Stephen Kade: How Sharks Sense their Food & Environment, August 9, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: 30 19’ 54’’ N, 81 39’ 20’’ W, 10 nautical miles NE of Jacksonville, Florida

Date: August 9, 2018

Weather Data from Bridge: Wind speed 11 knots, Air Temp: 30c, Visibility 10 nautical miles, Wave height 3 ft.

Science and Technology Log

Sharks have senses similar to humans that help them interact with their environment. They use them in a specific order and rely on each one to get them closer for navigational reasons, and to find any food sources in the area around them. The largest part of the shark’s brain is devoted to their strong sense of smell, so we’ll start there.

Smell– Sharks first rely on their strong sense of smell to detect potential food sources and other movement around them from a great distance. Odor travels into the nostrils on either side of the underside of the snout. As the water passes through the olfactory tissue inside the nostrils, the shark can sense or taste what the odor is, and depending which nostril it goes into, which direction it’s coming from. It is said that sharks can smell one drop of blood in a billion parts of water from up to several hundred meters away.

Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils

Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils of a sharpnose shark

Sharks can also sense electrical currents in animals from long distances in several ways. Sharks have many electro sensitive holes along the snout and jaw called the Ampullae of Lorenzini. These holes detect weak electrical fields generated by the muscles in all living things. They work to help sharks feel the slightest movement in the water and sand and direct them to it from hundreds of meters away. This system can also help them detect the magnetic field of the earth and sharks use it to navigate as well.

Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils

Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils of a sharpnose shark

Hearing– Sharks also heavily use their sense of smell to initially locate objects in the water. There are small interior holes behind their eyes that can sense vibrations up to 200 yards away. Sound waves travel much further in water than in the air allowing them to hear a great distance away in all directions. They also use their lateral lines, which are a fluid filled canal that runs down both sides of the body. It contains tiny pores with microscopic hairs inside that can detect changes in water pressure and the movement and direction of objects around them.

Sight– Once sharks get close enough to see an object, their eyes take over. Their eyes are placed on either side of their head to provide an excellent range of vision. They are adapted to low light environments, and are roughly ten times more sensitive to light than human eyes. Most sharks see in color and can dilate their pupils to adapt to hunting at different times of day. Some sharks have upper and lower eyelids that do not move. Some sharks have a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane, which is an eyelid that comes up from the bottom of the eye to protect it when the shark is feeding or in other dangerous situations. Other sharks without the membrane can roll their eyes back into their head to protect them from injury.

dilated pupil of sharpnose shark

dilated pupil of sharpnose shark

Touch– After using the previous senses, sometimes a shark will swim up and bump into an object to obtain some tactile information. They will then decide whether it is food to eat and attack, or possibly another shark of the opposite gender, so they can mate.

Taste– Sharks are most famous for their impressive teeth. Most people are not aware that sharks do not have bones, only cartilage (like our nose and ears) that make up their skeletal system, including their jaw that holds the teeth. The jaw is only connected to the skull by muscles and ligaments and it can project forward when opening to create a stronger bite force. Surface feeding sharks have sharp teeth to seize and hold prey, while bottom feeding sharks teeth are flatter to crush shellfish and other crustaceans. The teeth are embedded in the gums, not the jaw, and there are many rows of teeth behind the front teeth. It a tooth is damaged or lost, a new one comes from behind to replace it soon after. Some sharks can produce up to 30,000 teeth in their lifetime.

Personal Log

While I had a general knowledge of shark biology before coming on this trip, I’ve learned a great deal about sharks during my Teacher at Sea experience aboard the Oregon II. Seeing, observing, and holding sharks every day has given me first hand knowledge that has aided my understanding of these great creatures. The pictures you see of the sharks in this post were taken by me during our research at sea. I could now see evidence of all their features up close and I could ask questions to the fishermen and scientists onboard to add to the things I read from books. As an artist, I can now draw and paint these beautiful creatures more accurately based on my reference photos and first hand observations for the deck. It was amazing to see that sharks are many different colors and not just different shades of grey and white you see in most print photographs. I highly encourage everyone that has an interest in animals or specific areas of nature to get out there and observe the animals and places firsthand. I guarantee the experience will inspire you, and everyone you tell of the many great things to be found in the outdoors.

Animals Seen Today: Sandbar shark, Great Hammerhead shark, Sharp nose shark

Angela Hung: Fortitude, July 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 27-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 23, 2018

 

Weather Data from Home

Conditions at 2101

Latitude: 41.54°N

Longitude: 87.53°W

Temperature: 21° C

Wind Speed: N 3 mph

 

Science and Technology Log

Back at home but there’s still so much to share! I’ll wrap up my amazing experience as a Teacher at Sea by introducing three more members of the NOAA Ship Oregon II family: Alonzo Hamilton, Executive Officer Andrew Ostapenko and Commanding Officer Captain Dave Nelson. At the start of my adventure, I wrote about flexibility. The Teacher at Sea Program also stresses that cruises “require high-intensity work that demands physical adeptness, endurance, and fortitude”. These three exemplify how fortitude, the ability to endure through life’s challenges and change, brings rewards throughout life.

 

Fishery Biologist Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton, left, and Taniya Wallace, right, enter species into FSCS.

Alonzo Hamilton, left, and Taniya Wallace, right, enter species into FSCS.

