Victoria Cavanaugh: Newport, Oregon Bound!, April 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Victoria Cavanaugh
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 16 – 27, 2018

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 12, 2018

Weather Data from My Classroom at School

Latitude: 42.3306° N
Longitude: 71.1220° W
Sea Wave Height: N/A
Wind Speed: 16 km/h
Wind Direction: SW
Visibility: 14.5km
Air Temperature: 5.6oC  
Sky:  Scattered Clouds

Personal Log

Greetings from Brookline, Massachusetts!  I am a 7th grade math teacher at the Edward Devotion School, where I have the wonderful opportunity to work with 80 creative and enthusiastic students each day.  I applied to the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program as I’m eager to bring real-world math to the classroom, or maybe to bring my classroom to the real-world math. 🙂 The 7th graders are currently in the midst of our data and analysis unit, and I can’t wait to learn more firsthand about how NOAA scientists gather, graph, and analyze data.  I look forward to sharing my learning with my class, and I’m excited about to what future class projects this opportunity may lead.

Math Class Fish

Our 7th Grade Math Class Fish, Swim Shady, & the Inspiration for Our Aquaponics Garden Design Project

 

Previous to teaching 7th grade math in Brookline, I taught for nearly a decade in El Salvador.  I’m happy to be able to share this adventure with students there as well.

El Salvador group photo

Visiting with Some Former Students & Family along the Ruta de Flores, El Salvador

In just a few days, I will fly from Boston, MA to Portland, OR, and from there I’ll board NOAA Ship Fairweather in Newport, OR.  It was a nice surprise to learn I’d begin my journey in Newport as I first visited Oregon when I was in seventh grade myself.  From there, we’ll sail towards Southeast Alaska.

Newport beach

My Brother and I (as a 7th Grader) Visiting the Beach in Newport, OR

While aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather, I’ll be participating in a hydrographic survey, which entails working with scientists to measure and describe oceanic features that can affect maritime navigation. According to NOAA,  “Alaska’s charts are in need of updating, especially in the Arctic region where some soundings date back to the work of Captain Cook in the 18th century.”  Conducting a hydrographic survey of the region is especially important because many towns and villages in Alaska are reachable only by boat or plan, so accurate and updated navigational charts will benefit all who live and travel through the area.

One aspect of the Alaska Hydrographic Survey Project, I’m eager to witness is the way in which scientists, technicians, and cartographers utilize some of  the same geometry and algebra concepts we’ve been studying in seventh grade math this year in their work aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather.

 

Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Fairweather’s home port is Ketchikan, Alaska, which will also be where I’ll disembark at the end of my trip.

Fairweather

NOAA ship Fairweather, in front of its namesake, Mt. Fairweather. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Alex Miller, Heading for Home, June 11, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Thursday, June 11, 2015

Front row from left: Paul Chittaro, Brittney Honisch, Tyler Jackson; Back row from left: Alexandra Miller, Will Fennie, Toby Auth

Front row from left: Paul Chittaro, Brittney Honisch, Tyler Jackson; Back row from left: Alexandra Miller, Will Fennie, Toby Auth

 

To conclude the discussion of the research on board the Shimada, I would like to profile the remaining scientists: the four fishermen of the night shift, and give a general report of the results of the cruise.

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Toby Auth, fisheries biologist with Pacific States Marine Fisheries Center (PSMFC), oversees most of the operations of the sorting, measuring and counting of the trawls. He works as a contractor to NOAA under the guidance of Ric Brodeur. Toby holds a BA in Fisheries and Wildlife from the University of Minnesota and he did both his MA and Ph.D. at the University of Maryland in Fisheries Management and he specialized in studying the early life of fish–egg, larval and juvenile stages, collectively called ichthyoplankton, basically anything fish-related that is small enough to sort of float along in the water.

As a researcher, he is most interested in understanding spawning success and food chain interactions of the Pacific coast species that come up in the trawls. Typically, Toby is at sea 30 – 40 days a year, but this year, due to the anomalous warm blob, he expects to be at sea about 50 – 60 days. The anomaly has implications for all fields of marine biology and oceanography.

