Catherine Fuller: Into the Copper River Plume, July 7, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 28 – July 18, 2019

Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 7, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 59° 40.065 N
Longitude: 146° 04.523 W
Wave Height: 2-3 ft
Wind Speed: 10.4 knots
Wind Direction: 254 degrees
Visibility:  100 m
Air Temperature: 12.0 °C
Barometric Pressure: 1015.4 mb
Sky: Overcast, foggy


Science and Technology Log

Usually LTER cruises are more focused on monitoring the ecosystem, but in our case, the cruise will also focus on a process study of the Copper River plume.

Copper River plume
This is a satellite photo of the plume with an overlay of the salinity of the water along our course. The darker colors represent the lowest salinity.

This seasonal plume brings iron and fresh water into the marine ecosystem, where they are dispersed by weather and currents. Because our winds have been very light, the plume is retaining its coiled shape remarkably well.  Our sampling on the Middleton Line (prior to the plume study) will add information about how both the Copper River fresh water and iron are spread along the shelf and throughout the food web.  

Clay Mazur
Clay checking the fluorescence of a sample.

Clay Mazur has a particular interest in the iron-rich waters of the plume.  He is a graduate student from Western Washington University who is working under Dr. Suzanne Strom (also onboard). He is one of a few on board who are working on their own experiments as opposed to assisting others.  The overall goal of his work is to study how iron in phytoplankton is limited and how the sporadic addition of it can stimulate growth.  He has a gigantic on-deck incubation experiment in which he will take an iron-limited plankton community from offshore in the Gulf and introduce iron-rich water from the Copper River plume to see what happens.  Clay will measure chlorophyll – an indication of biomass – by which he can estimate the plankton population.  He will also be checking the physiology of plankton in different size classes, and taking samples to see the pigments that every cell produces and if they change over time with the addition of water from the Copper River plume. His hypothesis is that everything should change: phytoplankton species composition, cell size, photosynthetic ‘health’, and chlorophyll production. When phytoplankton are iron-limited, they cannot produce healthy photosynthetic structures. 

Clay measured the same indicators on every station of the MID (Middleton Island) line and will also measure the same on GAK line.  These samples will use the metrics described above to show environmental heterogeneity along the cross-shelf sampling lines. Samples from the MID and GAK line will also allow his iron experiment to be seen in context.  Does the iron-rich community that develops during the experiment match anything that we see on the shelf? How realistic is experiment within the Gulf of Alaska? Clay would also expect a diatom bloom with the introduction of iron into his sample population, but he says there are not a lot of cells greater than 20 microns out here and 5 days may not be enough for diatoms to grow up from this small seed population.

The Acrobat

One specialized instrument being deployed to gather information about the Copper River plume is the Acrobat.  Where the CTD is critical to give a site-specific profile of various indicators in the water column, the Acrobat can provide much of the same information along the path of the research ship, such as through the plume or across the shelf from deep regions to shallow.

CTD Screen
This is an example of the readout that comes from the CTD when it is deployed.

Lead scientist Dr. Seth Danielson from UAF, and Pete Shipton, a mooring technician from UAF’s Seward Marine Center are using the Acrobat to record a number of parameters as it moves through the water column.  The Acrobat is lowered off the stern of the ship and towed behind us.

Acrobat on deck
Bern, the Marine Tech, and Paul, the Bosun, with the Acrobat on deck prior to launch

As it is towed, it dives and climbs in a repeated vertical zigzag pattern to sample the water column vertically along the length of our course, creating a “cross-section” of the ocean along our line.  The Acrobat measures water temperature, salinity, density, chlorophyll, particle concentrations and CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter). The CDOM indicator allows the Acrobat to distinguish between different water colorations.

The path of the Acrobat can be constrained by distance from the surface or seafloor, in which case it receives depth sounder readings from the ship itself to inform its “flight” behavior.  It can also be set to run a path of a set distance vertically, for example, within a 20m variation in depth.  When set to a maximum depth of 40 m, it can be towed at 7-8 kts, but someone must always be monitoring the “flight” of the Acrobat in relation to ship speed to ensure the best possible results. The operator provides a watchful eye for shallow regions and keeps an eye on the incoming data feed.  The Acrobat also has two sets of wings.  The larger set will allow the Acrobat to reach a maximum depth of 100m or carry a larger sensor payload.  The profile being created as we tow through strands of the plume indicates that there is a pronounced layer of fresh water at the surface.  A concentration of phytoplankton, indicated by high chlorophyll a fluorescence levels, lies just beneath the fresh water layer and as we exit the plume, we observe a subtle shift towards the surface.  The fresh water also contains a good deal of sediment from the river that settles to the bottom as the plume spreads out. As we cross through the plume, we see the sediment levels at the surface drop, while the temperature, salinity and density remain fairly constant, showing a continued flow of fresh water at the surface. 

The readout from the Acrobat appears as a series of bar graphs that record in real time and provide a clear picture of what’s happening in the water column as we move.

Acrobat screen
This is what the Acrobat readout looked like as we went through a portion of the plume.

Once the data from the Acrobat is gathered, Dr. Danielson is able to create three-dimensional representations of the water column along our path according to the individual indicators. One that is particularly interesting and important for the Gulf of Alaska is salinity, which exerts strong control on water column stratification and therefore the supply of nutrients into the ecosystem.

Acrobat salinity graph
Here is a 3-D representation of the salinity along our plume route.

The low-salinity waters of the Gulf of Alaska are influenced by the fresh water precipitation, snow melt and glacier melt in the coastal Alaska watershed, including the big rivers like the Copper River and the thousands of un-gauged small streams.  Some of the fresh water runoff eventually flows into the Bering Sea, the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean, playing its role in the global hydrological cycle and the conveyor belt that circulates water through the world’s oceans.  Oceanographic monitoring has shown that the Gulf of Alaska water column is warming throughout and getting fresher at the surface, a consequence in part of glaciers melting along the rim of the Gulf of Alaska.


Personal Log

Finding my way around onboard was initially somewhat confusing.  I would exit the main lab and turn the wrong way to locate the stairway back up to my room, and it took a few days to figure it out.  Here’s an idea of the path I take in the mornings to get from my room to the lab:

Here’s what our stateroom looks like…yes, it’s kind of messy!

One rule when you open a door, because the hallways are narrow and the doors are heavy, is to open slowly and check for people.

The stairs are steep with narrow treads and necessitate careful and constant use of the handrails.

From the main hall, I usually go into the wet lab.

From the wet lab I can either go into the main lab…

Main lab
Main lab

… or into the Baltic Room.

Baltic Room
Baltic Room

There are six levels to the ship.  At the bottom are supply rooms, equipment, the engine room, workrooms and the gym.  On the main floor are the labs, workrooms, laundry areas and computer center.  On the first floor are science team quarters, a control room for the main deck winches, the mess hall and a lounge.  On the second floor are crew quarters.  The third floor has officer quarters, and the fourth level is the bridge.  There are also observation decks at the stern and bow on the third level.

I have a bit of a reprieve during the plume study, since Steffi’s project does not focus on these waters.  It’s been a great opportunity to shadow other teams and learn about what they’re doing, as well as to explore more of the ship. Now that the first phase of the plume study is over, we are extending it farther out in the gulf to be able to examine a fresh water eddy that is showing up on satellite imagery.  After that, we will have about a 12-hour transit to the next line of stations, called the GAK (Seward) line, where Steffi (and I) will resume her testing. 


Did You Know?

It’s still foggy and the sea state is very calm compared to what everyone expected.  It’s great for the experiments, but doesn’t help with wildlife sightings.  We’re under the influence of a high pressure system currently, which is expected to keep things quiet at least through Wednesday.  At some point next week, we may have a low-pressure system pass through, which would increase wind speed and wave height. 


What Do You Want Kids to Learn from Your Research?

**Note: I’m asking the various scientists on board the same question.  Clay took five days to formulate this and it really captures the essence of his passion for his research and the effects of climate change.  It’s worth the read!

Clay: Recently, I was asked by Cat, our Teacher at Sea for this cruise, what I want members of the general public to take away from my work studying iron limitation of phytoplankton. Though I can provide her a superficial answer to my research question immediately, the motivations for my work go much deeper than answering “How does a micronutrient affect phytoplankton growth?”

There are two main levels at which I want to answer Cat’s question:

1. Proximal: Though phytoplankton are microscopic, they have macroscopic impacts.

2. Philosophical: Why bother in the quest for such knowledge?

Level 1: The Macroscopic Impacts of a Microscopic Organism 

Both human societies and phytoplankton communities are impacted by global climate change. Globally, humans are realizing the need to combat carbon emissions and mediate the effects of increasing global temperatures. Consequences of global climate change for us include mass emigration as sea levels rise and increased frequency of extreme weather events (e.g. droughts, wildfires). As a result, humans are racing to bridge political divides between countries, develop sustainable energy, and manage natural disaster response.

Phytoplankton, too, must respond to global climate change. As sea surface temperatures rise, phytoplankton will have to adapt. CO2 that is dissolved in seawater removes the precious materials some diatoms use to make their “shells” and takes away their protection. Dissolved CO2 can also alter the ability of micrograzers to swim and find food!

Melting glaciers are a double-edged sword. Glacial flour in freshwater runoff brings in vital nutrients (including iron) through the Copper River Plume and phytoplankton love their iron! But freshwater also works to trap phytoplankton in the surface layers. When all the nutrients are used up and you’re a phytoplankton baking in the heat of the sun, being trapped at the surface is super stressful!

As global climate change accelerates in the polar regions, phytoplankton in the Northern Gulf of Alaska are in an evolutionary race against time to develop traits that make them resilient to their ever-changing environment. Phytoplankton crossing the finish line of this race is imperative for us humans, since phytoplankton help to mediate climate change by soaking up atmospheric CO2 during photosynthesis to produce ~ 50 % of the oxygen we breathe!

Phytoplankton also form the base of a complex oceanic food web. The fresh salmon in the fish markets of Pike’s Place (Seattle, WA), the gigantic gulp of a humpback whale in Prince William Sound (AK) and even entire colonies of kittiwakes on Middleton Island (AK) are dependent on large numbers of phytoplankton. When phytoplankton are iron limited, they cannot grow or multiply (via mitosis). In a process called bottom up regulation, the absence of phytoplankton reduces the growth of animals who eat phytoplankton, the animals who eat those animals, and so on up the entire food chain.

Let us consider “The Blob”, an area of elevated sea surface temperature in 2015 to illustrate this point. “The Blob” limited phytoplankton growth and that of herbivorous fishes. As a result, the population of kittiwakes on Middleton Island crashed as the birds could not find enough fish to provide them the nutrients and energy to reproduce successfully. In this way, the kittiwake deaths were directly attributed to a lack of phytoplankton production.

Not only are phytoplankton ecologically important, they are commercially important. For consumers who love to fish (and for the huge commercial fisheries in the Northern Gulf of Alaska), the base of the food web should be of particular interest, as it is the harbinger of change. Fisheries managers currently use models of phytoplankton growth to monitor fish stocks and establish fisheries quotas. If sporadic input of iron from dust storms, glacial runoff, or upwelling stimulate phytoplankton to grow, fish stocks may also increase with the newfound food source. Because phytoplankton are inextricably linked to fish, whales, and seabirds, in years where nutrients are plentiful, you may well see more fish on kitchen tables across the U.S. and Native Alaskans may be able to harvest more seabird eggs.  

Level 2: The Nature of Science

As a supporter of place-based and experiential learning, I view myself as a student with a duel scientist-educator role. To succeed in these roles, I have to be able to combine reasoning with communication and explore questions like “How does science relate to society?” and “How do we foster scientific literacy?” What better way to think about these questions than embarking on a three-week cruise to the Pacific Subarctic?! Not only am I working with amazing Principal Investigators in an immersive research experience, I am able to collect data and think of creative ways to communicate my findings. These data can be used to build educational curricula (e.g. Project Eddy modules, R shiny apps, etc.) in an effort to merge the classroom with the Baltic room (where the CTD is deployed). But what’s the point of collecting data and sharing it?

Science is “a collaborative enterprise, spanning the generations” (Bill Nye) and is “the best tool ever devised for understanding how our world works” (Richard Dawkins). The goal of communicating my results in a way that touches the lives of students is two-fold. One aim is to allow them to appreciate the philosophy of science – that it is iterative, self-correcting, and built upon measurable phenomena. It is the best way that we “know” something.

The other aim is to allow students to engage in scientific discourse and build quantitative reasoning skills. As the renowned astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has said, “When you’re scientifically literate the world looks very different to you and that understanding empowers you.” Using phytoplankton to model the scientific process allows students to enter into the scientific enterprise in low-stakes experiments, to question how human actions influence ecosystems, and to realize the role science plays in society. Ultimately, I want students to use my data to learn the scientific process and build confidence to face the claims espoused by the U.S. government and seen on Facebook with a healthy amount of skepticism and an innate curiosity to search for the truth.

Katie Gavenus: Don’t Forget the Phytoplankton! May 5, 2019

niskin bottles on the rosette

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Katie Gavenus

Aboard R/V Tiglax

April 26 – May 9, 2019

Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently in transit from ‘Seward Line’ to ‘Kodiak Line’

Date: May 5, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2305
Latitude: 57o 34.6915’
Longitude: 150o 06.9789’
Wind: 18 knots, South
Seas: 4-6 feet
Air Temperature: 46oF (8oC)
Air pressure: 1004 millibars
Cloudy, light rain

Science and Technology Log

Phytoplankton!  These organisms are amazing.  Like terrestrial plants, they utilize energy from the sun to photosynthesize, transforming water and carbon dioxide into sugars and oxygen.  Transforming this UV energy into sugars allows photosynthetic organisms to grow and reproduce, then as they are consumed, the energy is transferred through the food web.  With a few fascinating exceptions (like chemotrophs that synthesize sugars from chemicals!), photosynthetic organisms form the basis of all food webs. The ecosystems we are most familiar with, and depend upon culturally, socially, and economically, would not exist without photosynthetic organisms.

Indeed, productivity and health of species like fish, birds, and marine mammals are highly dependent upon the productivity and distribution of phytoplankton in the Gulf of Alaska. Phytoplankton also play an important role in carbon fixation and the cycling of nutrients in the Gulf of Alaska.  For the LTER, developing a better understanding of what drives patterns of phytoplankton productivity is important to understanding how the ecosystem might change in the future.  Understanding the basis of the food web can also can inform management decisions, such as regulation of fisheries.

niskin bottles on the rosette
Seawater captured at different depths by niskin bottles on the rosette transferred to bottles by different scientists for analysis.

To better understand these patterns, researchers aboard R/V Tiglax use the rosette on the CTD to collect water at different depths.  The plankton living in this water is processed in a multitude of ways.  First, in the lab on the ship, some of the water is passed through two filters to catch phytoplankton of differing sizes.  These filters are chemically extracted for 24 hours before being analyzed using a fluorometer, which measures the fluorescence of the pigment Chlorophyll-a.  This provides a quantitative measurement of Chlorophyll-a biomass. It also allows researchers to determine whether the phytoplankton community at a given time and place is dominated by ‘large’ phytoplankton (greater than 20 microns, predominantly large diatoms) or ‘small’ phytoplankton (less than 20 microns, predominantly dinoflagellates, flagellates, cryptophyte algae, and cyanobacteria).

Preparing filters
Preparing filters to separate large and small phytoplankton from the seawater samples.

For example, waters in Prince William Sound earlier in the week had a lot of large phytoplankton, while waters more offshore on the Seward Line were dominated by smaller phytoplankton.  This has important ramifications for trophic interactions, since many different consumers prefer to eat the larger phytoplankton.  Larger phytoplankton also tends to sink faster than small plankton when it dies, which can increase the amount of food reaching benthic organisms and increase the amount of carbon that is sequestered in ocean sediments.

The Chlorophyll-a biomass measurements from the fluorometer are a helpful first step to understanding the biomass of phytoplankton at stations in the Gulf of Alaska.  However, research here and elsewhere has shown that the amount of carbon fixed by phytoplankton can vary independently of the Chlorophyll-a biomass.  For example, data from 2018 in the Gulf of Alaska show similar primary productivity (the amount of carbon fixed by phytoplankton per day) in the spring, summer, and fall seasons even though the Chlorophyll-a biomass is much higher in the spring.  This is likely because of at least two overlapping factors.  Vertical mixing in the winter and spring, driven primarily by storms, brings more nutrients and iron into the upper water column. This higher nutrient and iron availability in the spring allow for the growth of larger phytoplankton that can hold more chlorophyll.  This vertical mixing also means that phytoplankton tend to get mixed to greater depths in the water column, where less light is available.  To make up for this light limitation, the phytoplankton produce more chlorophyll in the spring so they can more effectively utilize the light that is available.  This variation in chlorophyll over the seasons probably helps to make the phytoplankton community overall more productive, but it makes it problematic to use Chlorophyll-a biomass (which is relatively easy to measure) as a proxy for primary productivity (which is much more challenging to measure).

Phytoplankton sample in the flourometer
A sample of filtered, extracted phytoplankton is placed into the fluorometer.

To address the question of primary productivity more directly, researchers are running an experiment on the ship.  Seawater containing phytoplankton from different depths is incubated for 24 hours.  The container for each depth is screened to let in sunlight equivalent to what the plankton would be exposed to at the depth they were collected from.  Inorganic carbon rich in C13 isotope is added to each container as it incubates. After 24 hours, they filter the water and measure the amount of C13 the phytoplankton have taken up.  Because C13 is rare in ecosystems, this serves as a measurement of the carbon fixation rate – which can then be converted into primary productivity.

Phytoplankton samples from the rosette are also preserved for later analysis in various labs onshore.  Some of the samples will be processed using High Performance Light Chromotography, which produces a pigment profile.  These pigments are not limited to Chlorophyll-a, but also include other types of Chlorophyll, Fucoxanthin (a brownish pigment found commonly in diatoms as well as other phytoplankton), Peridinin (only found in photosynthetic dinoflagellates), and Diadinoxanthin (a photoprotective pigment that absorbs sunlight and dissipates it as heat to protect the phytoplankton from excessive exposure to sunlight).  The pigment profiles recorded by HPLC can be used to determine which species of plankton are present, as well as a rough estimate of their relative abundance.

A different lab will also analyze the samples using molecular analysis of ribosomal RNA.  There are ID sequences that can be used to identify which species of phytoplankton are present in the sample, and also get a rough relative abundance.  Other phytoplankton samples are preserved for microscopy work to identify the species present.  Microscopy with blue light can also be used to investigate which species are mixotrophic – a fascinating adaptation I’ll discuss in my next blog post!

It is a lot of work, but all of these various facets of the phytoplankton research come together with analysis of nutrients, iron, oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon, temperature, and salinity to answer the question “What regulates the patterns of primary productivity in the Gulf of Alaska?”

There are already many answers to this question.  There is an obvious seasonal cycle due to light availability.  The broad pattern is driven by the amount of daylight, but on shorter time-scales it is also affected by cloud cover.  As already mentioned, vigorous vertical mixing also limits the practical light availability for phytoplankton that get mixed to greater depths.  There is also an overall, declining gradient in primary productivity moving from the coast to the deep ocean. This gradient is probably driven most by iron limitation.  Phytoplankton need iron to produce chlorophyll, and iron is much less common as you move into offshore waters.  There are also finer-scale spatial variations and patchiness, which are partly driven by interacting currents and bathymetry (ocean-bottom geography). As currents interact with each other and features of the bathymetry, upwelling and eddies can occur, affecting such things as nutrient availability, salinity, water temperature, and intensity of mixing in the water column.

View of horizon from station GAK
The early-morning view from station GAK on the ‘Seward Line.’ Patterns of primary productivity are driven both by amount of cloud cover and amount of daylight. During our two weeks at sea, we actually sampled at GAK1 3 separate times. The amount of daylight (time between sunrise and sunset each day) at this location increased by nearly 60 minutes over the two week cruise!

The current work seeks to clarify which of these factors are the most dominant drivers of the patterns in the Gulf of Alaska and how these factors interact with each other. The research also helps to determine relationships between things that can be more easily measured, such as remote-sensing of chlorophyll, and the types of data that are particularly important to the LTER in a changing climate but are difficult to measure across broad spatial scales and time scales, such as primary productivity or phytoplankton size community. Phytoplankton are often invisible to the naked eye.  It would be easy to overlook them, but in many ways, phytoplankton are responsible for making the Gulf of Alaska what it is today, and what it will be in the future.  Understanding their dynamics is key to deeper understanding of the Gulf.

Personal Log

The schedule along the Seward Line and as we head to the Kodiak Line had to be adjusted due to rough seas and heavy winds.  This means we have been working variable and often long hours on the night shift. It is usually wet and cold and dark, and when it is windy the seawater we use to hose down the zooplankton nets seems to always spray into our faces and make its way into gloves and up sleeves.  But we still manage to have plenty of fun on the night shift and share lots of laughs.  There are also moments where I look up from the task at hand and am immersed in beauty, wonder, and fascination. I get to watch jellies undulate gracefully off the stern (all the while, crossing my fingers that they don’t end up in our nets  — that is bad for both them and us) and peer more closely at the zooplankton we’ve caught.  I am mesmerized by the color and motion of the breaking waves on a cloudy dawn and delighted by the sun cascading orange-pink towards the water at sunset.  I am reminded of my love, both emotional and intellectual, for the ocean!

Float coats
We experienced a lot of wind, rain, waves, and spray from the high-pressure hose (especially when I was wielding the hose), but bulky float coats kept us mostly warm and dry.

Did You Know?

Iron is the limiting nutrient in many offshore ecosystems.  Where there is more iron, there is generally more primary productivity and overall productive ecosystems.  Where there is little iron, very little can grow.  This is different than terrestrial and even coastal ecosystems, where iron is plentiful and other nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous) tend to be the limiting factors.  Because people worked from what they knew in terrestrial ecosystems, until about 30 years ago, nitrogen and phosphorous were understood to be the important nutrients to study.  It was groundbreaking when it was discovered that iron may be a crucial piece of the puzzle in many open ocean ecosystems.

Question of the Day:

Regarding sustainability and scalability of intensive ocean resource harvesting: If humans started eating plankton directly, what could happen? And a follow-up: Can we use algae from harmful bloom areas?

Question from Leah Lily, biologist, educator, and qualitative researcher, Bellingham, WA

I first shared this question with the zooplankton night crew.  The consensus was that it was not a good idea to harvest zooplankton directly for large-scale human consumption.  Some krill and other zooplankton are already harvested for ‘fish oil’ supplements; as demand increases, the sustainability of this practice has become more dubious.  The zooplankton night crew were concerned that if broader-scale zooplankton harvest were encouraged, the resource would quickly be overharvested, and that the depletion of zooplankton stocks would have even more deleterious consequences for overall ecosystem function than the depletion of specific stocks of fish. They also brought up the question of how much of each zooplankton would actually be digestible to humans.  Many of these organisms have a chitinous exoskeleton, which we wouldn’t be able to get much nutrition from.  So it seems like intensive ocean harvesting of zooplankton is likely not advisable.

However, when I talked with the lead phytoplankton researcher on board, she thought there might be slightly more promise in harvesting phytoplankton.  It is more unlikely, she thinks, that it would get rapidly depleted since there is so much phytoplankton out there dispersed across a very wide geographic scale.  Generally, harvesting lower on the food chain is more energy efficient. At every trophic level, when one organism eats another, only a fraction of the energy is utilized to build body mass. So the higher up the food web we harvest from, the more energy has been ‘lost’ to respiration and other organism functions.  Harvesting phytoplankton would minimize the amount of energy that has been lost in trophic transfer.  Unlike most zooplankton, most phytoplankton is easily digestible to people and is very rich in lipids and proteins.  It could be a good, healthy food source.  However, as she also pointed out, harvesting phytoplankton in the wild would likely require a lot of time, energy, and money because it is generally so sparse.  It likely would not be economically feasible to filter the plankton in the ocean out from the water, and, with current technologies, not particularly environmentally friendly.  Culturing, or ‘farming,’ phytoplankton might help to address these problems, and in fact blue-green algae/Spirulina is already grown commercially and available as a nutritional supplement.  And there may be some coastal places where ‘wild’ harvest would be practical.  There are a number of spots where excess nutrients, often from fertilizers applied on land that runoff into streams and rivers, can cause giant blooms of phytoplankton.  These are often considered harmful algal blooms because as the phytoplankton die, bacteria utilize oxygen to decompose them and the waters become hypoxic or anoxic.  Harvesting phytoplankton from these types of harmful algal blooms would likely be a good idea, mitigating the impacts of the HABs and providing a relatively easy food source for people.  However, it would be important to make sure that toxin-producing plankton, such as Alexandrium spp. (which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning) were not involved in the HAB.

Mark Van Arsdale: What Makes Up an Ecosystem? Part II – Phytoplankton, September 14, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 14, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Mostly cloudy, winds variable 10 knots, waves to four feet

58.27 N, 148.07 W (Gulf of Alaska Line)

 

Science Log

What Makes Up an Ecosystem?  Part II Phytoplankton

Most of my students know that the sun provides the foundational energy for almost all of Earth’s food webs.  Yet many students will get stumped when I ask them, where does the mass of a tree comes from?  The answer of course is carbon dioxide from the air, but I bet you already knew that.

Scientists use the term “primary productivity” to explain how trees, plants, and algae take in carbon dioxide and “fix it” into carbohydrates during the process of photosynthesis.  Out here in the Gulf of Alaska, the primary producers are phytoplankton (primarily diatoms and dinoflagellates). When examining diatoms under a microscope, they look like tiny golden pillboxes, or perhaps Oreos if you are feeling hungry.

Primary productivity experiments running on the back deck of the Tiglax.
Primary productivity experiments running on the back deck of the Tiglax.

One of the teams of scientists on board is trying to measure the rates of primary productivity using captive phytoplankton and a homemade incubation chamber. They collect phytoplankton samples, store them in sealed containers, and then place them into the incubator.  Within their sample jars, they inject a C13 isotope.  After the experiment has run its course, they will use vacuum filtration to separate the phytoplankton cells from the seawater.  Once the phytoplankton cells are captured on filter paper they can measure the ratios of C12 to C13. Almost all of the carbon available in the environment is C12 and can be distinguished from C13.  The ratios of C12 to C13 in the cells gives them a measurement of how much dissolved carbon is being “fixed” into sugars by phytoplankton.  Apparently using C14  would actually work better but C14 is radioactive and the Tiglax is not equipped with the facilities to hand using a radioactive substance.

During the September survey, phytoplankton numbers are much lower than they are in the spring.  The nutrients that they need to grow have largely been used up.  Winter storms will mix the water and bring large amounts of nutrients back to the surface.  When sunlight returns in April, all of the conditions necessary for phytoplankton growth will be present, and the North Gulf of Alaska will experience a phytoplankton bloom.  It’s these phytoplankton blooms that create the foundation for the entire Gulf of Alaska ecosystem.

