Bridge is calling up to us on the Fly Bridge. The Bridge has a question or wants to tell the people on the Fly Bridge something. Since I figured it out, I am ready to go.
I have learned so much on this cruise in the short time I have been aboard the Gordon Gunter. My head is exploding with the numbers of lessons that I can incorporate into my statistics classes. I have also talked with the acousticians, Jenny, Joy, Emily, and Anna Maria, and have come up with lessons that I can use with my algebra and calculus classes as well. The scientists have been very generous in sharing their knowledge with a science newbie. Being a math teacher, I want to be able to expose my students to all kinds of content that do not deal with just the boring math class. Being a Teacher at Sea has opened up a whole new experience for me and my students.
We have an interesting participant in our cruise that I was not expecting but was happy to meet…a seabird observer. Before this cruise I did not know there were birds that pretty much lived on the surface of the ocean. These birds have been flying around the ship which is about 100 nautical miles from shore. The seabird observer documents all sightings of seabirds and takes pictures to include in his documentation.
Did You Know?
Reticles are the way a pair of binoculars helps observers to determine the distance to an animal; however, the conversion from reticles to distance is not an instantaneous solution. Based on the height of a pair of binoculars on the ship, reticles can mean different distances. A conversion chart must be used to determine actual distance.
Check out this article on how to estimate distance to an object with reticles in a pair of binoculars:
acoustician – someone whose work deals with the properties of sound
bearing – the direction from your location to an object in the distance starting at 0° which is located at absolute north. For example, if an animal is spotted at 90°, then it is due east of your location.
blow of a whale – the exhalation of the breath of a whale that usually looks like a spray of water and is an identifying feature of different species of whales
bow of a ship – the point of the ship that is most forward as the ship is sailing (also known as the front of the ship)
cloud cover – the portion of the sky that is covered with clouds
foraging dive – a type of deep dive where a whale searches for food on the ocean floor
glare – the light reflected from the sun off of the ocean
nautical mile – a measurement for determining distance on the ocean which is approximately 2025 yards (or 1.15 miles) or 1852 meters
port side of a ship – when looking forward toward the bow of the ship, the left side of the ship is port
starboard side of a ship – when looking forward toward the bow of the ship, the right side is starboard
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Coast
Date: July 20, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 41° 31.838′ N
Longitude: 71° 19.018′ W
Air Temperature: 26.7° C (80° F)
Science and Technology Log
Beaked whales are elusive creatures that roam all of the world’s oceans. The purpose of this cetacean cruise is to find the occurrence and distribution of beaked whales in the northeast Atlantic off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The beaked whale is a toothed whale from the family Ziphiidae. Several types of beaked whales have been spotted in this region including the True’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon mirus) and the Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris).
To find the occurrence of beaked whales, the scientists are using several different methods. The first method is a visual sighting of the animals. High-powered binoculars, affectionately termed “big eyes” can see animals from several nautical miles away. Then regular binoculars are used to scan the areas closer to the ship. The second method scientists are using is by passive acoustics. Acousticians are using two different types of listening devices to try to hear the whales. The first device is called a linear array. In this device, four hydrophones are attached to a tube in a linear pattern. The array is then towed in the water behind the ship, and acousticians can hear the whales when they communicate. The acousticians can then determine how far the whale(s) is(are) from the device. However, with this type of array, it is difficult to calculate how deep the whale is in the water.
In an effort to improve detection of the depth of a beaked whale, a new array has been designed. This tetrahedral array is designed so that the four hydrophones are placed in a way that is not linear two-dimensional space but in a more three dimensional space, so scientists can detect not only the distance of a whale but the depth. We will be testing a new prototype of this array during this cruise.
Arriving the day before the Gordon Gunter sailed allowed me to see some pretty interesting things. I got to help two of the scientists put up the “big eyes.” These binoculars are really heavy but can see very far away. On the day we sailed, we were able to zero the binoculars which means we set the heading on the binoculars to zero with the ship’s bow based on a landmark very far away. We could not zero them the day before, because there was not a landmark far enough away to get an accurate reading.
The Gordon Gunter is one of the larger ships in the NOAA fleet according to several of the scientists who have been on many cruises. It took me a while to figure out where all of the doors go and how they open. I did not realize how hard it was to open some of the doors. According to the XO, the doors are hard to open because of the pressure vacuum that exists in the house of the ship. There is not really a reason for the vacuum to exist. It is just the nature of the ship.
Life on board the Gordon Gunter has been very interesting for the first day. Before leaving port, we had a fleet inspection. We had to do all of our emergency drills. Safety is very important on a ship. We had to do a fire emergency drill where everyone had to meet at a muster station and be accounted for by one of the NOAA officers. Then we had to do an abandon ship drill. Then once we got sailing a short time, we had to do a man over board drill.
Donning the immersion suit in case of an abandon ship order was not a thrill for me but was comical in retrospect. I am only 4’ll”, and the immersion suit I was given is made for someone who is over six feet tall. When I tried on the suit, I had two feet of immersion suit left at the bottom. When the NOAA officer came to inspect, he said I definitely needed a smaller suit.
One of the best features of my cruise so far has definitely got to be the galley. The Gordon Gunter has the best cook in Miss Margaret. She is the best and makes awesome food. She has made cream cheese from scratch. She makes the best smoothies. I can only imagine what we are going to be getting for the rest of the cruise.
Did You Know?
All marine mammals, including the beaked whales, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Check out this website on what the law states and what it protects:
Tomorrow is the big day! I am getting ready to board the plane from Florence, SC to Charlotte, NC to Providence, RI. I have never been to Rhode Island, so this is going to be a bucket list activity to keep adding states to my history. Rhode Island will make state number 24…almost half way!
I teach in a very rural high school in Lamar, South Carolina which is approximately 90 miles from Myrtle Beach. Lamar High School has about 280 students. This year we had a graduating class of 52 students. I teach Calculus, Statistics, and Algebra 2 Honors.
Teaching statistics is the main reason I applied to the Teacher at Sea program. I wanted to give my students some real world experience with statistics. I try to create my own data for students, but I end up using the same data from the Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Major League Baseball, etc. I had one student a couple of years ago in Algebra 2 Honors who is a weather lover. His favorite website is NOAA, and he would give me the daily weather or hurricane updates. Any time we had a baseball game, he would be able to tell me if we were going to be able to play the game. Being able to provide him and his classmates projects using data from something he loves will help me to reach that one student. Hopefully, I might even spark interest in other students.
Helping my students to become statisticians is the main reason I applied; however, I also applied to challenge myself. Throughout my life, I have not been the kind of person who deals well with creepy crawly things. Being on a ship on the ocean will definitely force me to deal with that. I want to do my very best to get involved in all kinds of neat activities. I hope “Cool Beans!” will be my daily saying.
I am really looking forward to working with the scientists on the Gordon Gunter. Having read as much as I can about the Passive Acoustic Research Group has helped me to understand a little of what we will be doing on our 15-day journey. I hope that I can help them to further their research to learn the patterns that cetaceans use to communicate with each other!
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 7, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 050°NE
Wind Speed: 13 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-4 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1006.7 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 14.8°C
Air Temperature: 12.8°C
The Eve of Debarkation (Tuesday, June 6)
Today is the eve of my debarkation (exit from NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter). Our estimated time of arrival (ETA) to Pier 2 at the Naval Station Newport is 10 a.m. tomorrow, June 7th. Before I disembark, the sea apparently wants to me remind me of its size and force. Gordon Gunter has been rocked back and forth by the powerful waves that built to around 5 feet overnight. Nonetheless, it is full steam ahead to finish collecting samples from the remaining oceanography stations. All hands on deck, as the saying goes. The navigational team steer the vessel, engineers busy themselves in the engine room, deck hands keep constant watch, scientists plan for the final stations, and the stewards continue to provide the most delicious meals ever. I am determined to not let a bumpy ship ride affect my appetite. It is my last full day aboard Gordon Gunter, and I plan to enjoy every sight, sound, and bite.
Coming into Port (Wednesday, June 7)
I am concluding my log on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter, in port. It seems fitting that my blog finish where it took life 10 days ago. When I first set foot on the gangway a week and a half ago, I had no idea of the adventure that lay in front of me. I have had so many new experiences during the Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey—from sailing the Gulf of Maine to collecting plankton samples, along with many special events in between.
I have grown accustomed to life on board Gordon Gunter. The constant rattling of the ship and the never-ending blowing of the air-conditioner no longer bother me, they soothe me. It is remarkable what we as humans can do when we just do it. At this time last year I never would have imagined working on a research vessel in the North Atlantic. It is nice proving yourself wrong. There is always a new experience waiting. Why hesitate? The memories I have made from the Teacher at Sea program will be amongst the ones I will cherish for the rest of my life.
I won’t keep the experience and the memories just for myself either. Back home at Simpson Elementary School, 670 eager 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders are waiting to experience oceanography and life at sea vicariously through their librarian. Through the knowledge I have gained about the EcoMon Survey, my blog, photographs, and videos, I am prepared to steer my students toward an understanding and appreciation of the work that is being done by NOAA. Gordon Gunter steered us in the right direction throughout the entire mission, and I plan to do the same for students in my library media center.
Seeing the Bigger Picture
Many types of zooplankton and phytoplankton are microscopic, unable to be seen by the naked eye. From 300 plus meters out, birds can appear to be specks blowing in the wind. But with a microscope and a pair of binoculars, we can see ocean life much more clearly. The organisms seem to grow in size when viewed through the lenses of these magnification devices. From the smallest fish larvae to the largest Blue Whale, the ocean is home to millions of species. All the data collected during the EcoMon Survey (plankton samples, wildlife observers, ship’s log of weather conditions, and GPS coordinates) creates a bigger picture of the ocean’s ecosystem. None of the data aboard Gordon Gunter is used in isolation. Science is interconnected amongst several variables.
