Janet Nelson: Sand Dollars and Sea Stars! June 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Janet Nelson Huewe
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 13 – 25, 2012

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Area: North Atlantic
Wednesday, June 20, 2012 

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 41.03.21 North
Longitude: 071 32.79 West
Air temp: 21 C
Wind Speed: 15.6 kt
Depth: 135.2 feet

Science and Technology Log:

I came on shift yesterday at noon with three back to back dredge tows (we have done 30 dredges thus far on Leg II). We are off the coast of Long Island. Most of the dredges around here have been filled with sand dollars and sea stars. In total, we have processed and counted on this leg of the survey 5, 366 scallops, 453 skates, and 58 Goosefish, a very interesting fish that  buries itself in the sand and uses a filamentous lure to attract prey and engulf them. In addition, we have counted 132, 056 sea stars (wow!) and 590 crabs. The HabCam had some glitches yesterday but we began running the vehicle on our shift at approximately 1245 hrs. It made a run for approximately three hours and 57 minutes, with approximately 22.387 nautical miles of pictures before we dredged again.

While looking at the images of the HabCam, it astounds me at seeing prior dredge track marks from commercial scallopers and clamers. By looking at the side scan sonar, some of the dredges are very deep and very invasive. It reminds me of strip mining and clear cutting in terrestrial ecosystems. It is also evident, by observing the images, that little is left in those areas but shell hash. With that said, there are still some interesting species that get photographed, such as jelly fish and sea stars in patterns you would think they orchestrated.

We are working our way toward Georges Bank and will be there, from what I’m told, sometime late this afternoon or evening. All equipment is running well and what time we lost with the late departure has mostly been made up. It’s amazing what technology can do!

Personal Log:

As of yesterday, I have been away from home with little to no contact for six days, so when I was told yesterday morning prior to coming on shift that we had cell phone signal, I immediately went up on deck and called my husband! Although I only got an answering machine, it was good, and familiar, to hear his voice.

We then had a fire drill at noon and after that, set to work. It was nice to be outside working for the next 4 hours. I think I finally have my sea legs. However, the seas have also been cooperating with only 1-3 foot swells, at best. When they are higher, I sometimes feel like the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz”. It’s a good thing I can laugh at myself when I look completely ridiculous while tripping through a door or, with no warning whatsoever, bump into a wall!  From what I understand, this ship has a flatter bottom than most so every wave and swell catches it and tosses it in whatever direction that wave is going, despite having just gone in the opposite direction! I am hoping the sea remains calm when we get to Georges Bank.

I am learning a great deal about the critters that live in the ocean around here. It is so strange to have at times hundreds upon hundreds of sand dollars being pulled up in the dredge at one location and then to have mostly sea stars pulled up at another location. My favorite, however, are the hermit crabs! They are so cool! They will begin to crawl out of their shells, see you coming to pick them up and immediately crawl way back inside and stare at you. I actually think I saw one blink at me. Not really, but my imagination does run away at times.

Those are also the times someone, usually me or the watch chief (chief scientist is guilty of this too!), bursts into song or starts quoting a movie line, and then half the crew is joining in. I have gotten more proficient at using the technology equipment on board that does the recording of the measurements of the specimens, and also at cutting/shucking the scallops. Never thought I would know how to do that! I have a feeling there are a few things I never thought I would do before this cruise is over. I have five more days at sea. Anything is possible!

Side note: Today is beautiful for being at sea! Clear sky, moderate winds, and sea legs that are working!!


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Anne Artz: July 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Artz
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 25 — August 5, 2011

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 30, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Location:  Off the coast of New York (Long Island)
40 36.212 N; 72 07.159 W
Conditions: Warm, sunny with very few clouds, very little wind, calm water

Science and Technology Log

The process of sampling the ocean bottom for surfclams and quohogs isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Both of these animals live below the surface of the ocean bottom and that ocean bottom can be sand, mud, or contain a large number of rocks.   To get to the clams the dredge is lowered into the water using a large crane and cable.  Once on the ocean floor, a pump directs the edge of the dredge into the sand/mud and at the same time blows back anything collected into the back of the dredge.  The entire time the ship is moving, dragging the dredge along the bottom.  The idea is for the clams and other larger samples to remain in the dredge while mud and sand wash out the sides and the back.  This works most of the time but occasionally we have brought up the dredge filled with grey sticky mud or large amounts of sand and rocks.  We can put the dredge back into the water off the stern (rear) of the ship and wash away some, but the sticky grey mud has caused problems and we keep our fingers crossed each time the dredge comes up.

The dredge that is lowered to the ocean floor to collect samples

Before sending the dredge down, three sensors are loaded onto the top and side.  These are similar to flash drives that collect certain data such as water depth, temperature, and tilt. This data is retrieved and downloaded into the computer after each “event” (the term used for each sample).  I’ve been trained on setting up the event using the computer in the bridge.  It requires communicating with the NOAA Corps officers who are on the bridge navigating the ship.  These people work closely with the winch operator who is lowering the dredge into the water at designated points.

NOAA Lead Fisherman Todd Wilson is responsible for operation of the winch that lowers the dredge.

The winch operator is also in direct communication with the crew on the deck who assist in lowering and raising the dredge and providing for a safe working environment for the volunteers and scientists.  Because of  all the heavy equipment on the deck, we are all required to wear hard hats when on the deck.  Of course, we also wear our life jackets.  The process of lowering and raising the dredge in specific areas is highly technical and one that is worked out well in advance of each sea trip.  Once at sea, it is the job of the Chief Scientist (Jakub Kircun) to monitor our sampling sites.

The Chief Scientist of the Delaware II Jakub Kircun

Occasionally we have to make adjustments, such as yesterday when the blade assembly of the dredge was damaged by rocks.

The broken blade apparatus that had to be removed from the dredge and replaced.

We had to stop our work for almost two hours while the crew removed the damaged part and replaced it with a new one.  This happens with some regularity so the ship carries extra blades and blade assemblies.  There are only two more assemblies left (of the part we replaced yesterday) and approximately three more weeks of sampling.  I asked what would happen if we ran out of blades and/or blade assemblies and was told the last leg (the last two weeks of sampling) may have to be cut short.  If possible, the crew may try to repair the broken part.

Personal Log

I’ve gotten to know my fellow team (those of us on the noon-midnight shift) through our long hours on deck and in the lab.  Two of the volunteers are like me – here for this particular leg.  Brenna O’Neill  is a graduate student at the Florida Institute of Technology and works in marine sciences.  Henry Hope is a NOAA employee who usually works in a lab in Woods Hole, MA but volunteered for this trip to see what kind of science we did at sea.  The other members of our team are all NOAA employees – either working continuously on the ship for all the science expeditions or part time on the ship and part time in a lab.  I was surprised to find out that there are various science expeditions carried out all year long – including in the middle of winter.  One of the crew told me of working on deck having to chip away ice from the equipment before it could be used.  It’s been so warm and humid on this trip I can’t imagine being that cold.  In fact, I brought several sweatshirts and jeans with me thinking it might be cool out at sea but haven’t even looked at them since I arrived.  It’s been all t-shirts and shorts even at midnight.  Last night we had another 2-hour delay because of a lightning storm – this time we DID hear the thunder!