Alonzo Hamilton has been a fishery biologist for 34 years! He likes to say that he stumbled into NOAA. He graduated from community college before enrolling at Jackson State University, a historically black university in Mississippi with a full scholarship. Actually, he was offered two scholarships, one for minority biomedical researchers to become a surgeon and the other for general studies. He arrived on campus to discuss his options in the science department. It turned out that the biomedical research scholarship was given to another recipient. On the bright side, it made the decision to accept the general studies funding much simpler. Now he had to make a choice of which field to pursue. As he explored the halls of the science building, he happened upon the office of the head of the marine science program and popped in to ask some questions. After learning about the program, he decided to apply his scholarship toward coursework in this field.

After college, he began working on a research project for the Navy which paid for a master’s degree. Soon after, President Reagan froze research funding for the Navy. Fortunately, Alonzo was tipped off that NOAA did very similar research with an active, albeit smaller budget. So began a 34 year career as a NOAA fishery biologist.

Being an African American scientist in the deep south came with challenges, but he reminded his supervisors and others around him that, “I won’t limit myself to your box”, which has carried him through a long and storied career. Today, he is happy that he gets “paid to play in the ocean”, which sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

 

Executive Officer (XO) Andrew Ostapenko

Andrew Ostapenko

Andrew Ostapenko

Most of the NOAA Corp officers you meet have a degree in science. I had the fortune of sailing with one of the few who doesn’t— the XO, LCDR Andrew Ostapenko. XO has a degree in political science from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. His goal was to become a lawyer, but after considering the job prospects and the lifestyle—”no one ever calls lawyers when they are happy”, and they never retire —he looked into some other options. In 2005 he applied for the NOAA Corps. Although he didn’t have a science degree, the general education requirements at the University of St. Paul, which included calculus, chemistry and physics, met the NOAA Corps requirements.

Since joining NOAA, LCDR Ostapenko has held a variety of assignments. In Maryland he managed budgets and projects for the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, a part of the National Weather Service that provides forecasts for the nation. He worked in small boat life cycle management as a Port engineer/small boat officer in Norfolk, Virginia, disseminating policies across the NOAA fleet.

His sailing experience began on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson which performs hydrographic surveys that map the oceans to continuously update and improve nautical charts. He was a member of the first crew on NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker, accompanying her from Wisconsin where she was built to her homeport of San Diego. Last but not least, XO has been an augmenting officer for three months on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, another fisheries survey vessel based in Alaska where high seas and storms are a part of a normal day’s work.

NOAA assignments are three years for shore tours and two years for sea tours. LCDR Ostapenko currently has about a year left with Oregon II. As XO shows, there is no danger of getting stuck in mundane office job as a NOAA Corps officer.

 

The Captain

Captain Dave Nelson of NOAA Ship Oregon II

Captain Dave Nelson of NOAA Ship Oregon II

“Lunch is on me!” invites the captain if you arrive to the galley after him. Captain Dave Nelson is the commanding officer (CO) of NOAA Ship Oregon II, and he’s gone a long way to realize that title. This is his 10th year as the captain of Oregon II, but he’s worked onboard since 1993. He refers to himself as a “hawsepiper”, urging me to look it up on the internet. Informally, it means to have started at the bottom as a deckhand and working up to becoming a captain. Captain Nelson is a Mississippi native and grew up shrimping and fishing with his dad. After high school he went to work on commercial boats that bring supplies to oil rigs. After over a decade, he felt that he needed a plan for the future– a stable pensioned job. He serendipitously stopped into the NOAA office as he was driving by on a day that someone had just quit and there was an opening to fill. The rest is Oregon II history.

The progression as a civilian begins with being a deckhand and progressing to Chief Boatswain. It takes 750 days at sea to qualify for the first license, the 3rd Mate license administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. It then takes 1100 more days to be eligible to test for the Masters license to become a captain. In 2008 the prospective captain lived in Seattle on a NOAA ship for 12 weeks for a prep course for the Masters exam. At this point, it’d be almost 30 years since he had been a student; not only did he have to learn the material for the test, he also had to learn how to study again.  Soon-to-be Captain Nelson committed seven days a week for the entire 12 weeks to study and reviewing material to pass. He knew he wanted it.

CO Nelson’s joking attitude belies the pressure of being the captain of a ship. It’s a tremendous responsibility because he is accountable for everything, particularly the safety of everyone onboard. Every decision is made or approved by the captain and he sends reports to his supervisors every day.

He is one of a few captains in the NOAA fleet who is a civilian; most NOAA Commissioned officers rotate between boats every two years. This means that he is always training the new officers joining Oregon II from ensigns like Andy Fullerton and Chelsea Parrish to XO’s like Andrew Ostapenko. It takes a lot of patience; everyone comes in with different strengths, weaknesses and of course, personalities. The key, he says, is to “treat people like people” no matter who they are.

 

Personal Log

I somehow made it through almost three weeks living on Oregon II without falling down any stairs or tripping and landing on my face over a bulkhead door. Sure enough, it was hard to fall asleep at home without the rocking of the boat, but I’m happy to have my own shower again.

I’m so excited to show my students photos of so many of the things that I cover in class, or that they ask about, such as starfish regenerating lost arms and a video of wiggling tube feet on a severed arm (I accidently broke it off). I imagine they’ll also get to see critters they haven’t imagined-arrow and calico crabs, triggerfish, batfish…

A sea star that is regenerating its lower right arm.

A sea star that is regenerating its lower left arm.