In the far left of the image stands Dr. Paul Chittaro, of Ocean Associates in Seattle, WA. Paul is at sea on a research cruise for the first time in 10 years, and he’s very happy to be here. He was on board collecting fish in order to examine their otoliths, which are ear bones. Otoliths grow every day, laying down rings, almost like a tree. Analyzing these rings can give information about the fishes travels, diet and ocean conditions when they were alive.

The big guy in the back is Will Fennie, who will begin his Ph.D. at Oregon State University in the fall. The entire cruise he has been eagerly awaiting some juvenile rockfish to come up in the net and finally, in the last few nights, some did. Overall, we caught much less rockfish than in previous years. This could be for any number of reasons.

You can hear interviews with Paul and Will below.

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I have to give a HUGE thank you to Ric Brodeur, Chief Scientist of this mission, for supporting me as a Teacher at Sea and for reading each and every blog post!

Listen to my interview with Ric to learn more about the impacts of the research done on board the Shimada for these 13 DAS and possibilities for the future.

 

Thanks to XO Sarah Duncan as well, both she and Ric had to read and edit each one!

 

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Front row from left: Yours Truly, Emily Boring, Ric Brodeur; Back row from left: Jason Phillips, H.W. Fennie, Brittney Honisch, Toby Auth, Dr. Paul Chittaro, Amanda Gladics, Samantha Zeman, Curtis Roegner, Tyler Jackson

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It would take quite some time to tell all the stories of the marine wildlife we have seen on our 13 day cruise, but I would still like to share with you some of the photos and video I and others were lucky enough to capture. Enjoy!

All photos in these two galleries are courtesy of Amanda Gladics, Oregon State University, Seabird Oceanography Lab.

 

 

Personal Log

My experiences on board the Shimada have taught me a lot about myself and my abilities. I’ve done more writing, media processing and chatting with new people in the last two weeks than I have in the last two years. I have a greater understanding of how scientists work in the field and the importance of fisheries to the health of our oceans and the commercial fishing industry and I plan to apply that understanding in my classroom to increase students’ understanding of marine science and awareness of possible careers. To my students: “Get ready, dudes!”

Hopefully, you all have learned a lot about fisheries research, the process of science and the fascinating cast of characters who sailed with the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. Maybe you’re even feeling a little inspired. Now, I know I’m an inland city kid, but I’ve loved the sea since I first saw Free Willy at the age of 7 and I’m not the only one who can trace their love of the sea to a starting point.

All the scientists on board have an origin story: one salient memory that they can credit with being the moment of inspiration for pursuing a life of study and research and a career in the field of science. If you’re curious about the world, you have the potential to be a great scientist. Science is for all people, no matter what age or situation, and these ones just happen to do theirs at sea. So, I want to know: Where will you do yours?

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading and listening and, maybe, sea you again soon!

Alex Miller, Teacher at Sea, signing off.

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Bye!

One last huge THANK YOU to the crew and officers of the Shimada for a wonderful cruise!!!

Alex Miller: Smooth Sailing So Far, May 31, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015

View of the Hatfield Marine Science Center and NOAA dock as the Shimada pulled away.

View of the Hatfield Marine Science Center and NOAA dock as the Shimada pulled away.

 

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Sunday, May 31, 2015

Weather Data: 

  • Air Temperature: 11.1°C
  • Water Temperature: 11.8°C
  • Overcast skies
  • Wind Speed (kts) and Direction: 15, SSE

Science and Technology Log

Last of the bridge we'll see for some time.

Last of the bridge we’ll see for some time.

We finally weighed anchor and set sail at 1032 Friday morning. Fog blanketed the shores of Newport as we passed below the Yaquina Bay Bridge and out into the channel created by the North and South Jetties. One of our last sights from shore was Chief Scientist Ric Brodeur’s wife, who had come to see us off. The fog was so thick that before we had even reached the end of the jetty her lime green jacket was hidden from view.

