Janelle Harrier-Wilson: T-8 Days and Counting – It’s Almost Time to Set Sail! September 14, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Janelle Harrier-Wilson
(Soon to Be) 
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 3, 2014 

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean from the Mid-Atlantic Coast to S New England
Date: September 15, 2014

Personal Log

Janelle Harrier-Wilson with husband, Neil, and golden retriever, Devon, as a puppy.

With my husband, Neil Wilson, and my dog, Devon. He was a puppy at the time and graduating from training classes.

Hello and welcome! I am so excited to be a part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea experience. I currently teach chemistry, engineering, and technology at Lanier High School in Sugar Hill, GA (outside of Atlanta). I am part of an awesome project based learning (PBL) program called CDAT (Center for Design and Technology), which focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Lanier High School opened in 2010, so this is our fifth year as a school; however, this is my first year teaching here. Before transferring to Lanier High School, I taught sixth grade Earth science at Lanier Middle School for eight years. Now, I have the awesome privilege of teaching many of my students a second time. It’s really fun to see how much they have grown up and matured since they were sixth graders.

I am looking forward to sharing what I learn with my students as I think my engineering students will gain insight into shipboard careers they may have never considered, especially as it relates to engineering. I think my technology students will get a chance to see how scientists collect and organize data using technology tools.

Although I teach chemistry and this research cruise is focusing on fisheries, I know my students will gain a new understanding of our oceans. Sampling the health, age, and quantity of different fish species with the NOAA scientists help us to measure the health of the oceans. Some of the big issues with the health of our oceans concern overfishing, human pollution, and ocean acidification. Ocean acidification refers to how the oceans take some of the extra carbon dioxide from the air and dissolve it into the water. This lowers the pH of the water making it more acidic, which can affect the health of the ocean’s inhabitants.

I applied to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea so I could learn more about our oceans in order to share this knowledge with my students. I have always been a hugely passionate about space and space exploration. I’ve had so many cool space opportunities like seeing shuttles and rocket launches, going to Space Camp, floating in microgravity, and most recently, helping our students talk to Reid Wiseman on the International Space Station via amateur radio.

Space is awesome and amazing, but we have an equally amazing frontier right here on own planet, our oceans. I want to be able to share with my students about the oceans with as much confidence and enthusiasm as I do about space, so I am extremely happy to be a Teacher at Sea so I can begin to glimpse all the science our oceans entail. I was also inspired to apply after hearing the stories from two Teacher at Sea Alumni Jennifer Goldner and Kaci Heins, who I met at Advanced Space Camp and now call dear friends.

Experimenting in microgravity with Kaci Heins photo from NASA

Experimenting in microgravity with Kaci Heins photo from NASA

Janelle Harr-er-Wilson on the water in Florida as a child

Me as a child in Florida

I grew up on the west coast of Florida near the Gulf of Mexico. Just two miles from my house was a tiny commercial fishing village, Cortez. My childhood best friend lived in Cortez, so I spent many days running up and down the docks and sampling the fresh caught seafood. (Fresh smoked mullet was my absolute favorite!) This gave me a unique look at the importance of fishing to a community. I even had a chance to go out on a small boat with a commercial fisherman and a few of my friends one night and catch fish via nets. So even though space has always been my passion, I feel a connection to the ocean as well.

Teacher at Sea goodies

Teacher at Sea goodies

My cruise is on the Henry B. Bigelow, a NOAA ship outfitted for fisheries research. You can take a virtual tour of the Henry B. Bigelow including the science labs, and track the ship here.

I am part of Leg II of the Autumn Bottom Trawl. We will be taking samples of fish and other species of marine animals from the Mid-Atlantic to Southern New England to measure the abundance, health, and age of certain fish species. As part of the science team, I will work a twelve hour shift everyday – either from noon to midnight (day shift) or from midnight to noon (nigh shift). I will find out my assigned shift when I arrive to the ship.

Right now I am working on getting everything I need ready and thinking about packing. Since space on the ship is very valuable, I am trying to pack as lightly as possible. Some of the things I plan to bring with me are earplugs (I hear the engines are loud so it’s good to have these while sleeping), anti-nausea aids so I don’t get seasick, and cameras to document my trip. A couple of weeks ago, I received this cool package of items from the Teacher at Sea program. I’ll definitely be bringing the water bottle, shirt, and hat with me. The good thing is there are laundry facilities on board, so I don’t have to pack too many outfits. I also plan to bring a companion along with me. At my school, we are the Lanier Longhorns, so I will be bringing one of the plush longhorns along with me for this adventure. My question for you is which one? Toro or Tyson? You get to decide!

Who should join me at sea: Toro or Tyson?

Who should join me at sea: Toro or Tyson?

 

At Lanier, our motto is Learn.Lead.Succeed. I cannot wait to learn new things on this trip and share them all with you! What things to you hope I will learn and share with you? Please leave your ideas in the comments. Until next time!

Kaitlin Baird: Women in a H2O World: Girl Power in Science, September 19, 2012

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Long Island
Date: September 19th
.

Location Data:
Latitude: 40’54.90
Longitude: 73’30.18

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 18.4 (approx.65°F)
Wind Speed: 10.64 kts
Wind Direction:  Northwest
Surface Water Temperature: 20.08 °C (approx. 68°F)
Weather conditions: sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log:

Ocean acidification have been the buzz words in the shellfish and coral reef world for the last few decades, but how will changes in our ocean’s pH affect our coastal fisheries resources? The Henry B. Bigelow is host to another project to help monitor this very question. The ship has an automated system that draws in surface seawater through an uncontaminated line and feeds it to a spray head equilibrator (seen in photo). Here, this instrument measures the partial pressure of carbon dioxide through an infrared analyzer. Standards are used to automatically calibrate the instrument periodically so it can take data while the fish are being counted and measured. How great is that!

Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system schematic

Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system schematic

It has already been shown and well documented that our oceans are getting more acidic. Something to remember is that our ocean and atmosphere are always in equilibrium in terms of carbon dioxide. Therefore, if we emit more carbon dioxide some of that will be absorbed by the ocean. The rapid changes in development since the industrial revolution have led to more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and therefore, over time, more diffusing into the ocean. The amount of carbon dioxide our ocean is absorbing has changed its chemistry. Increasing partial pressure of carbon dioxide (through several chemical reactions) makes the carbonate ion less available in the ocean (especially the upper layers where much aquatic life abounds).

This does not mean the ion isn’t there, it just means it is less available. Now why is this important to fisheries? Well, many organisms are dependent on this carbonate ion to make their tests, shells, and skeletons. They combine it with the calcium ion to make calcium carbonate (calcite, aragonite and other forms). If they can’t properly calcify this affects a large range of functions. In terms of commercial fisheries, scientists want to know more how acidification will affect commercial species that make their own shells, but also the fish who call them dinner. Ocean acidification has also been shown to affect other food sources for fish and reproductive patterns of the fish themselves. The fish research at NOAA will concentrate on the early life history stages of fish, as this is their most vulnerable phase. The research priority is analyzing responses in important calcifying shellfish and other highly productive calcareous phytoplankton (base of the food chain). To learn more in detail from NOAA please read this. By monitoring the partial pressure of carbon dioxide at fisheries stations over time, scientists can compare this data with the health, location, and fitness of much of the marine life they survey.

Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system

Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system

Personal Log:
As my time on the Bigelow is drawing to a close, I wanted to highlight some of the amazing women in science on board the ship who play key roles in the research and upkeep of the ship. I have asked them all a few questions about their job and for some advice for young women who would like to take on these various roles in the future! Since we have so many talented women on the ship, please stay tuned for another addition!

Amanda Tong

Amanda Tong

Amanda Tong — Fisheries Data Auditor, Northeast Fisheries Observer Program

Job Title:
Fisheries Data Auditor with the Fisheries Sampling Branch
Program: Northeast Fisheries Observer Program
NOAA Fisheries Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Amanda is responsible for working with the Fisheries Data Editor to be the collator of information received from the Fisheries Observers and more specifically the Fisheries data editors. She is looking for any errors in data reporting from the Fisheries Observer Program and working with the editors who are in direct contact with them.

If you remember in my last blog, I talked about the otolith and length information going to the Population Dynamics group who make models of fisheries stocks. The data from the Fisheries Biology program is also given to this end user. This way the models take into account actual catches as well as bycatch. Other end users of the data are graduate students, institutions and other researchers.

Amanda’s favorite aspect of her job:
Amanda likes being the middle person between the fishing industry while also working for the government. She likes seeing how the data change over the years with changes in regulation and gear types. She finds it interesting to see how the fisheries change over time and the locations of the fish change over time. She also loves hearing the amazing stories of being at sea.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:  Amanda received a degree in marine biology, which she thinks set her up perfectly. She suggests however that the major doesn’t have to be so specific as long as it has components of biology. The most important aspect she feels was volunteering and learning how to do field work with natural resource management, even if on land. Learning how to properly sample in the field was really important. Amanda is a former Fisheries Observer so she also knows the ins and outs of the program that collects the data she is auditing. This helps her look for easily recognizable errors in the data sets from all different gear types. By gear types I mean trawls vs. gill nets vs. long lines etc.

Robin Frede

Robin- Fisheries Data Editor

Robin — Fisheries Data Editor

Job Title:
Fisheries Data Editor
Branch: Fisheries Sampling Branch
Program: Northeast Fisheries Observer Program
NOAA Fisheries Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Robin deals directly with the Fisheries Observers. Fisheries observers are assigned to different boats and gear types up and down the eastern seaboard to record catches and bycatch as well as run sampling protocols. After each trip Robin checks in with the observer for a debrief and they send on their data to her. It is her responsibility to take a good look at the data for any recognizable errors in measurement or sampling error. Since she was a fisheries observer herself, she can coach the observers and help mentor them in sampling protocol and general life at sea. Once she reviews the data set it gets collated and sent off for review by the Fisheries Data Auditor.

Favorite part of her job:
Robin’s favorite part of her job is being a mentor. Having done the program herself previous to her current job she has a full understanding of the logistical difficulties that observers face at sea. She also is well versed in all of the aspects of sampling with different gear types. Since she is no longer at sea on a regular basis one of her favorite aspects is getting to go to sea on a shadow trip to help out new observers. She also participates in one research trip (currently on the Bigelow now), and one special training trip each year.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Robin suggests a Biology basis for this type of job and lots of experience volunteering with field work. Understanding the methodology and practicing are very important to accurate data collection. Accuracy and practice make her job as an editor a lot easier. If you think you might be interested in this type of career Robin suggests the Fisheries Observer Internship. You can find out if you like spending a lot of time at sea, and this line of work, plus get exposure to many sampling protocols.

Amanda Andrews

Amanda Andrews-Survey Technician

Amanda Andrews — Survey Technician

Job Title:
Survey Technician
Office of Marine and Aviation Operations
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Amanda wears many hats and goes wherever the Henry B. Bigelow goes. She is in charge of supervising data collection and analysis. She is the liaison between the ship’s crew and the scientific crew.  She is in charge of the scientific equipment function and maintenance. Amanda is the go-to person on each survey during sampling. She also is responsible for helping crew on the back deck.

 Favorite Part of her Job:
Amanda’s favorite part of her job is that the ocean is her office. She lives aboard the Bigelow and where it goes, she goes.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Amanda started out working on the back deck of NOAA ships and progressed to become a survey technician. She suggests having a good background in marine biology and biology in school, but more importantly always be willing to learn.