I can’t believe how much I learned in such a short time about life and work at sea, careers, seafood, NOAA and its online resources. What I’ve shared in blogs is such a small fraction of everything I’ve experienced. I’m extremely grateful to everyone on Oregon II for being so welcoming and friendly, and for being so willing to speak with me. Although there were some setbacks, I got the chance to visit the lab and meet the wonderful scientists who showed me around. It’s hard work, but everyone agrees that it’s meaningful, rewarding and exciting.

Since coming home, my colleagues have commented that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity; that thought has crossed my mind as well. But watching everyone work, this is the everyday life of NOAA crew. I can’t help but think how few decisions it might have taken, maybe only 2-3 different choices, that might have made this my regular life too.

 

Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award for rescuing three people off the coast of Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast. (This is where NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is located.) In 1998 when Captain Nelson was still a deckhand, he was woken from sleep between his watches. At about 2:30pm, a small overturned boat was spotted with a man, woman, and young girl on top. Captain Nelson was a small boat driver then; he launched a boat from Oregon II to rescue them and bring them to the Coast Guard.

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award in 1998 for rescuing three people off of the coast of Florida.

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award in 1998 for rescuing three people off of the coast of Florida.

Captain Dave surmises that they left port in Miami almost 200 miles south and got swept up in the Gulf Stream, a strong current of water that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and flows to Canada, affecting the climate even to Europe. It can create choppy conditions that capsized their boat.

The Gulf Stream is visible in red as it carries warm water from the south into the northern Atlantic. Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream#/media/File:Golfstrom.jpg

The Gulf Stream is visible in red as it carries warm water from the south into the northern Atlantic. Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream#/media/File:Golfstrom.jpg

They were extraordinarily lucky; the ocean is vast so the chances of Oregon II coming by and being spotted were slim. Their boat was too small to be detected by radar; if it had been dark, they might have been run over. Those are three people who are alive today because of NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Angela Hung: “The Solution to Pollution is Dilution”, July 3, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 27-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 3, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 1610

Latitude: 29° 30’ N

Longitude: 92° 51’ W

Relative Humidity: 83%

Temperature: 26° C

Wind Speed: 13 knots

Cloudy with rain

 

Science and Technology Log

“The solution to pollution is dilution” was a common refrain during the midcentury as large scale factories became more common. This mindset applied to both air and water as both seemed limitless. Looking out over the Gulf of Mexico, a relatively small body of water, it’s easy to see how this logic prevailed. Even the Great Lakes, the largest body of fresh surface water in the world, accepted incalculable amounts of pollution and sewage from coastal factories, steel and wood mills, and of course major cities.

Sky and water as far as the eye can see. (It's hard to take a steady shot on a rocking boat!)

Sky and water in the Gulf of Mexico as far as the eye can see from the deck of NOAA Ship Oregon II. (It’s hard to take a steady shot on a rocking boat!)

The rise of the modern technological age that took humans to the moon gave us the first glimpse of the fallacy of the “solution”. “Earthrise” is the first photo of the entire Earth taken from space, showing us how thin our protective atmosphere really is and how delicately the Blue Planet floats in the vastness of space. This is the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

"Earthrise" Photo courtesy of nasa.gov

“Earthrise” Photo courtesy of nasa.gov

To truly guide the development of national policies including those that protect air and water quality, federal agencies such as NOAA are responsible for collecting data about our atmosphere and oceans, now knowing that these ecological compartments cannot endlessly dilute the pollution we generate. What seemed to be an obvious solution has today ballooned into a number of serious problems, from acid rain and blinding smog in cities to burning rivers, mass fish die offs that wash up on Lake Michigan beaches and dying coral reefs in the oceans.

The Cuyahoga River that runs through Cleveland, OH caught fire over a dozen times. This fire in 1969 finally motivated action towards creating the Clean Water Act.

The Cuyahoga River that runs through Cleveland, OH caught fire over a dozen times. This fire in 1969 finally motivated action towards creating the Clean Water Act. Photo from: https://www.alleghenyfront.org/how-a-burning-river-helped-create-the-clean-water-act/

A major pollutant in the Gulf is sourced from industrial agriculture practices from as far away as Illinois and the rest of the Midwest farm belt. Fertilizer and pesticides enter local rivers that find their way to the Mississippi River which carries contaminants into the Gulf of Mexico.

We have reached the Gulf’s “Dead Zone”, yielding a few tiny catches. Station W1601 may have given the smallest catch ever—a clump of seaweed and a whole shrimp.

The case of the shrinking trawls. On left, a catch from the night of July 2. Center and right, samples from two stations in hypoxic waters. The fish in the right photo may have been stuck in the net from the previous trawl.

The case of the shrinking trawls. On left, a catch from the night of July 2. Center and right, July 3 samples from two stations in hypoxic waters. The fish in the right photo may have been stuck in the net from the previous trawl.

Hypoxia literally means “low oxygen”. When fertilizers used to grow corn and soy enter bodies of water, they likewise feed the growth of algae, which are not technically plants but they are the aquatic equivalent. But plants make oxygen, how can this lead to low oxygen? Algae and land plants only produce oxygen during the day. At night, they consume oxygen gas through respiration. They do this during the day as well, but overall produce more oxygen in the light through photosynthesis. For hundreds of millions of years, that’s been fine, but the recent addition of fertilizers and the warm Gulf waters cause an explosion of the kind of microscopic algae that are suspended in the water column and turn water bright green, or red in the case of “red tides”. These explosions are called algal blooms.