Personal Log

Interesting things to see

The night shift is not getting any easier.  The cumulative effects of too little sleep are starting to catch up to me, and last night I found myself dosing off between plankton tows.  The tows were more interesting though.  Once we got past the edge of the continental shelf, the diversity of zooplankton species increased and we started to see lantern fish in each of the tows.  Lantern fish spend their days below one thousand feet in the darkness of the mesopelagic and then migrate up each night to feed on zooplankton.  The have a line of photophores (light producing cells) on their ventral sides.  When they light them up, their bodies blend in to the faint light above, hiding their silhouette, making them functionally invisible.

A lantern fish with its bioluminescent photophores visible along its belly.
A lantern fish with its bioluminescent photophores visible along its belly.

Once I am up in the morning, the most fun place to hang out on the Tiglax is the flying bridge.  Almost fifty feet up and sitting on top of the wheelhouse, it has a cushioned bench, a wind block, and a killer view.  This is where our bird and marine mammal observers work.  Normally there is one U.S. Fish and Wildlife observer who works while the boat is transiting from one station to the next.  On this trip, there is a second observer in training.  The observers’ job is to use a very specific protocol to count and identify any sea bird or marine mammal seen along the transect lines.

Today we saw lots of albatross; mostly black-footed, but a few Laysan, and one short-tailed albatross that landed next to the boat while were casting the CTD.  The short-tailed albatross was nearly extinct a few years ago, and today is still considered endangered. That bird was one of only 4000 of its species remaining.  Albatross have an unfortunate tendency to follow long-line fishing boats.  They try to grab the bait off of hooks and often are drowned as the hooks drag them to the bottom.  Albatross are a wonder to watch as they glide effortlessly a few inches above the waves.  They have narrow tapered wings that are comically long. When they land on the water, they fold their gangly wings back in a way that reminds me of a kid whose growth spurts hit long before their body knows what to do with all of that height.   While flying, however, they are a picture of grace and efficiency.  They glide effortlessly just a few inches above the water, scanning for an unsuspecting fish or squid.  When some species of albatross fledge from their nesting grounds, they may not set foot on land again for seven years, when their own reproductive instincts drive them to land to look for a mate.

Our birders seem to appreciate anyone who shares their enthusiasm for birds and are very patient with all of my “What species is that?” questions.  They have been seeing whales as well.  Fin and sperm whales are common in this part of the gulf and they have seen both.

A Laysan Albatross
A Laysan Albatross, photo credit Dan Cushing

 

Did You Know?

Albatross, along with many other sea birds, have life spans comparable to humans.  It’s not uncommon for them to live sixty or seventy years, and they don’t reach reproductive maturity until well into their teens.

 

Animals Seen Today

  • Fin and sperm whales
  • Storm Petrels, tufted puffins, Laysan and black-footed and short-tailed albatross, flesh footed shearwater

 

Martha Loizeaux: Spectrophotometers and Eggplant Curry, August 28, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Martha Loizeaux

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 22-31, 2018

Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 28, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Latitude:  39.487 N
  • Longitude:  73.885 W
  • Water Temperature: 25.2◦C
  • Wind Speed:  13.1 knots
  • Wind Direction: WSW
  • Air Temperature: 26.1◦C
  • Atmospheric Pressure:  1017.28 millibars
  • Depth:  30 meters

Science and Technology Log

spectrophotometer
This is the underwater spectrophotometer!

“Underwater spectrophotometer”… say that 10 times fast!  I was lucky enough to steal a few minutes of Audrey Ciochetto’s time while we admired the views from the fly bridge today.  Audrey works with the Colleen Mouw Lab at the University of Rhode Island.  Her lab studies phytoplankton (you may remember that phytoplankton is plankton that is like a plant) and how light from the sun interacts with plankton.  I bet you never thought about that!  It’s amazing stuff!

Audrey and a graduate student from the lab, Kyle Turner, have brought another cool science tool on board, an underwater spectrophotometer.  The ship has pipes hooked up that take water in from 4 meters under the surface of the ocean at a constant flow.  This water goes into the spectrophotometer and the machine gets to work.  It shines light through the water and measures how the light is absorbed (taken in).  Did you know that light travels in waves?  Different colors of light that you see are different wavelengths.  The spectrophotometer can measure 83 different color wavelengths and what happens to them when they shine on the water.

What does happen to light when it shines into the water?  First of all, the water itself absorbs some of the light.  There are also a lot of tiny things in the water that absorb light.  Can you think of some tiny things that might be in the water? You guessed it again!  Phytoplankton is absorbing some of the light, but also other things like tiny particles and dissolved matter will absorb light.  These items will also scatter the light, making it bounce in different directions.  The underwater spectrophotometer measures that too!

filtering Audrey
Audrey filtering water samples to separate particles and plankton

Audrey and Kyle spend some of their day taking samples of the water and filtering out the plankton and particles, leaving only the dissolved matter.  They will also bring some sea water samples back to their lab to separate the phytoplankton from the rest of the particles. By separating all of these factors, scientists can get an idea of how each of these components in the water are responding to light.

The goal of this work is to understand what satellites are seeing.  Scientists rely on satellites out in space to take pictures of what’s happening on Earth.  These satellites can detect the light from the sun shining on Earth.  They can see some color wavelengths as they are absorbed or scattered by different things on our planet.  With the work that Audrey and Kyle are doing, we can better understand the satellite pictures of the ocean and what they mean.  We can understand what’s in the ocean by looking at what the sunlight is doing when it touches the water.  Pretty incredible, right?

The Design of Experiments

Hearing all of these brilliant ideas from Audrey got me thinking about how creative scientists must be to design experiments and investigations to answer questions.
Remember the hypothesis example that Chief Scientist Harvey mentioned in his interview?  It was an idea that scientists came up with after they used monitoring data to discover a pattern of lower populations of herring (fish).

Hypothesis:  “Increasing haddock populations lead to a lower stable state of herring because haddock feed on herring eggs.”

fish stomach contents
Scientists can study the stomach contents of fish to learn what they are eating. Photo courtesy of The Fisherman Magazine.

How would you design an experiment to test this?
Well, the real scientists who did this work examined the stomach contents of haddock to see how much of their diet consisted of herring eggs!  Would you have thought of that?
It was interesting to read about this study in a scientific journal called PNAS (it stands for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), “Role of egg predation by haddock in the decline of an Atlantic herring population.” By Richardson et. al.

Get creative and start thinking of your own ideas to answer questions you have about the world!

 

 

Scientist Spotlight – Tamara Holzwarth-Davis, Physical Science Technician

Tamara is the physical science technician for NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) at Woods Hole.  A technician is someone who is an expert on the equipment and technology used by the scientists.  Today I had a chance to ask Tamara some more questions about her work.

Me – Tell me more about your job.
Tamara – I provide quality control for all of the data brought back by all of the ships involved in our study.  A lot of it is statistical analysis of data [this means looking at data and making sure that it makes sense and is accurate].  I calibrate sensors [make sure they are accurate], process data, and write reports based on the data we find.  We create a yearly atlas of information based on our data that anyone can use to look for trends (such as changes in plankton populations).  I also maintain and coordinate equipment that is needed for the studies.

Me – What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?Tamara – I least expected to be so involved with plankton!  I used to do only the hydrography (water chemistry and physical properties) but now I am also involved with plankton data collection.

Tamara on watch
Tamara keeps track of a lot of different things during her watch.

Me – How do you help other people understand and appreciate NOAA’s work?
Tamara – I write the reports and make data available to the public.  People can be reassured that quality control is in place in our monitoring and the data is as accurate as possible.  It is my job to make sure of it!

Me – What do you love about going out to sea?
Tamara – I love the experience of being out at sea and meeting new people!

Personal Log

Our days on the ship are spent collecting data at stations, storytelling and watching the water on the fly bridge, catching up on work, watching sunrises and sunsets.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the comfort and commodities (like comfy mattresses and hot showers) and especially, THE FOOD!

food
The food options are outstanding. One night we had king crab legs and tuna steaks.

Margaret chef
Margaret is the best chef EVER.

Here on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter, we have a wonderful steward staff (cooks and kitchen managers), Margaret and Paul. They always have smiles on their faces when you walk in for meal time and are happy to spread their cheerfulness.  There is always an amazing menu with many items to choose from.  As a vegetarian, I have been blown away by all of the delicious veggie options.  But there is plenty of meat for the carnivores too!  There are always a variety of snacks available as well as healthy options.

Margaret makes homemade cookies and pies, guacamole, crab salad, and eggplant curry, just to name a few.  We all sit down for meals together and share stories.  And there is always dessert!

Did You Know?

Water absorbs red light first.  So, if a fish has red scales when it’s out of the water, under water he will look brown and blend in to his surroundings.  All of the red light will have already been absorbed by the water and there won’t be enough left to reflect off the fish’s scales!

squirrelfish
A squirrelfish can blend in to its surroundings under water. Since it is a red fish, it is hard to see its color since the water has already absorbed the red light from the sun. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Animals Seen Today

Common dolphins, green sea turtle, brown booby bird, larval hake, larval flounder, larval sea bass, jellyfish

brown booby
Bobby the brown booby stayed with our ship for several hours.

jellyfish jar
A jellyfish we caught in the plankton net!

Martha Loizeaux: Cool Science Tools and Drifter Buoy! August 26, 2018


Susan Dee: Microscopic Sea Life – Days 1-4, May 24, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Dee
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 23 – June 7, 2018

Mission:  Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Northeastern Coast U.S.
Date: May 24, 2018
Weather Data from Bridge
Latitude: 40°32′
Longitude: 070°45′
Sea Wave Height:  1-2 feet
Wind Speed:  12 knots°
Wind Direction: west
Viability: unrestricted
Air Temperature:  13.5°C
Sky: Few clouds

Science and Technology Log

Tuesday, May 22, I arrived at Newport Naval Base and boarded NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow to begin my Teacher at Sea journey by staying overnight on a docked ship.   Day 1 was filled with many new experiences as we headed out to sea.  The Henry B. Bigelow is part of a fleet of vessels commissioned to conduct  fishery surveys. To learn more about the Henry B. Bigelow,  check out this website:  Henry B. Bigelow. The objective of this cruise is to access the hydrographic, planktonic and pelagic components of North East U.S. continental shelf ecosystem.  The majority of the surveys we will take involve  the microbiotic parts of the sea –  phytoplankton, zooplankton and mesoplankton.  Plankton are small microscope organisms in the oceans that are extremely important to the entire Earth ecosystem.  These organisms are the foundation of the entire ocean food web. By studying their populations. scientists can get an accurate picture of the state of  larger ocean organism populations.

Susan and ship
Henry B. Bigelow

Leaving Newport Harbor
Leaving Newport Harbor

Before leaving the dock, I met with Emily Peacock from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) to learn how to run an Imaging Flow Cytobot instrument that uses video and flow cytometric technology to capture images of phytoplankton. The IFCB was developed by Dr Heidi Sosik and Rob Olsen (WHOI) to get a better understanding of coastal plankton communities. The IFCB runs 24 hours a day collecting sea water and continuously measuring phytoplankton abundance.  Five milliliters of sea water are analyzed every 20 minutes and produces the images shown below.

Imaging Flow CytoBot
Emily Peacock teaching the usage of the Imaging Flow CytoBot (IFCB)

 

Imaging Flow Cytobot IFCB
Imaging Flow Cytobot (IFCB)

phytoplankton
Images of Phytoplankton taken by IFCB

The science party on board is made up of scientists from National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) part of NOAA Fisheries Division. The chief scientist, Jerry Prezioso, works out of Narragansett Lab and the lead scientist, Tamara Holzworth Davis, is from the Woods Hole Lab, both from the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center.  Other members of the Science Party are Seabird/Marine Mammal observers and a student  from Maine Maritime Academy.  The Crew and scientist group work together to coordinate sampling stations. The crew gets the ship to the site and aid the scientists in deploying instruments. The scientists collect the data and samples at each station.  The Crew and scientists work together to find the best and most efficient sea route to each  sampling site. Note all the stops for specimen collection on map below. There definitely  has to be a plan!

map of proposed route
Proposed Cruise Track and Survey Locations

 

Personal Log

Because research instrument deployment is done 24 hours a day, the NOAA Corps crew and scientists are divided into two shifts. I am on watch 1200 – 2400 hours, considered the day shift. This schedule is working good for me. I finish duty at midnight, go to sleep till 9:00 AM and rise to be back on duty at noon. Not a bad schedule. Due to clear weather and calm seas, the ship headed east out of Newport Harbor towards the continental shelf and started collecting samples at planned stops.   I joined another group of scientists  observing bird and marine mammal populations from the flying bridge of the ship. Humpback whales and basking sharks breached  several times during the day

It has only been two days but I feel very acclimated to life at sea. I am not seasick, thanks to calm seas and the patch. Finding the way around the ship is getting easier- it is like a maze. Spotting a pod of humpback whales breaching and basking sharks was a highlight of the day. My Biology students back at May River  High School scored great on End of Course Exam. Congratulations May River High School Sharks! Thinking of y’all.

school logo
Love My SHARKS!

Chelsea O’Connell-Barlow: Full Steam Ahead, August 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Chelsea O’Connell-Barlow

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 29 – September 12, 2017

 

Mission: Pacific Hake Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: NW Pacific Ocean

Date: 8/30/2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 48.472837N

Longitude: -124.676694W

Temperature 59 F

Wind 9.7 knots

Waves 3-5 feet

Science and Technology Log

We have not started fishing yet because we are heading to our first transect off the western coast of the Haida Gwaii archipelago. I thought this would be a perfect time to introduce another research project that is gathering data on the Shimada. One of my roommates, Lynne Scamman, is on-board researching Hazardous Algal Blooms (HABs).

Lynne in Chem lab
Lynne Scamman running wet chemistry tests and identifying phytoplankton.

  1. What are Hazardous Algal Blooms?

They are large numbers of phytoplankton, either diatoms or dinoflagellates, who produce toxins. Phytoplankton are essential to the ecosystem because they produce half of the global oxygen. However under certain circumstances these organisms reproduce rapidly, skyrocketing the population, this is a bloom. Some of these phytoplankton produce toxins. When the populations are low the toxins aren’t a big deal. However, when a bloom of phytoplankton that produce toxins occurs there can be health concerns for organisms exposed to the toxins. We have to consider the marine food chain and something called bioaccumulation. Phytoplankton along with zooplankton create the base of the marine food web. Organisms who eat toxin producing phytoplankton retain the toxin in their body. Then any organism who eats them will also hold that toxin. You can see how the toxin would accumulate along the food chain and potentially hold serious side effects for organisms with high levels of toxin.

  1. Why is research being done on HABs?

HABs are becoming a problem for humans along the coasts and in the Great Lakes. Basically all of the factors that contribute to the increase in HABs are a product of human impact. Global climate change, increased nutrient pollution and global sea trade are all factors contributing to the rise in Hazardous Algal Blooms. We want to monitor so that eventually we will be able to predict when, where and why the HABs will occur.

  1. Why are YOU studying HABs?

One day I walked into my college biology lab and met a guest instructor who specializes in all things phytoplankton related. I was blown away by the complexity that some of these single celled organisms held. The professor shared a few species names and I started investigating. The species that grabbed my attention is called Nematadinium armatum. This organism has a rudimentary eye called a melanosome and nematocysts for hunting, again this is pretty impressive for an organism made of one cell. Once I learned about the variety in this microscopic world and how influential they were to the health of the entire ocean, I knew that I wanted to learn more.

Personal Log

I am still figuratively pinching myself every few hours at just how amazing this experience is to participate in first hand. Yesterday we left the dock of Port Angeles at 10am and the boat hasn’t slowed down since. We did drills to ensure that all aboard knew where to go in case of fire and if we needed to abandon ship. Part of the abandon ship drill is to make sure that everyone has and can get into their Immersion Suit aka “Gumby Suit.” This suit is amazing! This portion of the Pacific is quite cold and the Immersion suit would keep you warm and buoyant until a rescue can occur.

OCB Gumby
Trying on the Immersion suit.

After our drills several of the science crew went up to the Flying Bridge to look for marine mammals. We were cruising between Cape Flattery, Washington and Vancouver Island, British Columbia with high hopes of seeing activity. WOW, we lucked out. We spotted 17 Humpback whales, 2 Harbor porpoise and 2 Dall’s porpoise. We are also seeing several types of sea birds but I am still brushing up with the Sibley to id birds from this area.

Shimada Flags
The Shimada under two flags as it enters Canadian waters.

 

Did You Know?

The island cluster that we are heading to had a name change at the end of 2009. What was formerly called Queen Charlotte Islands is now called Haida Gwaii. This name change came as part of a historic reconciliation between British Columbia and Haida nation. Haida Gwaii translated means “island of the people.”

Haida Gawaii
Map of Haida Gawaii area.

Amanda Dice: Ending Week 1 at Line 8, August 26, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Amanda Dice

Aboard Oscar Dyson

August 21 – September 2, 2017

 

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Fishery Survey

map cropped
Oscar Dyson moves across the Shelikof Straight to collect the Line 8 samples

Geographic area of cruise: Western Gulf of Alaska

Date: August 26, 2017

Weather Data: 13.2 C, cloudy with light rain

Latitude 57 36.6 N, Longitude 155 .008 N

 

 

Science and Technology Log

As part of this survey, the scientists onboard collect data from what is known as “Line 8”. This is a line of seven sampling stations, positioned only a few miles apart, near the southern opening of Shelikof Straight between Kodiak Island and the Alaskan Peninsula. Water samples are taken at different depths at each sampling station to measure several different properties of the water. This study is focused on profiling water temperature and salinity, and measuring the quantities of nutrients and phytoplankton in the water.

IMG_0988
The CTD rosette is lowered into the water using a winch – as seen from above.

To collect this data, a conductivity and temperature at depth (CTD) instrument is lowered into the water. This instrument can take water samples at different depths, by using its eleven canisters, or Niskin bottles. The water collected in the Niskin bottles will be used to determine the nutrient quantities at each station. The rosette of Niskin bottles also has sensors on it that measure phytoplankton quantities, depth, temperature, and how conductive the water is. Scientists can use the readings from conductivity and temperature meters to determine the salinity of the water.

Each Niskin bottle has a stopper at the top and the bottom. The CTD goes into the water with both ends of each Niskin bottle in the open position. The CTD is then lowered to a determined depth, depending on how deep the water is at each station. There is a depth meter on the CTD that relays its position to computers on board the ship. The survey team communicates its position to the deck crew who operate the winch to raise and lower it.

IMG_1164
Niskin bottles are lowered into the water with the stoppers at both ends open.

When the CTD is raised to the first sampling depth, the survey crew clicks a button on a monitor, which closes the stoppers on both ends of Niskin bottle #1, capturing a water sample inside. The CTD is then raised to the next sampling depth where Niskin bottle #2 is closed. This process continues until all the samples have been collected. A computer on board records the depth, conductivity and temperature of the water as the CTD changes position. A line appears across the graph of this data to show where each sample was taken. After the Niskin bottles on the CTD are filled, it is brought back onto the deck of the ship.

IMG_1173
They let me take control of closing the Niskin bottles at the sampling depths!

CTD screen cropped
I used this screen to read the data coming back from the CTD and to hit the bottle to close each Niskin bottle. The purple horizontal lines on the graph on the right indicate where each one was closed.

Water is collected through a valve near the bottom of each Niskin bottle. A sample of water from each depth is placed in a labeled jar. This study is interested in measuring the quantity of nutrients in the water samples. To do this it is important to have samples without phytoplankton in them. Special syringes with filters are used to screen out any phytoplankton in the samples.

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 8.28.56 PM
Syringes with special filters to screen out phytoplankton are used to collect water samples from the Niskin bottles.

The “Line 8” stations have been sampled for nutrient, plankton, and physical water properties for many years. The data from the samples we collected will be added to the larger data set maintained by the Ecosystems and Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (Eco-FOCI), Seattle, Washington. This NOAA Program has data on how the marine ecosystem in this area has changed over the last few decades. When data spans a long time frame, like this study does, scientists can identify trends that might be related to the seasons and to inter-annual variation in ocean conditions. The samples continue to be collected because proper nutrient levels are important to maintaining healthy phytoplankton populations, which are the basis of most marine food webs.

 

IMG_1171
Collecting water samples from a Niskin bottle.

Personal Log

As we travel from one station to the next, I have some time to talk with other members of the science team and the crew. I have really enjoyed learning about places all over the world by listening to people’s stories. Most people aboard this ship travel many times a year for their work or have lived in remote places to conduct their scientific studies. Their stories inspire me to keep exploring the planet and to always search for new things to learn!

Did you know?

Niskin bottles must be lowered into the water with both ends open to avoid getting an air bubble trapped inside of them. Pressure increases as depth under water increases. Niskin bottles are often lowered down below 150 meters, where the pressure can be intense. If an air bubble were to get trapped inside, the pressure at these depths would cause air bubble to expand so much that it might damage the Niskin bottle!

DJ Kast, Interview with Megan Switzer and the Basics of the CTD/ Rosette, May 28, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise:
Gulf of Maine
Date: May 28, 2015, Day 11 of Voyage

Interview with Student Megan Switzer

Chief Scientists Jerry Prezioso and graduate oceanography student Megan Switzer
Chief Scientist Jerry Prezioso and graduate oceanography student Megan Switzer

Megan Switzer is a Masters student at the University of Maine in Orono. She works in Dave Townsend’s lab in the oceanography department. Her research focuses on interannual nutrient dynamics in the Gulf of Maine. On this research cruise, she is collecting water samples from Gulf of Maine, as well as from Georges Bank, Southern New England (SNE), and the Mid Atlantic Bight (MAB). She is examining the relationship between dissolved nutrients (like nitrate and silicate) and phytoplankton blooms. This is Megan’s first research cruise!

In the generic ocean food chain, phytoplankton are the primary producers because they photosynthesize. They equate to plants on land. Zooplankton are the primary consumers because they eat the phytoplankton. There are so many of both kinds in the ocean. Megan is focusing on a particular phytoplankton called a diatom; it is the most common type of phytoplankton found in our oceans and is estimated to contribute up to 45% of the total oceanic primary production (Yool & Tyrrel 2003). Diatoms are unicellular for the most part, and a unique feature of diatom cells is that they are enclosed within a cell wall made of silica called a frustule.

Diatom Frustules. Photo by: 3-diatom-assortment-sems-steve-gschmeissner
Diatom Frustules. Photo by: Steve Schmeissner

Diatoms! PHOTO BY:
Diatoms! Photo by: Micrographia

The frustules are almost bilaterally symmetrical which is why they are called di (2)-atoms. Diatoms are microscopic and they are approximately 2 microns to about 500 microns (0.5 mm) in length, or about the width of a human hair. The most common species of diatoms are: Pseudonitzchia, Chaetocerous, Rhizosolenia, Thalassiosira, Coschinodiscus and Navicula.

Pseudonitzchia. Photo by National Ocean Service
Pseudonitzchia. Photo by National Ocean Service

Thalassiosira. Photo by: Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute
Thalassiosira. Photo by: Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute

Photo of Coscinodiscus by:
Photo of Coscinodiscus

Diatoms also have ranges and tolerances for environmental variables, including nutrient concentration, suspended sediment, and flow regime.  As a result, diatoms are used extensively in environmental assessment and monitoring. Furthermore, because the silica cell walls are inorganic substances that take a long time to dissolve, diatoms in marine and lake sediments can be used to interpret conditions in the past.

In the Gulf of Maine, the seafloor sediment is constantly being re-suspended by tidal currents, bottom trawling, and storm events, and throughout most of the region there is a layer of re-suspended sediment at the bottom called the Bottom Nepheloid Layer. This layer is approximately 5-30 meters thick, and this can be identified with light attenuation and turbidity data. Megan uses a transmissometer, which is an instrument that tells her how clear the water is by measuring how much light can pass through it. Light attenuation, or the degree to which a beam of light is absorbed by stuff in the water, sharply increases within the bottom nepheloid layer since there are a lot more particles there to block the path of the light. She also takes a water sample from the Benthic Nepheloid Layer to take back to the lab.

Marine Silica Cycle by Sarmiento and Gruber 2006
Marine Silica Cycle by Sarmiento and Gruber 2006

Megan also uses a fluorometer to measure the turbidity at various depths. Turbidity is a measure of how cloudy the water is. The water gets cloudy when sediment gets stirred up into it. A fluorometer measures the degree to which light is reflected and scattered by suspended particles in the water. Taken together, the data from the fluorometer and the transmissometer will help Megan determine the amount of suspended particulate material at each station. She also takes a water sample from the Benthic Nepheloid layer to take back to the lab. There, she can analyze the suspended particles and determine how many of them are made out of the silica based frustules of sinking diatoms.

 This instrument is a Fluorometer and is used to measure the turbidity at various depths. Photo by: DJ Kast
This instrument is a Fluorometer and is used to measure the turbidity at various depths. Photo by: DJ Kast

She collects water at depth on each of the CTD/ Rosette casts.

Rosette with the 12 Niskin Bottles and the CTD. Photo by DJ Kast
Rosette with the 12 Niskin Bottles and the CTD. Photo by DJ Kast

Rosette with the 12 Niskin Bottles and the CTD. Photo by DJ Kast
Rosette with the 12 Niskin Bottles and the CTD. Photo by DJ Kast

Up close shot of the water sampling. Photo by DJ Kast
Up close shot of the water sampling. Photo by DJ Kast

CTD, Rosette, and Niskin Bottle basics.

The CTD or (conductivity, temperature, and depth) is an instrument that contains a cluster of sensors, which measure conductivity, temperature, and pressure/ depth.

Here is a video of a CTD being retrieved.

Depth measurements are derived from measurement of hydrostatic pressure, and salinity is measured from electrical conductivity. Sensors are arranged inside a metal housing, the metal used for the housing determining the depth to which the CTD can be lowered. Other sensors may be added to the cluster, including some that measure chemical or biological parameters, such as dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll fluorescence. Chlorophyll fluorescence measures how many microscopic photosynthetic organisms (phytoplankton) are in the water. The most commonly used water sampler is known as a rosette. It is a framework with 12 to 36 sampling Niskin bottles (typically ranging from 1.7- to 30-liter capacity) clustered around a central cylinder, where a CTD or other sensor package can be attached. The Niskin bottle is actually a tube, which is usually plastic to minimize contamination of the sample, and open to the water at both ends. It has a vent knob that can be opened to drain the water sample from a spigot on the bottom of the tube to remove the water sample. The scientists all rinse their bottles three times and wear nitrile or nitrogen free gloves to prevent contamination to the samples.

On NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow the rosette is deployed  from the starboard deck, from a section called the side sampling station of this research vessel.