Nicole  Charriere

Nicole Charriere- Sea-going Biological Technician

Nicole Charriere — Sea-going Biological Technician

Job Title:
Aboard the ship currently: Day Watch Chief
Official title: Sea-Going Biological Technician
Branch: Ecosystem Survey Branch
Northeast Fisheries Science Center
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Nicole’s job entails being at sea between 120 and 130 days a year! She specifically goes out on Ecosystem Survey cruises that she can do some choosing with.  She goes out on bottom trawling, scallop, and clam survey trips. Her job is to help the scientific party either as a watch chief or chief scientist. She has to handle all sampling as well as fully understand all of the survey techniques. She is well versed in the Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS) and needs to know her fish and critter ID. She is the one responsible for sending down all the species already pre-tagged with their ID.  On top of all that she is also responsible for monitoring the censors on the net and regularly replacing them.

Favorite part of her job:
Nicole’s favorite part of her job is not being in an office and being at sea. Her work environment is always changing, as the scientific crew is always changing and so are the species she works with. She enjoys working and meeting new people each cruise.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Nicole says to get to where she is you have to work hard. You might not be the one with the most experience, but if you work hard, it doesn’t go unnoticed. She also suggests networking as much as possible. Get to know what people do and learn from them. She says studying biology was helpful, but not an absolute necessity. Above all, make sure you love what you do and make sure you are excited to go to work.
.

Caitlin Craig

Caitlin Craig- Department of Conservation (NY)

Caitlin Craig — Department of Environmental Conservation (NY)

Job Title
Diadromous Fish Department Intern
Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
State of New York

What she does:
Caitlin participates in field surveys twice a week that target striped bass. The data are used to look at their migration patterns in Long Island waters.  While at DEC she was also looking at the juvenile fish species in the bays and estuaries of Long Island sounds. Her job entails collecting data in the field, entering it and collating data for the various projects.

Her favorite aspect of the job:
She really enjoys that her job is a mix of office and field work where she can put some of the research and management skills she learned at Stonybrook University into practice. She also really enjoys seeing the many species that call Long Island Sound home.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Caitlin suggests trying to make as many connections as possible, and not to be afraid to ask questions. Programs are always looking for volunteers and interns. If you are interested in working at the governmental level she suggests a postgraduate work in Marine Conservation and Policy (she attended Stonybrook University).

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for my final blog with lots of critters from the cruise!

Stephen Bunker: Data Sampling, 23 October 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: 23 October 2011

Weather Data from the bridge

Time: 6:23 PM
Wind direction: Northeast
Wind velocity: 5 m/s
Air Temperature: 25° C (77° F)
Clouds: stratocumulus

Science and Technology Log

Collecting data is what science is all about and scientists can measure many different things from the ocean. They generally take these measurements in two different ways: discrete and ongoing samples.

Cheryl is preparing filter samples made from water collected with the CTD. These samples will be frozen and analyzed later in a laboratory on shore.

Discrete sampling means scientists will take samples at different times. When we take measurements at regular intervals, we can compare the data and look for patterns. On the R/V Walton Smith we take discrete samples each time the CTD is lowered. At approximately every two weeks RV Walton Smith will revisit the same location and collect data again. These bi-monthly data samples will let the scientists compare the data and look for patterns.

Remember when we collected weather data in class? We were also doing discrete sampling. We collected weather data from the morning and afternoon each school day. We would record precipitation, wind velocity and direction, air temperature, barometric pressure, and cloud types. Remember the pattern we noticed? When the afternoon temperature was cooler than the morning, we would have precipitation the next day.

Pump and valve system used for water sampling

Here is the pipes, valves and instruments used to take ongoing samples of surface water.

Ongoing sampling is also done on the R/V Walton Smith. On the fore, port (the left front) side of the ship, ocean water is continually sucked into some pipes. This surface water is continually pumped through instruments and water chemistry data is collected.

This continual data sampling is recorded on a computer and graphs can be made for  different characteristics of water chemistry. When continual data is graphed, the graphs have a smoother shape than they would with discrete samples.

Initially I thought that we were just collecting data each time we stopped to lower the CTD. Actually we had been collecting data throughout the entire voyage.

Kuan is monitoring his ongoing data collection of dissolved inorganic carbon.

Kuan, one of the scientists on our cruise, was measuring the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon in the ocean. The process of doing this has typically been a discrete sampling process that involves chemically analyzing water samples, Kuan has developed an instrument that would take ongoing water samples and measure the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon continually.

His instrument would tap into the water pipes above and take ongoing samples throughout the trip. He also wrote a computer program that would record, calculate, and graph the quantity of dissolved inorganic carbon. He even collects GPS data so he can tell where in the ocean his samples were taken. His experiment, I learned, is cutting-edge science or something that hasn’t been tried before.

Personal Log

I hadn’t realized the close connection there is between our earth’s atmosphere and its oceans. I understood how the ocean temperatures and currents  affect our weather systems. But, I didn’t understand how on a micro scale this happens as well. The ocean will exchange (absorb and give off) carbon dioxide and many other molecules with the air.

Why is it important to understand how the ocean and atmosphere interact? We often hear how greenhouse gasses are contributing to climate change. Carbon dioxide, considered a greenhouse gas, is one of the inorganic carbon molecules absorbed and given off by the oceans. When it is absorbed, it can make the ocean slightly more acidic which could harm the micro organisms that are in the ocean food chain

Understanding the interaction between atmosphere and ocean will help us understand why some areas of the earths ocean absorb more carbon dioxide and others don’t.

Scott Donnelly, April 22, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Donnelly
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
April 20-27, 2008

Mission: Assembly of Science Team and Movement of Science Gear/Equipment
Geographical Area: Coos Bay to Astoria, Oregon
Date: April 22, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Sunrise: 0620 Sunset: 2010
Wind: 10 kts, 25 kts gusts
Seas: 4-7 ft
Rain showers possible

Open Niskin bottles on CTD platform

Open Niskin bottles on CTD platform

Science and Technology Log 

What’s the significance of the NH Line (Newport Hydrographic, 44O39’N)? Water and biotic data acquisition at the NH Line began over 40 years ago. The NH Line then is significant on account of the long-term historical sample collection and data sets that it provides. Consequently, temporal (time) comparisons involving water and biotic data can be made over decades as opposed to shorter lengths of time such as years or months. It’s my understanding that nearshore and offshore sampling along the Oregon Continental Shelf (OCS) always includes the NH Line. My second 4-hour shift began at 0100 and ended shortly after 0500. Regardless of time of day each shift sets up and collects water samples from each of the twelve Niskin bottles on the CTD rosette. Typically, three water samples are collected at a particular depth. How does remote sub-surface water sampling work? When the CTD is deployed from the ship’s fantail, initially the top and bottom lids on all twelve Niskin bottles are open as shown in the photo below.