Algal blooms can cloud up water, making life hard for other photosynthetic organisms such as coral symbionts and larger seaweeds. At night, animals can suffocate without oxygen. During red tides, some algae release toxins that harm other life. When these organisms die and sink, bacteria go to work and decompose their bodies. The population of bacteria explodes, consuming the remaining oxygen at the sea floor. Animals that wander into the hypoxic zone also suffocate and die, feeding more decomposer bacteria that can survive with little to no oxygen. Thus, hypoxic areas are also called “dead zones”.  The hypoxic zone is just above the sea floor, as little as a half a meter above, and oxygen levels can drop precipitously within a meter of the bottom.

NOAA scientists including those conducting the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish survey on Oregon II track the location, size and movement of the Gulf hypoxic zone using the conductivity-temperature-dissolved oxygen probe, or CTD. The CTD is sent into the water before every trawl to take a variety of measurements. Besides conductivity (a measure of ions), temperature and oxygen, the CTD also checks the salinity, clarity and amount of photosynthetic pigments in the water, which gives an idea of plankton populations. Ours uses two different sensors for conductivity, salinity, temperature and oxygen, double-checking each other. A pump pulls water through the various sensors and the measurements are sent directly to a computer in the dry lab to record these data.

The CTD is lowered to just under the surface of the water to make sure the pump is working and to flush the system. Then it is lowered to within a meter of the bottom. The CTD also has an altimeter to measure the distance from the bottom, while the ship also uses sonar to determine the water depth at each station. Water is measured continuously as the CTD is lowered and raised, creating a graph that profiles the water column. Crewmen are on deck controlling the winches according to the directions from a scientist over the radio who is monitoring the water depth and measurements in the dry lab.

Conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen sensor (CTD). The gray cylinders are bottles that can store water samples.

Conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen sensor (CTD). The gray cylinders are bottles that can store water samples.

Casting the CTD is a coordinated effort.

Casting the CTD is a coordinated effort.

The CTD also has bottles that can store water samples so oxygen can be tested a third time in the lab onboard. When we only get a few fish where the CTD recorded normal oxygen, the CTD is launched again to verify oxygen levels using all three methods. In the CTD output, oxygen is coded in green as a line on the graph and in the data tables. Most stations read in the 5-6 range, the cutoff for hypoxia is 2. We are reading less than 1 in the Dead Zone.

CTD output. Depth is on the vertical axis and each measurement is scaled on the horizontal axis, showing how each variable changes as the CTD moves to the bottom and back to the surface.

CTD output. Depth is on the vertical axis and each measurement is scaled on the horizontal axis, showing how each variable changes as the CTD moves to the bottom and back to the surface.

Quadruple check on dissolved oxygen in Gulf waters the "old fashioned" way using a Winkler titration.

Triple check on dissolved oxygen in Gulf waters the “old fashioned” way using a Winkler titration.

 With storms in the path and not-so-plenty of fish in the sea, today is a slow day.

 

Personal Log

Looking out over the water, I can’t help but think how intrepid, even audacious, early mariners must have been. I know we are within a couple miles of the coast but there’s no sign of land anywhere in any direction. Even with the reassurance that satellites, radar, radios, AND trained NOAA Corps officers steering in the bridge are all keeping track of us, I still swallow a moment of panic. What kind of person decides to sail out in search of new continents when it only takes a couple hours to lose track of where you came from? And yet, the Polynesians set out thousands years ago in canoes from mainland Asia, the Aborigine ancestors managed to find Australia, and of course, Europeans sailed across the Atlantic to the Americas, whether they knew it or not. It was all possible through careful observations of the winds, waves, ocean currents, stars and other indications of direction, but I still have to think that that’s a pretty bold move when you don’t know if land lies ahead.

No land in sight.

No land in sight.

At least we’re not alone out here. These are some other animals that we’ll leave for the mammal survey and birders to count.

 

Did You Know?

The CTD also shows the layers of ocean water. Looking at the graph again for the red (salinity) and blue (temperature) lines, we can see where they cross at about 15 meters. This shows where colder, saltier water starts compared to the warm surface water that is diluted by fresh water and mixed by wind.

Angela Hung: Flexibility, June 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22-July 5, 2018

June 19-July 5, 2018

June 23-July 5, 2018

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 22, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

(Actually from weather.gov, the program in the bridge is off)

Conditions at 1454

Latitude: 30.46° N

Longitude: 88.53° W

Temperature: 34° C

Wind Speed: SW 12 mph

Science and Technology Log

Taniya Wallace-Chief Scientist, Fisheries Biologist

If you enjoy a good seafood steam pot or boil—overflowing with shrimp, crabs, clams and corn and potatoes mixed in, rounded out with fish filets blackened/broiled/fried to your preference—then you have to thank hardworking scientists like Taniya Wallace. Taniya is a fisheries biologist and is the Chief Scientist aboard Oregon II for this leg of the 2018 SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey. On top of assessing the health of the Gulf fisheries that feeds Americans across the country, she is busy coordinating the group of scientists that form the research party on the boat. The specifics of the research will follow in upcoming posts, but today, I’d like you to meet a scientist.

Taniya Wallace

Taniya entering data into the computer.

Taniya was certain of becoming a nurse. Her high school offered vocational coursework in nursing to give students an early start into college degree programs. She was on track, until it came to clinicals. Nursing clinicals are the part of the program where students begin their training in real work settings to apply what is learned in the classroom. More importantly, clinicals introduces students to the realities of the job.

Nurses are among the ranks of hard working, underappreciated sectors of the health field because much of what they do goes unseen. For many in pre-nursing and nursing programs, clinicals ensures that students are experiencing what they are signing up for. For Taniya Wallace, her experience during this class compelled her to make the difficult decision to pursue a different program of study.