Take for instance the avian observers’ data which is most useful when analyzed in terms of the current environmental conditions in which each bird or marine animal was seen: sea temperature, wind speed, and water currents. This kind of data in conjunction with the plankton samples will help scientists create predictive models of the marine environment. Our understanding of the hydrographic and planktonic components of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Ecosystem will help us prepare for a more sustainable future where marine life flourishes.
My answer would be that we need to do these ecosystem monitoring surveys because we are on the front lines of observing and documenting first hand what’s going on in our coastal and offshore waters. The science staff, aided by the ship’s command and crew, is working 24 / 7 to document as much as they can about the water conditions, not just on the surface but down to 500 meters, by measuring light, chlorophyll, and oxygen levels as well as nutrients available. Water column temperatures and salinities are profiled and Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DIC) levels are checked as a way of measuring seawater acidity at the surface, mid-water and bottom depths. What planktonic organisms are present? Plankton tows across the continental shelf down to 200 meters are made to collect them. What large marine organisms such as whales, turtles and seabirds are present in different areas and at different times of the year, and are they different from one year to the next? From one decade to the next? Two seabird observers work throughout the daylight hours to document and photograph large marine organisms encountered along our cruise track. Without this information being gathered on a regular basis and in a consistent manner over a long period of time, we would have no way of knowing if things are changing at all. [Source — Jerry Prezioso, Chief Scientist]
Just as the ocean changes, so does the science aboard the ship. So, what’s next for Gordon Gunter? Three days after my debarkation from the vessel, Gunter will be employed on an exploratory survey of Bluefin Tuna. This is quite an iconic survey since scientists could be on the brink of a new discovery. Bluefin Tuna were once thought to only spawn in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea. That is until researchers began to find Bluefin Tuna larvae in the deep waters between the Gulf Stream and the northeast United States. Fifty years ago fishermen believed Bluefin Tuna were indeed spawning in this part of the Gulf Stream, but it was never thoroughly researched. The next survey aboard Gordon Gunter (June 10-24) will collect zooplankton samples which scientists predict will contain Bluefin Tuna larvae. The North Gulf Stream is not an area regularly surveyed for Bluefin Tuna. It is quite exciting. The data will tell scientists about the life history and genetics of these high-profile fish. NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter has executed countless science missions, each special in its own right. Yes, it is time for me to say farewell to Gordon Gunter, but another group of researchers won’t be far behind to await their turn to come aboard.
360-degree of the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.
A BIG Thank You!
I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the NOAA crew for such an amazing voyage I would like to thank the ship’s stewards, Chief Steward, Margaret Coyle and 2nd Cook, Paul Acob. Their hospitality cannot be matched. From day one, they treated me like family. They prepared each meal with care just like my mother and grandmother do. I cannot imagine enjoying another ship’s food like I have that aboard Gordon Gunter.To the stewards, thank you.
I would like to thank the deck team for their continual hard work throughout the cruise. Chief Boatswain, Jerome Taylor is the definition of leadership. I watched on countless occasions his knack for explaining the most difficult of tasks to others. Jerome knows the ship and all her components like the back of his hand. The deck crew left no stone unturned as they carried out their duties. To the deck crew, thank you.
I would like to thank the engineers. Without the engineering team our cruise would not have been possible. The engineers keep the heart of the ship running, the engine. I am astounded by the engineers’ ability to maintain and repair all of Gordon Gunter’s technical equipment: engines, pumps, electrical wiring, communication systems, and refrigeration equipment. To the engineers, thank you.
I would like to thank the wonderful science team, who patiently taught me the ropes and addressed each of my questions. It is because of their knowledge that I was able to share the research being done during our Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. To the science team, thank you.
I would like to thank the NOAA Corps officers who welcomed me and my questions at all times. These technically skilled officers are what make scientific projects like the EcoMon successful. They remained steadfast in the way of any challenge. They ensured the successful completion of our mission. To the NOAA Corps officers, thank you.
NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps): “Stewards of the Sea”
NOAA Corps is one of the nation’s seven uniformed services. With 321 officers, the NOAA Corps serves throughout the agency to support nearly all of NOAA’s programs and missions. Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA. The combination of commissioned service and scientific expertise makes these officers uniquely capable of leading some of NOAA’s most important initiatives. [Source — NOAA Corps]
All officer candidates must attend an initial 19-week Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC). The curriculum is challenging, with on board ship-handling exercises coupled with classroom instruction in leadership, officer bearing, NOAA mission and history, ship handling, basic seamanship, firefighting, navigation, and first aid. BOTC is held at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, where new NOAA Corps recruits train alongside Coast Guard officer candidates before receiving their first assignment to a NOAA ship for up to 3 years of sea duty. [Source — NOAA Corps] The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is built on honor, respect, and commitment.
Meet Gordon Gunter’s NOAA Corps Officers
Meet Lieutenant Commander, Lindsay Kurelja!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? As Commanding Officer (CO) I am wholly responsible for everything that happens on board. I’m the captain of the boat. I am in charge of all people and actions that happen on board.
Have you had much experience working at sea? I started going to sea when I was 18. That’s 20 years.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? I stay on a four hour watch on the bridge where I am in charge of the navigational chart and maneuvering of the vessel. I also disperse myself amongst managing the four departments on board to concentrate on the engineering and maintenance side of things.
What is your educational background? I graduated from Texas Maritime Academy with a degree in Marine Biology and a minor in Marine Transportation which gave me a third mate unlimited license with the U.S. Coast Guard. I then came straight to work for NOAA.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Our navigational equipment. Nothing is more important to a navigational officer than a pair of dividers and a set of triangles.
What is your favorite marine animal? My favorite marine animal are Ctenophoras. Ctenophoras are little jellyfish that are unique in the evolutionary scale because of their abilities despite the lack of brains.
Meet Lieutenant Commander, Chad Meckley!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the Executive Officer (XO) aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. I am second in command after the Commanding Officer.
Have you had much experience working at sea? Yes. This is my third sea assignment. My first sea assignment was for two years on the Albatross IV. I also sailed aboard the McArthur II for a year, I did six months on the Henry Bigelow, and I was certified while sailing on the Coast Guard Cutter EAGLE. I have had quite a bit of sea time so far in my career.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? If I am not on the bridge on watch, you can find me in my office. As XO one of my primary responsibilities is administrative work—from time and attendance to purchasing.
What is your educational background? I earned a bachelor’s degree at Shippensburg State University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. I studied Geography and Environmental Science.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? The biggest tool we have aboard the ship that we use more than anything are the nautical charts. Without our nautical charts, we wouldn’t be going anywhere. We could not get safely from point A to point B and accomplish our mission of science and service aboard these vessels.
What is your favorite marine animal? That’s a tough one because there’s so many cool animals in the sea and on top of the sea. I am really fascinated by Moray eels. The way they move through the water and their freaky, beady eyes make them really neat animals.
Meet Lieutenant Junior Grade, Libby Mackie!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the Operations Officer on board. One step below the Executive Officer. I do the coordination of the scientists.
Have you had much experience working at sea? I had some experience at sea when I was in the NAVY. Even though I never went underway in the NAVY, but I did have a second job on some of the dive boats in Hawaii. After I got out of the NAVY and went to school I got some small boat time there. Other ships I have sailed on with NOAA are the Oscar Dyson, the Reuben Lasker, and the Bell M. Shimada.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? On the bridge and in the dry lab with the scientists.
What is your educational background? I have a bachelor’s of science in Marine Biology and an associate’s degree in Mandarin.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? The coffee machine!
What is your favorite marine animal? Octopus.
Meet Ensign, Alyssa Thompson!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a Junior Officer. I reported here May 20th of last year. I am the Navigation Officer and Safety Officer. I am an ensign, so I do all of the navigational planning. I also drive the ship.
Have you had much experience working at sea? I have been at sea with the NOAA Corps for over a year now.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? On the bridge, driving the ship.
What is your educational background? I went to Virginia Tech. I earned my undergraduate degree in Biology/Animal Sciences. I took a lot of Fisheries classes, too. I interned in Florida researching stingrays and general marine biology with the University of Florida.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Probably radar. I could not live without the radar. It shows you all of your contacts, your targets, especially in the fog up here in the Northeast. Radar is a wonderful tool because there are times you can’t see anything. Sometimes we have only a half mile visibility, and so the radar will pick up contacts to help you maneuver best.
What is your favorite marine animal? Dolphins. I love dolphins, always have.
Meet ENS, Lola Ajilore!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter?
I am a NOAA Corps Junior Officer. I joined NOAA in July of 2016. I work with navigation, and I am the secondary Environmental Compliance Officer.
Have you had much experience working at sea? Not yet. I have only been at sea for one month.
What is your educational background? I earned my undergraduate degree in Environmental Policy from Virginia Commonwealth University. I have a master’s in Environmental Science from John Hopkins University.
What is most challenging about your work? It is a challenge learning to drive a ship. It is much different from a car, especially because there are no brakes. I also miss being around my family. You miss out on a lot of special events like birthdays when you work at sea.
What is your favorite marine animal? Dolphins!
Meet Ensign, Mike Fuller!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am an Augmenting Junior Officer on Gordon Gunter for the time being until I head off to my permanent duty station.
Have you had much experience working at sea? Not in this position. I did have some research experience when I was at the University of Miami.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? Most of my work is on the bridge standing watch and operating the actual ship itself—general ship driving and operations.
What is your educational/training background? Those who decide to do the NOAA Corps are required to have a science background. My background is in Marine Science and Biology. I studied a lot of invertebrates in university. After university I went to a 19-week training course where the NOAA Corps trains alongside the Coast Guard learning about different maritime regulations and standard operating procedures.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? From a very broad standpoint the tool we use regularly are our navigational charts. You can’t do anything without those. That’s how we setup the entire cruise. It gives us all the information we need to know for safe sailing.