The CTD is lowered into the water and once the desired depth is reached the requisite number of Niskin bottles are closed electronically from the ship by whoever is in the control room. For my shift it’s team leader Ali Helms. After that is done, the CTD then is lowered or raised to another depth where another “firing” takes place and more water samples at a different depth are collected. When sampling is complete, the CTD is raised to the surface and onto the ship where it is secured to the fantail deck. The water in each Niskin bottle is collected and taken to the ship’s wet lab where each water sample collected at a particular depth is analyzed for other water quality parameters not measured by the CTD.

YSI datalogger

YSI datalogger

Other water parameters measured on this cruise in the wet lab include: total dissolved solids (TDS), pH, and turbidity (how transparent, or conversely cloudy, is the water). A YSI 6600 datalogger interfaced with a multi-sensor water quality probe (sonde) is used to measure the aforementioned water parameters. See photos below. The CTD and Niskin bottles then are hosed down with freshwater and reset for the next sampling site.  After the CTD is reset for the next sampling site, then it’s time to collect biotic samples from the surface and at different depths. Biological sampling always follows a CTD cast. On this cruise biological sampling is carried out on the ship’s starboard side just fore of the fantail. Collection of marine invertebrate (boneless) organisms uses nets that vary in size, shape, density of net mesh (number of threads per inch), and volume of detachable sample collection container (called a cod end). Sampling nets are conical in shape and typically are made from Dacron or nylon threads that are woven in a consistent, interlocking pattern. Each specifically designed net is attached to a wire cable and deployed from the starboard side. If collection/sampling is done below the water’s surface (also called sub-surface), a weight is attached to the net’s metal frame.  A bongo net is an example of a net used for the collection of invertebrate marine organisms at some defined depth below the surface (see photos below).

Multi-sensor water sonde

Multi-sensor water sonde

A bongo net collects organisms by water flowing into the net, which is parallel or horizontal to the water surface at some depth below the surface. Consequently, use of a bongo net requires that the ship moves forward. Deployment of a bongo net requires the use of trigonometry, a favorite math course of mine in high school a long time ago. The length of cable let out by the NOAA deckhand operating the winch with cable does not equal the depth that the bongo net is lowered below the surface. (This would be true if the net was simply dropped straight down over the side of the ship.) Let’s use the drawing below to illustrate this.

Suppose sample collection is to be done at 100m (328 feet) below the water’s surface. More than 100m of cable needs to be let out in order to lower the bongo net to 100m below the water’s surface. How much cable beyond 100m is let out (x) depends on the angle (θ) of the net (and hence cable) to the water’s surface. The angle θ is measured by a protractor attached to the cable and pulley at the position identified with the blue star in the drawing. The angle θ in turn depends on the ship’s forward speed. To calculate the length of cable that needs to be let out, the following trigonometric formula involving right triangles is used: sin θ = cos-1θ = 100mx. The calculated value x is communicated to the NOAA deckhand, who controls the winch that lets out the desired length of cable. When this cable length is reached, retrieval of the bongo net begins.

Duel sampling bongo nets ready for retrieval

Duel sampling bongo nets ready for retrieval

The volume of water that contains the marine organisms and that flows through the bongo net is recorded by a torpedo-shaped rotary flowmeter (left photo below), which is suspended by wires or thick fishing line in the middle of the net’s mouth. As water moves past the meter’s end, it smacks into and transfers its momentum to the flowmeter’s propeller, which rotates or spins. The propeller’s shaft in turn is linked to a mechanical counter inside the meter’s body (right photo below). A complete revolution of the propeller equates to a certain number of counts and that is related to a certain volume of water that has flowed past the meter.  The mathematical difference between the two numbers recorded before the net’s deployment and after the net’s retrieval is plugged into a mathematical formula to obtain the estimated total volume of water that flowed through the net’s mouth during the time of collection. Consequently, the weight or number of biomass collected by the net can be related to the volume of water in which the biomass was found. This gives an idea about the density of biomass (weight or number of biomass units per volume seawater, g/m3) in a horizontal column of seawater at a given depth and site. In tomorrow’s log I’ll talk about what marine organisms a bongo net collects (including photos) and also discuss and describe the three other nets used on this cruise to collect marine invertebrates.

Mechanical counter in flowmeter

Mechanical counter in flowmeter

Personal Log 

So far after one full day at sea, I haven’t experienced any indications of sea sickness in spite of rough seas (see weather forecast at beginning of log). Four other science team members haven’t been as fortunate. I didn’t witness any visible bioluminescent surface events on the early morning shift (0100 to 0500). I walked to the ship’s bow since this would likely be the best place to witness bioluminescence given all the agitation of seawater there. I left a bit disappointed but there are still five days remaining. The CTD and both the DO and chlorophyll probes (sensors) operated without any problems.

Bob and I communicate well and have similar personalities and intellectual interests. Before carrying out a task we discuss how it’s to be done and then agree to do it as discussed and in the order discussed. Communication is critical because when sampling for biological organisms for example, the nets have large, heavy weights attached so once the net is lifted from the ship’s deck for deployment the weight is airborne so to speak and free to move without resistance. Getting clobbered in the head or chest obviously would not be pleasant. The bongo net uses a 75 pound weight and the net’s solid metal frame must weigh another 25 pounds. Caution and paying attention are paramount once 100 pounds are lifted from the deck, suspended from a cable free to move about with the rolling and pitching of the ship with only air providing any sort of resistance against its movement.