Taniya was accepted in Mississippi Valley State University, a historically black university, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. She began a position as a laboratory scientist until the 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig that caused 11 deaths and the largest oil spill in history. Four million barrels of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico over three months before the underwater well was finally capped.

Taniya has always loved the water, and had previously shadowed her cousin who is also a marine scientist. Her aunt builds boats for Austal Shipyard in Alabama and her father works at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, MS, the very company that built Oregon II. With an urgent need to study the critical impacts of crude petroleum oil on the Gulf ecosystems, an opportunity on Oregon II was a natural fit. Taniya signed a three month contract–she’s been here ever since.

Plaque aboard Oregon II

Plaque aboard Oregon II

What has kept her going for eight years? As a scientist on a ship, she sees “something new every day” on the boat and on land when they stop at different ports. With a love of water, working in a lab at sea is a win-win.

Personal Log

The Teacher at Sea Program emphasizes to applicants that “flexibility and the ability to cope with the uncertain is crucial to the character of those who go to sea.” Taniya Wallace demonstrates this quality by shifting to a research program in college, joining NOAA Ship Oregon II, and by working at sea.

It is no exaggeration that flexibility is a requirement for working on a boat. In fact, I was scheduled to participate in the second leg of the SEAMAP summer groundfish survey on June 21, departing from Galveston, TX on the 22nd. Unfortunately, the trawl winch broke during the first leg (the first time ever for Oregon II which has been sailing for 50 years!), cutting their trip short. To try to make up the time, it was decided that the second leg would get an early start from Mississippi as soon as repairs were completed in Pascagoula, MS.

What originally was a week to get packed, find a plant sitter and cuddle with my cats became a last minute scramble to find rain boots and mow the lawn in the middle of a heat wave—I boarded a plane to Gulfport, MS on June 18 instead. (It was explained that this was not the typical direction in scheduling shifts.) I got to meet some of the fantastic crew members of Oregon II, as well as from neighboring Gordon Gunter, who invited me to play corn hole for the first time. This is the game where you are trying to throw bean bags through a hole cut in a plywood board that’s set on an incline.  I spent the night on the boat in port.

 

 

 

The boat bustled the next morning as everyone arrived: crew, scientists and a couple of interns. [Find your internship here! https://coastalscience.noaa.gov/about/internship/  ] At 1400, we were off!

There’s the requisite training and safety information for the ship in general. Taniya took over the interns and me for science brief. I learn that I’m assigned to the day shift which begins at 1200 noon the next day. Night shift starts at 2400 midnight that same day. The operations of the ship are 24 hours. It’s a long wait to get started and I’m looking forward to it.

We spend a night out at sea and I’m up and ready to sort some fish and shrimp. When I get to the galley, I find out that we are in fact, returning to Pascagoula because the trawl winch wasn’t fully repaired.

While issues like this are rare on Oregon II, a vessel that is widely regarded as extremely reliable, the process of science frequently hits stumbling blocks. TV shows like CSI and Bones and movies like Jurassic Park feature futuristic laboratories with state-of-the-art, if wildly impractical, equipment with colorful liquids, holograms, and scientists in lab coats and goggles who complete experiments in mere minutes. In reality, science is a lot messier and SLOWER. While wiling away the time today, I learned about a new hashtag for scientists full of internet examples: #badstockphotosofmyjob.

Real labs tend to have old equipment, space is limited so rooms are often crowded with large machines and many computers, and most liquids are colorless, stored in small, like the size of your pinky, tubes in a refrigerator or freezer. Particularly if you work outside, aka “the field”, and even if you don’t, a lot of equipment might be jerry-rigged from things picked up at Wal-Mart or Home Depot. Not to say that science is unreliable or not credible, but that projects are unique and a lot of times, you have to be creative and build what you specifically need. Then modify it until it works.

 

 

 

 

So here we are in a typical day of a scientist. A piece of equipment isn’t working, we’re losing data collection by the minute, but remember, we’re going to be flexible.

Did You Know?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which is tasked with promoting job creation and economic growth by providing tools and programs for the scientific collection and analysis of data. NOAA is one of these scientific research agencies employing scientists to study the atmosphere to provide us with weather and climate data, and the oceans, providing information for the operation of fisheries, for example. Good policies are informed by basic research, making the work of these agencies invaluable to the US economy.

Angela Hung: The First Day of Summer, June 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 19-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 12, 2018

 

Weather Data from Prairie State College

Conditions at 1510

Latitude: 41.45° N

Longitude: 87.53° W

Temperature: 26° C

Wind Speed: S 6mph

 

Science and Technology Log

How did we decide that June 21 is the first day of summer? Is this the day the pool opens? Is it the hottest day of the year? The critical date when students have de-stressed from the last school year and the next still seems far away?

In fact, the first day of summer says a lot about planet Earth’s annual journey around the sun. June 21 (sometimes June 20) is also called the Summer Solstice—the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Because Earth rotates on a tilted axis, this is the day that the North Pole is most directly pointed at the sun. From our view on the ground in Chicago Heights, the sun appears farthest north in the sky.

The seasons are a result of the Earth's tilted axis as it travels around the sun. Summer Solstice occurs between June 20-22 when the North pole is tilted towards the sun.