Emily and I and several of the other scientists watched our departure from the flying bridge, the highest observational deck on board the ship. It provides an almost unobstructed 360-degree view of the surroundings—making it perfect for Amanda’s surveys—but it’s also right next to the foghorn, which had to be blown every two minutes until we reached greater visibility. Needless to say, we all found somewhere else to watch the waves.

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Visibility was low as we left Newport.

Once the ship had moved farther offshore, some of the fog cleared but the moisture in the air was still enough to cause concern for the computers so Amanda went to the bridge, an enclosed deck that houses the navigational instruments that the captain and other officers use to drive the ship. Here she began setting up her survey equipment.

Up to this point, I’d been getting a lot of great advice about handling the first few hours on board the moving ship. Some people suggested I lay down, but the go-getter in me wanted to work. Using a program that is linked to the ship’s GPS, Amanda taught me how to code the observations she was making of the seabirds and marine mammals. As she kept her eyes glued on the 90-degree quadrant made by making a quarter port (while facing the front of the ship, counter clockwise or left, for you digital folks) turn from the bow (front of the ship) (in the image at the top of this post, you can see a panoramic view of quadrant I, the port bow of the ship), she would call out codes for the species, distance from the ship and behavior of the bird she observed. If she were to spot any marine mammals–pinnipeds (pin-eh-peds) (seal and sea lions) or cetaceans (ceh-tay-shins) (dolphins and whales)–that gets entered in a separate database.

Amanda surveying from the flying bridge.

Amanda surveying from the flying bridge.

Amanda has to be prepared to work alone as she is the only ornithologist on the ship, but with a Teacher at Sea and other volunteers on board willing to learn and help out, she’s able to rely on us to share some of the work. She and I were working as quite the well-oiled machine for a solid 20 minutes before I made peace with the fact that I did not have my sea legs. To my great relief, it’s something you can sleep off.

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While at sea, the most important thing to remember is to be safe, so once we had been underway for a few hours, the ship’s crew and team of scientists went through drills to practice safety protocols for two of the three significant events that could happen at sea. A 10-second blast on the horn sounded the alarm for the fire drill, and all crew and scientists mustered (gathered) in their assigned locations. Next, 7-short, and 1-long blast signaled the start of the abandon ship drill. The need to abandon ship is highly unlikely, but out at sea you need to be prepared for anything. Most importantly, you need to know how to get into your survival suit, and fast.

Emily and I decided to practice since we were both first-timers to these impressive red neoprene onesies. Since they’re designed to be large enough to fit over your shoes and warm clothes, they can be awkward to put on, especially when you get to the zipping part. And who cares how they look when the water is 8-10° Celsius, a temperature that could cause hypothermia or fatal loss of body temperature.

Emily and I managed to get the survival suits on!

Emily and I managed to get the survival suits on!

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Saturday was spent sampling a little bit of everything. Of course I paid a visit to Amanda up on the flying bridge to hear about how the birding (and marine mammal-ing) was going. Often, I find Emily there assisting with data entry. Since Amanda can only survey when the ship is traveling faster than 7 knots, traveling from station to station gives her time to look, but sometimes these distances are short and our time at the stations, releasing the various equipment needed for different scientists’ data collection, can be long. This is when Amanda goes off effort (not collecting data) for longer periods of time and during these times, Emily and I have taken to teaming up to check out what’s going on in the wet lab.

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Jaclyn releases the neuston tow into the water.

Home to most of the science crew, the wet lab is wet. Initially, I thought foul weather gear was meant for, well, foul weather, but between the hauling in, spraying down and rinsing of the samples caught in the nets, everyone in the wet lab is wearing theirs full-time. Also, everyone must wear hard hats and PFDs (personal flotation devices, also known as life jackets) when out on deck as the equipment is being released or hauled in. Safety first, as always!

My cabin mate, Jaclyn Mazzella, and Phil White, are the two survey technicians on the Shimada. They help release and monitor the nets and equipment that are being used on this research cruise. More on these two interesting cats later.