 Rotary flowmeter

Rotary flowmeter

Bob and I have delegated certain tasks between us. We agreed that when a net is deployed, he will always control the net’s upper halve where the net’s “mouth” and weight are located; I in turn will control the net’s bottom halve where the netting and sample containers or cod ends are located. When the net is ready to be lifted from the sea and returned to the ship’s deck, the tasks for retrieval are the same as for deployment, though in reverse order from deployment. Before the net is lifted shipboard, it’s washed or rinsed top to bottom with seawater from a garden hose that gets seawater pumped directly from the Pacific. Washing is necessary because the collected marine organisms adhere to the net’s mesh so in order to get them into the sample container (cod end) at net’s end they must be “forced” down into the cod end. Once the net is shipboard, the cod end and collected organisms are emptied into a sample jar, sample preservative is added, and the container is labeled appropriately.

Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 4.51.18 AM

Scott Donnelly, April 21, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Donnelly
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
April 20-27, 2008

Mission: Assembly of Science Team and Movement of Science Gear/Equipment
Geographical Area: Coos Bay to Astoria, Oregon
Date: April 21, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Sunrise: 0620 Sunset: 2010
Wind: 10 kts
Seas: 4-7 ft
Rain showers

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse where the mighty Columbia River collides with the Pacific Ocean

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse where the mighty Columbia River collides with the Pacific Ocean

Science and Technology Log

With childlike anticipation and excitement I waited for the McARTHUR II to be freed from its berth and be given the freedom to sail towards the ocean world ruled by Neptune, the god of water and sea in Roman mythology. The time had finally arrived and with the captain’s decision we pulled away from the dock, turned 180O, and set “sail” due west to where the water worlds of the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean collide. After exiting the Columbia and entering the Pacific, the McARTHUR II would turn south and set a heading toward the first sampling station located about nine miles offshore due west of Cape Falcon. ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) is early afternoon. In the meantime I enjoyed the rugged, coastal scenery of the far southwestern tip of the state of Washington on the northern shore of the Columbia River. Before long I was officially an ocean mariner. An important question was soon to be answered: How long would it take for me to obtain my sea legs? 

It was time to get to work. Before reaching the first sampling site the science team met in the lounge to try on thermal survival suits to determine if they fit properly. It was cumbersome putting on the heavy red suit; I looked liked the cartoon character Gumby (but red rather than green) but it gave me a bit of peace of mind. Hopefully, that’s the last I’ll see of that suit. Next, we met on the ship’s fantail (back lower working deck of the ship). The Chief Bos’n discussed shipboard operations that are carried out on and safety issues associated with the fantail, the working section of the ship. Hardhats and a working vest are mandatory. We then learned how to operate the “A” frame that aids in deployment and retrieval of the heavy, bulky CTD platform, how to properly attach the Niskin bottles’ cables to the triggering latch at the top of the CTD, and lastly how to correctly deliver the water collected inside the Niskin bottles to a sample container for analysis in the ship’s wet lab.

From the fantail we moved to the main deck on the starboard side aft of the ship’s middle section to learn how to deploy, retrieve, and collect samples from the four types of zooplankton nets, each of which also requires recording certain kinds of data about the cast. I’ll discuss biological sampling in more detail later. Admittedly, when it was all done I was a bit overwhelmed but figured that after a station or two when I developed a rhythm and familiarity with the equipment and time scale for collecting samples, I would get the hang of it.

It was 1500 (3pm) and the McARTHUR II had rendezvoused with the first nearshore sampling site about 10 miles west of Cape Falcon (45O46’N, 124O10’W). Preparations were complete and now it was time to begin 24 hour non-stop operations. I put on rain gear and rubber boots, found some dry gloves, and adjusted my hardhat and workvest. With that, Bob Sleeth and I made our way to the “A” frame to prepare for the first CTD deployment.

Personal Log 

Winch (foreground left) and “A” frame (background) used to deploy and retrieve the CTD platform

Winch (foreground left) and “A” frame (background) used to deploy and retrieve the CTD platform

My first full day at sea. We departed early morning on schedule from the Astoria dock. As expected we met rough waters where the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean meet. The day was overcast as is typical for this region of the U.S. this time of year, and cold. It snowed during the trip out to sea. Along the Columbia I was treated to the gorgeous coastal cliffs of Cape Disappointment to the north and the snow capped mountains south of Astoria. The swells subsided once the McARTHUR II reached water depths >200 feet. I’ve been out to sea for over twelve hours now and I’ve experienced no signs of sea sickness though the waters have been relatively calm. I am still earning my “sea legs” but I suppose by cruise’s end I won’t run into the hallway walls, the hallway water fountain, or my bed as often.

The overcast, gray skies ruined any chance in witnessing a marine sunset. I was still energized and excited like a kid on a “candy high” when I crawled into my lower bunk bed at 1900 (7pm). With my first shift complete I looked forward to my second shift at 0100 (1am). I figured though that I wouldn’t sleep with it being a new environment, new sounds, new smells, and the ship pitching and rolling. For the next five hours I went back and forth between sleep and semi-sleep where you’re relaxed but at the same time fully aware of the surroundings. Half past midnight I rolled out of bed, got dressed, and went to the dry lab to prepare for the 0100 to 0500 shift. 

Scott Donnelly, April 20, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Donnelly
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
April 20-27, 2008

Mission: Assembly of Science Team and Movement of Science Gear/Equipment
Geographical Area: Coos Bay to Astoria, Oregon
Date: April 20, 2008

NOAA TAS Scott Donnelly (green helmet) and fellow science team member Bob Sleeth collecting zooplankton

NOAA TAS Scott Donnelly (green helmet) and fellow science team member Bob Sleeth collecting zooplankton

Science and Technology Log 

The start of the cruise has been delayed one day due to the rough, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous waters where the mighty eastward flowing Columbia River and its massive volume of freshwater collides head on with the cold, salty water of the vast Pacific Ocean. Where this water slugfest happens, sands bars shift repeatedly this way and that way as the pushing and shoving between the massive volumes of sea and freshwater continues without interruption. At low tide the sand bars are easily seen; they are numerous and of great area and irregular in shape.