The instrument is lowered into the water with a winch operated by either Adrian (Chief Boatswain- in charge of deck department) or John (Lead Fishermen- second in command of deck department). When the CTD/Rosette is lowered into the water it is called the downcast and it will travel to a determined depth or to a few meters above the ocean floor. There is a conducting wire cable is attached to the CTD frame connecting the CTD to an on board computer in the dry lab, and it allows instantaneous uploading and real time visualization of the collected data on the computer screen.

 

CTD data on the computer screen. Photo by: DJ Kast
CTD data on the computer screen. Photo by: DJ Kast

The water column profile of the downcast is used to determine the depths at which the rosette will be stopped on its way back to the surface (the upcast) to collect the water samples using the attached bottles.

Niskin Bottles:

Messenger- The manual way to trigger the bottle is with a weight called a messenger. This is sent down a wire to a bottle at depth and hits a trigger button. The trigger is connected to two lanyards attached to caps on both ends of the bottle.  When the messenger hits the trigger, elastic tubing inside the bottle closes it at the specified depth.

Todd with the manually operated Niskin Bottle. Photo by: DJ Kast
Todd holding a messenger to trigger the manually operated Niskin Bottle. Photo by: DJ Kast

IMG_7209

Todd with the manually operated Niskin Bottle. Photo by: DJ Kast
Todd with the manually operated Niskin Bottle. Photo by: DJ Kast

Manual CTD fully cocked and ready to deploy. Photo by DJ Kast
Manual CTD fully cocked and ready to deploy. Photo by DJ Kast

Here is a video of how the manual niskin bottle closes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrqXWtbUc74

The other way to trigger Niskin bottles is electronically. The same mechanism is in place but an electronic signal is sent down the wire through insulated and conductive sea cables (to prevent salt from interfering with conductivity) to trigger the mechanism.

Here is a video of how it closes electronically: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJF1QVe6AK8

Conductive Wire to CTD. Photo by DJ Kast
Conductive Wire to CTD. Photo by DJ Kast

Photo of the top of the CTD. Photo by DJ Kast
Photo of the top of the CTD showing the trigger mechanism in the center. Photo by DJ Kast

Top of the Niskin Bottles to show how the white wires are connected to the top.
Top of the Niskin Bottles shows how the lanyards are connected to the top. Photo by DJ Kast

The pin on the bottom is activated when an electronic signal is sent through the conductive sea cables. Photo by DJ Kast
The pin on the bottom is activated when an electronic signal is sent through the conductive sea cables. Photo by DJ Kast

Using the Niskin bottles, Megan collects water samples at various depths. She then filters water samples for her small bottles with a syringe and a filter and the filter takes out the phytoplankton, zooplankton and any particulate matter. She does this so that there is nothing living in the water sample, because if there is there will be respiration and it will change the nutrient content of the water sample.

Filtering out only the water using a syringe filter. Photo by DJ Kast
Filtering out only the water using a syringe filter. Photo by DJ Kast

Photo by: DJ Kast
Syringe with a filter on it. Photo by: DJ Kast

This is part of the reason why we freeze the sample in the -80 C fridge right after they have been processed so that bacteria decomposing can’t change the nutrient content either.

Diatoms dominate the spring phytoplankton bloom in the Gulf of Maine. They take up nitrate and silicate in roughly equal proportions, but both nutrients vary in concentrations from year to year. Silicate is almost always the limiting nutrient for diatom production in this region (Townsend et. al., 2010). Diatoms cannot grow without silicate, so when this nutrient is used up, diatom production comes to a halt. The deep offshore waters that supply the greatest source of dissolved nutrients to the Gulf of Maine are richer in nitrate than silicate, which means that silicate will be used up first by the diatoms with some nitrate left over. The amount of nitrate left over each year will affect the species composition of the other kinds of phytoplankton in the area (Townsend et. al., 2010).

The silica in the frustules of the diatom are hard to breakdown and consequently these structures are likely to sink out of the euphotic zone and down to the seafloor before dissolving. If they get buried on the seafloor, then the silicate is taken out of the system. If they dissolve, then the dissolved silicate here might be a source of silicate to new production if it fluxes back to the top of the water column where the phytoplankton grow.

Below are five images called depth slices. These indicate the silicate concentration (rainbow gradient) over a geographical area (Gulf of Maine) with depth (in meters) latitude and longitude on the x and y axis.

Depth slices of nitrate and silicate. Photo by: This is the type of data Megan is hoping to process from this cruise.
Depth slices of nitrate and silicate. Photo by:  GOMTOX at the University of Maine
This is the type of data Megan is hoping to process from this cruise.

DJ Kast, Interview with Emily Peacock, May 25, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: East Coast

Date: May 25, 2015, Day 7 of Voyage

Interview with Emily Peacock

Emily Peacock and her ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo by: DJ Kast
Emily Peacock and her ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo by: DJ Kast

Emily Peacock is a Research Assistant with Dr. Heidi Sosik at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). She is using imaging flow-cytometry to document the phytoplankton community structure along the NOAA Henry B. Bigelow Route.

Why is your research important?

Phytoplankton are very important to marine ecosystems and are at the bottom of the food chain.  They uptake carbon dioxide (CO2) and through the process of photosynthesis make oxygen, much like the trees of the more well-known rain forests.

Ocean Food Chains. Photo by: Encyclopedia Britannica 2006 (http://media.web.britannica.com/eb-media/99/95199-036-D579DC4A.jpg)
Ocean Food Chains. Photo by: Encyclopedia Britannica 2006 (http://media.web.britannica.com/eb-media/99/95199-036-D579DC4A.jpg)

The purpose of our research is “to understand the processes controlling the seasonal variability of phytoplankton biomass over the inner shelf off the northeast coast of the United States. Coastal ocean ecosystems are highly productive and play important roles in the regional and global cycling of carbon and other elements but, especially for the inner shelf, the combination of physical and biological processes that regulate them are not well understood.” (WHOI 2015)

What tool do you use in your work you could not live without?

I am using an ImagingFlowCytobot (IFCB) to sample from the flow-through Scientific Seawater System.

ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo: DJ Kast
ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo: DJ Kast

Inside of the ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo by Taylor Crockford
Inside of the ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo by Taylor Crockford

The green tube is what collects 5 ml into the ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo by: DJ Kast
The green tube is what collects 5 ml into the ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo by: DJ Kast

IFCB is an imaging flow cytometer that collects 5 ml of seawater at a time and images the phytoplankton in the sample. IFCB images anywhere from 10,000 phytoplankon/sample in coastal waters to ~200 in less productive water. Emily is creating a sort of plankton database with all these images. They look fantastic, see below for sample images!

Microzooplankton called Ciliates. Photo Credit: IFCB, from this Henry Bigelow research cruise.
Microzooplankton called Ciliates. Photo Credit: IFCB, from this Henry Bigelow research cruise.

Dinoflagellates Photo Credit: IFCB, from this Henry Bigelow research cruise.
Dinoflagellates
Photo Credit: IFCB, from this Henry Bigelow research cruise.

The IFCB “is a system that uses a combination of video and flow cytometric technology to both capture images of organisms for identification and measure chlorophyll fluorescence associated with each image.  Images can be automatically classified with software, while the measurements of chlorophyll fluorescence make it possible to more efficiently analyze phytoplankton cells by triggering on chlorophyll-containing particles.” (WHOI ICFB 2015). 

What do you enjoy about your work?

I really enjoy looking at the phytoplankton images and identifying and looking for more unusual images that we don’t see as often. I particularly enjoy seeing plankton-plankton interactions and grazing of phytoplankton.

Grazing (all photo examples are not from this research cruise but still from an IFCB):

Small flagellates on a Thallasiosira Photo Credit: MVCO
Small flagellates on a Thallasiosira (Diatom) Photo Credit: IFCB at MVCO

Diatom with a dino eating it from the outside (peduncle).Photo Credit: MVCO
Diatom with a dinoflagellate eating it from the outside using a peduncle (feeding appendage). Photo Credit: IFCB at MVCO

Engulfer- Gyrodinium will engulf itself around the diatom (Paralia consumed by Gyrodinium).Photo Credit: MVCO
Engulfer- Gyrodinium will engulf the diatom Paralia Photo Credit: IFCB at MVCO

Dinoflagellates Pallium feeder- feeding externally, the pallium wraps around the prey.Photo Credit: MVCO
Dinoflagellates pallium feeding externally, the pallium (cape-like structure, think of saran wrap on food) wraps around the prey. Photo Credit: IFCB at MVCO

What type of phytoplankton do you see?

I am seeing a lot of dinoflagellates in the water today (May 20th, 2015), Ceratium specifically.

Ceratium. Photo by IFCB at MVCO
Ceratium. Photo by IFCB at MVCO

The most common types of plankton I see are: diatoms, dinoflagellates, and microzooplankton like ciliates. The general size range for the phytoplankton I am looking at is 5-200 microns.

Colonial choanoflagellate. Photo Credit: MVCO
Colonial choanoflagellate. Photo Credit: IFCB at MVCO

Where do you do most of your work?

“The Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory (MVCO) is a leading research and engineering facility operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The observatory is located at South Beach, Massachusetts and there is a tower in the ocean a mile off the south shore of Martha’s Vineyard where it provides real time and archived coastal oceanographic and meteorological data for researchers, students and the general public.” (MVCO 2015).

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 1.54.39 PM
MVCO Photo from: http://www.whoi.edu/mvco

Most of my work with Heidi is at the Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory. IFCB at MVCO has sampled phytoplankton every 20 minutes since 2006 (nearly continuously). This unique data set with high temporal resolution allows for observations not possible with monthly or weekly phytoplankton sampling.

Below is an example from the MVCO from about an hour ago at 1 PM on May 20th, 2015.

Photo Credit: MVCO
Photo Credit: IFCB at MVCO

Did you know??

IFCB at Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory has collected photos of nearby phytoplankton every 20 minutes since 2006 (9 years, almost continuously). With this time series, you can study changes in temporal and seasonal patterns in phytoplankton throughout the years.

Helpful Related links:

Current Plankton at the MVCO:  demi.whoi.edu/mvco

DJ Kast, Interview with Jessica Lueders-Dumont, May 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: East Coast

Date: May 22, 2015, Day 4 of Voyage

 

Interview with Jessica Lueders-Dumont

Who are you as a scientist?

Jessica Lueders-Dumont is a graduate student at Princeton University and has two primary components of her PhD — nitrogen biogeochemistry and historical ecology of the Gulf of Maine.

Jessica Lueders- Dumont, graduate student at Princeton cleaning a mini bongo plankton net for her sample.
Jessica Lueders- Dumont, graduate student at Princeton cleaning a mini bongo plankton net for her sample. Photo by: DJ Kast

 What research are you doing?

Her two projects are, respectively,

A) Nitrogen cycling in the North Atlantic (specifically focused on the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank but interested in gradients along the entire eastern seaboard)

B) Changes in trophic level of Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank over the history of fishing in the region. The surprising way in which these two seemingly disparate projects are related is that part A effectively sets the baseline for understanding part B!

She is co-advised by Danny Sigman and Bess Ward. Danny’s research group focuses on investigating climate change through deep time, primarily by assessing changes in the global nitrogen cycle which are inextricably tied to the strength of the biological pump (i.e. biological-mediated carbon export and storage in the ocean). Bess’s lab focuses on the functional diversity of marine phytoplankton and bacteria and the contributions of these groups to various nitrogen cycling processes in the modern ocean, specifically as pertains to oxygen minimum zones (OMZs). She is also advised by a Olaf Jensen, a fisheries scientist at Rutgers University.

In both of these biogeochemistry labs,  nitrogen isotopes (referred to as d15N, the ratio of the heavy 15N nuclide to the lighter 14N nuclide in a sample compared to that of a known standard) are used to track nitrogen cycling processes. The d15N of a water mass is a result of the relative proportions of different nitrogen cycling processes — nitrogen fixation, nitrogen assimilation, the rate of supply, the extent of nutrient utilization, etc. These can either be constrained directly via 15N tracer studies or can be inferred from “natural abundance” nitrogen isotopic composition, the latter of which will be used as a tool for this project.

Nitrogen Cycle in the Ocean. Photo credit to: https://wordsinmocean.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/n-cycle.png
Nitrogen Cycle in the Ocean. Photo credit to: https://wordsinmocean.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/n-cycle.png

On this cruise she has 3 sample types — phytoplankton, zooplankton, and seawater nitrate — and two overarching questions that these samples will address: How variable is “baseline d15N” along the entire eastern seaboard, and does this isotopic signal propagate to higher trophic levels? Each sample type gives us a different “timescale” of N cycling on the U.S. continental shelf. She will be filtering phytoplankton from various depths onto filters, she will be collecting seawater for subsequent analysis in the lab, and she will be collecting zooplankton samples — all of which will be analyzed for nitrogen isotopic composition (d15N).

Biogeochemistry background: 

Biogeochemists look at everything on an integrated scale. We like to look at the box model, which looks at the surface ocean and the deep ocean and the things that exchange between the two.

The surface layer of the ocean: euphotic zone (approximately 0-150 m-but this range depends on depth and location and is essentially the sunlit layer); nutrients are scarce here.

When the top zone animals die they sink below the euphotic zone and into the aphotic zone (150 m-4000m), and the bacteria break down the organic matter into inorganic matter (nitrate (NO3), phosphate (PO4) and silicate (Si(OH)3.). In terms of climate, an important nutrient that gets cycled is carbon dioxide.We look at the nitrate, phosphate, and silicate as limiting factors for biological activity for carbon dioxide, we are essentially calculating these three nutrients to see how much carbon dioxide is being removed from the atmosphere and “pumped” into the deep sea.  This is called the biological pump. Additionally, the particulate matter that falls to the deep sea is called Marine Snow, which is tiny organic matter from the euphotic zone that fuels the deep sea environments; it is orders of magnitude less at the bottom compared to the top.

Cycling
Visual Representation of the aphotic and euphotic zones and the nutrients that cycle through them. Photo by: Patricia Sharpley

 

Did you know that the “Deep sea is really acidic, holds a lot of CO2 and is the biggest reservoir of C02 in the world?” – From Jessica Lueders- Demont, graduate student at Princeton.

One of the most important limiting factors for phytoplankton is nitrogen, which is not readily available in many parts of the global ocean. “A limiting nutrient is a chemical necessary for plant growth, but available in quantities smaller than needed for algae and other primary producers to increase their abundance. Organisms can grow and reproduce only when they have sufficient nutrients. For algae, the carbon source is CO2and this, at least in the surface water, has a constant value and is not limiting their growth. The limiting nutrients are minerals (such as Fe+2), nitrogen, and phosphorus compounds” (Patricia Sharpley 2010).

Conversely, phosphorus is the limiting factor on land. The most common nitrogen is molecular nitrogen or N2, which has a strong bond to break and biologically it is very expensive to fix from the atmosphere. 

Biological, chemical, and physical oceanography all work together in this biogeochemistry world and are needed to have a productive ocean. For example, we need the physical oceanography to upwell them to the surface so that the life in the euphotic zone can use them.

Activities on the ship that I am assisting Jessica with:

  • Zooplankton collected using mini bongos with a 165 micron mesh and then further filtered at meshes: 1000, 500, and ends with 250 microns, this takes out all of the big plankton that she is not studying and leaves only her own in her size range which is 165-200 microns.
  • She is collecting zooplankton water samples because it puts the phytoplankton that she is focusing on into perspective.

The last of the mesh buckets that's filtering for phytoplankton. Photo by: DJ Kast
The last of the mesh buckets that’s filtering for phytoplankton. Photo by: DJ Kast

    • Aspirator pump sucks out all of the water so that the zooplankton are left on a glass fiber filter (GFFs) on the filtration rack.

 

  • Aspirator pump that is on the side sucks out all of the air so that the plankton get stuck on the filters at the bottom of the cups seen here. Photo by: DJ Kast
    Aspirator pump that is on the side sucks out all of the air so that the plankton get stuck on the filters at the bottom of the cups seen here. Photo by: DJ Kast
  • Bottom of the cup after all the water has been sucked through. Photo by: DJ Kast
    Bottom of the cup after all the water has been sucked through. Photo by: DJ Kast
  • Jessica removing the filter with sterilized tweezers to place into a labeled petridish. Photo by: DJ Kast
    Jessica removing the filter with sterilized tweezers to place into a labeled petri dish. Photo by: DJ Kast

    Labeled petri dish with GFF of phytoplankton on it. Photo by: DJ Kast
    Labeled petri dish with GFF of phytoplankton on it. Photo by: DJ Kast

Video of this happening:

Phytoplankton filtering:

Jessica collecting her water sample from the Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by DJ Kast
Jessica collecting her water sample from the Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by DJ Kast

Up close shot of the spigot that releases water from Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by DJ Kast
Up close shot of the spigot that releases water from Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by DJ Kast

DJ Kast helping Jessica collect her 4 L of seawater from the Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by Jerry P.
DJ Kast helping Jessica collect her 4 L of seawater from the Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by Jerry P.

DJ and Jessica collect her 4 L of seawater from the Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by Jerry P.
DJ and Jessica collect her 4 L of seawater from the Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by Jerry P.

Chief Scientist Jerry Prezioso and Megan Switzer next to the CTD and Rosette
Chief Scientist Jerry Prezioso and Megan Switzer next to the CTD and Rosette Photo by: DJ Kast

 

May 21, 14:00 hours: Phytoplankton filtering with Jessica.

In addition to the small bottles Jessica needs, we filled 4 L bottles with water at the 6 different depths (100, 50, 30, 20, 10, 3 m) as well.

We then brought all the 4 L jugs into the chemistry lab to process them. The setup includes water draining through the tubing coming from the 4 L jugs into the filters with the GFFs in it. Each 4 L jug is filtered by 2 of these filter setups preferably at an equal rate. The deepest depth 100 m was finished the quickest because it had the least amount of phytoplankton that would block the GFF and then a second jug was collected to try and increase the concentration of phytoplankton on the GFF.

Phytoplankton filtration setup. Photo by DJ Kast
Phytoplankton filtration setup. Photo by DJ Kast

The filter and pump setup up close. Photo by DJ Kast
The filter and pump setup up close. Photo by DJ Kast

Up close shot of the GFF within the filtration unit.
Up close shot of the GFF within the filtration unit. Photo by DJ Kast

Jessica keeping an eye on her filtration system to make sure nothing is leaking and that there are no air bubbles restricting water flow
Jessica keeping an eye on her filtration system to make sure nothing is leaking and that there are no air bubbles restricting water flow. Photo by DJ Kast

Here I am helping Jessica setup the filtration unit.
Here I am helping Jessica setup the filtration unit.Photo by Jessica Lueders- Dumont

The GFF with the phytoplankton (green stuff) on it.
The GFF with the phytoplankton (green stuff) on it. Photo by: DJ Kast

There are 2 filters for each depth, and since she has 12 filtration bottles total, then she would be collecting data from 6 depths. She collects 2 filters so that she has replicates for each depth.

Here they are all laid out to show the differences in phytoplankton concentration.

The 6 depths worth of GFFs. See how the 30 m is the darkest. Thats evidence for the chlorophyll max. Photo by: DJ Kast
The 6 depths worth of GFFs. See how the 30 m is the darkest. Thats evidence for the chlorophyll max. Photo by: DJ Kast

She will fold the GFF in half in aluminum foil and store it at -80C until back in the lab at Princeton. There, the GFF’s are combusted in an elemental analyzer and the resulting gases run through a mass spectrometer looking for concentrations of N2 and CO2. The 30 m GFF was the most concentrated and that was because of a chlorophyll maximum at this depth.

Chlorophyll maximum layers are common features of vertically stratified water columns. There is a subsurface maximum or layer of chlorophyll concentration. These are found throughout oceans, lakes, and estuaries around the world at varying depths, thicknesses, intensities, composition, and time of year.

Julia West: Science Is About the Details, March 29, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: March 29, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 1600; clouds 35%, cumulus; wind 170 (S), 18 knots; waves 5-6 ft; sea temp 24°C; air temp 23°C

Science and Technology Log

We have completed our stations in the western Gulf! Now we are steaming back to the east to pick up some stations they had to skip in the last leg of the research cruise, because of bad weather. It’s going to be a rough couple of days back, with a strong south wind, hence the odd course we’re taking (dotted line). Here’s the updated map:

sampling stations 3/29/15
Here’s where we are as of the afternoon of 3/29 (the end of the solid red line. We’ve connected all the dots!

 

I had a question come up: How many types of plankton are there? Well, that depends what you call a “type.” This brings up a discussion on taxonomy and Latin (scientific) names. The scientists on board, especially the invertebrate scientists, often don’t even know the common name for an organism. Scientific names are a common language used everywhere in the world. A brief look into taxonomic categories will help explain. When we are talking about numbers, are we talking the number of families? Genera? Species? Sometimes all that is of interest are the family names, and we don’t need to get more detailed for the purposes of this research. Sometimes specific species are of interest; this is true for fish and invertebrates (shrimp and crabs) that we eat. Suffice it to say, there are many, many types of plankton!

Another question asks what the plankton do at night, without sunlight. Phytoplankton (algae, diatoms, dinoflagellates – think of them like the plants of the sea) are the organisms that need sunlight to grow, and they don’t migrate much. The larval fish are visual feeders. In a previous post I explained that they haven’t developed their lateral line system yet, so they need to see to eat. They will stay where they can see their food. Many zooplankton migrate vertically to feed during the night when it is safer, to avoid predators. There are other reasons for vertical migration, such as metabolic reasons, potential UV light damage, etc.

Vertical migration plays a really important role in nutrient cycling. Zooplankton come up and eat large amounts of food at night, and return to the depths during the day, where they defecate “fecal pellets.” These fecal pellets wouldn’t get to the deep ocean nearly as fast if they weren’t transported by migrating zooplankton. Thus, migration is a very important process in the transport of nutrients to the deep ocean. In fact, one of the most voracious plankton feeders are salps, and we just happened to catch one! Salps will sink 800 meters after feeding at night!

Salp
Salp caught in the neuston sample. Salps are a colony of tunicates (invertebrate chordates for you biology students – more closely related to humans than shrimp are!)

Now it’s time to go back into the dry lab and talk about what happens in there. I’ll start with the chlorophyll analysis. In the last post I described fluorescence as being an indicator of chlorophyll content. What exactly is fluorescence? It is the absorption and subsequent emission of light (usually of a different wavelength) by living or nonliving things. You may have heard the term phosphorescence, or better yet, seen the waves light up with a beautiful mysterious light at night. Fluorescence and phosphorescence are similar, but fluorescence happens simultaneously with the light absorption. If it happens after there is no light input (like at night), it’s called phosphorescence.

phosphorescence
An example of phosphorescence. We haven’t seen it yet, but I hope to! (From eco-adventureholidays.co.uk)

Well, it is not just phytoplankton that fluoresce – other things do also, so to get a more accurate assessment of the amount of phytoplankton, we measure the chlorophyll-a in our niskin bottle samples. Chlorophyll-a is the most abundant type of chlorophyll.

We put the samples in dark bottles. Light allows photosynthesis, and when phytoplankton (or plants) can photosynthesize, they can grow. We don’t want our samples to change after we collect them. For this same reason, we also process the samples in a dark room. I won’t be able to get pictures of the work in action, but here are some photos of where we do this.

chlorophyll lab
This is the room where we do the chlorophyll readings.

We filter the chlorophyll out of the samples using this vacuum filter:

chlorophyll filter
Each of these funnels filters the sea water through a very fine filter paper to capture the chlorophyll.

The filter papers are placed in test tubes with methanol, and refrigerated for 24 hours or so. Then the test tubes are put in a centrifuge to separate the chlorophyll from the filter paper.

filter paper for chlorophyll
Some of the test tubes for chlorophyll readings, and the filter paper. This box costs about $100!

The chlorophyll values are read in this fancy machine. Hopefully the values will be similar to those values obtained during the CTD scan. I’ll describe that next.

Fluorometer
This fluorometer reads chlorophyll levels.

While the nets and CTD are being deployed and recovered, one person in the team is monitoring and controlling the whole event on the computer. I got to be this person a few times, and while you are learning, it is stressful! You don’t want to forget a step. Telling the winch operator to stop the bongos or CTD just above the bottom (and not hit bottom) is challenging, as is capturing the “chlorophyll max” by stopping the CTD at just the right place in the water column.

Bongo graph
This is the graph that comes back from the SeaCAT on the bongo. We are interested in the green line, which shows depth as it goes down and comes back up.

The dry lab
Here I am trying my hand at the computers. The monitor on the left is the live video of what is happening on deck (see the neuston net?). Photo by A.L. VanCampen

 

CTD scan
This is the CTD graph after it has been completed. The left (magenta) line is the chlorophyll, and the horizontal red lines are where we have fired a bottle and collected a sample. Notice the little spike partway down. That is the chlorophyll max, and we try to capture that when bringing it back up. The colored chart shows columns of continuous data coming in.

Here’s another micrograph of larval fish. Notice the tongue fish, the big one on the right. It is a flatfish, related to flounder. See the two eyes on one side of its head? Flatfish lie on the bottom, and have no need for an eye facing the bottom. When they are juveniles, they have an eye on each side, and one of the eyes migrates to the other side, so they have two eyes on one side! Be sure to take the challenge in the caption!

Larval fish 2
There is a cutlass fish just right of center. Can you find the other one? How about the lizard fish? Hint – look back at the picture in the last post. Photo credit Pamela Bond/NOAA

Personal Log

It’s time to introduce our intrepid leader, Commanding Officer Donn Pratt, known as CO around here. CO lives (when not aboard the Gunter) in Bellingham, WA. He got his start in boats as a kid, starting early working on crab boats. He spent 9 years with the US Coast Guard, where he had a variety of assignments. In 2001, CO transferred to NOAA, while simultaneously serving in the US Navy Reserve. CO is not a commissioned NOAA officer; he went about his training in a different way, and is one of two US Merchant Marine Officers in the NOAA fleet. He worked as XO for about seven years on various ships, and last year he became CO of the Gordon Gunter.

CO is well known on the Gunter for having strong opinions, especially about food and music. He loves being captain for fish research, but will not eat fish (nor sweet potatoes for that matter). A common theme of meal conversations is music; CO plays drums and guitar and is a self-described “music snob.” We have fun talking about various bands, new and old.

CO Donn Pratt
CO Don Pratt on the bridge.

One of the most experienced and highly respected of our crew is Jerome Taylor, our Chief Boatswain (pronounced “bosun”). Jerome is the leader of the deck crew. He keeps things running smoothly. As I watch Jerome walk around in his cheerful and hardworking manner, he is always looking, always checking every little thing. Each nut and bolt, each patch of rust that needs attention – Jerome doesn’t miss a thing. He knows this ship inside and out. He is a master of safety. As he teaches the newer guys how to run the winch, his mannerism is one of mutual respect, fun and serious at the same time.

Jerome has been with NOAA for 30 years now, and on the Gunter since NOAA acquired the ship in 1998. He lives right in Pascagoula, MS. I’ve only been here less than two weeks, but I can see what a great leader he is. When I grow up, I want to be like Jerome!