What is your favorite marine animal? There’s so many, it’s hard to pick. My favorite would have to be a species of crinoid that you find in really old rocks. They are a really cool invertebrate.
Meet Ensign, Mary Claire Youpel!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the newest Junior Officer aboard the Gordon Gunter. I just reported; this is my first sea assignment.
Have you had much experience working at sea? Limited. I did research at Louisiana State University during grad school. My lab worked on Red Snapper research in the Gulf of Mexico. This is my first time going out to sea with NOAA.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? I work in the bridge or the pilot house. This is where we drive the ship.
What is your educational background? I have a bachelor’s of science from the University of Illinois-Champaign in Environmental Science. I have a master’s of science in Oceanography and Coastal Studies from Louisiana State University. I also have a master’s of Public Administration from Louisiana State University.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Radar, because it helps us navigate safely on our track lines.
What is your favorite marine animal? The Great White Shark.
For my final glossary of new terms and phrases, I would like to share ways to say goodbye. It has been difficult for me to find parting words for all of those I have worked with and got to know the past 10 days. If you cannot think of one way to say goodbye, try 10!
See you later.
Did You Know?
The NOAA Corps traces its roots to the former U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, which dates back to 1807 and President Thomas Jefferson. In 1970, NOAA was created to develop a coordinated approach to oceanographic and atmospheric research and subsequent legislation converted the commissioned officer corps to the NOAA Corps. [Source — NOAA Corps] https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-corps/about
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 5, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Visibility: ≥ 1 Nautical Mile
Wind Direction: 090°E
Wind Speed: 20 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1008.3 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 13.3°C
Air Temperature: 12.1°C
Science and Technology Log
3… 2… 1… deploy the drifting buoy! The NOAA Office of Climate Observation established the Adopt a Drifter Program in 2004 for K-16 teachers. The program’s mission is “to establish scientific partnerships between schools around the world and engage students in activities and communication about ocean climate science.” By adopting a drifter I am provided the unique opportunity of infusing ocean observing system data into my library media curriculum. A drifter, or drifting buoy, is a floating ocean buoy that collects data on the ocean’s surface. They tend to last approximately 400 days in the water. Drifters allow scientists to track ocean currents, changes in temperature, salinity, and other important components of the ocean’s surface as they float freely and transmit information.
The buoy is equipped with a thermistor, a drogue and a transmitter so that it can send out daily surface water temperatures and its position to an Argos satellite while it is being moved by surface currents pulling on the drogue. Soon I will receive the WMO number of my drifting buoy to access data online from the drifter. My students and I will receive a drifter tracking chart to plot the coordinates of the drifter as it moves freely in the surface ocean currents. Students will be able to make connections between the data accessed online and other maps showing currents, winds, and surface conditions.
How to Deploy a Drifter:
Remove the plastic covering (shrink-wrapped) from the buoy on the ship.
Record the five-digit ID number of the drifter inscribed on the surface float.
A magnet is then removed from the buoy, which starts a transmitter (located in the upper dome) to allow data from the buoy to be sent to a satellite and then to a ground-based station so we can retrieve the data.
Throw the unpacked drifter from the lowest possible deck of the ship into the sea. The tether (cable) and drogue (long tail that is 15 meters long) will unwrap and extend below the sea surface where it will allow the drifter to float and move in the ocean currents.
Record the date, time, and location of the deployment as well as the five-digit ID.
GoPro footage of the drifter’s deployment
My drifter buoy was launched at 8:01 PM (20:01) on June 3rd, 2017. Its official position is 43 degrees 32.9 minutes North, 067 degrees 40.5 minutes West.
The WMO # associated with my drifter is 44907. To track the buoy and view data, please visit the GDP Drifter Data Assembly Center website. There, you will find instructions on how to access data via the NOAA Observing System Monitoring Center (OSMC) webpage or Quality Control Tools Buoy Location and Trajectory website. My students will have full access to our drifting buoy data (e.g., latitude/longitude coordinates, time, date) in near real-time for their adopted drifting buoy as well as all drifting buoys deployed as part of the Global Drifter Program. Students can access, retrieve, and plot various subsets of data as a time series for specified time periods for any drifting buoy and track and map their adopted drifting buoy for short and long time periods (e.g., one day, one month, one year). My students are going to be thrilled when learn they get to be active participants in NOAA’s oceanography research.
Below is a 2-minute video from NOAA’s National Ocean Service to learn more about drifting buoys.
Deploying my drifting buoy in 360-degress
Understanding where you are on the grid is essential when navigating a ship of any size. NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter houses a major operation with 30 personnel on board. The safety of each individual is a primary concern for Commanding Officer, Lindsay Kurelja. She knows all there it is to know about navigating a marine vessel. Early mariners heavily relied on the stars and landmarks to determine their position in the sea. While celestial and terrestrial navigation techniques are still effective and used often by contemporary sailors, modern ships have GPS. GPS stands for Global Positioning System, and it lets us know where we are and where we are going anywhere on Earth. GPS is quickly becoming an integrative part of our society. It is a worldwide radio-navigation system formed from a constellation of 24 satellites and their ground stations.
Commanding Officer Kurelja and her crew use a GPS receiver to chart Gordon Gunter’s position in the ocean. The ship receives signals from 10 satellites that are in lower orbit. Once the ship’s receiver calculates its distance from four or more satellites, it knows exactly where we are.
Within seconds, from thousands of miles up in space, our location can be determined with incredible precision, often within a few yards of your actual location. [Source — NOAA] The satellites’ signals give NOAA officers the ship’s positioning. Then, using a nautical chart of the area in which we are cruising, the Navigation bridge team plots the latitude position and the longitude position to determine the ship’s exact location.
Since my expedition began you might have wondered, “How is he even sending these blog posts from so far out at sea?” That is a legitimate question. One I had been asking myself. So, I went to Tony VanCampen, Gordon Gunter’s Chief Electronics Technician for the answer. You may have guessed it; the answer has something to do with Earth’s satellites. Providing internet on ships is different than on land because, well, there is no land. We are surrounded by water; there are no towers or cables.
On the deck of the ship is a fixed installation antenna that provides broadband capability. It looks like a mini water tower. The antenna sends signals about the ship’s positioning to a geostationary satellite. A geostationary satellite is placed directly over the equator and revolves in the same direction the earth rotates (west to east). The ship’s computers use the connection made between the antenna and the satellite to transfer data which the satellite in turn sends to a ground site in Holmdel, New Jersey. The site in New Jersey connects the ship to the Internet.
Chief Electronics Technician, Tony VanCampen not only understands, installs, maintains, and repairs all the technology on board Gordon Gunter, he is an expert on all things nautical. Tony has been an asset to my Teacher at Sea experience. He takes the time to not only explain how equipment works, but he shows me where things are and then demonstrates their capabilities. Aboard Gordon Gunter, Tony runs all of the mission electronics, navigational electronics, and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. Tony has been working at sea since 1986 when he joined the NAVY and reported on board the USS Berkeley. He took a short break from work at sea when he became a physical security specialist for the NAVY at a weapons station. Tony has held several roles in the NAVY and with NOAA, all have given him a wealth of knowledge about ship operations. He is dedicated to the needs of the crew, scientists, and as of late, one Teacher at Sea. I owe Tony a debt of gratitude for his assistance and kindness.
Out to Sea (Saturday, June 3)
As I entered the dry lab this morning to report for duty, there was a lot of exciting chatter going on. I presumed a whale had been seen nearby or an unusual fish was caught in one of the bongo nets. While either of these situations would generate excitement, the lab’s enthusiasm was on the drifting buoy that was to be deployed today. I love how the scientists and volunteers get overwhelmed with joy for all things “science”. I had strong feelings after learning the news, as well. My emotions steered more toward worry than elation because I was the one to deploy the buoy! What if I deployed the drifting buoy incorrectly? What if it gets sucked under the ship? What if a whale eats it? Questions like these kept running through my mind all afternoon. Luckily, time spent rinsing bongo nets and preserving plankton samples kept my mind off the matter. But a voice in the back of my brain kept repeating, “What if…”
I finally laid my worries to rest. At sunset I deployed the drifting buoy without incident! The entire event was extremely special. My buoy is now floating atop the waves of the Gulf of Maine and soon to other parts of the sea. Yes, it will be all alone on the surface, but underneath and above will be a plethora of wildlife. Even when no one is there to witness it, ocean life carries on. For my students and me, we do not have to be with the drifting buoy physically to experience its journey. The transmitting equipment will give us the opportunity to go on the same adventure as the buoy while learning new things along the way.
A New Week (Sunday, June 4)
It has been one week, seven days since I first arrived on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Like the virga (an observable streak of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporates or before reaching the surface) we experienced this morning, my time aboard the ship is fleeting, too. As the days dwindle until we disembark, I find myself attempting to soak in as much of the experience as I can. Suddenly, I am looking at the horizon a little longer; I pay closer attention to the sounds made by the ship; and I pause to think about how each sample will tell us more about the Earth’s mysterious oceans. Yes, a week has passed, but now it is the first day of a new week. With two days and a “wakeup” remaining, I intend to embrace each moment to its fullest.
Just Another Manic Monday (Monday, June 5)
No matter the day or time, NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter runs like clockwork. Today, however, the ship seemed to be buzzing with a different kind of energy. NOAA Corps Officers and the crew have been moving around the ship with an ever greater sense of purpose. Believe me, there is never an idle hand aboard Gordon Gunter. One major factor that heavily influences the ship’s operations is the weather. The National Weather Service has issued a gale warning for the Gulf of Maine. Gale warnings mean maritime locations are expected to experience winds of Gale Force on the Beaufort scale.
Tonight’s weather forecast are winds reaching 20-30 Knots with seas building to 4 to 6 feet. Tuesday’s forecast is even grimmer: winds between 25-35 Knots and waves reaching 7-12 feet. [Source — National Weather Service] Even though the weather forecast is ominous, I fear not! Having witnessed the professionalism and expertise of every crew member on board the ship, I have full confidence in Gordon Gunter.