On account of the delay, most of the day was spent making sure instruments worked properly and non-instrument equipment was organized to maximize efficiency. Perhaps though more importantly, the delay gave the eleven science team members— most of them complete strangers to one another—extra time to get to know one another. This is important because all of us will be shipboard for eight days confined to quaint sleeping quarters, working, eating, relaxing, playing, and interacting with each other. There’s no escaping once the ship moves away from the dock and goes out to sea. It also gave science team members time to get to know the ship’s crew, who themselves play a key role in the overall success of the mission.

Science team meeting in the dry lab aboard NOAA ship McARTHUR II

Science team meeting in the dry lab aboard NOAA ship McARTHUR II

Communication is a two-way street. From the science team perspective we have to communicate with each other and also with the crew in order to be productive and minimize mistakes. Ocean science truly is an interdisciplinary endeavor that relies on the talents and work ethic of the people involved. This brings me to my next topic. Science is a uniquely human pursuit; good science relies on people. Modern scientific inquiry is all about assembling the best minds and talent possible into a highly productive team. It’s not just about brains though. Personalities and people skills matter too. In fact, they matter a lot. They can make or break a scientific mission. All it takes is an individual with a 60-grit sandpaper personality to upset the ebb and flow of human group dynamics.

Ocean science is all about teamwork!  

In a few hours I’ll see how such dynamics work out on this cruise with this assemblage of people, the youngest being an undergraduate science major and the oldest a retired Silicon Valley engineer. Four of the eleven science team members (myself included) have never been at sea. We don’t know what to expect or, for that matter, think about with respect to what lies ahead this next full week.

After lunch we met as a group with the NOAA Corps officers and reviewed the ship’s rules and regulations. We then had a science team meeting whereby the cruise’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Steven Rumrill, gave a brief overview of the cruise’s scientific mission, discussed shipboard operations, the cruise’s plans and objectives, and the itinerary and the logistics associated with sample collection and data acquisition.

In summary, the science team will measure a number of salient water quality parameters (see my log April 19, 2008) and collect samples of marine invertebrates (boneless organisms) along the Oregon Continental Shelf (OCS) at varying depths and distances from the coast over the period of 20-27 April 2008. This time of year was chosen because it precedes the development of an upwelling/hypoxia event that is anticipated to develop later in the summer of 2008. (The oceanographic terms upwelling and hypoxia will be discussed later in this log.) Water and biological sampling will continue non-stop for 24hrs per day, every day of the cruise except the last day when preparations are made for eventual docking.

Each work shift is four hours in length and is followed by an eight hour rest & relaxation (R&R) period. My assigned shift mate is Bob Sleeth and the team leader Ali Helms, a research cruise veteran who works full-time under Chief Scientist Steve Rumrill at South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (SSNERR). Ali will work the CTD controls in the dry lab while Bob and I will collect water samples from the CTD Niskin bottles and also zooplankton and phytoplankton using specially designed nets deployed starboard (right side of ship) to various depths and eventually retrieved after a certain length of time. Our daily shift schedule is from 0100 to 0500 (1am to 5am) and 1300 to 1700 (1pm to 5pm) with an eight hour R&R period in between each shift. Once started operations will continue on a 24-hour basis without interruption unless for inclement weather or seas.

The map to the right shows the major geographical regions where sampling will occur along the continental shelf of Oregon between Astoria (46O10’N, 123O50’W) and Cape Blanco (42O51’N, 124O41’W). At each sampling site biological (phytoplankton and zooplankton) samples will be collected at varying depths using special collection nets of varying mesh and design.

The operating area for this cruise is the nearshore region of the Oregon Continental Shelf (OCS), between Astoria (Cape Falcon 45o46’N, 124o40’W) and Cape Blanco (42o51’N, 124o41’W) at sites or stations ranging from 3 to 55 miles off the coast. Multiple sampling stations are scheduled along the Newport Hydrographic (NH) Line (maroon line), the Umpqua Estuary Line (green line), the Coos Bay Line (blue line), and the Coquille Estuary Line (orange line). The number of sampling stations is indicated by the number adjacent each colored line. Sampling also will take place at multiple sites (26 total) south of the Columbia River-Pacific Ocean interface and north of the NH Line as indicated by the purple circle on the map at right. Weather permitting, in total there are 59 sites where chemical and biological characterization of the water column will be carried out.

Previously I mentioned the oceanographic terms upwelling. So what is upwelling? A short definition is that upwelling is a vertical water circulation pattern in which deep, cold and typically nutrient- rich seawater moves upward to the ocean surface. Upwelling occurs in a number of places around the world on the western side of continents. It is caused either by strong, consistent winds blowing parallel to the shore as is the case on the Oregon coast in the summer months, or by deep, cold ocean currents smashing into the continental landmass and having no where to go but up as is the case in the southern hemisphere off southern Chile (South America) and Namibia (southwestern Africa). During summer in the northeastern Pacific, a clockwise rotating, high-pressure air system is positioned off the Washington-Oregon coast. Strong northerly winds blow south parallel to the Washington-Oregon coasts pushing the surface water towards the equator. At the southernmost region of the high pressure air system the water is pushed out to sea, away from the Oregon coast. As the surface water is pushed south toward the equator, deep, cold water from below upwells and thereby replaces the warmer, less dense surface water displaced to the south by winds of the high-pressure air system.

Hypoxia describes seawater that is low in dissolved oxygen gas (DO). Generally, the accepted concentration value for waters deemed hypoxic is less than (<) 1.5mg O2/L seawater. Marine organisms vary in their oxygen demand. The more active and larger swimming marine organisms such as tuna and mackerel typically require more oxygen per body weight in order to generate the metabolic activity necessary to supply their dense muscles with the requisite energy to slice through the water oftentimes counter to the current. So an active fish that moves into hypoxic waters decreases its chance of survival.