Emily and I working hard to haul in the CTD.

Emily and I working hard to haul in the CTD.

While in the wet lab, Emily and I witnessed the CTD being hauled in. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. Conductivity is a measurement of salinity, or how salty the ocean water is. The way it works is by passing an electric current through the water and measuring how fast it travels. This is connected to how salty the water is because when salt is dissolved in water, it separates into ions, these particles carry a charge and allow electric current to pass through. More conductive water will be salty, less conductive water will be less salty or fresh. 

We know that temperature provides a measurement of how hot or cold something is. In this case, we’re measuring the temperature of the water. It is mostly cold off the Oregon coast, though the scientists on board have been discussing a recent unexplained area of warmer water, dubbed the “warm blob.” Biologists aim to discover if the warm blob is going to have an impact on the fisheries.

As the CTD is lowered and raised, it can take measurements of these and other factors which allow biologists to compare the diversity and number of species they collect in their nets to the data collected. One of those nets is the neuston tow, a net that skims the surface of the water. It is one of several nets that are being used to collect samples from different layers of the ocean. The scientists on board expect to find jellies and larvae of different species in this net.

Curtis filters the cod-end of the neuston and finds a whole bunch of Vallela vallela.

Curtis filters the cod-end of the neuston and finds a whole bunch of Vellela vellela.

I got a chance to see the neuston being released. After it was hauled in, Dr. Curtis Roegner, a fisheries biologist with NOAA, detached the cod-end–a small container at the bottom of the net that collects everything the net caught–and filtered out the contents. Inside were a bunch of beautiful blue jellies! These guys are commonly known as by-the-wind sailors thanks to their interesting sail adaptation that allows them to harness the power of the wind to aid in their dispersal (scattering) throughout the ocean. I helped Sam Zeman, a biologist with the University of Oregon, Tyler and Curtis measure the diameter–the length at the widest point–of the bodies of the jellies.

Vallela vallela, by the wind sailors.

Vellela vellela, by the wind sailors.

Curtis, Tyler and I working to measure and record the lengths of the sails on the Vallela vallela. (Thanks to Sam for taking this picture!)

Curtis, Tyler and I working to measure and record the lengths of the sails on the Vellela vellela. (Thanks to Sam for taking this picture!)

Personal Log

The more time I spend on the Shimada, the more determined I am to figure out how time travel works so I can go back and thank my September 2014 self for putting in the Teacher At Sea application. I’ve been on the ship for three days now and I love being able to go anywhere, day or night, and be able to observe and assist in research and data collection, but also just sit and talk with people who have all followed many different paths that led them to this ship, for these two weeks.

You might think my biggest struggles right now would be seasickness (which I’m not!) or missing my friends and family, but honestly, the hardest part is keeping the blog down to a readable length. There’s an enormous amount more happening here than I have the room to tell you but I will try and cover everything before our time is up.

Lastly, it’s true, I miss my friends and family, a lot, but there are certain creature comforts here that help ease the transition from land to sea. NOAA certainly knows how to keep morale and productivity up, with a well-stocked kitchen open 24 hours, meals prepared on site by talented cooks, and a TV lounge for socializing with a selection of over 500 movies, it’s easy to feel at home. And when finding a work-life balance is not possible, it’s necessary, all of this helps.

Well, that’s all for now, catch the next installment coming soon to a computer screen or mobile device near you!

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Prof. Mary-Beth Decker consulting on the spelling of Vellela vellela and Brittney Honisch for teaching me a good way to remember port vs. starboard. When facing the front of the ship, port is left and both words have four letters.

Alex Miller: Delayed but Still Determined, May 28, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Aboard and Inport NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Thursday, May 28th, 2015

Personal Log

A panoramic view from Yaquina Point, gray whales can often be seen from the Point on their migration route, one of the longest in the animal kingdom.

A panoramic view from Yaquina Point, gray whales can often be seen from the Point on their migration route, one of the longest in the animal kingdom.