Jerome Taylor
Chief Bosun Jerome Taylor, refusing to look at the camera. No, he’s not grilling steaks; he’s operating the winch!

 

Challenge Yourself!

OK, y’all (yes, I’m in the south), I have a math problem for you! Remember, in the post where I described the bongos, I showed the flowmeter, and described how the volume of water filtered can be calculated? Let’s practice. The volume of water filtered is the area of the opening x the “length” of the stream of water flowing through the bongo.

V = area x length.

Remember how to calculate the area of a circle? I’ll let you review that on your own. The diameter (not radius) of a bongo net is 60 cm. We need the area in square meters, not cm. Can you make the conversion? (Hint: convert the radius to meters before you calculate.)

Now, that flow meter is just a counter that ticks off numbers as it spins. In order to make that a usable number, we need to know how much distance each “click” is. So we have R, the rotor constant. It is .02687m.

R = .02687m

Here’s the formula:

Volume(m3) = Area(m2) x R(Fe – Fs) m

Fe = Ending flowmeter value; Fs = Starting flowmeter value

The right bongo net on one of the stations this morning had a starting flowmeter value of 031002. The ending flowmeter value was 068242.

You take it from here! What is the volume of water that went through the right bongo net this morning? If you get it right, I’ll buy you an ice cream cone next time I see you! 🙂

sunset
Sunset from the Gordon Gunter as we are heading east.

 

Julia West: CTD and much more, March 27, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: March 27, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 1300; clouds 10%, cirrus; wind 330° (NNW), 10 knots; air temp. 18°C; water temp. 22°C; wave height 1 ft.; swell height 2-3 ft.

Science and Technology Log

We had some high winds (25 knots) these past couple of days, and the seas got too rough to work. Last night we headed closer to shore to find calmer water, and all ops were called off. Today we are back on (a new) course! Here’s the map with our rerouted course on it:

Sampling stations 3/27
Plankton sampling stations covered through 3/27/15

I want to start off this post answering two really good questions that have come up. Why do we send the samples all the way to Poland, only to have the data and some specimens come right back here? Is that typical U.S. outsourcing? Well, I had heard a rumor, and now I have a definitive answer about that, and it’s rather interesting! I had no idea I’d be learning history lessons on this journey, but this post has two important events in history.

If you have studied World War II, you may have heard of the Marshall Plan, otherwise known as the European Recovery Program, where the U.S. provided grants and loans for the rebuilding of war-ravaged European countries. Poland needed to pay off their war debt to the U.S., and the U.S. had a need. Here’s what I learned:

“The ‘father of the Polish Sorting Center’, Ken Sherman, visited a number European counties participating in the Marshall Plan looking for one that would be interested in setting up a Plankton Sorting and Identification Center. Poland was the one that took him up on the offer. Actually the leader of the Province of Pomerania in western Poland saw the economic possibilities for his state and thus was born the U.S.-Poland Agreement. By the way, the agreement lasted the entire time Poland was an eastern block country under the domination of the old Soviet Union. That in itself is a remarkable tale!” Information courtesy of Joanne Lyczkowski-Shultz, renowned Plankton scientist.

There you have it. Who knew? I think debt is paid off, but we have a great working relationship with the Polish Sorting Center, and they are good at what they do, so we continue.

Another good question was, why do we sample every year? Do the samples change? The reason is because just like for so many things (think of climate change as an example), it is by monitoring long term that we get the big picture and see change, if it is occurring. I asked if the samples change over time, but the answer isn’t known among the scientists on this ship. There are other departments that analyze the data; these scientists specialize in collecting it.

Today I want to introduce the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) unit. This expensive (think $20,000 and up) piece of equipment provides a hefty amount of data about the water column in our 200 meter sampling range. This is the last unit we deploy when we get to a station, after the neuston net comes back on board. Here’s what it looks like (the actual CTD part is on the bottom):

Here are some close-up pictures:

niskin bottles
There are 3 niskin bottles on the unit now (one not visible). It can hold 12.

The niskin bottles collect samples of water at whatever depth we determine. They are lowered into the water with both ends open (see the top and bottom lids are cocked open), so water flows through them. When they get to a certain depth, we can “fire” a bottle, and an electric signal trips a little lever at the top, and the top and bottom lids spring shut. We collect samples at the surface, at the bottom of the photic zone (200 meters or the ocean floor if we can’t go that deep), and at whatever place in the water column there is the maximum amount of chlorophyll. How do we know that, you should be wondering? Well, that’s where this unit comes in. This is officially the CTD – the expensive part:

CTD unit
The CTD is the “brains;” it does all the technical work.

It’s hard to see because it is on a black mat. The CTD sends constant information back to our computers. Water is pumped through the unit (see the tubing?) It is recording temperature, depth (by water pressure), oxygen level, salinity, turbidity (water clarity) and fluorescence. The conductivity, or the ability to pass an electric current, gives a measure of the dissolved salts in the water, or salinity (there’s chemistry and physics for you!) Fluorescence is one indicator of chlorophyll content. If you have learned about photosynthesis, it is chlorophyll in plant leaves that absorbs the sunlight and makes a plant green. The chlorophyll, therefore, is an indicator of the phytoplankton, such as single-celled algae, that are in the water. Remember, some zooplankton (mostly the invertebrates) eat phytoplankton, and most of our baby fish eat the zooplankton, so it’s good to know what is going on at the base of the food chain.

All of these things create cool little lines on a graph as the CTD is lowered. After capturing water at the bottom, we bring it up to approximately what the chlorophyll maximum was on the way down, by watching the data feed as it comes in, and fire another bottle to grab a sample of that water. Then we do it again at the surface.

So far I’ve shared what we do on the deck – how we collect the samples. In another post I will share with you what all this stuff looks like in the lab on the computer screen. Remember I said there is constant communication between the lab, the bridge, and the deck? Well, in the lab (but not the deck) we know exactly where the bottom is, and we have to give the order to stop the descent of the CTD (or bongos). “All stop!” is the command on the radio. “All stop,” the winch operator repeats as he stops the winch. If conditions are not right, the bridge or the scientists can put off or call off a deployment. We had some strong winds and high seas these past couple of days, so working with flying nets can get dangerous. The neuston is the first to get cancelled – that’s a big net!

In the next few blog posts I’m going to share with you some micrographs (pictures taken through a microscope) of what we’ve been catching. It is awe-inspiring to see all these little specks that fill our sieves close up!

Again, here’s what they look like in a jar:

Bongo sample
This is a nice sample from one of the bongo nets. Lots of little guys in there!

And here’s what happens when they are sorted under a microscope:

Larval fish
These are all larval fish. Top left: lizard fish. The bigger one in center is cutlass fish. These are both 8-9mm long. Photo courtesy of Pamela Bond, NOAA.

Personal Log

The other day we saw pilot whales from the bridge. It was pretty cool – they were right in front of the ship. If it was a kind of slow moving whale, we would have slowed down to avoid hitting them, but pilot whales move fast, and got out of our way easily. I didn’t get pictures – sorry! But here is somebody who was taking refuge on the deck:

yellow-crowned night heron
Yellow-crowned night heron taking a rest.

Sometimes birds get blown off course, or get tired while crossing a big expanse of water. We had two big cattle egrets sitting up high on the deck a few days ago. And often songbirds land on deck, completely exhausted.

We had another fire drill and abandon ship drill; these happen once a week. This time we practiced crawling (because smoke rises) to the nearest exit with our eyes shut.

fire escape practice
Here I am feeling my way to the exit. Photo credit: A.L. VanCampen

abandon ship drill
Everyone gathers on deck with their survival suits (and hats required) in the abandon ship drill

Here’s a random picture that I took. Occasionally we get plastic in our nets, and all this is recorded, of course. But if a man o’war is plankton, and this mylar balloon acts like plankton, is it plankton?

Plastic
No, it’s pollution!

I’d like to introduce Tony VanCampen, our Electronics Technician (ET). Without him, operations would come to a stop around here. Tony is in charge of all the electronics on the ship. That includes things like the SeaCAT, the CTD, the computers, the radar, radios, GPS, meteorology gear, the internet connection….to name a few. Tony says “ET” stands for “Everything Tech.”

VSAT
Our internet! VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) – this is how I am posting to this blog.

Tony spent 20 years in the US Navy before joining NOAA. He spent 6 years on the USS Berkeley in the Pacific, followed by a couple of years of shore duty, during which time he went back to school to learn all the new equipment that was being used on the new ships. In 1994, Tony started a new tour on the brand new Navy ship USS Cole. He was on two deployments of the USS Cole. Where were you on October 12, 2000 – were you even born yet? Tony was on the Cole, in Yemen, when two men in a normal looking small boat came up to the ship, waved, and then blew themselves up, destroying a section of the Cole and killing 17 sailors and injuring another 40+. Tony was not visibly injured, but we now know that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a very real and serious affliction. Tony thought he was doing well until Sept. 11, 2001, when he and his wife realized he was not well at all. He credits his family and friends for seeking help and saving his life.

Why do I mention this? Because you never know, when you go to a new place, what the people you meet have been through. How important it is to remain sensitive and raise awareness of PTSD! Thanks to Tony for his willingness to share his story and thanks to those men and women who serve our country.

Lastly, here are a few pictures from our day with 5-7 foot seas. I have not been seasick – yay!

big waves
Big waves from the lower deck as we were trying to sample.

Gulf of Mexico
Gorgeous!

sunset on the Gulf
The day ends.

Lauren Wilmoth: Shore Party, October 12, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 1.92 °C
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Latitude: 58°00.411′ N
Longitude: 153°10.035′ W

Science and Technology Log

The top part of a tidal station.  In the plastic box is a computer and the pressure gauge.
The top part of a tidal station. In the plastic box is a computer and the pressure gauge.

In a previous post, I discussed how the multibeam sonar data has to be corrected for tides, but where does the tide data come from?  Yesterday, I learned first hand where this data comes from.  Rainier‘s crew sets up temporary tidal stations that monitor the tides continuously for at least 30 days.  If we were working somewhere where there were permanent tidal station, we could just use the data from the permanent stations.  For example, the Atlantic coast has many more permanent tidal stations than the places in Alaska where Rainier works.  Since we are in a more remote area, these gauges must be installed before sonar data is collected in an area.

We are returning to an area where the majority of the hydrographic data was collected several weeks ago, so I didn’t get to see a full tidal station install, but I did go with the shore party to determine whether or not the tidal station was still in working condition.

A tidal station consists of several parts: 1) an underwater orifice 2) tube running nitrogen gas to the orifice 3) a nitrogen tank 4) a tidal gauge (pressure sensor and computer to record data) 5) solar panel 6) a satellite antennae.

Let me explain how these things work.  Nitrogen is bubbled into the orifice through the tubing.  The pressure gauge that is located on land in a weatherproof box with a laptop computer is recording how much pressure is required to push those bubbles out of the orifice.  Basically, if the water is deep (high tide) there will be greater water pressure, so it will require more pressure to push bubbles out of the orifice.  Using this pressure measurement, we can determine the level of the tide.  Additionally, the solar panel powers the whole setup, and the satellite antennae transmits the data to the ship.  For more information on the particulars of tidal stations click here

Tidal station set-up.  Drawing courtesy of Katrina Poremba.
Tidal station set-up. Drawing courtesy of Katrina Poremba.

Rainier is in good hands.
Rainier is in good hands.

The tidal station in Terror Bay did need some repairs.  The orifice was still in place which is very good news, because reinstalling the orifice would have required divers.  However, the tidal gauge needed to be replaced.  Some of the equipment was submerged at one point and a bear pooped on the solar panel.  No joke!

After the tidal gauge was installed, we had to confirm that the orifice hadn’t shifted.  To do this, we take manual readings of the tide using a staff that the crew set-up during installation of the tidal station.  To take manual (staff) observations, you just measure and record the water level every 6 minutes.   If the manual (staff) observations match the readings we are getting from the tidal gauge, then the orifice is likely in the correct spot.

Just to be sure that the staff didn’t shift, we also use a level to compare the location of the staff to the location of 5 known tidal benchmarks that were set when the station was being set up as well.  As you can see, accounting for the tides is a complex process with multiple checks and double checks in place.  These checks may seem a bit much, but a lot of shifting and movement can occur in these areas.  Plus, these checks are the best way to ensure our data is accurate.

Micki and Adam setting up the staff, so they can make sure it hasn't moved.
ENS Micki and LTJG Adam setting up the staff, so the surveyor can make sure it hasn’t moved.

Mussels and barnacles on a rock in Terror Bay.
Mussels and barnacles on a rock in Terror Bay.

Leveling to ensure staff and tidal benchmarks haven't moved.
Leveling to ensure staff and tidal benchmarks haven’t moved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, I went to shore again to a different area called Driver Bay.  This time we were taking down the equipment from a tidal gauge, because Rainier is quickly approaching the end of her 2014 season.  Driver Bay is a beautiful location, but the weather wasn’t quite as pretty as the location.  It snowed on our way in!  Junior Officer Micki Ream who has been doing this for a few years said this was the first time she’d experienced snow while going on a tidal launch.  Because of the wave action, this is a very dynamic area which means it changes a lot.

In fact, the staff that had been originally used to manually measure tides was completely gone, so we just needed to take down the tidal gauges, satellite antenna, solar panels, and orifice tubing.  The orifice itself was to be removed later by a dive team, because it is under water.  After completing the tidal gauge breakdown, we hopped back on the boat for a very bumpy ride back to Rainier.  I got a little water in my boots when I was hopping back aboard the smaller boat, but it wasn’t as cold as I had expected.  Fortunately, the boat has washers and driers.  It looks like tonight will be laundry night.

Raspberry Bay
Driver Bay

Personal Log 

The food here is great!  Last night we had spaghetti and meatballs, and they were phenomenal.  Every morning I get eggs cooked to order.  On top of that, there is dessert for every lunch and dinner!  Don’t judge me if I come back 10 lbs. heavier.  Another cool perk is that we get to see movies that are still in the theaters!  They order two movies a night that we can choose from.  Lastly, I haven’t gotten seasick.  Our transit from Seward to Kodiak was wavy, but I don’t think it was as bad as we were expecting.  The motion sickness medicines did the trick, because I didn’t feel sick at all.

Did You Know? 

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) contains several different branches including the National Weather Service which is responsible for forecasting weather and issuing weather alerts.

Animal Spotting

There are sea otters everywhere!

Sea otter (Enhydra lutris) sighting.
Sea otter (Enhydra lutris) sighting.

 

Gregory Cook, The Dance, August 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: August 7, 2014

Science and Technology Log: Abiotic Factors in the Bering Sea

Ecosystems are made up of biotic and abiotic factors. Biotic is just another word for “stuff that is, or was, alive.” In a forest, that would include everything from Owl to Oak Tree, from bear to bacteria, and from fish to fungi. It includes anything alive, or, for that matter, dead. Keep in mind that “dead” is not the same as “non-living.”

Salmon and Black-Legged Kittiwake
The salmon and the black-legged kittiwake are both biotic members of the sub-arctic ecosystem.

“Non-living” describes things that are not, cannot, and never will be “alive.” These things are referred to as “abiotic.” (The prefix a- basically means the same as non-). Rocks, water, wind, sunlight and temperature are all considered abiotic factors. And while the most obvious threat to a salmon swimming up river might be the slash of a bear’s mighty claw, warm water could be even more deadly. Warm water carries less dissolved oxygen for the fish to absorb through their gills. This means that a power plant or factory that releases warm water into a river could actually cause fish to suffocate and, well, drown.

Bering Panorama
A 90 degree panorama of the Bering Sea from atop the Oscar Dyson. I’d show you the other 270°, but it’s pretty much the same. The sea and sky are abiotic parts of the sub-arctic ecosystem.

Fish in the Bering Sea have the same kind of challenges. Like Goldilocks, Pollock are always looking for sea water that is just right. The Oscar Dyson has the tools for testing all sorts of Abiotic factors. This is the Conductivity Temperature Depth sensor (Also known as the CTD).

CTD Deployment
Survey Technicians Allen and Bill teach me how to launch The Conductivity Temperature Depth Probe (or CTD).

The CTD sends signals up to computers in the cave to explain all sorts of abiotic conditions in the water column. It can measure how salty the water is by testing how well the water conducts electricity. It can tell you how cloudy, or turbid, the water is with a turbidity sensor. It can even tell you things like the amount of oxygen dissolved in the ocean.

To see how abiotic factors drive biotic factors, take a look at this.

Thermocline
The graph above is depth-oriented. The further down you go on the graph, the deeper in the water column you are. The blue line represents temperature. Does the temperature stay constant? Where does it change?

I know, you may want to turn the graph above on its side… but don’t. You’ll notice that depth is on the y-axis (left). That means that the further down you are on the graph, the deeper in the sea you are. The blue line represents the water temperature at that depth. Where do you see the temperature drop?


Right… The temperature drops rapidly between about 20 and 35 meters. This part of the water column is called the Thermocline, and you’ll find it in much of the world’s oceans. It’s essentially where the temperature between surface waters (which are heated by the sun) and the deeper waters (typically dark and cold) mix together.

OK, so you’re like “great. So what? Water gets colder. Big deal… let’s throw a parade for science.”

Well, look at the graph to the right. It was made from another kind of data recorded by the CTD.

Fluoresence
Fluoresence: Another depth-oriented graph from the CTD… the green line effectively shows us the amount of phytoplankton in the water column, based on depth.

The green line represents the amount of fluorescence. Fluorescence is a marker of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are plant-like protists… the great producers of the sea! The more fluorescence, the more phytoplankton you have. Phytoplankton love to live right at the bottom of the thermocline. It gives them the best of both worlds: sunlight from above and nutrients from the bottom of the sea, which so many animals call home.

Now, if you’re a fish… especially a vegetarian fish, you just said: “Dinner? I’m listening…” But there’s an added bonus.

Look at this:

CTD Oxygen
Oxygen data from the CTD! This shows where the most dissolved oxygen is in the water column, based on depth. Notice any connections to the other graphs?

That orange line represents the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water. How does that compare to the other graphs?

Yup! The phytoplankton is hanging down there at the bottom of the thermocline cranking out oxygen! What a fine place to be a fish! Dinner and plenty of fresh air to breathe! So here, the abiotic (the temperature) drives the biotic (phytoplankton) which then drives the abiotic again (oxygen). This dance between biotic and abiotic plays out throughout earth’s ecosystems.

Another major abiotic factor is the depth of the ocean floor. Deep areas, also known as abyss, or abyssal plains, have food sources that are so far below the surface that phytoplankton can’t take advantage of the ground nutrients. Bad for phytoplankton is, of course, bad for fish. Look at this:

The Cliff and the Cod
The blue cloud represents a last grouping of fish as the continental shelf drops into the deep. Dr. Mikhail examines a cod.

That sloping red line is the profile (side view of the shape of the land) of the ocean floor. Those blue dots on the slope are fish. As Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko, a visiting Pollock specialist from Vladivostok, Russia, puts it, “after this… no more Pollock. It’s too deep.”

He goes on to show me how Pollock in the Bering Sea are only found on the continental shelf between the Aleutian Islands and Northeastern Russia. Young Pollock start their lives down near the Aleutians to the southeast, then migrate Northwest towards Russia, where lots of food is waiting for them.

Pollock Distribution
Alaskan Pollock avoid the deep! Purple line represents the ocean floor right before it drops off into the Aleutian Basin… a very deep place!

The purple line drawn in represents the drop-off you saw above… right before the deep zone. Pollock tend to stay in the shallow areas above it… where the eating is good!

Once again, the dance between the abiotic and the biotic create an ecosystem. Over the abyss, Phytoplankton can’t take advantage of nutrients from the deep, and fish can’t take advantage of the phytoplankton. Nonliving aspects have a MASSIVE impact on all the organisms in an ecosystem.

Next time we explore the Biotic side of things… the Sub-arctic food web!

Personal Log: The Order of the Monkey’s Fist.

Sweet William, a retired police officer turned ship’s engineer, tells the story of the order of the monkey’s fist.

William and the Monkey's Fist
Sweet William the Engineer shows off a monkey’s fist

The story goes that some island came up with a clever way to catch monkeys. They’d place a piece of fruit in a jar just barely big enough for the fruit to fit through and then leave the jar out for the monkeys. When a monkey saw it, they’d reach their hand in to grab the fruit, but couldn’t pull it out because their hands were too big now that they had the fruit in it. The monkey, so attached to the idea of an “easy” meal wouldn’t let go, making them easy pickings for the islanders. The Monkey’s Fist became a symbol for how clinging to our desires for some things can, in the end, do more harm than good. That sometimes letting go of something we want so badly is, in the end, what can grant us relief.

Another story of the origin of the monkey’s fist goes like this: A sea captain saw a sailor on the beach sharing his meal with a monkey. Without skipping a beat, the monkey went into the jungle and brought the sailor some of HIS meal… a piece of fruit.

No man is an Island. Mt. Ballyhoo, Unalaska, AK
No man is an Island. Mt. Ballyhoo, Unalaska, AK

Whatever the true origin of the Order is, the message is the same. Generosity beats selfishness at sea. It’s often better to let go of your own interests, sometimes, and think of someone else’s. Onboard the Oscar Dyson, when we see someone committing an act of kindness, we put their name in a box. Every now and then they pull a name from the box, and that person wins something at the ship store… a hat or a t-shirt or what have you. Of course, that’s not the point. The point is that NOAA sailors… scientists, corps, and crew… have each other’s backs. They look out for each other in a place where all they really have IS each other.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

Kimberly Gogan: A Ship Full of Science! April 9, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Gogan
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 7 – May 1, 2014

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance Survey Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographical area of cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: Wednesday, April 9th

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temp: 5.5 Degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 9.0 Knots
Water Temp: 4.6 Degrees Celsius
ater Depth: 41.2 Meters

The Science Teams (Photo Credit to Mark Weekley)
The Science Teams – Photo by Mark Weekly

Science and Technology Log

If Science at Sea is what I wanted, this is the ship for it!  The evening of our departure from Newport, R.I. on Monday, April 7th, the group of scientists met in the staff lounge for a meeting of the minds. I soon found out that there was an array of scientist on the ship all with different goals and science they wanted to conduct. On this ship we have two teams of Oceanographers, a day team and a night team. The Oceanographers are generally taking underwater tests and samples using a variety of equipment. We also have the Marine Mammal Observer Team who are on the look out for any sort of mammals that may poke head out of the water such as whales and dolphins.

There is also a group of Birders collecting data on any bird sightings. And lastly we have our Acoustics, or sound team, that is listening for the sounds of marine mammals. I also learned at that meeting that it would take a lot of teamwork and collaboration on the part of each of the Scientist crews, as well as the NOAA Corps and crew to make it all happen.

Every day the representatives from each team have to get together to coordinate the timing of each of the events that will happen throughout the day. The Mammal and Birding Observer teams are on the same schedule and can collect sighting data throughout the day from 7 AM to 7 PM, only stopping for lunch, as they need daylight to conduct their work. The daytime Oceanographers plan their work of collecting samples around the observer teams, sending off their collection equipment before 7AM, at lunch, and then again at 7PM when the observers teams are done. The nighttime Oceanographers are not working during the same time as other scientists so this gives them the opportunity to to do as many test and collections as they can without interrupting anyone else’s work. The Acoustic team can work anytime of day or during any kind of weather without conflicting with anyone as long as the water is deep enough to drop their equipment. It sounds like an easy schedule but there are many things, like weather, technology and location, that could disrupt this carefully orchestrated schedule of science. When that happens, and it has, everyone must be flexible and work together to make sure everyone can conduct the science they need.

Me helping to bring the Bongo net back onto the ship for cleaning. (Photo credit Chris)
Me helping to bring the Bongo net back onto the ship for cleaning. – Photo by Chris Tremblay

Jerry Prezioso tying the bottom of the Bongo nets getting them really to be put in the water.
Scientist Jerry Prezioso tying the bottom of the Bong nets getting them really to be put in the water.

Science Spotlight

Since there is so much science happening on the ship that I am doing every day, I am going to have to share just one thing at a time or I would be writing for hours! Today’s science spotlight is about scientist Jerry Prezioso and the Bongo nets. Jerry is an Oceanographer who works at the NOAA Lab in Narragansett, R.I. Jerry primarily studies plankton distribution. He has been on many trips on NOAA ships since he was 18!

Today Jerry taught me how to do a Bongo net sample that is used to collect plankton from the various water columns. At the top of the net there is a piece of equipment called a CTD (Conductivity Temperature & Depth Unit) that communicates with the computers in the lab on the ship. The scientists in the lab use that piece of equipment to detect how far down the net is going and when it is close to the bottom, as well as collect data on the water temperature and salinity.

Once the CTD is set and turned on, the Bongo net can be lowered into the water. The nets have weights on them to sink them close to the bottom. Once the nets are close a scientist at the computer has the cable operator pull the nets up and out of the water. Once they are on deck they have to be washed down so all the organisms that were caught in the netting go to the cod end of the nets. The cod ends of the nets are opened up and the organisms are rinsed into a sieve where they will carefully be transferred into glass bottles, treated with formaldehyde and sent to a lab for sorting. There were lots of organisms that were caught in the net. Some that we saw today were: CopepodsComb Jellies or Ctenophora, Herring Larva, aquatic Arrow Worms or Chaetognaths and tons of Phytoplankton and Zooplankton. The Bongo nets are towed several times a day and night to collect samples of plankton.

Jerry Prezioso and I washing down the Bongo Nets.
Jerry Prezioso and I washing down the Bongo Nets. – Photo by Chris Tremblay.

A shot of some of the creatures we caught being filtered into sampling jars for processing.
A shot of some of the creatures we caught being filtered into sampling jars for processing.

Personal Log

The start to the trip has been a little rough. It feels like this is the first day we have been able to do anything. Monday we had to sit in port and wait for a scientist to calibrate some equipment before we left so we didn’t get underway until bed time. When we awoke, the weather was bad and the seas were very rough. Several people were very sick and some still are. We were only able to drop one piece of acoustic equipment all day (more on that in another blog).  We also had to change the plans on where we were going and move closer to shore due to the weather.

On a ship you need to be very flexible as things are changing all the time! Today was the the first day we were able to do any real science for a sustained amount of time and there were definitely lots of bugs and kinks that needed to be worked out. On top of dropping the BONGO nets with Jerry, I was also able to spend some time and fill in some shifts on the the decks with the Marine Mammal team watching for whales and dolphins. We had a few cool sighting of Humpbacks, Minke, and a Right Whales! (More on them and what they do in another blog too.) On another note, the state rooms are huge and I am sharing a room with one of the acoustic scientists, Genevieve. She is very nice and helpful. The food on the ship is spectacular! I am very surprised how good it is and how many choices there are every meal. All and all things are off to a good start and there is so much more I have to share with everyone about what all these scientist do and it is only our first “real” day!