Oregon coast

Oregon coast

Personal Log 

As expected I didn’t sleep well last night, the first night on the ship. It wasn’t because of the ship’s movement either. It hardly moved as the Columbia River was calm with the wind blowing weakly. It’s a given that more often than not I sleep poorly in a new environment whether it’s a hotel, my in-laws home, or camping. Even if dead tired at best I’ll catnap for 1.5 hour intervals at the most, if lucky.

I was assigned to share living-sleeping quarters with three other science team members. The cabin contained two bunk bed units (top and bottom) separated by a wall, two small desks in the corners, ample storage space below each lower bunk bed and all along three of the four walls of the room, a (very) small lavatory with a hot/cold water shower and toilet, and a sink with hot/cold water to freshen up in the morning or before bed. In spite of the room’s relatively small size (~12ft x ~12ft), the storage capacity was more than enough to accommodate the personal gear of four people for simple, Spartan living. Every square inch of wall space was utilized for storage or some other useful, practical function. Basically, no space was wasted. Wall hooks were everywhere to hang jackets. Each bed had its own reading light, a full-length curtain for privacy (relatively speaking), and a side bumper so that when the ship rolled one didn’t roll out of bed onto the floor. Overall, it was a good example of efficient use of space for simple, practical, but productive living.

The mission delay provided more time for me to talk to and get to know members of science team, particularly my assigned shift mate Bob Sleeth, a retired Silicon Valley electronics engineer. After a hearty breakfast we spent Sunday morning exploring the quiet Astoria waterfront. Bob and a friend sailed in a 35 foot yacht from San Diego to French Polynesia in the South Pacific, spending a year sailing to and from the small islands that constitute the vast archipelago of beautiful islands including Bora Bora and Tahiti.

Cargo ship arriving at Astoria port

Cargo ship arriving at Astoria port

After lunch I spent a considerable amount of time studying the wrestling match between the ebb and flow of the high and low tides of the Columbia River. Salt water vs. fresh water. Bob gave me a few pointers on how wave structure gives a clue about the subtle changes in wind direction and speed at the water’s surface. This led to a lengthy conversation about how the nameless but intrepid mariners of ancient times, the Vikings, and those of the Age of Maritime Discovery of the European Renaissance (Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus, James Cook and many more) used their observational powers to chart the vast oceans without the aid of longitudinal coordinates. For example, the appearance of a certain bird over water, marine organism, or the change in surface water color or texture possibly meant that land or an island, yet unseen over the curvature of the earth’s surface, lay just below the horizon.

Throughout the day a number of cargo ships loaded with goods made their way slowly into port. That led to a discussion about how a seemingly small decrease in water volume translates into cargo ships having to shed weight else they run aground. Early tomorrow morning we start the mission and head out to the intimidating, deep waters of the Pacific Ocean. 

Scott Donnelly, April 19, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Donnelly
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
April 20-27, 2008

Mission: Assembly of Science Team and Movement of Science Gear/Equipment
Geographical Area: Coos Bay to Astoria, Oregon
Date: April 19, 2008

Loading gear onto the McARTHUR II in the snow and rain

Loading gear onto the McARTHUR II in the snow and rain

Science and Technology Log 

The long, winding drive along US Highway 101 from Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston to Astoria was well worth it. For the most part every turn opened to a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean to the west. To the east, lush, verdant open meadows, some inundated with small ponds and bordered by thick coniferous forests, pleased our eyes. We stopped in Newport, OR to pick up a science team member and had lunch at a local restaurant with a microbrewery. I feasted on Kobe Chili.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Scott Donnelly, next to a CTD with Niskin bottles in port at Astoria, OR

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Scott Donnelly, next to a CTD with Niskin bottles in port at Astoria, OR

After arriving at the Astoria dock (45O12’N, 124O50’W) late afternoon and loading all the gear, equipment, and supplies aboard the McARTHUR II, we spent the evening moving personal gear into our assigned shipboard cabins, setting up and troubleshooting the computer and data collection systems, organizing the ship’s wet lab, installing dissolved oxygen (DO) and chlorophyll fluorometer sensors onto the shipboard Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) platform, and calibrating the instruments in preparation for the cruise.  The scientific instrumentation that will be used on the cruise is impressive and worth mentioning since in science data are only as good and believable as the tools used to collect it. The cruise’s instrument workhorse will be the CTD as it will be used at every sample site. The following physical-chemical water quality parameters will be measured continuously as the CTD descends and then ascends through the water column: conductivity, temperature, depth, dissolved oxygen (DO), and chlorophyll a fluorescence. Attached to the CTD are twelve cylindrical Niskin bottles, each with a volume capacity of 2.5 liters (0.66gal). Water collected in the Niskin bottles at various depths will be collected and taken to the ship’s wet lab where the following water quality parameters will be measured using a multi-sensor sonde or probe: salinity, pH, and turbidity. The photo below shows the CTD with Niskin bottles.

Let’s begin by talking about a CTD, which measures seawater’s conductivity (more or less the amount of dissolved ions in a given mass or volume of seawater), its temperature, and depth of the surrounding water column at the time a measurement is made. The latter two parameters are self-explanatory so let’s focus on conductivity. Seawater conducts electrical current because seawater contains dissolved ions, i.e. charged particles, either positive or negative. The major ions in seawater contributing to its conductivity are predominately sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl) but other ions in varying amounts, depending on location and depth, are present as well. Examples include magnesium (Mg+2), calcium (Ca+2), carbonate (CO3-2), bicarbonate (HCO3), and sulfate (SO4-2). Other important elements found in trace or very small amounts in seawater are lithium (Li+), iodine (I), zinc (Zn+2), iron (Fe+2 and Fe+3), and aluminum (Al+3). This list is not exhaustive by any means.