Chief Scientist and the Commanding Officer adjusted our course due to the imminent weather. We passed through the Cape Cod Canal, an artificial waterway in the state of Massachusetts connecting Cape Cod Bay in the north to Buzzards Bay in the south. The canal is used extensively by recreational and commercial vessels and people often just sit and watch ships and boats transiting the waterway. It was indeed a joyous occasion seeing land on the starboard and port sides of the ship. The passage provided many more sites to see compared to the open ocean. I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise through the Cape Cod Canal, but inside me was the desire to one day return to the deep, blue sea.
As you can tell, this blog post’s theme revolves around positioning and tracking. So, I decided to ask the seabird and marine mammal observers about the technology and methods they use to identify the positioning of animals out on the open ocean. Our wildlife observers, Glen and Nicholas, have a military-grade cased computer they keep with them on the flying bridge while looking for signs of birds and whales. The GPS keeps track of the ship’s position every five minutes so that a log of their course exists for reference later. When Glen or Nicholas identify a bird or marine mammal, they enter the data into the computer system which records the time and their exact GPS position. To know how many meters out an animal is, observers use a range finder.
This pencil has been carefully designed according to their location above sea level which is 13.7 meters from the ship’s flying bridge where the observers keep a sharp lookout. The observers place the top of the pencil on the horizon to get accurate distances. If the bird falls between each carved line on the pencil, they know approximately how many meters away the animal is. Wildlife observers’ rule of thumb for tracking animals is called a strip transect. Strip transects are where observers define a strip of a certain width, and count all creatures within that strip. Glen and Nicholas input data on any animal they see that is within 300 meters of the ship. Providing as much information as possible about the positioning of each observed living thing helps researchers understand what is happening and where.
RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging): It is used to determine the distance and direction of the ship from land, other ships, or any floating object out at sea.
Gyro Compass: It is used for finding true direction. It is used to find correct North Position, which is also the earth’s rotational axis.
Auto Pilot: It is a combination of hydraulic, mechanical, and electrical system and is used to control the ship’s steering system from a remote location (Navigation Bridge).
Echo Sounder: This instrument is used to measure the depth of the water below the ship’s bottom using sound waves.
Speed & Distance Log Device: The device is used to measure the speed and the distance traveled by a ship from a set point.
Automatic Radar Plotting Aid: The radar displays the position of the ships in the vicinity and selects the course for the vessel by avoiding any kind of collision.
GPS Receiver: A Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver is a display system used to show the ship’s location with the help of Global positioning satellite in the earth’s orbit.
Record of Navigation Activities: All the navigational activities must be recorded and kept on board for ready reference. This is a mandatory and the most important log book.
Did You Know?
GPS satellites fly in medium Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 12,550 miles. Each satellite circles the Earth twice a day. The satellites in the GPS constellation are arranged so that users can view at least four satellites from virtually any point on the planet. [Source — NOAA]
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 3, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Scattered Clouds
Visibility: 12 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 270°W
Wind Speed: 8 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 Feet
Swell Wave: 1-3 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1009.5 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 10.2°C
Air Temperature: 11°C
Science and Technology Log
You may have begun to notice that there are several methods of sampling plankton. Each technique is used several times a day at the sampling stations. The baby bongo nets collect the same type plankton as the large bongos. The primary difference is that the samples from the baby bongos are preserved in ethanol, rather than formalin. Chief Scientist, David Richardson explained that ethanol is being used more and more as a preservative because the solution allows scientists to test specimens’ genetics. Studying the genetics of plankton samples gives researchers a greater understanding of the ocean’s biodiversity. Genetics seeks to understand the process of trait inheritance from parents to offspring, including the molecular structure and function of genes, gene behavior in the context of a cell or organism, gene distribution, and variation and change in populations.
The big bongos use formalin to preserve plankton samples. Formalin has been used by scientists for decades, mainly because the preservative makes it easier for labs to study the samples. Today’s scientists continue to use formalin because it lets them compare their most recent sampling data to that from years ago. This presents a clearer picture of how marine environments have or have not changed.
Every so often, we use smaller mesh nets for the baby bongos which can catch the smallest of zooplanktons. The specimens from these special bongo nets are sent to CMarZ which stands for Census of Marine Zooplankton. CMarZ are scientists and students interested in zooplankton from around the world who are working toward a taxonomically comprehensive assessment of biodiversity of animal plankton throughout the world ocean. CMarZ samples are also preserved in ethanol. The goal of this organization is to produce a global assessment of marine zooplankton biodiversity, including accurate and complete information on species diversity, biomass, biogeographical distribution, and genetic diversity. [Source — Census of Marine Zooplankton]. Their website is incredible! They have images galleries of living plankton and new species that have been discovered by CMarZ scientists.
Another interesting project that Chief Scientist, David Richardson shared with me is the Census of Marine Life. The Census of Marine Life was a 10-year international effort that assessed the diversity (how many different kinds), distribution (where they live), and abundance (how many) of marine life—a task never before attempted on this scale. During their 10 years of discovery, Census scientists found and formally described more than 1,200 new marine species. [Source —Census of Marine Life] The census has a webpage devoted to resources for educators and the public. Contents include: videos and images galleries, maps and visualizations, a global marine life database, and links to many other resources.
It is incredibly important that we have institutes like CMarZ, the Census of Marin Life, and the Sea Fisheries Institute in Poland where samples from our EcoMon Survey are sent. Most plankton are so small that you see them best through a microscope. At the lab in Poland, scientists remove the fish and eggs from all samples, as well as select invertebrates. These specimens are sent back to U.S. where the data is entered into models. The information is used to help form fishing regulations. This division of NOAA is called the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat. The organization provide vital services for the nation: productive and sustainable fisheries, safe sources of seafood, the recovery and conservation of protected resources, and healthy ecosystems—all backed by sound science and an ecosystem-based approach to management. [Source —NOAA Fisheries]
Vertical CTD Cast
In addition to collecting plankton samples, we periodically conduct vertical CTD casts. This is a standard oceanographic sampling technique that tells scientists about dissolved inorganic carbon, ocean water nutrients, the levels of chlorophyll, and other biological and chemical parameters.
The instrument is a cluster of sensors which measure conductivity, temperature, and pressure. Depth measurements are derived from measurement of hydrostatic pressure, and salinity is measured from electrical conductivity. Sensors are arranged inside a metal or resin housing, the material used for the housing determining the depth to which the CTD can be lowered. From the information gathered during CTD casts, researchers can investigate how factors of the ocean are related as well as the variation of organisms that live in the ocean.
Here’s how a vertical CTD cast works. First, the scientists select a location of interest (one of the stations for the leg of the survey). The ship travels to that position and stays as close to the same spot as possible depending on the weather as the CTD rosette is lowered through the water, usually to within a few meters of the bottom, then raised back to the ship. By lowering the CTD close to the bottom, then moving the ship while cycling the package up and down only through the bottom few hundred meters, a far greater density of data can be obtained. This technique was dubbed a CTD cast and has proven to be an efficient and effective method for mapping and sampling hydrothermal plumes. [Source —NOAA]
During the vertical CTD cast, I am in charge of collecting water samples from specified Niskin bottles on the rosette. The Niskin bottles collected water at different levels: surface water, maximum depth, and the chlorophyll maximum where the greatest amount of plankton are usually found. I take the collected seawater to the lab where a mechanism filters the water, leaving only the remainder plankton. The plankton from the water contains chlorophyll which a lab back on land tests to determine the amount of chlorophyll at different water depths. This gives researchers insight about the marine environment in certain geographic locations at certain times of the year.
Meet the Science Party
Meet Chief Scientist, David Richardson!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the Chief Scientist for this 10 day cruise. A large part of the Chief Scientist’s role is to prioritize the research that will happen on a cruise within the designated time period. Adverse weather, mechanical difficulties, and many other factors can alter the original plans for a cruise requiring that decisions be made about what can be accomplished and what is a lower priority. One part of doing this effectively is to ensure that there is good communication among the different people working on the ship.
What is your educational/working background?I went to college at Cornell University with a major in Natural Resources. After that I had a number of different jobs before enrolling in Graduate School at the University of Miami. For my graduate research I focused on the spawning environment of sailfish and marlin in the Straits of Florida. I then came up to Rhode Island in 2008, and for the last 10 years have been working as a Fisheries Biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service.
What is the general purpose of the EcoMon Survey? The goal of the Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) surveys is to collect oceanographic measurements and information on the distribution and abundance of lower trophic level species including zooplankton. The collections also include fish eggs and larvae which can be used to evaluate where and when fish are spawning. Over the years additional measurements and collections have been included on the EcoMon surveys to more fully utilize ship time. Seabirds and Marine Mammals are being identified and counted on our ship transits, phytoplankton is also being imaged during the cruise. Finally, the EcoMon cruises serve as a means to monitor ocean acidification off the northeast United States.
What do you enjoy most about your work? I really enjoy pursuing scientific studies in which I can integrate field work, lab work and analytical work. As I have progressed in my career the balance of the work I do has shifted much more towards computer driven analysis and writing. These days, I really enjoy time spent in the lab or the field.
What is most challenging about your job?I imagine the challenge I face is the similar to what many scientists face. There are many possible scientific studies we can do in our region that affect the scientific advise used to manage fisheries. The challenge is prioritizing and making time for those studies that are most important, while deprioritizing some personally interesting work that may be less critical.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?By the end of high school I was pretty certain that I wanted to pursue a career in science. Early in college I settled on the idea of pursuing marine science and ecology, but it was not until the end of college that I decided I wanted to focus my work on issues related to fish and fisheries.
What is your favorite marine animal? Sailfish, which I did much of my graduate work on, remains one of my favorite marine animals. I have worked on them at all life stages from capturing the early life stages smaller than an inch to tagging the adults. They are really fascinating and beautiful animals to see. However, now that I live in Rhode Island I have little opportunity to work on sailfish which tend to occupy more southern waters.