Greetings from NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada!

From my time onboard I have learned it takes a lot of people to run a ship this size, which helps explain why, due to a staffing issue, we have been delayed until tomorrow, Friday, at 1000. All scientists and crew are being asked to assemble on deck at 0800 for a briefing where I imagine we will go over responsibilities and safety precautions before heading out to sea.

Our run has changed its course slightly since cutting down to 13 DAS (days at sea); we will now cruise between Southern Oregon and Gray’s Harbor, WA, with all the same mission objectives. While we haven’t gone anywhere yet, this time in port is affording me the opportunity to explore Newport and assist in and observe research that is being done by the scientists on land.

Newport has a considerable number of marine science facilities and most of the scientists I will be working with have or will have labs here in which they process the data they collect while in the field—the field can either be the sea or the land, depending on the study—and while the various organizations at the Hatfield cooperate and share research findings (as all good scientists do), there are distinctions in terms of what each scientist studies and, essentially, who pays them to do it.

The lighthouse at Yaquina Point.

The lighthouse at Yaquina Head.

Let’s start at the beginning. Most of the scientists going on this cruise of the Shimada are biologists. Biologists are scientists who study living things (bio-life, ology-study of) and so far I have met two kinds. Amanda’s specific field of biology is ornithology (making her an ornithologist), which specializes in the study of birds. Will Fennie, among others who you will hear more about, is an ichthyologist, a scientist who studies fish. For both, they will work at sea and on land to first collect and then process the information or samples (known as data in the scientific community). As I mentioned before, Amanda works with the Seabird Oceanography Lab at Oregon State University and starting in the fall semester, Will will begin his Ph.D. studies there as well. Other scientists on board are affiliated with other schools, like University of Oregon and Yale University, and some NOAA employs directly. You’ll meet some of them later on.

So, while I may not be at sea, I’m taking every opportunity I can to learn about how these scientists work, what their lives are like on and off the ship and what the significance of their research is. Yesterday, I rode with Amanda up to the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (it’s a beautiful name, really, but hereafter I will refer to it as Yaquina Head). Yaquina Head is home to Oregon’s tallest and second oldest lighthouse, one of a series that were built along the coast to guide fisherman home. It also happens to be home to a unique nesting site, also known as a colony, for many species of seabird, including the western gull and common murre.

Common murres return to their nesting sites once the eagles are out of sight.

Common murres return to their nesting sites once the eagles are out of sight.

We were there to try and adjust an antenna that was meant to pick up VHF signal (very high frequency, just one of several different radio signals that can be used) for a common murre she and her lab mates had previously tagged. Scientists use trackers (or “tags”) for a variety of reasons because they allow them to collect information on the birds’ location. This information will be put into a computer program that can then organize it so scientists can look for trends. Trends are patterns in data, which scientists analyze to gain new understanding or develop theories (ways to explain why these trends exist). For example, maybe the data will show a trend of no pings at the colony for several hours and scientists might theorize that eagles came to hunt during that time, scaring the murres away.

All of that was just hypothetical, but in fact, eagles had been hunting at Yaquina Head earlier that morning so thousands of murres were off the colony and sitting in the water. If you click on the first image in this post and zoom in you can see what look like black dots in the water. Each one is a seabird. As Amanda and her lab technician, Ian, worked to try and get the signal to come in clear without static, I wandered and watched for birds. I was also hoping to spot a spout, the tell tale sign of a whale or dolphin, but, alas, no luck.

In the end, the antenna issue was not resolved. Amanda said another member of her lab would be able to come out and take a look at it, another upside of being able to work in collaboration with others. At sea, she will mostly work solo, keeping a careful watch for various seabird and marine mammal species, but she’s already recruited me for data entry so that while she watches, I can help keep track of which species are spotted, what they were doing when they were spotted, and which direction they were traveling. All of this will be GPS stamped and stored to create a database of information, which will be shared among labs and researchers at different universities and institutions. When it’s operating at its best, science is a collaborative endeavor with the end goal being better understanding of our world.