Conductivity is related to salinity. In general, the greater seawater’s conductivity, the greater its salinity. Salinity of seawater though is not constant; it depends on a number of factors, two of the more important being depth and temperature.  Atmospheric gases, namely molecular nitrogen (N2), oxygen (O2), and carbon dioxide (CO2), readily dissolve in seawater, particularly so at the ocean’s surface where wave action facilitates this process. A dissolved oxygen (DO) probe (or sensor, typically the two words mean the same thing) measures the mass (or weight) of O2 dissolved in a given mass or volume of water. The units associated with a measured value then would be either mg O2(g)/kg seawater or mg O2(g)/L seawater. The symbol mg means milligrams, kg means kilograms (1kg = 1,000g = 2.2 pounds), and L means liter. Why is the denominator in the ratio either kg or L? The unit kg is a unit for mass, which does not depend on temperature. The mass (or weight) of a substance does not change simply because it gets warmer or cooler because mass measures the quantity of matter of the substance. The mass of any substance then is independent of temperature. If a book weighs one pound, it weighs one pound regardless if it’s placed in the sun or in the freezer. The unit L (liter) is a unit for volume, the value of which does depend on temperature. An object of some mass occupies a greater volume when warm than when cool.

Also attached to the CTD platform is a chlorophyll a fluorescence sensor, which measures the mass of chlorophyll (typically in micrograms, mcg or μg) per volume (typically one liter, L) seawater (overall units mcg/L). Small biological organisms called phytoplankton contain chlorophyll and hence carry out photosynthesis. Like the photosynthesis carried out by terrestrial vegetation, phytoplankton utilize the red and blue light-absorbing molecule called chlorophyll and the carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolved in seawater to produce biomass and molecular oxygen gas (O2). The famous equation for photosynthesis is:

CO2 + red and/blue light + H2O Ö biomass + O2 Photosynthesis though doesn’t work unless sufficient red and/or blue light from the sun is available at the depths phytoplankton are found. The zone in the ocean near the surface where marine photosynthesis takes place is called the photic zone.

The amount of chlorophyll measured by the sensor is in direct proportion to the amount of photosynthesizing phytoplankton found in seawater. Chlorophyll then can be counted so to speak by making the chlorophyll molecule in phytoplankton fluoresce, i.e. emit light. A chlorophyll fluorescence sensor (CFS) shoots a pulse of blue light into the surrounding seawater. A chlorophyll molecule absorbs the blue light which causes it to emit (give off) red light. The CFS sensor measures the red light emitted. Basically, the more red light that’s emitted means the more chlorophyll-containing phytoplankton present in the surrounding seawater at the depth where the measurement occurs.

Pelagic snail collected off the southern Oregon coast near Coos Bay

Pelagic snail collected off the southern Oregon coast

A CO2 probe interfaced with a computer for continuous real-time data collection measures the amount of gaseous CO2 (in milligrams, mg) dissolved in a given volume of water (typically one liter). Measuring CO2 in seawater is done to gauge the extent of CO2 gas the ocean “cleans” or “scrubs” (not the television show) from the atmosphere. The world’s oceans are huge CO2 sinks because they absorb enormous amounts of gaseous CO2 from the atmosphere annually, a good amount of which is converted into biomass by the photosynthetic activity of phytoplankton.

The “unused” dissolved CO2 forms carbonic acid, H2CO3, which in turn drops the seawater pH, thereby eventually making seawater more acidic. This added acidity (drop in pH) is countered or buffered by the ocean’s natural basic pH, resulting in essentially no net change in pH. But this buffering capacity has limits. If the buffering capacity is exceeded by the addition of too much CO2 in a given time period or the reduction in phytoplankton photosynthesis, then the net result is a drop in pH, making the seawater more acidic. This change in seawater chemistry, in turn, can have deleterious effects on the biology of marine organisms, especially those organisms that live and reproduce in a limited pH range.

One marine organism that is expected to succumb to the predicted net acidification of the oceans over the next decade or so, if not sooner, is the pelagic snail (see photo below). The term pelagic means open so a pelagic snail is found in the open ocean away from the coast.

Why is the pelagic snail threatened? Acidification of the ocean increases the solubility of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), the major constituent of the shells of marine organisms. Solubility is a chemistry term that relates the amount of substance (CaCO3) dissolved in a liquid, in this instance seawater. Essentially a drop in pH (acidification) increases the amount of calcium carbonate in the exoskeleton or shells of marine organisms dissolved, thereby producing thinner shells. Ultimately the shell becomes too thin and any major wave action will break the shell and the organism dies. To show this process, place an egg in a glass of vinegar overnight. The egg shell’s chemical composition is CaCO3. Vinegar is acidic. Over time the shell becomes progressively thinner. Eventually the egg shell dissolves away completely if the egg remains in the vinegar long enough. The yolk inside the egg then is no longer protected by the shell.

Personal Log 

NOAA vessel McARTHUR II in port in Astoria, OR

NOAA vessel McARTHUR II in port in Astoria, OR

I awoke Saturday morning to the music of song birds and a slight drizzle. I couldn’t identify which type of song bird but it didn’t matter; it was a good start to what would be a great day. Early Saturday morning we packed the scientific gear and sensitive equipment/instruments for the seven-hour vehicular transport along US Highway 101 to Astoria, Oregon (45O12’N, 124O50’W), where the NOAA research ship and crew of the McARTHUR II (see photo left) were docked and awaiting our arrival. The south-north drive along US Highway 101 is long and winding but is replete with breathtaking scenery at every turn. It’s highly recommended when visiting Oregon.

The seven-hour drive in the minivan from Coos Bay to Astoria was a good chance to interact with and talk to some of the other science team members, all of whom I had never met nor talked to previous to today. We all would be shipboard with each other for nine straight days. I had better get to know them and get an idea what makes them tick. I’m sure they thought the same.

In addition, over the past year or so I have developed a keen interest in how ships work and as I came to find out during the seven-hour drive so too did a fellow science team member, Bob Sleeth, who sat adjacent to me during the drive to Astoria. The NOAA crew was most welcoming and eager to talk about their ship. Bob and I were treated to an immensely educational tour of the McARTHUR’s navigational systems capabilities from Ensign Andrew Colegrove, a NOAA junior officer who obviously is passionate about both his job and maritime history; he also has a wealth and breadth of knowledge about the practical, engineering ins-andouts of modern ship technology and operational systems. I lost track of time but I’m sure the personal tour lasted more than two hours.