In terms of local animals, one of my favorites is sand lance which can be found very near to shore throughout New England. These small fish are a critical part of the food web, and also have a really unique behavior of burying in the sand when disturbed, or even for extended periods over the course of the year. In many respects sand lance have received far less scientific attention than they deserve in our region.
Meet CTD Specialist, Tamara Holzwarth-Davis!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? CTD Specialist which means I install, maintain, and operate the CTD. The CTD is an electronic oceanographic instrument. We have two versions of the CTD on board the ship. We have larger instrument with a lot more sensors on it. It has water bottles called Niskin water samplers, and they collect water samples that we use on the ship to run tests.
How long have you been working at sea? I worked for six months at sea when I was in college for NOAA Fisheries on the Georges Bank. That was 30 years ago.
What is your educational background? I have a Marine Science degree with a concentration in Biology.
What is your favorite part about your work? I definitely love going out to sea and being on the ship with my co-workers. I also get to meet a lot of new people with what I do.
What is most challenging about your work? My instruments are electronic, and we are always near the sea which can cause corrosion and malfunctions. When things go wrong you have to troubleshoot. Sometimes it is an easy fix and sometimes you have to call the Electronic Technician for support.
What is your favorite marine animal? My favorite animal is when we bring up the plankton nets and we catch sea angels or sea butterflies. They are tiny, swimming sea slugs that look gummy and glow fluorescent orange.
Meet Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Glen Davis!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am on the science team. I am an avian and marine mammal observer.
What is your educational/working background? I have a bachelor’s in science. I have spent much of my 20-year career doing field work with birds and marine mammals all around the world.
Do you have much experience working at sea? Yes. I have put in about 8,000 hours at sea. Going out to sea is a real adventure, but you are always on duty or on call. It’s exciting, but at the same time there are responsibilities. Spending time at sea is really special work.
What is most challenging about your work? Keeping your focus at times. You are committing yourself to a lifestyle as an animal observer. You have to provide as much data to the project as you can.
Where do you do most of your work on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter?I am going to be up on the bridge level where the crew who pilots the vessel resides or above that which is called the flying bridge. On Gordon Gunter that is 13.7 meters above sea level which is a good vantage point to see birds and marine mammals.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? My binoculars. It is always around my neck. It is an eight power magnification and it helps me identify the birds and sea life that I see from the flying bridge. I also have to record my information in the computer immediately after I see them, so the software knows the exact place and time I saw each animal.
What is your favorite bird? Albatrosses are my favorite birds. The largest albatross is called a Wandering/Snowy Albatross. The Snowy Albatross has the longest wingspan of any bird and its the longest lived bird. This bird mates for life and raises one chick every 3-5 years which they care for much like people care for their own babies.
Meet Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Nicholas Metheny!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? Primary seabird/marine mammal observer.
What is your educational background?I have my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Marine Biology from the University of New England in Maine.
What has been your best working experience? That’s a tough one because I have had so many different experiences where I have learned a lot over the years. I have been doing field work for the past 11 years. Each has taught me something that has led me to the next position. The job I cherish the most is the trip I took down to Antarctica on a research cruise for six weeks. That was an amazing experience and something I would advocate for people to see for themselves.
What do you enjoy most about being a bird/marine mammal observer? The excitement of never knowing what you are going to see next. Things can pop up anywhere. You get to ask the questions of, “how did this animal get here,” “why is this animal here,” and correlate that to different environmental conditions.
What is most challenging about your work? You are looking at birds from a distance and you are not always able to get a positive ID. Sometimes you’re just not seeing enough detail or it disappears out of view from your binoculars as it moves behind a wave or dives down into the water. For marine mammals all you see is the blow and that’s it. So, it is a little frustrating not being able to get an ID on everything, but you do the best you can.
What is your favorite bird? That’s like choosing your favorite child! I have a favorite order of bird. It’s the Procellariiformes which are the tube-nosed birds. This includes albatross, shearwater, storm petrels, and the fulmars.
Meet Survey Tech, LeAnn Conlon!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a student volunteer. I help deploy the equipment and collect the samples.
Do you have much experience working at sea? This is my second 10-day trip. I did the second leg of the EcoMon Survey last year as well.
What is your educational background? I am currently a PhD candidate at the University of Maine where I am studying ocean currents and how water moves. I also have my master’s degree in Marine Science, and my undergraduate degree is in Physics.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in science? I have always wanted to study the oceans. I think I was at least in first grade when I was telling people I wanted to be a marine scientist.
What do you enjoy most about your work on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? My favorite thing is being at sea, working hard, and enjoying the ocean.
Where will you be doing most of your work? Most of the work is going to be working with the equipment deploying. I will be on the aft end of the ship.
What is your favorite marine animal? Humpback whale, but it is really hard to pick just one.
Meet Survey Tech, Emily Markowitz!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a volunteer. I did my undergraduate and graduate work in Marine Science at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. My graduate work is in Fisheries Research.
Where will you be doing most of your work on the ship?I will be doing the night shift. That is from midnight to noon every day. I will be doing the nutrients test which helps the scientists figure out what is in the water that might attract different creatures.
Do you have much experience working at sea? Yes, actually. When I was 19, I spent two weeks on a similar trip off the coast of Oregon. We were looking for Humboldt Squid. I also worked on the university’s research vessel as a crew member on one of their ocean trawl surveys.
What are your hobbies? I love being outside. I enjoy hiking and being on the water sailing.
What is your favorite marine animal? The Humboldt Squid.
Meet Survey Tech, Maira Gomes!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? My position on Gordon Gunter is a volunteer. I got this opportunity from Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) where I have recently just graduated in January 2017 with my associates in Liberal Arts. Professor McNamara (Marianne McNamara) one of my professors at SCCC, forwarded me the email that was sent from Harvey Walsh looking for volunteers to work on Gordon Gunter for the Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. They had Leg 1 which was May 16th May -May 26th and Leg 2 May 29th-June 7th. I never had been out to sea! I got super excited and signed up for both legs!
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? On the ship I do mostly taking care of the Bongo Nets, CTD, and CTD Rosette. With the Bongo baby and large nets I help the crew to hook them up on a cable to set out to the ocean to retrieve the data from the CTD and all kinds of plankton that get caught in the nets. Once it comes back to the boat we hose the nets down and collect all the plankton and put them in jars filled with chemicals to preserve them so we can send them back to different labs. The Rosette is my favorite! We send out the Rosette with 12 Niskin bottles empty into the water. They come back up filled with water. We use this machine to collect data for nutrients, Chlorophyll, and certain types of Carbon. We run tests in the dry lab and preserve the samples to be shipped out to other labs for more tests.
What is your educational/working background? I just finished my associates in Liberal Arts at SCCC in January. In the Fall 2017 I will be attending University of New Haven as a junior working towards my bachelor degree in their Marine Affairs Program.
Have you had much experience at sea? Nope, zero experience out at sea! Which was one of the reasons why I was kind of nervous after I realized I signed up for both legs of the trip. I am glad I did. I am gaining so much experience on this trip!
What do you enjoy most about your work? It would be the experience I am gaining and the amazing views of the ocean!
What is most challenging about your job? The most challenging part of working on the ship would be the one-hour gap between some of the stations we encounter on our watch. It is not enough time to take a nap but enough time to get some reading in. It can be kind of hard to stay awake.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Tool I could not live without working on the ship would probably be the chart that has all our stations located.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career? Ha! This is a great question! So it all started, as I was a little girl. I always wanted to be a veterinarian and work with animals. Once I was in fifth grade my teacher inspired me to be a teacher like herself, a Special Education teacher. I felt strongly with wanting to pursue a career in that field. It was not until my second year in college when I had to take a Lab course to fulfill my requirements for the lab credits, that I took a Marine Biology Lab. Once I was influenced and aware of this side of the world more in depth, I had a change of heart. Not only that but my professor, Professor Lynch (Pamala Lynch) also influenced me on changing my major to Marine Biology. I knew from the start I always wanted to be involved with animals but never knew exactly how, but once I took her class I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my career. With that being said, my goal is to be able to work with sharks someday and help to protect them and teach everyone the real truth behind their way of life and prove you cannot always believe what you see on TV.
What are your hobbies? I really love to line dance! I line dance about at least three times a week! I absolutely love it! I have made so many friends and learned so many really cool dances! I have been doing it about two years and through the experience of getting out of my shell I gain a whole new family from the country scene back at home! I also, love catching UFC fights on TV with my friends!
What is your favorite marine animal? I have multiple favorite marine animals. My top two picks would be sharks and sea turtles!
The Work Continues (Thursday, June 1)
After lunch the fog began to dissipate, letting in rays of sunshine. I could see the horizon once again! You do not realize the benefits of visibility until it is gone. Yet, even with the ability to see all of my surroundings, my eyes were met with same object in every direction—water! Despite the fact that the ocean consists of wave swells, ripples, and beautiful hues of blue, I longed to see something new. Finally, I spotted something on the horizon. In the distance, I could faintly make out the silhouette of two fishing boats. I was relieved to set eyes on these vessels. It might not seem like anything special to most people but when you are more than 100 miles from land, it is a relief to know that you are not alone.
Work during my shift is a distraction from the isolation I sometimes feel out at sea. When it is time for a bongo or CTD station, my mind becomes preoccupied with the process. My brain blocks all worries during those 30 minutes. Nonetheless, as quickly as a station begins, it ends even faster. Then we are left waiting for the next station which sometimes is only 20 minutes and other times is more than two hours away. The waiting is not so bad. In between stations I am able to speak with crew members and the science team on a variety of issues: research, ship operations, and life back on land. Every person on board Gordon Gunter is an expert at what they do. They take their work very seriously, and do it exceptionally well. Still, we like a good laugh every now and then.