Amanda and Ian adjust the VHF antenna to try and catch 24-hour presence-absence data for a tagged common murre.

Amanda and Ian adjust the VHF antenna to try and catch 24-hour GPS data for a tagged common murre.

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Today, I wanted to hike on the South Jetty to get a bit of exercise so I caught a ride with Will who was heading out to surf. If you choose to be an oceanographer or marine biologist, odds are you’ll end up living most of your life by the ocean, so if, like Will, you enjoy being in the water, it’s certainly something to consider.

A panoramic view of the South Jetty and the beaches of Newport.

A panoramic view of the South Jetty and the beaches of Newport.

Hiking out on the South Jetty, the path is easy-going for the first 150 feet or so, after that the distances between the rocks require a more careful eye and take up a bit more of your attention. Every now and then I would stop and try to catch a decent close-up picture of some of the seabirds that were constantly flying overhead.

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A cormorant flies by me.

The sheer number of animals that live off the Oregon coast can keep your head turning for hours, which is good because I was trying to split my time between watching the horizon for spouts and snapping photos of the gulls, cormorants and murres. My eyes may have been playing on tricks on me—I really, really want to see a whale—but I swore I saw a spout. A big part of me wanted to take off running down the jetty to get a closer look, but that was a near impossibility unless I wanted to run the risk of jumping from rock to slippery, yellow-lichen covered rock. I did however manage to get a few of the types of photos I was hoping to get.

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A flock of what appear to be cormorants.

After a quick coffee run, Will and I decided to check out the Oregon Coast Aquarium. While it can boast being a member of the top-10 best aquariums in the country, I think its real claim to fame is its former celebrity resident, Keiko the orca (killer whale), star of Free Willy, the 90s film that launched a generation of children who wanted to grow up and become marine biologists.

The aquarium focuses on education about the different marine life native to the Oregon coast, with exhibits on sea otters, harbor seals and California sea lions as well as the mysterious giant Pacific octopus. We were lucky to catch the rotating exhibition on shipwrecks, which focused both on the process by which archaeologists discover, unearth and study artifacts from shipwrecks in order to learn the story of their demise and how they become teeming centers of life, functioning as artificial habitat, once they make their way to the ocean floor.

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For our last night in port, Ric wanted to bring together as many of the scientists and crew as he could to give everyone an opportunity to get to know each other a bit before we made way. I met Tyler Jackson, a marine biologist from Oregon State University who is studying crab populations and Emily Boring, an undergraduate from Yale University. She’s just finished her freshman year, and she’s taking advantage of her summer to learn a bit more about a career she’s been interested in since she was in fourth grade. I would say that Emily is making a great choice to learn more and she’s definitely getting a head start if a life of research is what she ends up wanting.

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In darkness, we drove across the Yaquina Bay Bridge for the last time, the lights from restaurants and homes outlined the coast and traced down the docks, drawing our eyes to the Shimada, illuminated and waiting for us to take to the sea.

shimada at night

Good night Shimada. 

Did You Know?

Giant Pacific octopus are highly intelligent and have such sophisticated camouflage that they can mimic color and texture of their surroundings, allowing them to hide and then pounce on their prey.

 

Correction:

You were told there would be seabirds in that panoramic picture and unfortunately, there are not. There are seabirds in this picture below.

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Justin Czarka, August 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Czarka
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II (tracker)
August 10 – 19, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Date: August 15, 2009

Weather data from the Bridge

This picture shows what happens to an 8 fluid ounce Styrofoam cup after experience water pressure at 1000 meters down. The colorful cup was sent down attached to the CTD

This picture shows what happens to an 8 fluid ounce Styrofoam cup after experience water pressure at 1000 meters down. The colorful cup was sent down attached to the CTD