Did You Know? 

Did you know that North Atlantic Right Whales have a V- shaped blow. Their blow holes (two) are separated which gives them the characteristic blow shape.

Check out this link  to the website at Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Protected Species Branch (NEFSC PSB) Right Whale Team and the work we do there. There is an interactive Google map site and wonderful links.

Boarding the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.
Boarding the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.

Boarding the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter in Newport, R.I.
Boarding the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter in Newport, R.I.

 

Sue Cullumber: Testing the Water and More, June 19, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/19/2013
Geographical area of cruise: The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude/longitude: 3853.256 N, 7356.669W
Temperature: 18.6ºC
Barometer: 1014.67 mb
Speed: 9.7 knots

CTDscreen
CTD reading on the computer. Blue is density, red is salinity, green is temperature and black indicates the depth.

Science and Technology Log:

Even before the plankton samples are brought onboard, scientists start recording many types of data when the equipment is launched. The bongos are fitted with an electronic CTD (conductivity, temperature and density) and as they are lowered into the ocean the temperature, density and salinity (salt content) are recorded on a computer. This helps scientists with habitat modeling and determining the causes for changes in the zooplankton communities. Each bongo net also has a flow-through meter which records how much water is moving through the net during the launch and can is used to estimate the number of plankton found in one cubic meter of water.

ZIplankton
Zooplankton (Z) and Icthyoplankton (I) samples.

The plankton collected from the two bongo nets are separated into two main samples that will be tested for zooplankton and icthyoplankton (fish larvae and eggs). These get stored in a glass jars with either ethanol or formalin to preserve them. The formalin samples are sent to a lab in Poland for counting and identification. Formalin is good for preserving the shape of the organism, makes for easy identification, and is not flammable, so it can be sent abroad.  However, formalin destroys the genetics (DNA) of the organisms, which is why ethanol is used with some of the samples and these are tested at the NOAA lab in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

sueplankton
Holding one of our zooplankton samples – photo by Paula Rychtar.

When the samples are returned from Poland, the icthyoplankton samples are used by scientists to determine changes in the abundance of the different fish species. Whereas, the zooplankton samples are often used in studies on climate change. Scientists have found from current and historic research (over a span of about 40 years) that there are changes in the distribution of different species and increases in temperature of the ocean water.

At the Rosette stations we take nutrient samples from the different water depths. They are testing for nitrates, phosphates and silicates. Nutrient samples are an important indicator of zooplankton productivity. These nutrients get used up quickly near the surface by phytoplankton during the process of photosynthesis (remember phytoplankton are at the base of the food chain and are producers). As the nutrients pass through the food chain (zooplankton eating phytoplankton and then on up the chain) they are returned to the deeper areas by the oxidation of the sinking organic matter. Therefore, as you go deeper into the ocean these nutrients tend to build up.  The Rosettes also have a CTD attached to record conductivity, temperature and density at the different depths.

Chris-DICtests
Scientist, Chris Taylor, completing the dissolved inorganic carbon test.

CO2test
The dissolved inorganic carbon test uses chemicals to stop any further biological processes and suspend the CO2 in “time”.

Another test that is conducted on the Rosettes is for the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon. This test is an indicator of the amount of carbon dioxide that the ocean uptakes from outside sources (such as cars, factories or other man-made sources). Scientists want to know how atmospheric carbon is affecting ocean chemistry  and marine ecosystems and changing the PH (acids and bases) of the ocean water. One thing they are interested in is how this may be affecting the formation of calcium in marine organisms such as clams, oysters, and coral.

New word: oxidation – the chemical combination of a substance with oxygen.

canal
Cape Cod canal.

Personal Log:

This week we headed back south and went through the Cape Cod canal outside of Plymouth, Massachusetts. I had to get up a little earlier to see it, but it was well worth it.  The area is beautiful and there were many small boats and people enjoying the great weather.

smallboat
Small boat bringing in a new group to the Gordon Gunter.

We also did a small boat transfer to bring five new people onboard, while three others left at the same time. It was hard to say goodbye, but it will be nice to get to know all the new faces.

dolphinsthree
Common Dolphins swimming next to the Gordon Gunter.

So now that we are heading south the weather is warming up. I have been told that we may start seeing Loggerhead turtles as the waters warm up – that would be so cool.  We had a visit by another group of Common Dolphins the other day. They were swimming along the side of the ship and then went up to the bow. They are just so fun to watch and photograph.

We have been seeing a lot of balloons (mylar and rubber) on the ocean surface. These are released into the air by people, often on cruise ships, and then land on the surface. Sea turtles, dolphins, whales and sea birds often mistake these for jelly fish and eat them.  They can choke on the balloons or get tangled in the string, frequently leading to death. Today, we actually saw more balloons than sea birds!!! A good rule is to never release balloons into the air no matter where you live!

balloon
A mylar balloon seen in the water by our ship.

Did you know?  A humpback whale will eat about 5000 pounds of krill in a day. While a blue whale eats about 8000 pounds of krill daily.

Question of the day?  If 1000 krill = 2 pounds, then together how many krill does a humpback and blue whale consume on a daily basis.

Blue Whale, Balaenoptera Musculus
Blue Whale, Balaenoptera Musculus

Sue Cullumber: Can’t Wait to Head Out As a NOAA Teacher at Sea! May 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
(Soon to be) Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5– 24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 5/21/13
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

hikein
My students on a field-trip to the desert.

endofday
Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Personal Log:

Hi my name is Sue Cullumber and I am a science teacher at the Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our school provides 1:1 instruction to students with special needs in grades 5-12 and I have been teaching there for over 22 years!  In less than two weeks I will be heading out to the Atlantic coast as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am so excited to have this opportunity to work with the scientists aboard the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter.

I applied to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for the following reasons:

First, I feel that directly experiencing “Science” is the best way for students to learn and make them excited about learning. To be able to work directly with NOAA scientists and bring this experience back to my classroom gives my students such an amazing opportunity to actually see how science is used in the “real world”.

GALAPAGOS, ECUADOR
Visit to Española Island – photo by Pete Oxford

IMG_5384
Students holding “Piggy” and our other baby Sulcata tortoises.

Secondly, I love to learn myself, experience new things and bring these experiences back to my students. Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to participate in several teacher fellowships.  I went to the Galapagos Islands with the Toyota International Teacher Program and worked with teachers from the Galapagos and U.S. on global environmental education. From this experience we built an outdoor habitat at Howard Gray that now houses four tortoises.  Students have learned about their own fragile desert environment, animal behavior and scientific observations through access to our habitat and had the opportunity to share this with a school in the Galapagos. I worked with Earthwatch scientists on climate change in Nova Scotia and my students Skyped directly with the scientists to learn about the field research as it was happening. Last summer I went to Japan for the Japan-US Teacher Exchange Program for Education for Sustainable Development. My students participated in a peace project by folding 1000 origami cranes that we sent to Hiroshima High School to be placed in the Hiroshima Peace Park by their students. We also  held a Peace and Friendship Festival for the community at Howard Gray.

cranesgroup-copy
Completion of the 1000 cranes before sending them to Hiroshima.

IMG_6468
Japanese teachers learn about our King Snake, Elvis, from the students.

This year we had a group of Japanese teachers visit our school from this program and students taught them about many of the sustainable activities that we are working on at school.  Each has brought new ideas and amazing activities for my students to experience in the classroom and about the world.

edgeofcanyon
Dusk at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Lastly, Arizona is a very special place with a wide variety of geographical environments from the Sonoran Desert (home of the Saguaro) to a Ponderosa Pine Forest in Flagstaff and of course the Grand Canyon!  However, we do not have an ocean and many of my students have never been to an ocean, so I can’t wait to share this amazing, vast and extremely important part of our planet with them.

So now I have the chance of a lifetime to sail aboard the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter on an Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. We will be heading out from Newport, RI on June 5th and head up the east coast to the Gulf of Maine and then head back down to Norfolk, Virginia. Scientists have been visiting this same region since 1977 from as far south as Cape Hatteras, NC to the an area up north in the Bay of Fundy (Gulf of Maine between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia).  They complete six surveys a year  to see if the distributions and abundance of organisms have changed over time. I feel very honored to be part of this research in 2013!

Gordon Gunter
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter (photo credit NOAA)

One of the activities I will be part of is launching a drifter buoy. So students are busy decorating stickers that I will be able to put on the buoy when I head out to sea.  We will be able to track ocean currents, temperature and GPS location at Howard Gray over the next year from this buoy.  Students will be studying the water currents and weather patterns and I plan to hold a contest at school to see who can determine where the buoy will be the following month from this information. While out at sea my students will be tracking the location of the Gordon Gunter through theNOAA Ship Tracker and placing my current location on a map that one of my students completed for my trip.

IMG_9292
Spending time with my husband, Mike, and son, Kyle.

Outside of school, I love to spend most of my free time outdoors – usually hiking or exploring our beautiful state and always with my camera!  Photography is what I often call “my full-time hobby”.  Most of my photos are of our desert environment, so I look forward to all amazing things I will see in the ocean and be able to share with my husband and son, students and friends!  One of my passions is to use my photography to provide an understanding about the natural world, so I am really looking forward to sharing this fantastic adventure with everyone through my blog and photos!

wellearnedrest3
Enjoying the view during one of my hikes in the Sonoran Desert.

Frank Hubacz: Ice in the Bering Sea, May 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Frank Hubacz
Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
April 29 – May 10, 2013

Mission: Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Mooring Deployment and Recovery
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea
Date: May 7, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge (0500):
N wind 10 to 25kt. Partly cloudy.
Air Temperature 0.8C
Relative Humidity 90%
Barometer 1019.80 mb
Surface Water Temperature 2.30 C
Surface Water Salinity 31.96 PSU
Seas 4 to 9ft

Science and Technology Log

Remember that in my last blog you were left with a question…

Did you figure out what this was?
Did you figure out what this was?

If you still have not guessed what this is then here is a hint…

 

You are correct!  This is a Marine Assessment Monitoring and Prediction (MARMAP) Bongo tow with two 20cm and two 60 cm ring openings!  The 60 cm ring has a 500µm mesh net and the 20 cm ring has a 150µm.  I knew that most of you would guess the correct answer.  These nets are towed through the ocean to collect zooplankton samples. Plankton are important members of the ocean food web converting energy from the primary producer level into a form that is useable by animals in the upper levels of the marine food web. The word plankton is derived from the Greek word planktos, which means wandering.  Plankton drift, or swim weakly, traveling wherever the ocean takes them.  Phytoplankton are able to produce their own food (autotrophic), as the name suggests, via the process of photosynthesis. Zooplankton are heterotrophic and eat the primary producers in the ocean food web, the phytoplankton.  Zooplankton are the most numerous consumers in the entire ocean with nearly every major animal group being represented.   The most abundant, accounting for 70% of individuals, are copepods (crustaceans).  You are all probably most familiar with the organism within this group known as krill.  They are very abundant in the waters of the Arctic.

Krill
Krill

These shrimp-like marine organisms grow no larger than 4 to 6 cm and serve as food for baleen whales, penguins, seals, fish, sea birds, and many other predators.  80(+) species of krill have been identified in oceans around the world. Their habitats range from abyssal depths (5,000 m) to near shore kelp beds (10 m), and from warm tropical seas to the freezing Antarctic Ocean. (http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/02quest/background/krill/krill.html)

Marine scientist use bongo nets to catch these small creatures and study them. The net size is selected to catch zooplankton as opposed to smaller phytoplankton.  The bongo net has a flow meter installed in each net to calculate the volume of water sampled.   Plankton tows can be done at any depth or time of day and the samples are caught in a small rigid container, the codend.

Basic Bongo tow

Detailed Bongo schematic

 

Cod-end of  Bongo tow net
Codend of Bongo net where the sample is collected

Our night shift deploying our Bongo net
Our night shift readying our Bongo net

IMG_7182
Deploying the Bongo net in dark icy waters of the Bering Sea

IMG_7178
Retrieving the net after the tow

Matt washing the contents of the codend into a straining sieve
Matt washing the contents of the codend into a straining sieve

IMG_7137
Capturing all of the sample

IMG_7138
Krill!

A closer look!
A closer look!

The Bongo tow used on this cruise also has attached an SBE-19 SEACAT system which measures salinity, depth, and temperature.

SEACAT System attached to Bongo tow
SEACAT System (on right) attached to Bongo tow

Additionally deployed on this cruise were drogue drifters.  Drogue drifters help determine the flow of ocean currents using a sort of “message in a bottle” approach, the drogue drifter, which is connected to a surface buoy.  The buoy communicates its location to an ARGOS satellite system producing a map of its path.  The drogue portion is really a “holey-sock” that flows below the surface to indicate subsurface ocean currents.

Drifter Schematic

IMG_7125
Complete drifter package

IMG_7126
Bill preparing the drogue drifter for launch
Drogue
Drogue drifter entering the water with attached satellite buoy

World map of current drifter locations

 

Overnight on the 7th we turned north-north-west hoping to sample water near the edge of the ice sheet.  We found ice much earlier than hoped and at approximately 0630 a decision was made that we could travel no further!  Upon collecting a sample at this station we turned south to sample along the 70 meter line for several miles.

Ice flow...picture taken at 0300
Ice flow…picture taken at 0300

Ice all around
Ice all around

 

Ice as seen from the bridge(Photo courtesy of Matt Wilson)

Ice as seen from the bridge(Photo courtesy of Matt Wilson)

Saying good bye to the ice!
Saying good bye to the ice!(Photo courtesy of Matt Wilson)

Personal Log

Sampling continues around the clock now that all of the moorings have been deployed.  I continue to collect nutrient samples from each CTD launch, usually 5 to 7 per draw, assist with washing the Bongo nets, and helping wherever I can .  Our midnight to noon shift goes by quickly.  After my shift I have been relaxing by reading and then going to bed by 0300 before waking at 2300.  Now that we are heading south our satellite “issues” have been resolved and so the internet works great.  Keep those questions coming.

We had an abandon ship drill today and I finally was able to “slip” into my Survivor Suit!  You will get to meet the science crew in my next blog!

Slipping into my survival suit
Slipping into my survival suit

Heading for the life boat station
Heading for the life boat station

Arriving at the WRONG station!
Arriving at the WRONG life boat station! (Port is left)

Bhavna Rawal: Net Tow, Dive, Buoy Maintenance and Data Collection, August 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at sea
Bhavna Rawal
On Board the R/V Walton Smith
Aug 6 – 10, 2012

Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey, South Florida
Geographic area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 8, 2012

.
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Station: 21.5
Time: 1.43 GMT
Longitude: 21 23 933
Latitude: 24 29 057
Wind direction: East of South east
Wind speed: 18 knots
Sea wave height: 2-3 ft
Clouds: partial

Science and Technology Log:

Yesterday, I learned about the CTD and the vast ocean life. Today I learned about a new testing called net tow, and how it is necessary to do, and how it is done.

What is Net Tow? The scientist team in the ship uses a net to collect sargassum (a type of sea weed) which is towed alongside the ship at the surface of the predetermined station.

A net to collect sargassum (a type of sea weed)
A net to collect sargassum (a type of sea weed)

How did we perform the task? We dropped the net which is made of nylon mess, 335 microns which collects zooplanktons in the ocean. We left this net in the ocean for 30 minutes to float on the surface of the ocean and collects samples. During this time the ship drives in large circles. After 30 minutes, we (the science team) took the net out of the ocean. We separated sargassum species, sea weeds and other animals from the net. We washed them with water, then classified and measured the volume of it by water displacement. Once we measure the volume, we threw them back into the ocean.

Dropped the net which collects zooplanktons in the ocean
Dropped the net which collects zooplanktons in the ocean

Types of sargassum
Types of sargassum

Measured the volume of it by water displacement
Measured the volume of it by water displacement

Threw them back into the ocean
Threw them back into the ocean

Record data

Types of Sargassum and Plankton:  There are two types of sargassum; ones that float, and the other ones that attach themselves to the bottom of the ocean. There are two types of floating sargassum and many types attached to bottom of the ocean.

Also there are two types of plankton; Zooplankton and phytoplankton. As you all know phytoplankton are single celled organisms, or plants that make their own food (photosynthesis). They are the main pillar of the food chain. It can be collected in a coastal area where there is shallow and cloudy water along the coastal side. The phytoplankton net is small compared to the zooplankton and is about 64 microns (small mess).

Zooplanktons are more complex than phytoplankton, one level higher in their food chain. They are larva, fish, crabs etc. they eat the phytoplankton. The net that is made to catch zooplankton, is about 335 microns. Today, we used the net to collect zooplankton.

Why Net Tow is necessary: Net tow provides information about habitats because tons of animals live in the sargassum. It is a free floating ecosystem. Scientists are interested in the abundance of sargassum and the different kinds of animals, such as larva, fishes, crabs, etc. Many scientists are interested in the zooplankton community structures too.

Dive, Buoy and other data collection equipments: Two science team members prepared for diving; which means that they wore scuba masks, oxygen tanks and other equipment. They took a little boat out from the ship and went to the buoy station. They took the whole buoyancy and other data collection instruments with them. The two instruments were the Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) and the micro cat which was attached to the buoy. The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents, and the ADCP measures currents of the ocean. Both instruments collect many data over the period. The reason for bringing them back, is to recover data in a Miami lab and the maintenance of the buoy.

The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents
The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents

Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) measures currents of the ocean
Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) measures currents of the ocean

Personal Log:

My first day on the ship was very exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. I had to take medicine to prevent me from being seasick. This medicine made me drowsy, which helped me to go to sleep throughout the night. The small bunk bed and the noise from the moving ship did not matter to me. I woke up in the morning, and got ready with my favorite ‘I love science’ t-shirt on. I took breakfast and immediately went to meet with my science team to help them out for the CTD and net tow stations. Today, I felt  like a pro compared to yesterday. It was a bit confusing during the first day, but it was very easy today.

I started helping lowering the CTD in the ocean. Now I know when to use the lines for the CTD, water sampling for different kinds of testing, how to net tow and do the sargassum classification. I even know how to record the data.

When we have a station call from the bridge, then we work as a team and perform our daily CTD, water testing or net tow. But during the free time, we play card games and talk. Today was fun and definitely action packed. Two science team members dove into the ocean and brought the buoy back. I also saw a fire drill.

Nelson (the chief scientist) took me to see TGF or called the flow through station which is attached inside the bottom of the ship. This instrument measures temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM etc. Nelson explained the importance of this machine. I was very surprised by the precise measurements of this machine. Several hours later, I went to the captain’s chamber, also called the bridge. I learned how to steer the boat, and I was very excited and more than happy to sit on the captain’s chair and steer.

Excited to sit on the captain’s chair and steer the R/V Walton Smith

We have also seen groups of dolphins chasing our ship and making a show for us. We also saw flying fishes. In the evening, around 8 o’clock after dinner, I saw the beautiful colorful sunset from the ship. I took many videos and pictures and I can’t wait to process it and see my pictures.

Saw groups of dolphins ahead of ship

Around 10 o’clock in the night, it was net tow time again. We caught about 65 moon jelly fishes in the net and measured their volumes. Nelson also deployed a drifter in the ocean.

See moon jelly fish in my hand

Today was very fun and a great learning opportunity for me, and don’t forget the dolphins, they really made my day too!

Question of the Day:
How do you measure volume of solid (sea grass)?

New Word:
Sargassum

Something to Think About:
Why scientists use different instruments such as CTD as well as TFG to measuretemperature, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM etc?

Challenge Yourself:
Why abundance of sargassum, types of animals and data collection is important in ocean?

Did you Know?
The two instruments were the Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) and the micro cat which was attached to the buoy. The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents, which means it measures at surface of the ocean, middle of the ocean and bottom layer of the ocean too.

Animals Seen Today:
Five groups of dolphins
Seven flying fishes
Sixty five big moon jelly fishes
Two big crabs

Bhavna Rawal: Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) and Water Testing, August 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bhavna Rawal
Aboard the R/V Walton Smith
August 6 – 10, 2012

Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey, South Florida
Geographic area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 7, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Station: 6.5
Time: 21.36 GMT
Longitude: 080 17’ 184
Latitude: 250 3’ 088
Water temp: 29.930 oC
Wind direction: East
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea wave height: 3 ft

Science and Technology log:

Hello students! We know how to do water testing in our lab class using the testing kit. Today, I am going to explain to you the way ocean water is sampled and tested in the South Florida coastline.

Our 5 day cruise consists of over 80 stations along the Atlantic and Gulf coast of Florida.  At each station we take water samples, and at about 20 of the stations we tow nets to catch fish, seaweed or plankton and sometimes scuba dive to recover the instruments mounted on the seafloor.

Our journey begins at station #2 at Dixie shoal, which is near Miami; you can see this on the South Florida bimonthly Hydrographic survey map below (see fig).

South Florida Bimothly Hydrographic Survey map
South Florida Bimothly Hydrographic Survey map

At each station we performed CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) operations. The CTD is a special instrument to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll and the depth of water in the ocean. It is an electronic instrument mounted on a large metal cage that also contains bottles to collect samples.  These bottles are called niskin bottles and every oceanographer uses them.  They are made of PVC and are specially designed to close instantaneously by activation from the computer inside the ship. Collecting water samples at various depths of the ocean is important in order to verify in the lab that the instruments are working properly. Each bottle has an opening valve at the bottom and top to take in the seawater. The top and bottom covers are operated by a control system. Once a certain depth is reached, the person sitting at the control system triggers and it closes the bottles. You can control each bottles through this system to get a pure water sample from different depths. For example, when the ocean floor is 100 meters deep, water is sampled from the surface, at 50 meters deep, the very bottom.

Hard hat and life vest on and ready for CTD
Hard hat and life vest on and ready for CTD

The CTD instrument is very large, and is operated by a hydraulic system to raise it, to place it and lower down into the ocean. Rachel (another fellow member) and I were the chemistry team; we wore hard hats and life vests while we guided the CTD in and out of the water. This is always a job for at least two people.

Guiding CTD in and out of water
Guiding CTD in and out of water

The team usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean, in the middle layer and surface of the ocean. We closed the bottles in the middle layer because the characteristics of the water are different from at the bottom and the surface.  Remember, the ocean water is not all the same throughout, at different depths and locations it has different chemical characteristics. We closed two bottles per layer, just in case something happened with one bottle (it is not opened properly, for example) then the other bottle can be used.

Taking water sample out of CTD bottles
Taking water sample out of CTD bottles

Rachel and I took water samples from the CTD bottles and used them in the lab to conduct experiments. Before I explain the analysis, I want to explain to you the importance of it, and how a “dead zone” can happen. Remember phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients to live and survive. The more nutrients, the more phytoplankton can live in water. As you all know, phytoplankton are at the base of the food chain. They convert the sun’s energy into food. Too many nutrients mean too much phytoplankton.

  1. If certain species of phytoplankton increase, it increases the chance of a harmful algal bloom. Too much of one kind of plankton called the dinoflagellates can release toxins into the water which harms the fish and other ocean life and it can even cause people to feel like they have a cold if they swim in the water that has those plankton.
  2. Large amounts of plankton die and fall to the sea floor, where bacteria decompose the phytoplankton. Bacteria use available oxygen in water. The lack of oxygen causes fishes and other animals die. The zone becomes ‘the dead zone’.
    We prepare the sample for nutrient analysis to measure nutrients such as nitrate, nitrite, phosphate, ammonium and silicate in the water.
    We also prepare the sample for chlorophyll analysis. In the lab, we filter the phytoplankton out of the water. Phytoplankton contains special cells that photosynthesize (chloroplasts) which are made of chlorophyll. If we know the amount of chlorophyll, we can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in a given area of the ocean.

filtering the phytoplankton out of the water
Filtering the phytoplankton out of the water

Preparing the sample for nutrient analysis
Preparing the sample for nutrient analysis

Phytoplankton needs carbon dioxide to grow. Carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it provides an estimate of total carbon dioxide in the ocean.  It is also important in understanding the effects of climate change on the ocean.  If you increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (like when you drive cars), it enters into the ocean.  If you think about a can of soda it has a lot of CO2 dissolved into it to make it fizzy, and it also tastes kind of acidic.  This is similar to when CO2 dissolves into seawater.  When the ocean becomes more acidic, the shells of animals become weaker or the animals cannot produce the shells at all.

Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) analysis informs us where this water comes from.  The dissolved organic matter comes from decomposing plants, and some of these dead plants entered the water through rivers.  You can tell for example that water came from the Mississippi River because of the CDOM signal.  You can then follow its circulation through the ocean all the way to the Atlantic.

From the CTD instrument, we measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it on a computer (see figure) to analyze it.

Measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it
Measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it

Generally, I see that ocean surface water has high temperature but low salinity, low chlorophyll, and low oxygen. As we go deeper into the sea (middle layer), temperatures decrease, dissolved oxygen increases, chlorophyll and salinity increases. At the bottom layer, chlorophyll, oxygen, temp and salinity decrease.

Personal Log:

I arrived on the ship Sunday evening and met with other people on the team, tried to find out what we are going to do, how to set up, etc. Asked so many questions… I explored my room, the kitchen, the laundry, the science lab, the equipment, etc. Nelson (the chief scientist) gave me a really informative tour about the ship, its instruments and operations. He showed the CTD m/c, the drifter, the wet lab etc. He also gave me a tour of a very important instrument called the “flow-through station” which is attached to the bottom of the ship. This instrument measures temp, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM, when the boat drives straight through a station without stopping. I was really stunned by how precise, the measurements taken by this instrument are.

flow-through station
Flow-through station

The next morning, Nelson explained that if we have enough tide the ship would leave. We had to wait a bit. As soon as we got the perfect tide and weather, R/V Walton Smith took off and I said ‘bye bye’ to Miami downtown.

‘bye bye’ to Miami downtown
‘Bye bye’ to Miami downtown

I learn so much every day in this scientific expedition. I saw not only real life science going on, but efficient communication among crew members. There are many types of crew members on the ship: navigation, technology, engineering, and scientific. Chief scientists make plans on each station and the types of testing. This plan is very well communicated with the navigation crew who is responsible for driving the ship and taking it to that station safely. The technology crew is responsible for efficient inner working of each scientific instrument. 10 minutes before we arrive on a station, the ship captain (from navigation crew) announces and informs the scientific team and technology team in the middle level via radio. So, the scientific team prepares and gets their instruments ready when the station arrives. I saw efficient communication and collaboration between all teams. Without this, this expedition would not be completed successfully.
I have also seen that safety is the first priority on this oceanic ship. When any crew member works in a middle deck such as CTD, Net Tow etc, they have to wear a hard hat and life jacket. People are always in closed toe shoes. It is required for any first timer on the boat to watch a safety video outlining safe science and emergency protocol. People in this ship are very friendly. They are very understanding about my first time at sea, as I was seasick during my first day. I am very fortunate to be a part of this team.