TGIF! (Friday, June 2)
At home, Friday means it is practically the weekend! The weekend is when I get to spend time with family, run errands, go shopping, or just hang around the house. For those who work at sea like NOAA Corps and NOAA scientists, the weekend is just like any other day. The crew works diligently day and night, during holidays, and yes, on the weekends. I can tell from first-hand experience that all personnel on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter are dedicated and high-spirited people. Even when the weather is clear and sunny like it was today, they continue their duties work without wavering. NOAA crew are much like the waves of the sea. The waves in the Northeast Atlantic are relentless. They don’t quit—no matter the conditions. Waves are created by energy passing through water, causing it to move in a circular motion [Source —NOAA]. NOAA crew also have an energy passing through them. Whether it be the science, life at sea, adventure, love for their trade, or obligations back home, personnel aboard Gordon Gunter do not stop.
Today, we left Georges Bank and entered the Gulf of Maine where we will stay for the remainder of the cruise. The seabird and marine mammal observers had a productive day spotting a variety of wildlife. There have been sightings of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, Ocean Sunfish, and Right Whales to name a few. Even though I did not get photographs of all that was seen, I am optimistic about observing new and exciting marine wildlife in the days to come.
Plankton: the passively floating or weakly swimming usually minute animal and plant life of a body of water
Phytoplankton: planktonic plant life
Zooplankton: plankton composed of animals
Larval Fish: part of the zooplankton that eat smaller plankton. Larval fish are themselves eaten by larger animals
Crustacean: any of a large group of mostly water animals (as crabs, lobsters, and shrimps) with a body made of segments, a tough outer shell, two pairs of antennae, and limbs that are jointed
Biodiversity: biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals
Genetics: the scientific study of how genes control the characteristics of plants and animals
Did You Know?
Through photosynthesis, phytoplankton use sunlight, nutrients, carbon dioxide, and water to produce oxygen and nutrients for other organisms. With 71% of the Earth covered by the ocean, phytoplankton are responsible for producing up to 50% of the oxygen we breathe. These microscopic organisms also cycle most of the Earth’s carbon dioxide between the ocean and atmosphere. [Source — National Geographic].
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: May 29, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: 8/8 (Fully Cloudy, Overcast)
Wind Direction: NE
Wind Speed: 13 Knots
Barometric Pressure: 1005 Millibars
Air Temperature: 11.5°C
In Port in Newport, Rhode Island (Sunday, May 28)
Greetings from NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter! On my flight into Providence, Rhode Island (the Ocean State) I was met with lengthy coastlines and beautiful blue skies. Jerry Prezioso, (one of NOAA’s oceanographers), picked me up from the airport. We made our way to the ship, Gordon Gunter, at Pier 2 at the Naval Station Newport. To get there, we drove 37 miles southeast of Providence and crossed the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge and the Newport Bridge. Both bridges offered stunning scenes of shorelines that separated the picturesque sailboats from the majestic beach side houses. Newport, also known as City by the Sea, was a major 18th-century port city which is evident from the high number of surviving buildings from the colonial era.
Upon arrival at the pier, I passed two immense U.S. Coast Guard ships before laying eyes on what would be by new home for the next ten days—NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Several members of the crew were already there to welcome me aboard. The crew’s hospitality and Jerry’s tour of the ship eased my anxiety while at the same time, intensifying my excitement for the adventure that awaits.
After the tour, Jerry showed me to my stateroom. I was surprised to find out that I have my own cabin! There is a refrigerator, closet, desk, recliner, my very own sink, and a shared bathroom with the room next door. It also has a TV to watch any of the movies available on the ship.
After unpacking my luggage, I decided I would spend some time exploring the ship. I took photographs and captured 360-degree images of the ship’s many spaces. I intend to use my footage as a way to give my students a virtual tour of Gordon Gunter. When Jerry showed us the ship, he effortlessly moved from one place to the next. I, on the other hand, could not…at first. I felt as if I was stuck in a labyrinth. Yet, with the amount of time I will be spending on board Gordon Gunter, I am sure it will not take long to get the “lay of the land”.
Getting lost is not always a bad thing. I can admit that I was not too upset when I took a wrong turn and ended up in the galley (the kitchen). I could tell right away from the appetizing aroma and the fresh fruits and vegetables that the meals were going to be amazing.
After Leg 1 of the Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey which concluded on Friday, May 26. Prior to the ship’s departure at 1400 hours on Memorial Day, the crew was busy with important maintenance and upkeep. With the adventure of a lifetime so close at hand, I could only hope that my excitement would give me at least a few hours of sleep.
Preparing for Departure (Monday, May 29)
To keep everyone happy when they are living in such close quarters, working strange shifts, and so far from home, good food is vital. Isn’t it always? Gordon Gunter is well known in the NOAA community for its fantastic food. The person responsible for our delicious and abundant food is Margaret Coyle, Chief Steward and her trusted comrade, Paul Acob, Second Cook. I first experienced their culinary skills at my first 6:30 a.m. breakfast. Remarkable! I could not wait for the meals to come.
Margaret has worked on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter for 13 years! Before NOAA, Margaret was in the Coast Guard for four years and her husband retired from the Coast Guard with 21 years of service. Margaret makes almost every dish from scratch—from juices to hummus. She is dedicated to providing a variety of meals that not only fill bellies but satisfy taste buds. You never quite know what to expect one meal to the next, and that my friends is the spice of life! Paul has spent 14 years with NOAA and 20 years in the Navy—that’s 34 years at sea! I greatly admire both Paul and Margaret for their service and continued commitment.
As a Teacher at Sea, I am an active member of the science team. I have been assigned the day shift, which means I work from 12 noon to 12 midnight. I am happy with this shift because it is a little more of a regular schedule compared to beginning work at midnight and then sleeping during the daylight hours. However, it will definitely take time for me to adjust my eating and sleeping schedules with that of my work shift.
In preparation for our work at sea, we spent the afternoon reviewing guidelines and proper procedures. Safety is crucial on any ship, and I feel much better having gone through the welcome orientation. Now, I am prepared when it is time to perform any of the three emergency drills: fire, abandon ship, and man overboard. One can never be too cautious.
The second leg of the 2017 Spring EcoMon Survey consists of research at oceanography stations in the Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine. These stations are randomly distributed and progress of the survey will depend on transit time, sea state, and water depth of the stations. Our research will calculate the spatial distribution of the following factors: water currents, water properties, phytoplankton, microzooplankton, mesozooplankton, sea turtles, and marine mammals.
At 2:07 p.m. (our scheduled departure time), Gordon Gunter cast off from Coddington Cove at the Naval Station Newport. As we approached the Newport Bridge I took photos of the NAVY War College, Herring gulls nesting on a small island, passing ski boats, and the ocean view cottages. On the flying bridge an expert in magnetic compasses calibrated the ship’s mechanism and cleared the compass of excess debris.
During a personnel transfer using the Fast Rescue Boat (FRB), a mechanical issue was identified and the ship needed to head back to the pier. The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Lindsay Kurelja, informed us that we would begin our journey at 9:00 a.m. the next day, May 30.
Science and Technology Log
My head has been spinning with the different types of equipment and technology on board Gordon Gunter. I have a lot to learn! I would like to share a small bit of information about two important pieces of equipment that will be essential to our research in the coming days.
1.) Since the majority of plankton is too small to see with the naked eye, these organisms must be viewed through a microscope. To do this, plankton must be collected from the ocean. You might be thinking, “But how? They are too small to catch.” That’s why we use bongo nets! Bongo nets allow scientists to strain plankton from the water using the bongo’s mesh net. Plankton and other matter from the sea will be deposited into a bucket at the end of the net which is called a cod-end. Different sized nets are used to capture different types of plankton. The bongo nets will be towed slowly through the water at each oceanography station we come to. I am looking forward to using the ship’s bongo nets to investigate marine life in Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine.
2.) At each station of this leg of the EcoMon survey, we will use a CTD device to determine the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth of the ocean. On Gordon Gunter, the CTD is incorporated into a rosette, or carousel. This allows us to collect water samples from various depths at the same location. The CTD will give scientists a broad picture of the marine environment in the Northeast Atlantic.
Aft Deck: the part of the deck towards the back of the ship.
Bow: the front of the ship.
Bridge: the part of the ship from which it is controlled. (This is where the captain controls the ship.)
Deck: the outside top part of the ship that you can walk on.
Forward Deck: the part of the deck towards the front of the ship.
Port: the side of the ship that is on your left when you are looking forwards.
Starboard: the side of the ship that is on your right when you are looking forwards.
Stern: the back part of the ship.
Did You Know?
At Pier 2 at Naval Station Newport were gigantic buoys the Coast Guard had recently cleaned and re-painted. Do you know why some are green and some are red? The colors help aid the navigation of ships. The red buoys are on the right/starboard side of the ship, and the green buoys should be on the left/port side of the vessel when heading upstream. I guess ships have their own rules of navigation just like vehicles on the road.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Sam Northern will be aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter May 28 – June 7, 2017
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data) Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean Date: May 5, 2017
Greetings from south-central Kentucky! My name is Sam Northern, and I am the teacher-librarian at Simpson Elementary School in Franklin, Kentucky. I am beyond exited for this opportunity NOAA has given me. Yet, even more excited than me are my students. I don’t think anyone is more interested in learning about the ocean and its marine ecosystems than my first, second, and third graders. Each week I get to instruct each of the school’s 680 students at least once during Library Media Special Area class. My students do way more than check out library books. They conduct independent research, interact with digital resources, solve problems during hands-on (makerspace) activities, and construct new knowledge through multimedia software.
My participation in the Teacher at Sea program will not only further students’ understanding of the planet, it will empower them to generate solutions for a healthier future. This one-of-a-kind field experience will provide me with new and thrilling knowledge to bring back to my school and community. I am as excited and nervous as my first day of teaching eight years ago. Let the adventure begin!