The seasons are a result of the Earth’s tilted axis as it travels around the sun. Summer Solstice occurs between June 20-22 when the North pole is tilted towards the sun. Image credit: NOAA National Weather Service, https://www.weather.gov/cle/seasons

Conversely, winter begins on a solstice as well—the shortest day of the year when the planet is leaning away from the sun. In between, Spring and Fall correspond to “equinoxes”, the days when night and day are “equal” or roughly the same lengths.

It follows that in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. On June 21 while the North Pole is soaking in the sun, the South pole is in the shadows for the longest night of the year. A common misconception is that summer is when the entire Earth is close to the sun in an elliptical orbit and winter is when the planet is far away. If this was true, the Northern and Southern hemispheres would experience winter and summer at the same time. Actually, Earth’s orbit is fairly circular and the planet as a whole remains the same distance all year. Only the poles change their relative positions to the sun.

 

Introductory Personal Log

June 21 is a bittersweet day for me. As an avid gardener, the flip side of the Summer Solstice is that the days begin to get shorter and shorter until December 21. I start accounting foot by foot around the yard where “full sun” areas disappear and the infamous Chicago winter looms ahead. But this year, the Solstice brings a new excitement. Next week, Earth’s and my summer officially begins with a trip to Pascagoula, Mississippi to begin the second leg of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Summer Groundfish Survey aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II. Oregon II is a research ship that surveys various types of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. I can’t think of a better way to spend summer in these bodies of water.

 

How would I know about the Gulf, Atlantic and the Caribbean? I’ve lived in a few places around the U.S. My early childhood was spent in northern Virginia before moving to Florida where I stayed until I left for graduate school. That took me to New Mexico (truly enchanting!) and my current position brought me here to the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. My parents still live in Florida by the Indian River on a barrier island in the Atlantic Ocean. My bachelor’s degree is from New College of Florida which sits on a bay in the shimmering Gulf of Mexico. I haven’t had the pleasure of living in the Caribbean, but I have visited a couple of times.

 

[Break to answer the burning questions on everyone’s minds]

Florida its has drawbacks to beaches, such as the crushing summer humidity, hurricanes, mosquitoes, giant spiders–it’s not that hard to leave.

New Mexico is amazingly beautiful, boasting the best sunsets in the country. There are more plants, less oxygen and colder winters than you think. The elevation in Albuquerque is over 5,000 feet rising to 10,000 feet in the Sandias Mountains that border the city. I learned to ski here.

I like Chicago, the native wildflowers are the most impressive I’ve ever seen. The cold, dark winter, which aren’t terribly worse than Albuquerque, is balanced by fall leaves and an invigorating appreciation for spring as everything seems to rise from the dead. Hence the keen interest in solstices and equinoxes. Finally, Northeast Illinois is strongly nostalgic. The climate, plants and animals are very similar to Virginia so I actually often feel like a kid again.

I’m a biology professor at Prairie State College. We are a community college located 30 miles south of Chicago. While my educational background is in animal behavior and ecology, my graduate research spanned genetics, cell biology and immunology. Biologists often say they prefer cells or organismal biology over the other, but it is important to study the parts and the whole of any study organism, both of which respond to the ecological context. I typically teach Organismal Biology, which surveys the diversity of life on Earth with an introduction to ecology and evolution, and Environmental Biology. This fall, Cell and Molecular Biology will be added to my regular course rotation.

Community colleges are dedicated teaching institutions. However, Prairie State College supports faculty who engage with students outside of the classroom through research. I teach full time but I sometimes have the privilege of mentoring a research student. This past spring, my mentee won First Place in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Skyway Poster Competition! Community college students in the region present their original projects which are judged by scientist volunteers from Argonne National Lab.

Tylar tested different types of alternative plant growing systems such as hydroponics and aeroponics to grow lettuce. He is committed to developing and promoting practices that reduce the environmental impact of industrial agriculture while meeting the needs of a growing world population. My experience as a Teacher at Sea in the Gulf of Mexico is timely because agriculture in Illinois generates pollution that ultimately impacts the marine ecosystems of the Gulf. Additionally, his project is now a teaching tool that I can use in each of my classes along with what we learn on Oregon II.

 

Let’s get summer started!

Melissa Barker: Reflections from Land, July 20, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017

 

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 20, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge: I am now back in Longmont, Colorado

Latitude: 40 08.07 N

Longitude: 105 08.56 W

Air temp: 31.1 C

 

Science and Technology Log

One of the major questions I had before my Teacher at Sea voyage was how the level of oxygen in the water will affect the species we collect. Typically, in the summer, a dead zone forms in the Gulf of Mexico spreading out from the mouth of the Mississippi river. You can see an image of the dead zone from 2011 below.

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Bottom Dissolved Oxygen Contours, Gulf of Mexico, 2011

Phytoplankton, or microscopic marine algae, are the base of the marine food web. There are two main classes, diatoms and dinoflagellates, which are both photosynthetic and typically live towards the top of the water column. We did not sample plankton on our leg of the cruise, but if you want to learn more you can check out this site: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/phyto.html. In the summer, phytoplankton and algae can build up due to excess nutrients in the water that are running off from urban areas, agriculture and industry. Much of our sampling was near the mouth of the Mississippi River, which is a significant source of excess nutrients. The extra nitrogen and phosphorus in the runoff cause the excess growth of photosynthetic organisms which leads to a buildup of zooplankton (heterotrophic plankton). Once the phytoplankton and zooplankton die and sink to the bottom they are decomposed by oxygen consuming bacteria which deplete the oxygen in the water column. According to NOAA, hypoxia in aquatic systems refers to an area where the dissolved oxygen concentration is below 2 mg/L. At this point, most organisms become physiologically stressed and cannot survive.