Sunrise: 6:29 a.m.
Sunset: 20:33 (8:33 p.m.)
Weather: patchy mist
Sky: partly to mostly cloudy
Wind direction and speed: north-northwest 15-20 knots (kt), gust to 25 kt
Visibility: unrestricted to 1-3 nautical miles in mist
Waves: northwest 6-9 feet
Air Temperature: 18°C high, 12°C low
Water Temperature: 17.5°C

Science and Technology Log 

Today we made it out to 200 miles off the Oregon Coast; the farthest out we will go. The depth of the ocean is 2867 meters (9,406 feet).  It is pretty interesting to imagine that we are on the summit of a nearly 10,000-foot mountain right now!  Last night the CTD was deployed 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).  Even at this depth, the pressure is immense (see photo, page one). When taking the CTD down to this depth, certain sensors are removed from the rosette (the white frame to which the CTD instruments are attached) to prevent them from being damaged.

Justin Czarka taking observational notes while aboard the McArthur II.  These notes preserve the knowledge gained from the NOAA officers and crew, as well as the researchers

Justin Czarka taking observational notes while aboard the McArthur II. These notes preserve the knowledge gained from the NOAA officers and crew, as well as the researchers

The crew aboard the McArthur II is such an informative group. Many possess a strong insight into NOAA’s research mission.  Today I spoke with Kevin Lackey, Deck Utility man.  He spoke to me about the cruises he has been on with NOAA, particularly about the effects of bioaccumulation that have been studied.  Bioaccumulation is when an organism intakes a substance, oftentimes from a food source, that deposits in the organism at increasing levels over time.  While sometimes an intentional response from an organism, with regards to toxins, this bioaccumulation can lead to detrimental effects.  For example, an organism (animal or plant) A on the food web experiences bioaccumulation of a toxin over time.  Imagine organism B targeting organism A as a food source. Organism B will accumulate concentrated levels of the toxin. Then, when organism B becomes a food source for organism C, the effects of the toxins are further magnified.  This has serious effects on the ocean ecosystem, and consequently on the human population, who rely on the ocean as a food source.

While aboard the McArthur II, Morgaine McKibben, a graduate student at Oregon State University (OSU), shared with me her research into harmful algal blooms (HABs), which potentially lead to bioaccumulation.  Certain algae (small plants) accumulate toxins that can be harmful, especially during a “bloom.” She is collecting water samples from the CTD, as well as deploying a HAB net, which skims the ocean surface while the ship is moving to collect algae samples.  She is utilizing the data in order to create a model to solve the problem of what underlying conditions cause the algae blooms to become toxic, since they are not always as such.

Personal Log 

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the flying bridge off the coast of Heceta Head, Oregon (N 43°59, W 124°35) a half hour later than two nights ago!

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the flying bridge off the coast of Heceta Head, Oregon (N 43°59, W 124°35) a half hour later than two nights ago!

The weather has cleared up allowing grand ocean vistas—a 360° panorama of various blues depending on depth, nutrients, clouds overhead, and so forth.  At first glance, it just looks blue.  But as you gaze out, you see variance. A little green here, some whitecaps over there. As the ship moves on, the colors change. Wildlife appears, whether it is a flock of birds, kelp floating by, or an escort of pacific white-sided dolphins. I wondered if the ocean would become monotonous over the course of the eleven days at sea.  Yet the opposite has happened. I have become more fascinated with this blue water.

It was interesting today to notice how we went back in time.  Two nights ago the sun had set at 20:03 (8:03 p.m.)  But because we went so far out to sea, last night the sunset had changed to 20:33 (8:33 p.m.).  While this happens on land as well, it never occurred to me in such striking details until out to see.

Animals Seen from the Flying Bridge (highest deck on the ship) 

  • Rhinoceros Auklet – closely related to puffins
  • Whale (breaching)
  • Common Murres
  • Western Gull
  • Hybrid Gull – We are at a location off the coast of Oregon where different species interbreed
  • Leech’s Storm Petrel – Mike Force, the cruise’s bird and marine mammal observer, found the bird aboard the ship by in an overflow tank.  It will be rereleased.

Did You Know? 

NOAA has a web page with information especially for students?