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a scientific agency of the United States government whose mission focuses on monitoring the conditions of the ocean and the atmosphere. NOAA aims to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts. Sharing this information with others will help conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. NOAA’s vision of the future focuses on healthy ecosystems, communities, and economies that are resilient in the face of change [Source — NOAA Official Website].
Teacher at Sea
The Teacher at Sea Program (TAS) is a NOAA program which provides teachers a “hands-on, real-world research experience working at sea with world-renowned NOAA scientists, thereby giving them unique insight into oceanic and atmospheric research crucial to the nation” [Source — NOAA TAS Official Website]. NOAA TAS participants return from their time at sea with increased knowledge regarding the world’s oceans and atmosphere, marine biology and biodiversity, and how real governmental field science is conducted. This experience helps teachers enhance their curriculum by incorporating their work at sea into project-based learning activities for students. Teachers at Sea share their experience with their local community to increase awareness and knowledge of the world’s oceans and atmosphere.
The NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter is a 224-foot, multi-use research vessel. Gordon Gunter is well outfitted for a wide range of oceanographic research and fisheries assessments, from surveys on the health and abundance of commercial and recreational fish to observing the distribution of marine mammals. The Gordon Gunter carries four NOAA Corps officers, 11 crew members, and up to 15 scientists, and one Teacher at Sea.
The principal objective of the Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey is to assess the hydrographic and planktonic components of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Ecosystem. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, plankton are countless tiny living things that float and drift in the world’s oceans and other bodies of water.
While on the Gordon Gunter, I can expect to collect zooplankton and ichthyoplankton throughout the water column (to a maximum depth of 200 meters) using paired 61-cm Bongo samplers equipped with 333 micron mesh nets. Scientists will preserve the plankton samples in formalin for further laboratory study. It is estimated that the Shelf-Wide Plankton Surveys will result in 300 types of plankton being sorted and identified by staff at the Sea Fisheries Institute in Poland through a joint studies program.
The National Ocean Service defines hydrography as the science that measures and describes the physical features of bodies of water. Aboard the Gordon Gunter, we will use traditional and novel techniques and instruments to collect information. Our research will calculate the spatial distribution of the following factors: water currents, water properties, phytoplankton, microzooplankton, mesozooplankton, sea turtles, and marine mammals. In fact, marine mammal and seabird observers will be stationed on the bridge or flying bridge making continual observations during daylight hours.
The survey consists of 155 Oceanography stations in the Middle Atlantic Bight, Southern New England, Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine. These stations are randomly distributed at varying distances. The progress of the survey will depend on transit time, sea state, and water depth of the stations, with deeper stations requiring more time to complete operations.
Gordon Gunter’s Scientific Computer System is a PC-based server, which continuously collects and distributes scientific data from various navigational, oceanographic, meteorological, and sampling sensors throughout the cruise. The information collected during the survey will enrich our understanding of the ocean.
Since the Teacher at Sea program began in 1990, more than 700 teachers have worked on NOAA Research cruises. I am both honored and humbled to add to this statistic. My teaching philosophy can be summed up in just two words: “Embrace Wonder.”
I believe that students’ exploration of authentic topics nurtures a global perspective and community mindedness. I cannot think of anything more authentic than real-world research experience aboard a NOAA vessel alongside world-renowned scientists.
I am looking forward to gaining clearer insights into our ocean planet, a greater understanding of maritime work and studies, and increasing my level of environmental literacy. I will bring all that I learn back to my students, colleagues, and community. I hope that my classroom action plans will inspire students to pursue careers in research as they deepen their understanding of marine biology. Without a doubt, the Teacher at Sea program will impact my roles as teacher and library media specialist.
Through this program, I hope to accomplish the following:
Learn as much as I can about NOAA careers, life at sea, and the biology I encounter. These topics will be infused in my library media instructional design projects.
Capture and share my experience at sea via photographs, videos, 360-degree images, interviews, journaling, and real-time data of the EcoMon survey.
Understand the methods by which NOAA scientists conduct oceanic research. I would like to parallel the process by which scientists collect, analyze, and present information to the research my students conduct in the library.
Create a project-based learning activity based on the research I conduct aboard the ship. Students will use the real-time data from my leg of the survey to draw their own conclusions regarding the biologic and environmental profile of the Atlantic Ocean. Students will also collect data from their local environment to learn about the ecosystems in their very own community. I plan to use the project-based learning activities as a spring board for the design and implementation of student-led conservation efforts.
Did You Know?
In 2016, NOAA sent 12 teachers to sea for a total of 182 days. Combined, these teachers engaged in 4,184 hours of research!
My next post will be from the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter in the Atlantic Ocean. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions, or would like me to highlight anything in particular. I will look for your comments below or through my Twitter accounts, @Sam_Northern and @sesmediacenter.
While the scientist do their work there is a very important group of folks that take care of getting the ship where it needs to be and ensuring the scientists have the best opportunity to get their work done. That group is the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. NOAA has roots as far back as 1807 as the Survey of the Coast under president Thomas Jefferson, and then a branch called the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey during WWI & WWII eras. The current NOAA & NOAA Corps came into existence in 1970 and has been providing leadership and support necessary for the day to day operations associated with the various NOAA Research Platforms. The NOAA fleet is comprised of 19 ships and 12 aircraft. One of the most important requirements for joining the NOAA Corps is that each officer has to have have a college degree in science, math or engineering. NOAA Officers go through an intense demanding fast paced training that includes formal classroom instruction as well as approximately 5 months of officer candidate school that focuses on officer bearing and leadership development as well as marine and nautical skills training at U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Once they have completed their training, the NOAA Corps Officers will be assigned to a NOAA ship for 2 years of sea duty where they learn how to operate the ship. After the officer’s sea duty they are assigned to a 3 year land assignment where they get to apply their degrees doing more hands on scientific work like working in a fisheries lab, weather service, or doing atmospheric studies.
Meet some of the NOAA Corps Officers that are assigned to NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.
Meet Ensign, or first officer rank, Roxanne Carter! Roxanne join the NOAA Corps in 2012 because she wanted to learn how to drive a ship, conduct more field work, and legally follow marine mammals. Prior to joining, Roxanne was the director of a small environmental company for 7 years working in the Marine Endangered Species division. She also worked in fisheries at the NOAA Marine Operations Center – Atlantic or MOC-A as an Operations Manager in Norfolk, VA. where she assisted with all the marine center’s activities. Roxanne has also done a lot of volunteering with various marine mammal agencies. She has a Masters Degree in Biology and Marine Ecology. Although Biology was not her favorite subject, she knew that once she got her degree, there would be many cool opportunities in that field. Roxy as she is called on the ship, is in charge of the ship’s store along with her regular ship duties. Just last week Roxy also earned her OOD or Officer of the Deck Qualification Letter, by conducting several practical and oral exercises which she has to successfully pass. Earning her OOD means her fellow officers feel comfortable with her up on the bridge unsupervised maintaining the operation of the vessel and the safety of the people on board.
Meet Operations Officer Lieutenant Marc Weekley! Marc join the NOAA Corps in 2006. He has been stationed on the Gordon Gunter for one year. Marc’s job as Operations Officer on the ship is to communicate between the crew and officers and the scientist coming on to the ship. He mainly needs to work out any questions or details before the ship gets under way. He also organizes port logistics which means he makes port arrangements in various locations between the ships cruises. Before Marc was assigned sea duty on the Gordon Gunter he was vessel operations coordinator for the Manta which is a small boat for one of NOAA’ s sanctuary offices. Although his position was similar to this one he also tracked the overall cost of the vessel, making sure that it met safety requirements. Prior to joining NOAA Marc worked full time at an Environmental Lab, part time at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and was a Dive Instructor in both the Caribbean and West Coast of Mexico. He decided to join NOAA Corps because he wanted the opportunity to operate research vessels at sea and in the air. He likes the idea that being a NOAA Corps officer incorporates science, math or engineering and ship operations. Because of his scientific background and training as a ship driver in the NOAA Corps, he is better able to maximize the scientists’ time while on the ship and further facilitate their research efforts.
Meet Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Reni Rydlewicz! After interviewing Reni, I can tell you that Fisheries is her love. Reni Joined the NOAA Corps in 2009. Prior to joining the NOAA Corps, Reni had a variety of jobs working as a seasonal field biologist. She worked with state and federal government programs and contractors including NOAA Fisheries as a Federal Observer, dockside Monitor, Area Coordinator dockside monitor, fisheries observer and coordinator. She also worked with birds deer and fish anywhere from the east Coast, Mid-west to Alaska. Reni became interested in joining the Corps after meeting a retired NOAA captain at the local American Legion who told her “The Corps is perfect for you”. Reni had heard of the Corps years before, but after speaking with the retired captain, she decided to apply as it gave her the flexibility to rotate every few years to new roles but still give a sense of permanency. Since she has been in the Corps, Reni has worked as a Navigation Officer aboard the Miller Freeman and Oscar Dyson. She currently is serving her land tour as Communications and Outreach Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries, West Coast Region. In 2015, Reni expects to be Operations Officer on the Oregon II.
Meet Ensign (ENS) David Wang! David joined NOAA Corps in 2013. Prior to joining NOAA, Ensign Wang was working as a real estate agent while looking for career opportunities in the marine science field. Ensign Wang also pursued an opportunity to start a mussel aquaculture company in, RI , as well as worked as a deckhand aboard the lobster fishing vessel. David graduated from Long Island University, Southampton with a undergraduate degree in Marine Science. David completed his Masters in 2010 in Fisheries Biology at California State University, Northridge. David joined the NOAA Corps after hearing from a friend who joined about the opportunities to travel all over the world, change jobs every 2-3 years from ship to land, while also still being involved in science. Before David was assigned to the Gordon Gunter, he worked at a NOAA port office in Pascagoula, MI, at a marine support facility taking care of the needs of 3 ships, the Pisces, Oregon II and Gordon Gunter.