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How The Dead Zone Forms: Infographic by Dan Swenson, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune

Tropical Storm Cindy, which kicked up just as I was arriving in Galveston, brought significant freshwater into the gulf and mixed that water around so we did not see as many low oxygen readings as expected. While I was talking with Andre about hypoxia when we were on the ship, he used the analogy of stirring a bowl of soup. There is a cool layer on top, but as you stir the top layer and mix it with the lower layers, the whole bowl cools. Similarly, the oxygen rich freshwater from the storm is mixed around with the existing water, reducing the areas of low oxygen. You can see in the map below that we had fewer hypoxic areas than in 2011.

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Bottom Dissolved Oxygen Contours, Gulf of Mexico, 2017

We used the CTD to obtain oxygen readings in the water column at each station. In the visuals below you can see a CTD indicating high oxygen levels and a CTD indicating lower, hypoxic, oxygen levels. The low oxygen CTD was from leg one of the survey. It corresponds with the red area in the hypoxia map above.

Non Hypoxic station copy

CTD for a non-hypoxic station

Hypoxic Station copy

CTD of a hypoxic station

 Personal Log and Reflections

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Final sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

When I arrived back on land I still felt the rocking of the Oregon II. It took two to three days before I felt stable again. As friends and family ask about my experience, I find it hard to put into words. I am so grateful to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for giving me this incredible experience and especially thankful to Science Field Party Chief Andre Debose and my day shift science team members, Tyler, David and Sarah, for teaching me so much, being patient and making my experience one that I will never forget.

The ocean is so vast and we have explored so little of it, but now, I have a strong understanding of how a large scale marine survey is conducted. Being an active participant in fisheries research was definitely out of my comfort zone. The experience helped stretch me and my learning and has giving me great insight to bring back to share with my students and school community. The map below shows our journey over the two weeks I was on the ship traveling along the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida coasts.

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The blue line maps our route on the Oregon II

My experience on Oregon II has also re-engaged me with the ocean. As a child, I spent time each summer on an island off the coast of Maine and even got to go fishing with my Dad and his lobsterman buddies. But for the last 20 years or so, my exposure to the ocean has been limited to just a few visits. My curiosity for the marine world has been reignited; I look forward to bringing more fisheries science and insight into my classroom.

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Brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus) on the left Pink shrimp (Penaeus duorarum) on the right

I mentioned in a previous blog that our shrimp data was sent daily to SEAMAP and made available to fisheries managers and shrimpers to allow them to make the best decisions about when to re-open the shrimp season. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), the commercial shrimp season for both the state and federal waters re-opened just after sunset on July 15, 2017. TPWD said, “The opening date is based on an evaluation of the biological, social and economic impact to maximize the benefits to the industry and the public.” It is satisfying to know that I was part of the “biological evaluation” to which they refer.

 

Finally, I took some video while out at sea and now with more bandwidth and time, I’ve been able to process some of that video to shed additional light on how fisheries research is conducted. I’ve added two videos. The first one shows the process of conducting a bottom trawl and the second one show the fish sorting and measuring process. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know?

You can use the following sites to help you make smart sustainable seafood choices:

FishWatch (http://www.fishwatch.gov)

Monterey Bay Aquarium (http://www.seafoodwatch.org). There is also a free app you can put on your phone so you can do a quick look up when you are at a restaurant, the grocery or a fish market.

 

The largest Gulf of Mexico dead zone recorded was in 2002, encompassing 8,497 square miles. The smallest recorded dead zone measured 15 square miles in 1988. The average size of the dead zone from 2010-2015 was about 5,500 square miles, nearly three times the 1,900 square mile goal set by the Hypoxia Task Force in 2001 and reaffirmed in 2008.

(source: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov)

 

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Thank you to the Dawson sixth graders (now seventh graders!) for your great questions. I look forward to speaking with you all when school starts in a few weeks.

What is at the bottom of the low oxygen part of the ocean? (Allison)

There is a lot of accumulated dead organic matter that is decomposed by oxygen consuming bacteria.

What do you find in the dead zone? Do less animals live there? (Leeham, Mae, Shane, Alfie, Bennett)

Typically, trawls are smaller and the diversity of organisms decreases in the low oxygen areas. Often you will find resilient organisms like croaker. There is a lot of research looking at which organisms can live in dead zones and how these organisms compensate for the low levels of oxygen.

Is there any way to fix the dead zone? What can we do about the dead zone? (Isaac, Owen, Ava)

It is estimated that seventy percent of the excess nitrogen and phosphorus that runs off into the Gulf of Mexico comes from industrial agriculture. Reducing the amount of fertilizer used to grow our food would help decrease the extent of the dead zone area. Perhaps one of you will come up with a way to feed our communities in a more sustainable way or a technology that can remove these excess nutrients before the water reaches the Gulf.

Thanks for reading my blog!

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Safety first on the Oregon II.

 

Anna Levy, Getting Underway! July 11, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 10 – 20, 2017

 

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 11, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

The weather and waves have been pretty calm as we head down the Pascagoula River out to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Latitude: 30.37 degrees North

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Today’s sky!

Longitude: 88.54 degrees West

Air temp: 30.0 degrees Celsius

Wind direction: light and variable

Wind speed: light and variable

Wave height: 1 foot (about 0.3 meters)

Sky: clear

 

Science and Technology Log

NOAA scientists and staff waved from the dock as we got underway this afternoon!

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NOAA scientists and staff see us off.