The food on the ship is delicious. Melissa, the chef prepares hot served breakfast, lunch and dinner for us. Her deserts are very delicious, and I think I am going to have to exercise more once I come back to reduce the extra weight gained from eating her delicious creations!

Watch TV, play cards and have dinner together
Watch TV, play cards and have dinner together

My shift is from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. and I work with Rachel and Grant. After working long hours, we watch TV, play cards and have dinner together. I am learning and enjoying this expedition on the ship Research Vessel Walton Smith.

Question of the Day:

Why we do water testing in different areas of river and ocean?

New word:

Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM)

Something to think about:

How to prevent dead zone in an ocean?

Animals Seen Today:
Two trigger fishes
Three Moon Jelly fishes
Five Crabs

Did You Know?
In ship, ropes called lines, kitchen called galley, the place where you drive your ship is called bridge or wheel house.

Valerie Bogan: The Adventure Continues: June 12, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date
: Tuesday June 12, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sea temperature 28  degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius, building seas.

Science and Technology Log

Today I want to discuss the neuston net.  This is a very large net made out of finely woven mesh which is deployed (shoved off the side of the boat) in order to catch plankton.  There are three types of plankton: phytoplankton (plants and algae),  zooplankton (animals), and ichytoplankton (baby fish).  The neuston net rides along the surface of the water for ten minutes scooping up any organisms which are near the surface.  After the ten minutes are up, the deck crew uses a crane to pull the net out of the water and bring it up to the point where someone can wash it down with a hose.  This is necessary because not all of the plankton ends up in the cod end (the place where the collection jar is located) so we have to use a hose to get all of the loose stuff washed into the end of the net.  After the net is washed down, the cod end is carefully removed, placed in a bucket and taken to the stern (back) of the ship where it is processed.

Putting out the neuston net
This is how the neuston net is moved from the ship into the water. From left to right Jeff, Marshall, and Chris are safely deploying the net.

To process the sample you must first empty the contents of the cod end into a filter which will allow the water to run out but will keep the sample.  Then you transfer (move) the sample from the filter into a glass sample jar.  Sometimes the sample smoothly slides into the jar and other times you have to wash down the filter with some ethanol.  Once all of the sample is in the jar it is topped off with ethanol, a tag is placed inside the jar, and another tag is put on top of the jar.  This sample is stored on the boat and taken back to the NOAA lab where it will be cataloged.

Processing the neuston sample
In this picture I am filtering out the water from the neuston sample so it can be placed in a sample jar.(Picture by Francis)

Personal Log

Today is our fifth day at sea and I’m feeling fairly comfortable with my duties on the ship.  I was assigned to the night watch which runs from midnight till noon the next day.  I’ll admit I didn’t make it the entire time the first day. We got done early and despite my intentions to stay up until my shift, I would have ended I falling asleep.  The second night was better. I was beyond exhausted at the end, but I did manage to make it through the entire shift.  At this point my mind and body have adjusted to the shift and I can easily drift to sleep at 3 pm and get up at 11:15 pm.  Students, this is a great example of what it means to be responsible.  If I was given the choice, do you think I would have chosen these crazy hours or to work twelve hours straight?  No of course not but I really wanted to come on this expedition and this work assignment is part of the trip.  So I’m doing the same thing I would expect you to do in a situation like this: accept it and get the work done.

Now I don’t want you to think that the trip is just about hard work. It’s also about seeing new places and getting to know some interesting people.  I started out this trip in Pascagoula Mississippi, a city and state I never planned on visiting before this assignment.  However, the people there were so helpful and friendly that I would gladly go back to see more of this region.  All of you from the Kokomo area know that the major employers are automobile companies. Well, Pascagoula also has a major industry: ship building.  So despite the distance between Kokomo and Pascagoula–about 900 miles–each town depends on an industry for their survival and both towns are incredibly proud of their contribution to society.

Ship yards in Pascagoula
The major industry in Pascagoula is ship building.

I have been introducing you to parts of the ship, and today I’m going to tell you about the bridge.  Now this is not the type of bridge that crosses a river, but rather the command center of the ship.  The crew on the bridge is responsible for the safety of all personal on board and for the ship itself.  There is a vast array of technology on the bridge which the crew uses to plot our course, check the weather, and to do hundreds of other things which are necessary for the ship to function.

Navigation chart
This is the chart the bridge crew uses to plot our course.

Valerie Bogan: June 15, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date
: Friday  June 15, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sea temperature 28  degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius, calm seas.

Science and Technology Log

The scientific device for this blog entry is called the Bongo net.  This apparatus is actually two nets which are mounted on a metal frame.  Each net has a diameter of 60 cm and is 305 cm long with a cod end which is the narrowest part of the net to catch the plankton (both plants and animals).  At the opening of each net is a flow meter which records the amount of water that passes through the net in liters. This allows the scientists to calculate the total population of each type of plankton without having to collect all the plankton in the area.  This is done by first finding out how many individuals there are of each species in the sample.  Then you calculate the number of liters in the transect (sample area) by multiplying the length of the transect by the width of the transect to find the area in square meters.  To find the volume, you multiply the area by the depth which will give you the amount of water in cubic meters.  Lastly you have to take the volume in cubic meters and convert it to cubic liters.  Now that you have found the amount of water in the transect you are ready to find the number of each species of plankton in that amount of water.  To do this you take the number of individuals in the entire sample and divide it by the amount of liters which flowed through the net during sampling to find the number of the species per liter.  Then you multiply that number by the total amount of liters in the transect which gives you an estimate of how many of that species exist in that part of the Gulf of Mexico.

Bongo nets
In this picture I am helping Jeff bring the Bongo nets back on board the ship. (Picture by Francis Tran)

NOAA personnel aren’t the only scientists on board. There is also a volunteer named Marshall Johnson, who just finished his master’s degree at the University of South Alabama where he was working on a project involving larval fish and what they eat.  He chose to come on this cruise in order to help a fellow student collect samples for her Master’s degree.  Thus far he has been amazed by the vast array of sea life that have shown up in our nets and have been seen swimming around our ship.  He has almost finished his Master’s degree and his dream job would be to captain a charter boat so he can share his love of sea life and fishing with other people.  His advice for middle school students, “Dream big and follow your goals”.

Marshal Johnson
Marshal holding two of his favorite species in the dry lab.

We also have a NOAA intern on board named Francis Tran who is going into his junior year at Mississippi State University where he is studying electrical engineering.  He found out about the internship through his university and applied by submitting an essay and references to the coordinator of the program.  His advice for middle school students, “do something you love, don’t settle”.

Francis Tran
Francis with his favorite animal the brown shrimp.

Personal Log

We have been at sea for one whole week and honestly it is going better than I expected.  I was uncertain if I could live on a ship for this amount of time due to my intense independence.  I’m not used to giving up control of where I am and what I am doing so I feared I would be tempted to jump overboard and start swimming to shore by now.  However I have found that I’m quite content to stay on the ship and am enjoying my time at sea immensely.  However, I do miss my workouts. There is some exercise equipment on board but finding the time to use it is impossible.  I also miss my daily yoga practices but with the ship pitching from side to side unpredictably I’m afraid of giving it a try because it is quite possible I would be doing downward facing dog pose and the ship would pitch me head first into a wall.

In order for a ship to stay at sea for an extended time it must have a well-stocked galley (kitchen) and serve excellent food.  As I have mentioned before, the shifts are long and don’t exactly match up with normal meal times so it is important for the crew to be able to grab a little something in between meals.  For example since my shift starts at midnight I’m hungry for breakfast at about 2 a.m., not the normal breakfast time, but I’m able to pour myself some cereal so that I am working with a full stomach and am able to concentrate on my work.  However, we do have three wonderful meals prepared for us each day.  Paul and Walter are the men who work to make sure the crew and scientists are well taken care of when it comes to mealtimes.

The galley
Alonzo and Chris hanging out in the galley having a little snack.

Dave Grant: The Straits of Florida, March 3, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: March 3, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position:30 deg 37 min North Latitude & 79 deg 29 min West Longitude
Windspeed: 30 knots
Wind Direction: North
Air Temperature: 14.1 deg C / 57.4 deg F
Water Temperature: 25.6 deg C / 78.4 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1007.2 mb
Water Depth:740 meters / 2428 feet
Cloud Cover: 85%
Cloud Type: Cumulonimbus and Stratus

Science/Technology Log:

Entering the  Gulf Stream and Straits of Florida

“There is in the world no other such majestic flow of waters.
Its current is more rapid than the Mississippi or the Amazon.
Its waters, as far out from the Gulf as the Carolina coasts, are of an indigo blue.
They are so distinctly marked that their line of junction with the common sea-water
may be traced by the eye.”

Matthew Maury – The Physical Geography of the Sea

 While our cruise could hardly be called leisurely, most sampling has been spread out between sites, sometimes involving day-long periods on station while the CTD and moorings are recovered from great depths (5,000 meters). However, Chief Scientist Dr. Baringer regularly reminds us that west of the Bahamas in the Gulf Stream transect, our stations are in much shallower water (≤800 meters) and close together (The Florida Straits are only about 50 miles wide), so we should anticipate increased activity on deck and in the lab. In addition to the hydrology measurements, we will deploy a specialized net to sample those minute creatures that live at the surface film of the water – the neuston.

The Neuston net is deployed for a 10-minute tow.
The Neuston net is deployed for a 10-minute tow.

Now that we have crossed the Bahama Banks and are on-station, the routine is, as expected, very condensed, and there is little time to rest. What I did not anticipate was the great flow of the Gulf Stream and the challenge to the crew to keep the Brown on our East-West transect line as the current forces us north.  Additionally, as Wordsworth wrote, “with ships the sea was sprinkled far and wide”  and  we had to avoid many other craft, including another research ship sampling in the same area.

Ben Franklin is famous for having produced the first chart of this great Western Boundary Current, but naval officer Matthew Maury – America’s Scientist of the Sea – and author of what is recognized as the first oceanography text, best described it.  Remarkably, in The Physical Geography of the Sea, first published in 1855, he anticipates the significance of this major climate study project and summarizes it in a short and often-quoted paragraph:

“There is a river in the ocean. In the severest of droughts it never fails,
and in the mightiest floods it never overflows.
Its banks and its bottom are of cold water, while its current is of warm.
The Gulf of Mexico is its fountain, and its mouth is the Arctic seas.
It is the Gulf Stream.”

 

Gulf Stream water

CTD data from the Straits of Florida
1. Note that temperature (Red) decreases steadily with depth from about 26-degrees C at the surface,
to less than 10-degrees C at 700 meters. (Most of the ocean’s waters are cool where not warmed by sunlight).
2. Dissolved Oxygen (Green) varies considerably from a maximum at the surface, with a sharp decline at about 100 meters, and a more gradual decline to about 700 meters. (Phytoplankton in surface water produce excess oxygen through photosynthesis during daylight hours. At night and below about 100 meters, respiration predominates and organisms reduce the level of dissolved oxygen.)
3. Salinity (Blue) is related to atmospheric processes (Precipitation and Evaporation) and also varies according to depth, being saltiest at about 150 meters.

***************************
“Ron Brown: Phone Home!”

At Midnight, just within sight of the beam of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse (And to the relief of the home-sick sailors on board – “Finally –  after  more than two weeks, we are within the range of cell phone towers!”) we began our studies of the Straits of Florida and the Gulf Stream. Nine stations in rapid order – standing-by for a CTD cast, and then turning into the current to set the neuston net for a ten-minute tow.

The purpose of the net is to sample creatures that live on or visit the interface between air and water, so the mouth of the net is only half submerged. Neuston comes from the Greek for swimming and in warm waters a variety of invertebrates and even some young mesopelagic fishes rise within a few centimeters of the surface at night to filter phytoplankton and bacteria, and feed upon other zooplankton and even drowned terrestrial insects that have been blown out to sea.

On the upper side of this water/atmosphere interface, a smaller variety of floating invertebrates, notably Physalia  and Velella (Portuguese man-of-war and By-the-wind-sailor) use gas-filled buoyancy chambers or surface tension to ride the winds and currents. This much smaller group of seafarers is further classified by oceanographers as Pleuston.

Prior to this cruise, my experience with such a sampling device was limited – Years ago, spending miserable nights sailing in choppy seas off of Sandy Hook, NJ searching  for fishes eggs and larva rising to the surface after dark; and later, much more enjoyable times studying water striders – peculiar insects that spend their lives utilizing surface tension to skate along the surface of Cape Cod ponds.

Our CTD and net casts are complicated by rising winds and chop, but some great samples were retrieved. Once the net is recovered, we rinse it down with the seawater hose, collect everything from the bottle at the cod end, rinse off and separate the great mass of weed (Sargassum) and pickle the neuston in bottles of alcohol for analysis back at the lab.

Midnight shift: Recovering the net by moonlight.
Midnight shift: Recovering the net by moonlight.

Midnight shift: Recovering the net by moonlight.
Midnight shift: Recovering the net by moonlight.

Since much of the zooplankton community rises closer to the surface at night where phytoplankton is more concentrated and the chances of being preyed upon are slimmer, there are some noticeable differences in the samples taken then and during daylight hours. Unavoidably, both samples contain great quantities of Sargassum but the weed-colored carapaces of the different crustaceans are a clue to which specimens are from the Sargassum community and which are not.

Gulfweed Shrimp - Latreutes
Gulfweed Shrimp – Latreutes

We hit the jackpot early; snaring a variety of invertebrates and fishes, including the extraordinarily well-camouflaged Sargassum fish – a piscatorial phenomenon I’ve hoped to see ever since I was a kid reading William Beebe’s classic The Arcturus Adventure. What a tenuous existence for such a vulnerable and weak swimmer, hugging the Sargassum as it is dashed about in the waves. Even with its weed-like disguise and ability to blend in with the plants, it must lead a challenging life.

A unique member of the otherwise bottom-dwelling frogfishes, the Histrio histrio has smooth skin, and spends its life hitch-hiking along in the gulf-weed forest. Like other members of the family Antennariidae, it is an ambush predator, luring other creatures to their doom by angling with its fleshy fins.

The Sargassum fish (Histrio)
The Sargassum fish (Histrio)

Needlefish and Sargassum fish
Needlefish and Sargassum fish

Another highlight for me is the water striders we found in several samples. These “true bugs” (Hemiptera) are remarkable for several reasons. Most varieties of these “pond-skaters” (Or Jesus Bugs if you are from Texas) are found on calm freshwater lakes and streams, but a few members of this family (Gerridae) are the only true marine insects – representing a tentative Arthropod reinvasion of the sea after their splendid foray onto land hundreds of millions of years ago.

Two great finds: Sygnathus pelagicus– A Sargassum pipefish – a cousin of the sea horse. Halobates – the water strider. An example of the Pleuston community.
Two great finds:
Sygnathus pelagicus– A Sargassum pipefish – a cousin of the sea horse.
Halobates – the water strider. An example of the Pleuston community.

Using surface tension to their advantage, they “skate” along by flicking their middle and hind legs, and can even “communicate” with each other by vibrating the surface of the water with the hair-like setae on their feet. On lakes their prey is other insects like mosquito larvae, confined to the surface. How they manage to find food and communicate at the surface of the raging sea is a mystery, but whatever the means, they are adept at it, and we recovered them in half of the samples.

The ocean's insect: The  remarkable water stride
The ocean’s insect: The remarkable water stride

The scientists who provided the net are generally more interested in ichthyoplankton to monitor fish eggs and larvae to predict population trends, and monitor impacts like oil spills; so this is why samples are preserved to return to the lab in Miami.

Before packing up things after our marathon sampling spree I was able to examine our catch and observed a few things:
1. I am the “High-Hook” on the cruise – catching far more fishes (albeit tiny ones) than the rest of the crew with their fishing poles. (Needlefish, sargassum fish, pipe fish, filefish and several larval species)
2. Depending on the time of day the samples were taken, there is a marked difference in the quantity and composition of organisms that have separated from the Sargassum and settled in the sample jars – (Noticeably more at night than during daylight hours).
3. There appears to be a greater variety of sea grasses present (Turtle grass, etc.) on the eastern (Bahamas side) of the Straits. We observed one seabean – drift seeds and fruits (or disseminules) from terrestrial plants.
4. Plastic bits are present in all samples – particularly plastic ties (Table 1.)

Settled organisms in sample jars.
Settled organisms in sample jars.

Sargassum fauna: Portunid crab – with eggs on her belly.
(Portunus was a Roman god – Protector of harbors and gates,
who supposedly also invented navigation)

Belly view of a Caridean shrimp
Belly view of a Caridean shrimp

A tiny fish egg ready to hatch!
A tiny fish egg ready to hatch!

A larval fish begins its perilous journey in the Gulf Stream.
A larval fish begins its perilous journey in the Gulf Stream.

Site/Local time

Notable Contents*

Biomass Site Depth
8 Day 17:48 Weed, Grasses(3 spp) 3.0 mm 79˚12’ 485 m
7 Day 16:10 Grasses(4 spp) 2.0 mm 79˚17’ 616 m
6 Day 14:30 Grasses(2 spp) Fish eggs and larva Trace 79˚22’ 708 m
5 Day 12:45 Water striders, Grass (1 spp) Trace 79˚30’ 759 m
4 Day 10:13 Crustacean larva, shrimp (large), 7.0 mm 79˚36’ 646 m
3 Dawn 07:53 Crustacean larva, shrimp (large), water striders Trace 79˚41’ 543 m
2 Night 05:10 Crustacean larva, shrimp (small), Pipefish, water striders 7.0 mm 79˚46’ 388 m
1 Night 02:48 Crustacean larva, shrimp, needlefish, Sargassum fish, Herring(?), Portunid crabs, shrimp (large), Copepods 13 mm 79˚51’ 264 m
0 Night 00:37 Crustacean larva, shrimp, Copepods 25 mm 79˚56’ 148 m

*Plastic bits and Sargassum weed and its endemic epibionts are present in all samples.

Table 1.   Contents in sample jars.

There is a marked difference in the quantity and composition of organisms collected at night (Left).
There is a marked difference in the quantity and composition of organisms collected at night (Left).

There is a marked difference in the quantity and composition of organisms collected at night (Left) and during the day (Right).
There is a marked difference in the quantity and composition of organisms collected during the day (Right).

With sampling completed we steer north to ride the Gulf Stream towards the Brown’s home-port,  and turn away from the bright lights of Florida …

“Where the spent lights quiver and gleam;
Where the salt weed sways in the stream;
Where the sea-beasts rang’d all around
Feed in the ooze of their pasture ground:”

Matthew Arnold

"Red sky at morning...sailor take warning!"
“Red sky at morning…sailor take warning!”

Homeward bound:

A storm battering the Midwest will impede our progress back north to Charleston and threatens to bring us the only foul weather of the cruise. Note the location of the cold front over the Florida Straits.

“Now the great winds shoreward blow;
Now the salt tides seaward flow;
Now the wild white horses play,
Champ and chafe and toss the spray.”
Matthew Arnold

As the sailors say: "The sheep are grazing." A gale is brewing and kicking up whitecaps as we sail north to Charleston.
As the sailors say: “The sheep are grazing.”
A gale is brewing and kicking up whitecaps as we sail north to Charleston.

Dave Grant: The “River in the Ocean”, March 2, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: March 2, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26 degrees 19 minutes North Latitude & 79 degrees 55 minutes West Longitude
Windspeed: 14 knots
Wind Direction: South
Air Temperature: 25.4 deg C / 77.7 deg F
Water Temperature: 26.1 deg C / 79 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1014.7 mb
Water Depth: 242 m / 794 feet
Cloud Cover: none
Cloud Type: NA

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass,
it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

Henry Miller

My evenings looking through the microscope are a short course in invertebrate zoology. Every drop of water filtered through the plankton net reveals new and mystifying creatures. Perhaps 90% of marine invertebrates, like newly hatched mollusks and crustaceans, spend part of their life in a drifting stage – meroplankton; as opposed to holoplankton – organisms that are planktonic throughout their life cycle.

MOLLUSK LARVAE

Bivalve
Bivalve

 Univalve
Univalve

The lucky individuals that escape being eaten, and are near a suitable substrate at the right moment, settle out into a sedentary life far from their place of origin. For the long distance travelers swept up in the Gulf Stream, the most fortunate waifs of the sea that survive long enough might make it all the way to Bermuda. The only hope for the remainder is to attach to a piece of flotsam or jetsam, or an unnatural and unlikely refuge like the electronic picket fence of moorings the Ron Brown is servicing east of the Bahamas.

“The gaudy, babbling, and remorseful day,
Is crept into the bosom of the sea.”
Shakespeare

A league and a half* of cable, sensors and a ton of anchor chain are wrestled on deck during a day-long operation in the tropical heat. (*A mariner’s league equals three nautical miles or 3041 fathoms [18,246 feet])

It is easy to be humbled by the immensity of the sea and the scope of the mooring project while observing miles of cable and buoys stretched towards the horizon, about to be set in place with a ton of anchor chain gingerly swung off the stern for its half-hour trip to the bosom of the sea.

Thanks to the hard labor and alert eyes of our British and French (“And Irish”) colleagues retrieving and deploying the attached temperature and salinity sensors, I am regularly directed to investigate “something crawling out of the gear” or to photograph bite marks from deep sea denizens on very expensive, but sturdy equipment.

A retrieved sensor with bite marks.
A retrieved sensor with bite marks.

To my surprise, other than teeth marks, very little evidence of marine life is present on the miles of lines and devices strung deeper than about 200 meters. This may be due in part to the materials of which they are constructed and protective coatings to prevent bio-fouling, but sunlight or more precisely, the attenuation of it as one goes deeper, is probably the most important factor.

Fireworm (Drawings and images by Dave Grant - NOAA Ron Brown)
Fireworm
(Drawings and images by Dave Grant – NOAA Ron Brown)

Handle with care! Close-up of worm spines
Handle with care! Close-up of worm spines

The first discovery I was directed to was a striking red bristle worm wiggling out of the crevice in a buoy.  It appears to be one of the reef-dwelling Amphinomids – the aptly-named fireworms that SCUBA divers in the Caribbean avoid because of their venomous spines; so I was cautious when handling it.  This proved to be the deepest-dwelling organism we found, along with some minute growths of stony and soft corals.

Five o’clock shadow” on a buoy – A year’s growth of fouling organisms – only an inch tall.

On shallower buoys and equipment, there are sparse growths of brown and blue-green algae, small numbers of goose barnacles, tiny coiled limey tubes of Serpulid worms like the Spirobis found on the floating gulfweed, some non-descript bivalves (Anomia?) covered with other fouling growth, skeleton shrimp creeping like inch-worms, and of course the ubiquitous Bryozoans. Searching through this depauperate community not as challenging as the plankton samples, but not surprising since our distance from land, reefs or upwelling areas – and especially clear water and lack of seabirds and fishes; are all indicators that this is a nutrient-deficient, less productive part of the ocean.

   

Bio-fouling – “on the half-shell.”                       Skeleton shrimp (Caprellidae)

The Ron Brown is the largest workhorse in the NOAA fleet and its labs and decks are intentionally cleared of equipment between cruises so that visiting scientists can bring aboard their own gear that is best suited to their specific project needs. NOAA’s physical oceanographers from Miami arrived with a truckload of crates holding Niskin water sampling bottles for the CTD and their chemistry equipment for DO (Dissolved Oxygen) and salinity measurements; and in a large shipping container (“Ship-tainer”) from England, the British and French (“and Irish”) scientists transported their own remote sensing gear, buoys, and (quite literally) tons of massive chain and cables to anchor their moorings. (I am surprised to learn from the “Brits” that the heavy chain is shipped all the way from England because it is increasingly hard to acquire. )

In the lab: Scores of sensors serviced and ready for deployment
In the lab: Scores of sensors serviced and ready for deployment

This is how most science is facilitated on the Brown and it requires many months of planning and pre-positioning of materials. I am lucky and can travel light – and with little advanced preparation. I am using simple methods to obtain plankton samples and images via a small portable microscope, digital camera and plankton net which I can cram into my backpack for any trips that involve large bodies of water. The little Swift* scope has three lens (4x, 10x, 40x) with a 10x ocular, and I get great resolution at 40x, and can get decent resolution to 100x. Using tips from Dave Bulloch (Handbook for the Marine Naturalist) I am able to push that somewhat with a simple Nikon Coolpix* point-and-shoot camera – but lose some of the sharpness with digital zoom.  As you might suspect, the ship’s movement and engine vibration can be a challenge when peering through the scope, but is satisfactory for some preliminary identification. (*These are not commercial endorsements, but I can be bought if either company is willing to fund my next cruise!)

PHYTOPLANKTON

Centric diatom - Coscinodiscus
Centric diatom – Coscinodiscus

    

Dinoflagellates –  Different Ceratium species

ZOOPLANKTON

A Plankton précis

Collecting specimens would be much more difficult without the cooperation of the Brown’s crew and visiting scientists, and their assistance is always reliable and appreciated. The least effective method of collection has been by filtering the deep, cold bottom water brought up in the Niskin bottles. As mentioned earlier, no live specimens were recovered; only fragments of diatom and Silicoflagellate skeletons surviving the slow drift to the bottom, which I have been able to identify through deep sea core images posted at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership website.

Needless to say, the most indiscriminate method of collection and the most material collected is through the large neuston net. The greatest biomass observed on the trip is the millions of tons of Sargassum weed, which covers the surface in great slacks around us that are even visible in satellite images.

Although the continuous flow of ocean water pumped into the wet lab and through my plankton net is effective and the most convenient collection method, the most surprising finds are from the saltwater intake screens that the engineer directed me to. This includes bizarre crystal-clear, inch-long, and paper-thin Phylosoma – larvae of tropical lobsters – that I initially mistook for pieces of plastic.

Inch-long Phylosoma larvae on a glass slide. (One of the tropical lobsters.)
Inch-long Phylosoma larvae on a glass slide. (One of the tropical lobsters.)

“All the ingenious men, and all the scientific men, and all the fanciful men in the world …
…could never invent anything so curious and so ridiculous, as a lobster.”

Charles Kingsley -The Water-Babies

Plankton communities are noticeably different between the Gulf Stream, inshore, and offshore in the pelagic waters east of the Bahamas.  Near the coast, either the shallower Bahama Banks or the neritic waters over the continental shelf closer to Charleston, the plankton is larger, more familiar to me and less challenging to sort, including: copepods, mollusk larvae and diatoms. Steaming over the shelf waters at night, the ship’s wake is often phosphorescent, and dinoflagellates, including the “night-light” Noctiluca are common in those samples.

Dinoflagellate - Noctiluca
Dinoflagellate – Noctiluca

 The waters east of the Bahamas along the transect line are notable for their zooplankton, including great numbers and varieties of Foraminifera, and some striking amphipod shrimp. Compared to cooler waters I am familiar with, subtropical waters here have over a dozen species of Forams, and some astonishingly colorful shrimp that come up nightly from deeper water.