The beginning of this week was completely amazing! While in Canadian waters we had warm, sunny, calm seas perfect for seeing lot of mammals. During the stint of nice weather we had multiple days where we saw many sightings. On the top two days we had 97 and 171 sightings of whales and dolphins! That doesn’t even count the cool birds we saw like my favorite the Puffins. The birders were also lucky enough to see a rare bird called a Petrel, the only one of 4 recent sightings in the U.S and the first recent in Canada. I spent most of those days on the fly bridge from breakfast to sunset trying to take in as much as possible. Although it is difficult to get good pictures with a regular camera there are several folks that have very nice cameras or are professional photographers who have taken some great shots. Towards the end of the week the weather turned again and found us in a storm that was predicted to be mild getting bigger and stronger. The NOAA Corps Captain and crew navigated our ship to safely, but the storm did damage to one of the generators forcing us back to Cape Cod Bay for some repairs. I actually spent a few days in my cabin feeling a bit sea sick which was very surprising given my Island upbringing. Now I am feeling better as we are on anchor and patiently waiting for repairs and notification about what we will do next.
Weather Data from the Bridge Air Temp: 10.3 degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 10.5 knots
Water Temp: 8,2 degrees Celsius Water Depth: 145.65 meters
Science and Technology Log
In the last blog I talked about all the different scientists who are working on Gordon Gunter. Today I am going to explain why. First, all of the scientists are here working under a program called the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species, or AMAPPS for short. It is a multi-year project that has a large number of scientists from a variety of organizations whose main goal is “to document the relationship between the distribution and abundance of cetaceans, sea turtles and sea birds with the study area relative to their physical and biological environment.” The scientists are here working under the AMAPPS because of several government acts: the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act require scientists to do periodic checks of the populations of the protected species and the ecosystems they live in to make sure there have been no major human activities that have affected these species.
The National Environmental Policy Act also requires scientists to evaluate human impacts and come up with new plans to help the protected and endangered species. Finally the Migratory Bird Treaty requires that counties work together to monitor and protect migratory birds. The project has a variety of activities that need to be conducted which is why all the different scientists are needed from the different groups like NOAA,Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM),Navy, and NOAA Northeast and Southeast Fisheries Science Centers. The variety of activities that are being done over multiple years under the AMAPPS include: aerial surveys, shipboard surveys, tag data, acoustic data, ecological and habitat data, developing population size and distribution estimates, development of technology tools and modes, as well as development of a database that can provide all the collected data to different users. The AMAPPS project is also collecting in depth data at a couple of areas of special interest to NOAA & BOEM where there are proposed Offshore Wind Farms to be built in the ocean.
Science Spot Light
Let me introduce the Chief Scientist, Jen Gatzke and the Marine Mammal Observer Team. Chief Scientist Jen works with the Protected Species Branch at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). She primarily studies right whales.
Her main job here on the ship is to coordinate the teams of scientists so that each team is able to accomplish what it needs most efficiently while meeting the goals of the research mission. In this case the goal is to survey a large number of transect lines in a variety of marine habitats, both inshore and offshore.
She started sailing on NOAA ships 24 years ago in Pascagoula, Mississippi! Even thought Jen oversees all the science going on here on the Gordon Gunter, she is also part of the Marine Mammal Observer Team that does a rotating watch for mammals. The observer team starts its day at 7AM and works until 7PM except for the 1 hour break at lunch when the daytime Oceanography team can conduct some of their sampling.
When they start their day observing it is called “on effort.” This means that the observer team and NOAA Corps are all ready to conduct the shipboard surveys the way they have determined would be best. This means a group of scientists that are all at their stations are ready to go and the NOAA Corps makes sure the ship stays on a particular designated course for a particular amount of time. When the team is “on effort” they have 4 rotating stations. There are two on the very upper deck, called the fly deck that watches with 2 very large (25×150) binoculars they call the “big eyes” on each side, port (left) and starboard (right) of the ship Then there is another station on the lower starboard (right) side deck that also use the “big eyes” to scan for marine mammals as well. The last station is the recorder who is located on the Bridge, or wheelhouse, where the NOAA Corps man the ship. The recorder is entering valuable data into a computer program designed specifically for this activity. Not only is the recorder keeping track of the different mammals that are spotted on the “big eyes,” they are also keeping track of important information about the weather, glare of the sun, and conditions of the ocean.
I learned the teams use some cool nautical terms during their observations and recordings. The first one is the Beaufort Scale for sea state, or basically how calm or rough the seas are. Beaufort is measured by a numerical system with 0 being very calm and with no ripples to a 5 which is lots of white caps with foamy spray. Beaufort numbers go higher but it is very difficult to spot any sort of mammal evidence in seas that are rougher than a Beaufort 5. The team also measures the distance of the sighting using another measurement tool called a Reticle. The reticle is a mark on the inside of the “big”eye” binoculars. Its scale goes from 0 -20 and the 0 is always lined up with the horizon and allows the observer to give a quick reference number that can be used in a hurry to provide distance with a simple geometry equation.
Although there are several other pieces of information the observers are looking for and giving to the recorder, the positive identification of the particular species of mammal is the most important. There are some species like the North Atlantic Right Whale, that is of particular interest to the team because they are the most endangered large whale in the North Atlantic Ocean. Not only is it exciting for the team and the rest of the ship as well to see sightings of them, their detected presence in particular areas could mean the implementation of tighter rules, like speed limits for ships that might be in the areas these animals are seen frequently. When the teams sights one of these whales, the ship is allowed to go “off effort” and follow the swim direction of the whales in order to get pictures with very large cameras that will allow the scientist to positively identify the particular whale. Some of the other species seen frequently are humpback whales, fin whales, sei whales, minke whales, pilot whales, striped dolphins, common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, gray seals, harbor seals, loggerhead sea turtles, sharks and ocean sunfish.
So far for the first leg of the trip we have taken one very rough trip offshore and because of the weather we have been doing a string of transect lines that are close to the shore off Martha’s Vineyard, which is one of the areas of special interest to NOAA due to the projected offshore wind farm.
The day before yesterday, at just about dusk, the Chief Scientist Jen was the first to spot one of the North Atlantic Right Whales. I was in the lab at the time that Jen came running through yelling “we have right whales!”
She very quickly came back with a huge case which held the team’s camera used for close-ups of the whales. By the time I was on deck, so were many of the off duty scientists and the ship’s crew. Everyone was very excited and joined the frenzy of following, tracking and getting some good shots of the group of right whales. There ended up being 4 whales in all, which mean that there are enough to trigger a Dynamic Management Area (DMA), a management zone designed to provide two weeks of protection to three or more right whales from ship collisions. Ships larger than 65 ft are requested to proceed through the designated area at no more than 10 knots of speed.
One of the observers, Todd Pusser also had a large camera and was able to get a good head shot of one of the whales to send back to the lab. Allison Henry, another right whale biologist at NEFSC, was able to positively identify the whale as an adult male known as “Thorny”, aka EGNO (Eubalaena glacialis number) 1032, who has been seen only in the northeast since the 1980s! (click on “Thorny” to see the New England Aquarium Right Whale Catalog which houses and handles the identifications for all North Atlantic right whales.) It’s pretty cool that I actually got to see him too. Even thought it’s not the warmest job, it makes it all worth it just to see something as amazing as that!
Did you know?
Did you know you can listen to Right Whale sounds and see where Right Whales are on the East Coast? Check out this page! Click on this link for The Right Whale Listening Network. NEFSC even has an Apple APP for seeing where the Right Whales are on the east coast and explains how to avoid them 🙂 Go to the app store – its free!
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter March 31 – April 12, 2008
Mission: Reef Fish Ecological Survey Geographical area of cruise: Pulley Ridge and the West Florida Shelf, Gulf of Mexico Date: April 10, 2008
Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 12 miles
Wind Direction: 120 degrees
Wind Speed: 16 knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 foot
Swell Wave Height: 3-4 foot
Seawater Temp.: 22.1 degrees C.
Present Weather: Partly Cloudy
Science and Technology Log
Today we made three ROV dives on the West Florida Shelf, roughly 100 miles off the west coast of Florida. After making our usual CTD profile (see Ship’s Log, April 4, 2008) at about 0730, we lowered the ROV to a depth of 262 feet and followed a transect bearing southwest. The object was to conduct a fish survey with respect to species presence and abundance as a function of bottom habitat types. Essentially, we were looking for good hard-bottom fish habitats within an area being proposed to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council as a new Marine Protected Area (MPA).
Each of the video transects revealed a mix of sand and hard bottom, with fish most abundant in areas having some topographic relief. Numerous hard rock outcrops offered attractive habitat for a wide variety of reef fish, such as scamp (Mycteroperca phenax), red porgy (Pagrus pagrus), red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana) greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili), short bigeye (Pristigenys alta), bank butterflyfish (Chaetodon aya), great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda), red grouper (Epinephelus morio), blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis), creolefish (Paranthias furcifer) saddle bass (Serranus notospilus) bank sea bass (Centropristis ocyurus) and many others. The sand flats in between ridges and reef outcroppings provided a stark contrast in terms of fish abundance. Over these areas the ROV would glide for minutes at a time without revealing many fish. But even in these less productive bottom habitats we would see the occasional fish dart into its hole as we passed over.
The quality and abundance of food on the GORDON GUNTER is remarkable, and I find it impossible to resist (especially the deserts). I’d rather not return home ten pounds heavier than when I left, so I’ve been trying to visit the weight room whenever I can find the time. During my first few sessions on the treadmill I had to hang on for dear life due to the rocking motion of the ship. It was pretty comical. Now, though, I am getting fairly good at going no-handed while compensating for the ship’s motion. It requires some dexterity, but it’s great practice for getting your sea legs. We also saw other common sea creatures, such as gorgonians, wire coral, basket stars, sea stars, feather sea pens, sea urchins, sponges and snails.