While we motored out of port in Pasgacoula, Mississippi, Andre DeBose, the chief scientist met with the science team to give us more details about our mission. We will be visiting the 48 remaining survey stations, all of which are in the eastern Gulf, off the west coast of Florida. The survey protocol is a little different in this area than it was in the western Gulf. Each station will take longer because, before we can begin trawling, we will use several different pieces of equipment to observe the ocean floor to avoid disrupting the sensitive coral reefs which are more widely spread in this area. So, we will not cover as much distance as other legs of the survey have.

In the meantime, we have 12 hours of “steaming,” or traveling, before we reach our first sampling location. There’s not much for us on the science team to do during this time, so I’ve been trying to get to know others on my team. Besides Andre, there are three other senior scientists aboard from NOAA. The rest of the science team is composed of volunteers, most of who are graduate students (including one from Australia and another from Brazil.) Some of them are collecting samples for their own projects and I’m looking forward to learning more about the research that each of them conducts.

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The ship’s crew

Also on board are 1 Civilian Master and 4 NOAA corps officers who navigate and command the ship, 5 engineers who keep the engines and ship running smoothly, 6 experienced deckhands / fishermen who operate all of the fishing gear and equipment on deck (like the trawl we will be using), 2 stewards who cook all meals and help to make everyone on board comfortable, and 1 electronic technician to make sure scientific equipment and ship electronics are in working order.

I’m struck by the way in which all of these individuals, and their diverse skill sets, come together to make this work happen. There were so many details to consider to bring this group together – we each had travel arrangements, medical and security clearances, berthing (rooming) assignments, shift schedules, emergency roles, safety trainings, and more to consider. Each state we will be passing through had to grant permission to work in their waters and all laws restricting fishing and protecting endangered species had to be followed. When I think about what it’s like to be a scientist, I usually imagine a person spending a lot of time thinking about the science involved in project itself, but a huge part of the work of any scientist is logistics – working to bring together all of the right people and materials are in the right place at the right time!

 

Personal Log

I arrived Monday evening and spent last night on the boat. It was nice to have the time to get settled and look around before most of the rest of the crew and science team arrived today. I was told that one or two crew members were aboard, but I did not bump into them, so it felt a little strange to be there mostly alone. I took my motion sickness medicine and then passed the time reading and calling home to talk to my family. My room and bunk are small, so I was a little worried that things might feel claustrophobic, but the time was surprisingly peaceful. It reminded me of being in a tent while camping.

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The stateroom my roommate and I share.

In fact, I’m amazed at how homey the whole ship feels. There are three levels (decks) of inside living space, most of which is berthing (crew rooms, bathrooms, showers, etc.). There is even a set of full size washing and drying machines. The inside space also includes a galley (kitchen/dining area) that seats 12 and a lounge which seats about 8. The lounge is a nice area – it contains a large TV and a binder of about 800 movies (including movies currently in theatres, courtesy of the US Navy!). There is also 1 main level of outside work space, plus a flying bridge (an outdoor area above the bridge) that is the highest deck on the ship. There is exercise equipment scattered in nooks throughout the ship. It’s amazing how efficiently space is used!

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The ship’s lounge.

Everyone is free to move about the ship. The only restrictions are that non-essential persons cannot be on the bridge during busy times or weather and cannot go down to the engine room. However, even with all the freedom, there is always someone sleeping, and most of the outside areas are jam-packed with scientific and fishing equipment, and it is very easy to unintentionally disturb or get in the way of others.  We all have to be constantly aware to keep ourselves safe and be considerate of the people around us. Fortunately, everybody I’ve met is so friendly and thoughtful – there’s definitely a feeling that we’re all on the same team.

The science team and some crew on the ship work either the day shift (from noon until midnight) or the night shift (from midnight to noon). I lucked out to be on day shift, so I won’t need to alter my sleeping schedule drastically.

The tight space and 24 hour schedule does make it a

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The ship operates on military time.

bit difficult to know what to do with oneself during down time, especially since your roommate is typically sleeping while you’re awake. I’m finding that I really enjoy standing outside, along the side of the ship and looking out at the open water, or holing up in a corner of the lounge with my computer or book. Once I start my first shift, I’m sure I’ll be glad to have the time just to rest. There aren’t too many opportunities for socializing as everyone is either working or sleeping most of the time, but everyone seems to laugh and joke around when they are able.

I’m feeling great (no seasickness so far!) and am looking forward to getting into a daily routine. I just ate my first meal – a delicious dinner of fish, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and peach cobbler. There is also a salad bar with each meal and snacks and ice cream available 24/7. (We will definitely not go hungry.)

Tomorrow, I’ll start my first shift and should see some fish!

 

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Did You Know?

It’s amazing how self-sufficient and self-contained Oregon II is. For example:

The freshwater used aboard for drinking, showering, etc. is drawn directly from the ocean. The saltwater is filtered with equipment using a process called reverse osmosis, where high pressure separates particles resulting in freshwater.

Several of the fishing crew and officers are also trained MPIC’s (medical person in charge). They are medically trained to respond and provide emergency care. In the event of a more serious illness or injury, they are able to contact doctors on land and implement their instructions.

All sewage on board is broken down by bacteria. Once processed through a marine sanitation device (MSD), this treated water is safer for the environment. Following the appropriate maritime regulations, it can then be released into the ocean.

 

Questions to Consider:

Reflect: Scientific fieldwork, even work on land, often requires travel and adapting to unusual circumstances. How would you handle living and working in unusual, sometimes extreme, conditions?