It’s not all work and no play on the Ron Brown, and there are entertaining moments like decorating foam cups with school logos to send down with the CTD to document the extreme pressure at the bottom. Brought back to class, these graphically illustrate to younger students the challenges of deep sea research.

Foam cup:  Before-and-after a trip to 5,000 meters
Foam cup: Before-and-after a trip to 5,000 meters

Navigating by Dead-reckoning

On calm days while we are being held on-station by the Brown’s powerful thrusters, I can measure current speeds using Sargassum clumps as Dutchman’s logs as they drift by. Long before modern navigation devices, sailors would have to use dead-reckoning techniques to estimate their progress.  One method used a float attached to a measured spool of knotted line (A log-line), trailing behind the moving vessel. The navigator counted the number of knots that passed through his hands as the line played out behind the ship to estimate the vessel’s speed (in knots). Since nothing is to be tossed off the Brown, I rely on a simpler method by following the progress of the Sargassum as it drifts by stem-to-stern while we are stationary at our sampling site. Since I know the length of the Brown at the waterline (~100-meters), I can estimate current speed by observing drifting Sargassum.

Watching sargassum, I wonder if a swimmer could keep pace with the currents in these waters. When in college
my brothers and would strive to cover a 100-meter race by swimming it in under a minute. Here is the data from east of the Bahamas. See if you can determine the current speed there and if a good swimmer could keep pace.

ESTIMATING CURRENT SPEED

Data on currents:
Average of three measurements of Sargassum drifting  the length of the Ron Brown = 245 seconds.
Length of the Ron Brown – 100-meters.

1. How many meters per second is the current east of the Bahamas?
2. As a swimmer in college – with my best time in the 100-meters freestyle of one minute – could I have kept up with the Ron Brown… or been swept away towards the Bahamas?

For more on currents, visit my site at the college:
http://ux.brookdalecc.edu/staff/sandyhook/Student%20Page%201/TUTS-2-09-1/Index.html

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Other navigational exercises I try to include determining Latitude and Longitude. Latitude is easy as long as you can shoot the sun at midday or find the altitude of Polaris in the night sky; and sailors have done that for centuries. The ship’s navigator will get out the sextant for this, or, since the width of one’s fist is about 10-degrees of sky, I can estimate the height of both of these navigational beacons by counting the number of fists between the star and the horizon.

ESTIMATING LATITUDE

Data:
Night observation (Shooting the North Star) – Number of Fists from the Northern horizon to Polaris = 3
Day observation (Shooting the Sun) – Number of Fists from the Southern horizon to the Sun = 5.5

If the width of a fist is equal to about 10-degrees of horizon, our estimate of Latitude using Polaris is 30-degrees (3 x 10).
Not too bad an estimate on a rocking ship at night, compared to our actual location (See Data from the Bridge at the top.).

Shooting the Sun at its Zenith at 12:30 that day gives us its altitude as 55-degrees – which seems too high unless we consider the earth’s tilt (23.5-degrees). So if we deduct that (55 – 23.5) we get 31.5, which is closer to our actual position. And if we consult an Almanac, we know that the sun is still about six degrees below the Equator on its seasonal trip North; so by deducting that (31.5 – 6) we end up with an estimate of 25.5-degrees. This is an even better estimate of our Latitude.

Here is the dreaded word problem:

By shooting the Sun, our best estimate of Latitude is 25.5 degrees (25 degrees/30 minutes)
The actual Latitude of the ship using GPS is 26-degrees/19 minutes.
If there are 60 minutes to a degree of Latitude – each of those minutes representing a Nautical Mile – how many Nautical Miles off course does our estimate place us on the featureless sea?

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Longitude is much harder to determine if you don’t have an accurate timepiece to compare local time with universal time (The time at Greenwich, England), and an accurate ship’s chronometer wasn’t in use until the mid-1700’s.
To understand the challenge of designing a precise timepiece that reliably will function at sea, I used two crucial clock mechanisms:  a pendulum and a spring. Finding a spring was easy, since “Doc” had a scale at Sick Bay. For the pendulum I fashioned a small weight swinging on a string)

Using the scale to observe the ship’s motion.
Using the scale to observe the ship’s motion.

Standing on the scale and swinging the pendulum even in calm weather quickly demonstrated three things:

First: I have developed my sea legs, and no longer notice the regular motion of the ship.
Second: Even when the sea feels calm, the scale’s spring mechanism swings back and forth under my weight; adding and deducting 20 pounds to my real weight and reflecting the ship’s rocking that I no longer notice.
Three: On rough days, even if I can hold still, the ship’s heaving, pitching and rolling alters my pendulum’s reliable swing – its movements reflecting the ship’s indicator in the lab. Experimenting helps me appreciate clock-maker John Harrison, and his massive, 65-pound No. 1 Ship’s Chronometer  he presented to the Royal Navy in 1728.

Ship movement as recorded by the computer
Ship movement as recorded by the computer

Doc: Always on duty -  Sick Bay on the Ron Brown
Doc: Always on duty – Sick Bay on the Ron Brown

Besides having very well-provisioned Sick Bays, NOAA ships have experienced and very competent medical officers.  Our “Doc” received his training at Yale, and served as a medic during the Gulf War.

Especially alert to anyone who exhibits even the mildest symptoms of sea-sickness, Christian is available 24-hours for emergencies – and in spite of the crew constantly wrestling with heavy equipment on a rocking deck, we’ve only experienced a few minor bumps and bruises. He has regular office hours every day, and is constantly on the move around the ship when not on duty there.

Besides keeping us healthy, he helps keep the ship humming by testing the drinking water supply (The Brown desalinates seawater when underway, but takes on local water while in port); surveys all departments for safety issues; and with the Captain, has the final word if-or-when a cruise is to be terminated if there is a medical emergency.

Since a storm pounding the Midwest will head out to sea and cross our path when we head north to Charleston, he is reminding everyone that remedies for sea sickness are always available at his office door, and thanks to NASA and the space program, if the motion sickness pills don’t work, he has available stronger medicine. So far we have been blessed with relatively calm weather and a resilient crew.

                          The warm  (Red) Gulf Stream waters viewed from a satellite iamge.
The warm (Red) Gulf Stream waters viewed from a satellite image.

 Contact: The edge of the Gulf Stream - Matthew Maury’s  River in the Ocean
Contact: The edge of the Gulf Stream – Matthew Maury’s River in the Ocean

Birdwatching on the Ron Brown

For the time being I take advantage of the calm seas to scrutinize what’s under the microscope, and when on break, look for seabirds. East of the Bahamas, as anticipated after consulting ornithologist Poul Jespersen’s map of Atlantic bird sightings, I only spotted two birds over a two-week stretch at sea (storm petrels). This is very much in contrast to the dozens of species and hundreds of seabirds spotted in the rich waters of the Humboldt Current off of Chile , where I joined the Brown in 2008.
(http://ux.brookdalecc.edu/staff/Web%2012-2-04/seabirds/Brown%20terns%202/Terns%20%20fixed/SEPacific.html)

Passing through Bahamian waters was no more rewarding, but now that we are west and in the Florida Straits there are several species of gulls during the day, and at night more storm petrels startled by the ship’s lights. One windy night a large disoriented bird (Shearwater?) suddenly fluttered out of the dark and brushed my head before bumping a deck light and careening back out into the darkness. Throughout the day a cohort of terns has taken up watch on the forward mast of the Brown and noisily, they juggle for the best positions at the bow – resting until the ship flushes a school of flying fishes, and then swooping down across the water trying and snatch one in mid-air.  Like most fishermen, they are successful only about 10% of the time.

Royal tern "on station" at the jack mast.
Caspian tern “on station” at the jack mast.

Royal tern "on station" at the jack mast.
Royal tern “on station” at the jack mast.

  

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Despite the dreary forecast from the Captain, Wes and I are enthusiastic about all we have done on the cruise and formulated a list of why NOAA’s Teacher At Sea program is so rewarding.

Top Ten Reasons:
Why be a Teacher At Sea?

10. Fun and excitement exploring the oceans!

9. Meeting dedicated and diligent scientists and crew from around the world!

8. Bragging rights in the Teachers’ Room – and endless anecdotes!

7. Cool NOAA t-shirts, pins and hats from the Ship’s Store!

6. Great meals, three times a day…and FREE laundry!

5. Amazing sunsets, sunrises and star-watches!

4. Reporting on BIG science to students…and in real-time!

3. Outstanding and relevant knowledge brought back to students and colleagues!

2. First-hand experience that relates to your students’ career objectives!

1. Rewarding hours in the lab and fieldremembering why you love science and sharing it with students!

Powerpoint:
Shots from the deck and under the microscope

(Drawings and images by Dave Grant – NOAA Ron Brown)

Dave Grant: Horse Latitudes, February 22, 2012


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 22, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position:26.30 N – 75.42 W
Windspeed: 0
Wind Direction: Calm
Air Temperature: 29 C
Water Temperature: 24 C
Atm Pressure: 1025
Water Depth: 4,410 meters
Cloud Cover: 0
Cloud Type: Slight haze

Science/Technology Log:

We are becalmed and even the veteran sailors onboard are remarking on how flat the sea has become. At about 30 degrees North and South Latitude, moist, low pressure air that was heated and lifted from the surface at the Equator has cooled and is now plunging back down to Earth, forming a line of light winds in a band across the sea. This dry, high pressure air becomes the Trade winds as it is drawn back towards the Equator along the sea surface in what is called a Hadley Cell (After its discoverer). We seem to be on the edge of this meteorological milepost, which was more than a nuisance in the days of sail. If stranded in its pattern too long, food and especially drinking water became an issue, and the first to suffer would be animals being transported from the Old World to the New. Legend has it that subsequent voyagers would come across their carcasses…hence the name Horse Latitudes.

While observing ships returning to port near his home, sixteen year-old future rock star Jim Morrison (The DOORS)  composed what is perhaps his most eerie ballot – Horse Latitudes.

“When the still sea conspires an armor
And her sullen and aborted
Currents breed tiny monsters
True sailing is dead
Awkward instant
And the first animal is jettisoned
Legs furiously pumping”

However, the stable ship makes deck work easier and I am catching up on samples under the microscope, including some of my own tiny “monsters” that the currents have bred.

It is the astonishing variety of life that makes the sea such a fascinating
hunting ground. Get a tow-net, dredge and simple microscope,
and a new world is yours – a world of endless surprises.”

(Sir Alister Hardy)

The chief survey technician set me up  with his  flow-through seawater system and I can leave a net under it to continuously gather plankton. I have noticed some patterns already.
One: Phytoplankton is scarce compared to temperate waters off of New Jersey, and this helps account for the clarity and
brilliant blue color of the water. The absence of large rivers here adding nutrients to the system, and little coastal
upwelling,  means that there is little to fertilize plantlife.
Two: More accumulates in the nets at night, confirming that Zooplankton rises to the surface at in the dark. This diurnal
pattern of the plankton community has been well documented ever since biologists and fishermen went to sea.
Three: Also, there is much more plankton at the surface than in deeper water. This is no surprise since sunlight is the
key ingredient at the surface of this ocean ecosystem.
Four: Creatures from offshore tend to have a more feathery look about them than inshore species. This added surface
area may use the turbulence to help support them near the surface  and increase their buoyancy.

It is said:  “Turn off the sun, and the oceans will starve to death in a week.”  It is assumed that among other stresses on the Biosphere that accompany disastrous impacts of large asteroids, dust and ash from these rare collisions block out enough sunlight to stifle photosynthesis, causing Phytoplankton (The “Pasture of the Sea”) to waste away, and setting the stage for the collapse of the Food Chain and mass extinction events. Fortunately we have plenty of brilliant sunshine here and no celestial catastrophes on the horizon.

Some of the most interesting Zooplankton are the Pteropods, the Sea Butterflies.

   
Empty shell and live pteropod specimen
(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

The renowned oceanographer Alister Hardy used them as indicators of different water masses flowing around the British Isles; and New England’s great oceanographer, Alfred Redfield correlated their drifting with the anti-clockwise circulation of water in the Gulf of Maine. Although most are small and less than an inch long, they feed on a variety of creatures and in turn become food for many others. In surface waters they gather phytoplankton, some utilizing cilia and mucus to sweep food to the mouth; but in deeper waters, others are carnivorous.

I am informed by our English colleagues that on Europe’s fishing grounds, they are sometimes fed upon by herring, cod and haddock; which is bad news for British fishermen, whose catch rapidly decays and is not marketable. Such fish are referred to as “black gut” or “stinkers.”

How concentrated are pteropods? Whales and seabirds that we hope to encounter later in the cruise are sustained by them, and in the warmer waters of the Atlantic, at relatively shallow depths and on the tops of submerged peaks at around 2,000 meters, R.S. Wimpenny reports considerable deposits of “pteropod ooze” from their descending shells, covering an estimated 1,500,000 square kilometers of the bottom of the Atlantic (An area the size of the Gulf of Mexico.). Like the Foraminifera, in deeper waters the aragonite in their shells (a more soluble form of calcium carbonate) dissolves, and other sediments like silicates from diatoms accumulate instead. Check out any oceanography text and you are likely to find a picture of this biogenic pteropod mud, as well as other types of deposits.

At least 90% of the animals in the ocean are meroplankton – spending time in this itinerant stage before becoming adults. This phase may vary from a few days to over a year, depending on the creature. (European eels larva are the long distance champions; for over a year, drifting from below us in their Sargasso Sea breeding grounds, all the way to rivers in Britain and France.)

Drifting larvae are cheap insurance for a species, filling the surrounding habitat with individuals of your own kind, settling in new areas and expanding ranges, and particularly, not lingering around their birthplace and competing with the parent stock. However, most individuals simply end up as food for other creatures that are higher on the food chain.

Not surprising, there are copepods, the “cattle of the sea” grazing on smaller organisms.

  
(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Calanus finmarchicus is sometimes called the most abundant animal in the world and is found throughout the oceans, sustaining many types of marinelife; even right whales and basking sharks off the coast of New England.

Other sea soup and children of the sea that author David Bulloch likes to call them, drift by me and swim circuits trapped by surface tension in the water drop under the microscope.

  
Radiolaria are single cell Protozoa that not only ensnare food with mucous, but harbor mutualistic algae
among their spines. (100 x’s)


More live pelagic snails. (Pteropod means winged foot.)

  
An empty shell with  copepod sheltered inside. Other skeletons filled with Paramecia, and a mixed sample of shells
and dust particles.  (Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Now that is calm, everyone seems to have their sea legs and are comfortable talking about their bouts of mal de mer.
Here is the worst story about sea sickness I have come across:

 From Dave Grant’s collection of sea stories:
The world’s worst tale of seasickness.
As told by Ulysses S. Grant in his Memoirs

One amusing circumstance occurred while we were lying at anchor in Panama Bay. In the regiment there was a Lieutenant Slaughter who was very liable to seasickness. It almost made him sick to see the wave of a table-cloth when the servants were spreading it. Soon after his graduation [from West Point] Slaughter was ordered to California and took passage by a sailing vessel going around Cape Horn. The vessel was seven months making the voyage, and Slaughter was sick every moment of the time, never more so than while lying at anchor after reaching his place of destination. On landing in California he found orders that had come by way of the Isthmus [Panama], notifying him of a mistake in his assignment; he should have been ordered to the northern lakes. He started back by the Isthmus route and was sick all the way. But when he arrived back East he was again ordered to California, this time definitely, and at this date was making his third trip. He was sick as ever, and had been so for more than a month while lying at anchor in the bay. I remember him well, seated with his elbows on the table in front of him, his chin between his hands, and looking the picture of despair. At last he broke out, “I wish I had taken my father’s advice; he wanted me to go into the navy; if I had done so, I should not have had to go to sea so much.”

Poor Slaughter! It was his last sea voyage. He was killed by Indians in Oregon.

Dave Grant: Going “Blue Water”
, February 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 17, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South/Southeast
Air Temperature: 23.9 deg C/75 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.5 deg C/76 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1016.23 mb
Water Depth: 4625 meters/15,174 feet
Cloud Cover: less than 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Science/Technology Log

Sailors used to describe their trips as short-haul or coastal,
or “long seas” which also was described as going “Blue Water”


We are off to a great start after passing the harbor lighthouse and breakwater, and the seas are calm and winds gentle. The Low Country and barrier islands of South Carolina disappear quickly over the horizon, and the most striking change for me is the color of the water. As we have transited from the sediment rich waters upriver, to the estuary, and out to the ocean, its color has gone from grayish, to green to blue.

Bay/Estuary water in Charleston

Gulf Stream water

As a rapid indicator of what’s going on within it biologically, oceanographers use the color of the water. To quantify their observations for other scientist to compare results, a white secchi disc is lowered just below the surface and the observer compares the ocean’s color with tinted water in a series of small vials – the Forel-Ule Scale. (Francois Forel was an oceanographer and his end of the scale is the bluest; and Willi Ule was a limnologist and his end of the scale is darker, reflecting the fresh waters he studied.) The 21 colors run the gambit of colors found in natural waters and modified by the plankton community and range from brownish-to-green-to-blue. This gives you a quick measure of productivity of the waters and the types of phytoplankton predominating. For example: Diatom blooms are brownish and Dinoflagellate blooms form the notorious red tides. Clear, less productive waters look blue, and we are sailing into waters that are a deeper blue with every league we sail.

I lack a secchi disk and we can’t stop the ship to lower one anyway, so I am using instead a scupper on the side as a photographic frame to document this well-studied and interesting phenomenon.

“Being on a boat that’s moving through the water, it’s so clear.
Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important, and what’s not.”
(James Taylor)

Before departing on the trip I came across Richard Pough’s bird map of the Atlantic. On it he divides the ocean into 10-degree quadrants and indicates the average water temperature and number of birds he sighted daily. The good news is we are heading southeast into warmer waters. The bad news is, he does not indicate a very productive hunting ground for bird watching. For example, Cape Hatteras, NC, where the Gulf Stream skirts North Carolina, shows 40 birds. Off the highly productive sub-polar regions like Iceland where there are great breeding colonies of seabirds like gannets, he indicates scores of birds. Regardless, I am hopeful we will find some true seabirds to photograph on our voyage; and perhaps have some migrating songbirds drop in for a rest.

Gulf Stream sunset

Today, as our colleague Wes Struble discusses on his blog, we retrieved our first samples with the CTD rosette. Water is retrieved from predetermined levels between the surface and 4,500 meters sealed in bottles for salinity and dissolved oxygen analysis. These two physical features, along with temperature, are the benchmarks physical oceanographers rely upon to track the ocean circulation.

For an understanding of this process and an overview of the project, I met with Molly Baringer in her office – a large bench that the ship’s carpenter built on deck. It seats three and is similar to a lifeguard stand, so it can give a view of the water and fit over the [dis]array of equipment constantly being shifted around the fantail by various scientists and deck hands. With the calm seas and sunny weather, it is the perfect spot on the ship to sit with a laptop to outline daily assignments for all of us, review the mass of data streaming in, and relax to watch the sunset.

“When I am playful,
I use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude for a seine,
and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales!”

Mark Twain

Scientists and crew prepare to retrieve a mooring before the next big wave!

Chief scientist Dr. Baringer is a physical oceanographer and so is interested less in the creatures moving around in the ocean and more about the water currents that are moving them around, and particularly the vast amount of heat that is transferred from the Equator to the Polar Regions by “rivers in the sea” like the Gulf Stream.

 Currents and storms in our atmosphere produce our daily weather patterns, which of course change seasonally too. Ocean currents work on a much longer time scale and the text book example of the turnover time of warm water moving Pole-ward, cooling and returning to the Tropics as “centuries.” This timeframe infers that dramatic fluctuations in climate do not occur.

However, by analyzing ice cores from Greenland, scientists recently have detected evidence of abrupt changes in climate – particularly a significant cooling event 8,200 years ago – that could be associated with vacillations in the Gulf Stream. Although lacking a blackboard at her impromptu lecture hall on deck, a patient Dr. Baringer was artful in walking me through a semester of climatology and modeling to highlight the implications of an oscillating Gulf Stream and its deepwater return waters – the Deep Western Boundary Current.

Surface water is driven from the southern latitudes towards the Poles along the western side of the Atlantic, constantly deflected in a clockwise pattern by the Earth’s rotation. Bathing Iceland with warm and saltier water and keeping it unusually mild for its sub-polar latitude, the Gulf Stream divides here with some water flowing into the Arctic Sea and the rest swirling down the Eastern Atlantic moderating the climate in Great Britain, France and Portugal. (This explains the presence of a rugged little palm tree that I once saw growing in a Scottish garden.)

Perturbations in the northward flow of heat by meanderings of the Gulf Stream or the smothering of it of it by lighter fresh waters from melting ice in Greenland and Canada appears play a significant role in occasionally upsetting Europe’s relatively mild and stable climate – which is bad enough. What is more alarming is new evidence that these changes don’t necessarily occur gradually over centuries as once assumed, but can take place rapidly, perhaps over decades.

There is more bad news. The surface of the sea is dynamic and even without wind and waves, there are gentle hills and valleys between areas. I remember my surprise when our physical oceanography teacher, Richard Hires, pointed out that because of warmer water and displacement by the Earth’s rotation, Gulf Stream waters are about a meter higher than the surrounding ocean…that to sail East into it from New Jersey, we are actually going uphill. If these giant boundary currents are suppressed in their movements, it will exasperate an ongoing coastal problem as those hills and valleys of water flatten, resulting in rising sea levels and erosion along northern coastlines.

This explains why we are “line sailing” at 26.5 North, sampling water and monitoring sensors arrayed on the parallel of latitude between Africa and the Bahamas. To measure change, it is necessary to have baseline data, and the stretch of the Atlantic is the best place to collect it.

Snap shots of the water column are taken using the CTD apparatus as we sail an East-West transect, but at $30-50,000. Per day for vessel time, this is not practical or affordable. Here is where moorings, data recorders and long-life Lithium batteries come into play. By anchoring a line of sensors in strategic locations and at critical depths to take hourly readings, year-long data sets can be recorded and retrieved periodically. Not only does this save time and money, it is the only way to generate the ocean of data for researchers to analyze and create a model of what is happening over such a vast region – and what may occur in the future.

For more specific details, check out the project overview.

Deep Western Boundary Current Transport Time Series to study:
-the dynamics and variability of ocean currents;
-the redistribution of heat, salt and momentum through the oceans;
-the interactions between oceans, climate, and coastal environments; and
-the influence of climate changes and of the ocean on extreme weather events.
Information at:  http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/phod/wbts/ies/index.php

We hear that “The package is on deck” and it is time to collect water samples from the 24 different depths the Niskin bottles were fired (Remotely closed). As any aquarist will assure you, as soon as seawater is contained it begins to change, so we always start with the bottom water and work around to the top water since dissolved oxygen levels can drop with rising temperatures and biological activity from planktonic creatures trapped along with the water samples.

Although as oceanography students we read that most ocean water is quite cold (~3.5C)  because only the top 100 meters soaks up the warmth from sunlight, it is still an awakening for me to fill the sample bottles with even colder bottom water. After a half hour of rinsing and filling bottles, my hands are reminded of the times I worked in an ice cream parlor restocking containers from the freezer and filling soft-serve cones. It is a delight to get to the last several bottles of warm (25C) surface water.

Once the DO and salinity bottles are filled, they are removed to the chemistry lab and the Niskins are all mine. By holding a small plankton net under them as they drain excess water, I try my luck at catching whatever has almost settled to the bottom. There is an extra bonus too. A patch of floating Sargassum weed that tangled in the rosette was retrieved by the technician and set aside for me to inspect.

Windrows of Sargassum weed drift past the Ron Brown

Here is what I found under the microscope so far:

From depth:

The bottom water is absolutely clear with no obvious life forms swimming around. However a magnification of 50x’s and the extra zoom of my handy digital camera set-up reveals a number of things of interest I am sorting into AB&C’s:
Abiotic: Specks of clear mineral crystals. Are these minute sediments washed from the mainland or nearby Caribbean islands? Or is it possible they are quartz grains carried from much greater distances, like the Saharan dust that satellite images have proven are swept up by desert winds and carried all the way across the Atlantic?

Biotic: Although I can not find anything living, the silica dioxide skeletons (frustules) of at least two species of diatoms are present. These fragile fragments of glass accumulate in deep sediments below highly productive zones in the sea and different species are useful to paleontologists for determining the age of those deposits. On land, fossil diatom deposits are mined for diatomaceous earth – used as an abrasive and cleaner, pool filter material, and even in nanotechnologyresearch applications. There is other detrital material in the samples, but nothing identifiable.

Celestial(?): One tiny round particle caught my attention under the microscope. It looks like the images I’ve seen of microtektites – glassy and metallic meteor particles that have been molded by the heat of entry into the atmosphere. The Draxler brothers, two science students in Massachusetts, collect them and I hope they will confirm my identification when I see them again.

Dust particle (Right) and foraminifera (Center)

From the surface:

The warm, sunlit surface water here is covered with Sargassum weed, a curious algae that sustains an entire ecosystem in the waters mariners named the Sargasso Sea. On board the Brown it is simply called “weed” in part because it can be a minor nuisance when entangled with equipment. The Sargassum’s air bladders that support it at the surface reminded Portuguese sailors of their sargazagrapes and they named the gulfweed after them.

Can you spot the two Sargassum shrimp next to the air bladder?

Floating Sargassum weed harbors a great variety of other creatures including baby sea turtles, crustaceans and especially bryozoan colonies. The film of life encrusting the weed is sometimes called aufwuchs by scientists and is a combined garden and zoo.

A quick rinse in a plastic bag revealed two species of bryozoan and numerous tiny crustaceans. The Phylum Bryozoa is the “moss animals” a puzzling colonial creature to early biologists. Bryozoans are an ancient group with a long fossil record and are used by paleontologists as an “index” species to date sediments.

Byozoan colony

To my delight there were also some foraminifera in the samples. “Forams” as they are called by researchers, are single celled protozoa with calcium carbonate skeletons. They are abundant and widespread in the sea; having had 330 million years to adjust to different habitats – drifting on the surface in the plankton community and on benthic habitats on the bottom.

It is not necessary for you to go to sea with a microscope to find them. I have seen their skeletons imbedded in the exterior walls of government buildings in Washington, DC; and our own lab building at Sandy Hook, NJ has window sills cut from Indiana limestone – formed at the bottom of the warm Mesozoic seas that once covered the Midwest. In the stone, a magnifying glass reveals pin-head sized forams cemented among a sea of Bryozoan fragments. Some living forams from tropical lagoons are large enough to be seen without a magnifier, and  are among the largest single-celled creatures on the planet. With a drop of acid (The acid test!) our Geology students confirm that our window sills are indeed made of limestone as the drops fizzing reaction releases carbon dioxide sequestered when the animal shell formed.

Living foraminifera eat algae, bacteria and detritus and are fed upon by fishes, crustaceans and mollusks. Dead forams make contributions to us by carrying the carbon in their skeletons to the bottom where it is sequestered for long geological periods.

Geologists also use different species of forams as “index” species to fix the date of strata in sediment cores and rocks. The appearance and demise of their different fossil assemblages leave a systematic record of stability and change in the environment; and paleoclimatologists use the ratios of Carbon and Oxygen isotopes in their skeletons document past temperature ranges.

Our first plankton samples extracted from the deepest samples retrieved from the Niskin bottles at 4,000 meters (2.5C) did not produce any forams. This may be because in deep, cold water, calcium carbonate is more soluble and the skeletons dissolve. Presumably why we identified only the glassy tests of diatoms.

Foraminifera shell at 100x’s

Tiny Paramecia swarm over the detritus in my slide and taking a closer look at that and the growth associated with the weed I am reminded of Jonathon Swifts jingle:

Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite ’em
And little fleas have lesser fleas

And so, ad infinitum 


Sunset over the Sargassum Sea

The Chief Scientist:

A day in the life of our chief scientist involves: checking with her staff to evaluate the previous day’s collections, consulting with visiting scientists on their needs and any problems that might arise, checking with the deck hands and technicians about equipment needs and repairs, advising the ship’s officers of any issues, and making certain we are on course and schedule for the next station.

And then rest? Hardly!

Even when off duty there are inquiries to field from staff, scientists and crew; equipment repairs to be made; and software that needs to be tweaked to keep the data flowing.

How does one prepare for a career like this?
Physically: the capacity to function on little sleep so you can work 12-hour shifts and be on-call the other twelve. (And there is little escape at mealtimes either, where the conversation never stays far from the progress of the cruise.)Mentally: the capability to multi-task with a variety of very different chores.
Emotionally: the flexibility to accommodate people with many different personalities and  needs, while staying focused on your own work.
Also, excellent organizational skills, since months of planning and preparation are crucial.
And perhaps most importantly, a sense of humor!

 

 “Lock-and-Load!
Midnight shift.
Chief Scientist Dr. Molly Baringer prepares to fire the XBT
off the stern for an 800 meter profile of temperature and pressure.

Elizabeth Bullock: Day 5, December 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Bullock
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
December 11-15, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: December 15, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 3:15pm
Air Temperature: 23.6 degrees C
Wind Speed: 15.8 knots
Relative Humidity: 56%

Science and Technology Log

Liz takes a water sample
Here I am taking a water sample from the CTD.

Let’s talk about the flurometer!  The flurometer is  a piece of equipment attached to the CTD which is being used on this cruise to measure the amount of chlorophyll (specifically chlorophyll_a) in the water being sampled.  It works by emitting different wavelengths of light into a water sample.  The phytoplankton in the sample absorb some of this light and reemit some of it.  The flurometer measures the fluorescence (or light that is emitted by the phytoplankton) and the computer attached to the CTD records the voltage of the fluorescence.

The flurometer can be used to measure other characteristics of water, but for this research cruise, we are measuring chlorophyll.  As you know, chlorophyll is an indicator of how much phytoplankton is in the water.  Phytoplankton makes up the base of the marine food web and it is an important indicator of the health of the surrounding ecosystem.

At the same time that our cruise is collecting this information, satellites are also examining these components of water quality.  The measurements taken by the scientific party can be compared to the measurements being taken by the satellite.  By making this comparison, the scientists can check their work.  They can also calibrate the satellite, constantly improving the data they receive.

Combined with all the other research I’ve written about in previous blogs, the scientists can make a comprehensive picture of the ecosystem with the flurometer.  They can ask: Is the water quality improving?  Degrading?  Are the organisms that live in this area thriving?  Suffering?

Nelson records data from the CTD
Nelson records data from the CTD.

Collecting data can help us make decisions about how better to protect our environment.  For example, this particular scientific party, led by Nelson Melo, was able to inform the government of Florida to allow more freshwater to flow into Florida Bay.  Nelson and his team observed extremely high salinity in Florida Bay, and they used the data they collected to inform policy makers.

Personal Log

Today is my last full day on the Walton Smith.  The week went by so fast!  I had an amazing time and I want to say thank you to the crew and scientific party on board.  They welcomed me and taught me so much in such a short time!

Thank you also to everyone who read my blog.  I hope you enjoyed catching a glimpse of science in action!

Answers to Poll Questions:

1)      In order to apply to the Teacher at Sea program, you must be currently employed, full-time, and employed in the same or similar capacity next year as

a. a K-12 teacher or administrator

b. a community college, college, or university teacher

c. a museum or aquarium educator

d. an adult education teacher

2)      The R/V Walton Smith holds 10,000 gallons of fuel.  By the way, the ship also holds 3,000 gallons of water (although the ship desalinates an additional 20-40 gallons of water an hour).

Elizabeth Bullock: Day 3, December 13, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Bullock
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
December 11-15, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: December 13, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 4:45pm
Air Temperature: 23.5 degrees C
Wind Speed: 15 kt
Relative Humidity: 68%

Science and Technology Log

Liz deploys a drifter
I'm deploying a drifter!

Last night, we deployed our first drifter.  There will be three deployed over the course of this cruise.  The frame of this drifter is built by the scientists at AOML (Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory).  Afterwards, they attach a satellite transmitter so they can track where the drifter goes.  This helps them measure the surface currents.

What are some other types of research being conducted onboard?  I’m glad you asked!  Two NOAA researchers, Lindsey and Rachel, are studying water chemistry and chlorophyll.  They take samples of surface water from the CTD to study CO2 and the full carbonate profile.  They also use water collected at many different depths to study the chlorophyll content.  Chlorophyll is an indicator of the amount of phytoplankton in the water.

Collecting water from the CTD
Collecting water from the CTD.

Sharein, a PhD student at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, is studying a specific type of plankton called copepods.

The particular copepod that she is studying is food for the larval stages of some commercially important species of fish such as bill fish (which include blue marlin, sail fish, white tuna, and yellowfin tuna) and different species of reef fish.  If a species is commercially important, it means that many people depend on this particular fish for their livelihoods.

Female Copepod
Here is one of the species of copepods that Sharein is studying.

Do you think you would be interested in working at sea?  You would be a good candidate if you:

1)      Like meeting new people and working as part of a team

2)      Are interested in the ocean, weather, and/or atmosphere

3)      Don’t mind getting your feet wet

Personal Log

When we were on our way to the Tortugas, we didn’t have cell service and the TV in the galley had no signal.  It was nice to be disconnected for a while.  Although there are still 29 computers onboard which all have the internet, so we’re hardly off the grid!

It was hard at first to adjust to the night shift, but everyone onboard was really supportive.  Working the night shift means that you work from 7pm to 7am.

Species seen last night in the Neuston net:

Flying fish

Needle fish

Different kinds of sea grasses and sargassum

Moon jellies

Elizabeth Bullock: Introduction, December 8, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Bullock
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
December 11-15, 2011

Introduction

Hello! My name is Elizabeth (Liz) Bullock and I work for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program (TAS).  Before I worked at NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)  I was in graduate school at Clark University in Worcester, MA studying Environmental Science and Policy.  As my final project, I created an environmental curriculum for the Global Youth Leadership Institute (GYLI).  Through this experience, I realized how much I love both science and educating others about the importance of the natural world.

I have been invited to take part in a research cruise on the R/V Walton Smith.  I will be participating in the Bimonthly Regional Survey / South Florida Program Cruise.  The researchers on this survey are  from NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanography and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) which is located in Miami, FL.

What will we be studying?  The scientists on this survey are very interested in knowing about the strength and health of the ecosystem.  They can judge how strong it is by looking at various indicators such as water clarity, salinity, and temperature.  They can also record information about the phytoplankton and zooplankton that live in the water.

Question for students: Why do you think it is important to learn about the phytoplankton and zooplankton?  What can they tell us about the ecosystem?  Please leave a reply with your answers below by clicking on “Comments.”

Here is a map of the route the R/V Walton Smith will be taking.

Research Map
The R/V Walton Smith will be leaving Miami, FL and traveling around the Florida Keys into the Gulf of Mexico.

I am so excited and I hope you will follow along with me on this journey of a lifetime!

Kevin Sullivan: Bering Sea Bloom, August 28 – September 2, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin C. Sullivan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
August 17 — September 2, 2011

Mission: Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area:  Bering Sea
Date:  August 28 – September 2, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  56.95N
Longitude: 162.93 W
Wind Speed:  10 Knots
Surface Water Temperature: 10.5 C
Air Temperature:  55F
Relative Humidity: 97%

Science and Technology Log:

Well, at this time tomorrow, the Oscar Dyson will be tied up in port at Dutch Harbor.  This is our end destination for Leg I of the BASIS survey.  I will write-up a summary/conclusion either at that time or shortly after getting back into town.  For now, I will fill you in on some material that I promised.  As noted in earlier blogs…I have been intentionally writing in a trophic bottom up approach.  That is, I started my first blog entries with descriptions of the primary producers, the Phytoplankton.  I covered this extensively and correlated it to the oceanographic work that has been going on aboard this ship.  It seemed logical to work from the base of the food chain and work my way up the trophic levels to the more complex consumers.

However, before I close the chapter on Phytoplankton take a look at the picture I took below.  When I stepped outside and saw this, I thought I had been transported to the Caribbean.  Clear skies, calm seas, tropical blue waters are not typical descriptions for the Bering Sea.  If you look closely enough, you can even see the shadow of the clouds on the surface of the sea.   Science is the field of making observations, forming hypothesis, designing and conducting experiments and drawing conclusions about the natural world we live in.  So…what would you make of this observation?  What has caused this temporary “mirage” of tropics?  Clearly something is going on here.

Coccolithophores
Coccolithophores 08-28-11

Well, although not 100% certain, the most likely explanation is what would be called a Coccolithophore bloom.  These are single-celled algae which are characterised by special calcium carbonate plates as seen in photo below under magnification.

Coccolithophore
Coccolithophore

Under certain conditions, (some speculate that wind pattern changes fail to mix the water column favoring cocolithophore blooms as opposed to other plankton) coccolithophores can create large blooms turning the water brilliant shades of blue pending on the species of coccolithophore blooming at the time.  Ed (Chief Scientist) was telling me of a major bloom that had occurred back in the late 90’s.  I researched it a bit and the following picture is of this bloom in the same general vicinity where we are now.  Amazing to think of how microscopic plants can influence a region on the scale of an entire sea and be seen from space. *Note: this is not a false colored Image

Coccolithophore Bloom 98 Bering Sea
Coccolithophore Bloom 98 Bering Sea

There is also some speculation that these types of blooms may be linked to sub-average runs of salmon (and even impact seabirds negatively in the area).  Some hypothesize that this may be due to the idea that salmon prey heavily upon euphausiids (see picture I took below on 08-28-11 and the one centered beneath for a closer look taken from NOAA) and the euphausiids have difficulty subsiding on the extremely small coccolithophores.  Remember what I was saying about visualizing the flow of energy as a pyramid and the effects of taking out a few or many blocks that make up the base of the food chain.

euphausiids 08-28-11
euphausiids 08-28-11

Euphasiid
Euphasiid

Ok, to make this easier for the reader, I am going to stop this blog here and start a new one dedicated to the zooplankton…..I got a little sidetracked with the whole coccolithophore bloom event…….

Personal Log

Earlier this morning we were greeted with some higher winds and consequently some larger seas.  As my friend back East says conditions got “Sporty.”  Here is a picture from where we launch the CTD.  Winds were out of the SW gusting to 30 knots and seas were in the 10′ range with some larger swells thrown into the mix to keep things interesting.

Bering 09-01-11
Bering 09-01-11

Kevin Sullivan: Bering Sea Bound, August 22, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin C. Sullivan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
August 17 — September 2, 2011

Mission: Bering-ALeutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area:  Bering Sea
Date:  August 22-24, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  N
Longitude:  W
Wind Speed:  20-23kts Tue,Wed. seas 9′ Thu 8/25 = calm
Surface Water Temperature:  C
Air Temperature:  55F
Relative Humidity: 70%

Science and Technology Log

We are on Day II of our travels to get to our first sampling station located in the SE Bering Sea.  We will begin our fishing operations today!  We have had decent weather thus far although we did just go through Unimak Pass (see picture below of location) which is a narrow strait between the Bering Sea and the North Pacific Ocean.  This passage offered a time of heavier seas.  I’m guessing that like any strait, the currents may become more funneled and the seas “confused” as they squeeze through this area.  It’s kind of analogous to it being more windy in between buildings of a major city vs. suburbia as the wind is funneled between skyscrapers.  I also imagine this to be a popular crossing for marine mammals as well.

Interesting to think that both marine mammals and humans use this passage to both get to the same things: a food source and a travel route.  It’s a migratory “highway” for marine mammals, and a heavily-trafficked area for humans in international trade and commercial fisheries.

Anyway, the Bering Sea is a very unique body of water. It really is the way that I imagined it.  It is as though you are looking through a kaleidoscope and the only offerings are 1000 different shades of grey.  It is rainy, foggy, and windy.  I can appreciate how this sea has been the graveyard for so many souls and fishing vessels in the past who have tried to extract the bounties it has to offer.

unimak pass
unimak pass

As of Wednesday, the 24th, we have finished 4 stations of the 30 that have been planned for Leg I of this study (Leg II is of similar duration and goals).  I was involved with helping the oceanographic crew with their tasks of collecting and evaluating various parameters of water chemistry.  To do this, an instrument called a “CTD”– an acronym for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth — is lowered.  This instrument is the primary tool for determining these essential physical properties of sea water.  It allows the scientists to record detailed charting of these various parameters throughout the water column and helps us to understand how the ocean affects life and vice-versa.

One aspect that I found very interesting is the analyzing of chlorophyll through the water column.  All plant life on Earth contains the photosynthetic pigment called chlorophyll.  Phytoplankton (planktonic plants) occupy the photic zone of all water bodies.  Knowing that we live on a blue planet dominated by 70% coverage in water, we can thank these phytoplankton for their byproduct in photosynthesis, which is oxygen.  Kind of strange how you often symbolize the environmental movement with cutting down of the rainforests and cries that we are eliminating the trees that give us the air we breath.  This is true, but proportionately speaking, with an ocean-dominated sphere, we can thank these phytoplankton and photosynthetic bacteria for a large percentage of our oxygen.  Additionally, being at the base of the food chain and primary consumers, these extraordinary plants have carved a name for themselves in any marine investigation/study.

The procedure to measure chlorophyll involves the following:  water from the Niskin Bottles (attached to the CTD, used to “capture” water at select depths) is filtered through different filter meshes and the samples are deep-frozen at -80F.  To analyze chlorophyll content, the frozen sample filter is immersed in a 90% solution of DI (Distilled Water) and acetone which liberates the chlorophyll from the phytoplankton.  This is then sent through a fluorometer.

Filtering water from CTD for Chlorophyll Measurements
Filtering water from CTD for Chlorophyll Measurements

Fluorescence is the phenomena of some compounds to absorb specific wavelengths of light and then, emit longer wavelengths of light.  Chlorophyll absorbs blue light and emits, or fluoresces, red light and can be detected by this fluorometer.

Fluorometer; Berring Sea 08-25-11
Fluorometer; Berring Sea 08-25-11

Amazing to think that with this microscopic plant life, you can extrapolate out and potentially draw some general conclusions about the overall health of a place as large as the Bering Sea. Oceanographic work is remarkable.

CTD Berring Sea 08-24-11
CTD Berring Sea 08-24-11

 

Personal Log

The crew aboard the Oscar Dyson have been very accommodating and more than willing to educate me and take the time to physically show me how these scientific investigations work.  I am very impressed with the level of professionalism.  As a teacher, I know that most often, the best way to teach students is to present the material in a hands-on fashion…inquiry/discovery based.   This is clearly the format that I have been involved in while in the Bering Sea and I am learning a tremendous amount of information.

The food has been excellent (much better than I am used to while out at sea).  The seas have been a bit on the rough side but seem to be settling down somewhat (although, I do see a few Low Pressure Systems lined up, ready to enter the Bering Sea…..tis the season).  Veteran seamen in this area and even in the Mid-Atlantic off of NJ, know that this is the time of year when the weather starts to change). On a side note, I see that Hurricane Irene has its eyes set on the Eastern Seaboard.  I am hoping that everyone will take caution in my home state of NJ.

Lastly, it’s amazing also to think of the depth and extent of NOAA.  With oceans covering 70% of our planet and the entire planet encompassed by a small envelope of atmosphere that we breathe, it is fair to say that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a part of our everyday lives.  I am in the Bering Sea, one of the most remote and harsh places this planet has to offer and across the country, there are “Hurricane Hunters” flying into the eye of a hurricane that could potentially impact millions of people along the Mid Atlantic………..Both operated and run by NOAA!

Sunset on the Berring Sea 08-24-11
Sunset on the Bering Sea 08-24-11

Cathrine Fox: Issue Twelve: Better than any alarm clock

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: August 11, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 57deg 22.630N, Longitude: 152.02° W
Air Temperature: 13.6° C
Water temperature: 9.0° C
Wind Speed/Direction: 12kn/240°
Barometric Pressure: 1020.1
Partly cloudy (5%) and sun

Science Log:

Stern of the Oscar Dyson
Stern of the Oscar Dyson

Somewhere back in my family history there must have been a fishmonger, because I’ve been channeling something or someone. The entire process of watching the acoustic footprint of the ocean under the ship, deciding where to physically sample (trawl) populations, and then seeing and processing the fish that live 100 meters or more below us? Fascinating. Add to this camera drops to get snapshots of the ocean floor (more amazing footage this morning), and interesting ‘Methot’ plankton tows to sample what is available for the fish to eat and give a more accurate and complete picture? How many adjectives can I use?

Before we dive too far into the depths, let me explain/refresh what plankton are. Plankton are any drifting organisms that inhabit the water columns of bodies of water. In fact, their name derives from the Greek for “wanderer,” and it would be helpful if you thought of them as drifters in the current…from deep in the ocean to up on the surface. They are generally broken down into plant-like-photosynthesizing plankton (phytoplankton) and animal-like plankton (zooplankton).
Phytoplankton are “photosynthesizing microscopic organisms that inhabit the upper sunlit layer of almost alloceans and bodies of water” (wikipedia). If you have taken biology or forensics with me, I have described some of them ad nauseam: diatoms? Those organisms that are in every body of water on the planet? Ah, yes. I can see it all coming back to you.

https://i0.wp.com/desalalternatives.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/zooplankton.jpg
http://desalalternatives.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/zooplankton.jpg

Zooplankton encompass a diverse range of macro and microscopic animals. They generally eat the phytoplankton or one another. Examples include krill, copepods, jellyfish, and amphipods.

In the great food web of life, other organisms eat the zooplankton. Among them was a pod of 50+ Humpback whales in the Barnabas Trough off of Kodiak Island. They were exciting enough that I went from being sound asleep to dressed and on the bridge in less than five minutes. Issue 12, Humpback Whales: Better than any alarm clock I have ever known delves into these organisms (Cartoon citations 1, 2, 3 and 4).


Our chief survey technician, Kathy Hough, took a lot of photos the following day as we traveled from Barnabas Trough to Alitak Bay. The three photos that follow and descriptions are courtesy of Kathy.

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 12
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 12

 

Whale tail: Individual humpback whales can be identified by the black/white pattern on the ventral side of the fluke (tail).  The pattern is like a human's fingerprint, unique to one animal.
Whale tail: Individual humpback whales can be identified by the black/white pattern on the ventral side of the fluke (tail). The pattern is like a human’s fingerprint, unique to one animal.

There is evidence of three whales in the photo above: the closest whale's rostrum (blow hole) is visible.  The second whale is diving and you can see the peduncle (the stocky part of the tail before the fluke).  The glassy area in the back of the photo is evidence of a recent dive and is called a "footprint."
There is evidence of three whales in the photo above: the closest whale’s rostrum (blow hole) is visible. The second whale is diving and you can see the peduncle (the stocky part of the tail before the fluke). The glassy area in the back of the photo is evidence of a recent dive and is called a “footprint.”

This Humpback was last seen in this area in 2004, and has not been seen since.  The white marks on its fluke are from a killer whale attack!  Kathy emailled photos of the whales to observers, and they were able to identify individuals!
This Humpback was last seen in this area in 2004, and has not been seen since. The white marks on its fluke are from a killer whale attack! Kathy emailled photos of the whales to observers, and they were able to identify individuals!

All hands on deck... 100+ Humpback Whales.  Darin and Staci.
All hands on deck… 100+ Humpback Whales. Darin and Staci.

Our team of scientists sample plankton using a Methot net, which is fine mesh and captures macroscopic organisms. We sample plankton for the same reason that we physically trawl for fish: we need to make certain what we are “hearing” is what is down there, with a focus on the types and sizes of the plankton. Additionally, knowledge about what and where plankton populations are will help with modeling the entire ecosystem. If you know where the food lives, its abundance and composition, by extension you have a much greater understanding of the predators, both pollock and whale.

(If you get a chance, check out this video about how whales hunt with bubble nets; fascinating!)

Personal Log

Bowditch
Bowditch

I try to spend time on the bridge every morning before breakfast. I bring up a cup of tea and watch the horizon lighten until the sun pushes its way up above the lingering clouds. This morning, I saw the green flash for the first time. The green flash is not a superhero. It is not a myth. It is not a sailor’s fish tail. It is real. Furthermore, if you still don’t believe me, the green flash is in the “bible” of maritime studies, The American Practical Navigator (Bowditch, if you are on a first name basis). I was told by Ensign David Rodziewiczthat “if it is in Bowditch, it must be true.” So there.

The green flash appears on the horizon just after the sun sets or just before it rises. For one moment on that spot the sky looks as if someone broke a green glow stick and smeared a distant florescent mark. As fast as it was there, it is gone. The name is appropriate: green flash. It occurs because light is bent slightly as it passes through the atmosphere (refraction); this bending is greatest on the horizon. Since light is made up of different colors with different wavelengths, the bending causes the colors to be seen separately. Bowditch says it is like offset color printing (nice metaphor, eh?). The red end of the spectrum is first to rise. The blue end of the spectrum is scattered the most by the atmosphere, leaving behind the momentary and memorable second of green.

Evidently, to see the green flash is considered very good luck. I already feel very lucky. I am in one of the most beautiful places in the world, on a ship with interesting and intelligent people, driving around the Gulf of Alaska learning about science and occasionally checking out whales. If I can get luckier than this… well… wow.

Tomorrow is the last day of our cruise, but I have a few more cartoons up my sleeves, so keep checking back. In the meantime, thank you to the incredible staff of the Oscar Dyson, the scientists of MACE, my rockin’ cohort Staci, and the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.

Until our next adventure,
Cat

p.s. Whales have the worst morning breath I have ever smelled. I know it isn’t really their fault–imagine having 270-400 baleen sheets on either side of your mouth that you could get krill stuck in…

Take it to the Bridge...
Take it to the Bridge…

Oscar Dyson, me mateys.
Oscar Dyson, me mateys.

Caitlin Fine: Flexibility! August 6, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Aboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 7, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 6, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 4:24pm
Air Temperature: 31.6°C
Water Temperature: 32.6°C
Wind Direction: Southwest
Wind Speed:  4 knots
Seawave Height: calm
Visibility: good/unlimited
Clouds: partially cloudy (cumulous and cirrus clouds)
Barometer: 1013nb
Relative Humidity: 62%

Science and Technology Log

Many of you have written comments asking about the marine biology (animals and plants) that I have seen while on this cruise. Thank you for your posts – I love your questions! In today’s log, I will talk about the biology component of the research and about the animals that we have been finding and documenting.

We have another graduate student aboard, Lorin, who is collecting samples of sargassum (a type of seaweed).

Sargassum sample from Neuston net tow

There are two types of sargassum. One of those types usually floats at the top of the water and the other has root-like structures that help it attach to the bottom of the ocean.

Lorin is filtering a sample from the Neuston net in the web lab

We are using a net, called a Neuston net, to collect samples of sargassum that float. The Neuston net is towed alongside the ship at the surface at specific stations. This means that the ship drives in large circles for 30 minutes which can make for a rocky/dizzy ride – some of the chairs in the dry lab have wheels and they roll around the floor during the tow!

Towing the Neuston net along the side of the ship

Lorin and other researchers are interested in studying sargassum because it provides a rich habitat for zooplankton, small fish, crabs, worms, baby sea turtles, and marine birds. It is also a feeding ground for larger fish that many of you may have eaten, such as billfish, tuna, and mahi mahi.

Small crab that was living in the sargassum

The net not only collects sargassum, but also small fish, small crabs, jellyfish, other types of seaweed, and small plankton.

Small fish from the Neuston net

Plankton can be divided into two main categories: zooplankton and phytoplankton. As I  said in my last post, phytoplankton are mostly very small plants or single-celled organisms that photosynthesize (they make their own food) and are the base of the food chain. Zooplankton are one level up on the food chain from phytoplankton and most of them eat phytoplankton. Zooplankton include larva (babies) of starfish, lobster, crabs, and fish.

Small zooplankton viewed through the dissecting microscope

We also use a Plankton net to collect samples of plankton. This has a smaller mesh, so it collects organisms that are so small they would fall through the Neuston net. Scientists are interested in studying the zooplankton that we catch in the Plankton net to understand what larger organisms might one day grow-up and live in the habitats we are surveying. They study the phytoplankton from the Plankton net to see what types of phytoplankton are present in the water and in what quantities.

Washing off the Plankton net

Today we collected so many diatoms (which are a type of phytoplankton) in the Neuston net that we could not lift it out of the water! This tells us that there are a lot of nutrients in the water (a diatom bloom) – maybe even harmful levels. I am bringing some samples of the diatoms and zooplankton home with me so we can look at them under the microscopes at school!

Evidence of a diatom (phytoplankton) bloom in the Gulf of Mexico

The marine biologists on this cruise are mainly interested in looking at phytoplankton and zooplankton, but we also have seen some larger animals. I have seen many flying fish skim across the surface of the water as the boat moves along. I have also seen seagulls, dolphins, sea turtles, cormorants (skinny black seabirds with long necks), and lots of small fish.

Small flying fish from the Newston net

Personal Log

Working as an oceanographer definitely demands flexibility. I have already mentioned that we chased the Mississippi River water during our second day. After collecting samples, we had to find blue water (open ocean water) to have a control to compare our samples against.  We traveled south through the night until we were about 15 miles away from Cuba before finding blue water. All of this travel was in the opposite direction from our initial cruise plan, so we have had to extend our cruise by one day in order to visit all of the stations that we need to visit inside the Gulf of Mexico. This has meant waking-up the night shift so we can all change their airplane tickets and looking at maps to edit our cruise plan!

Changes to our cruise plan on the survey map

Many of you are writing comments about sharks – I have not seen any sharks and I will probably not see any. The chief scientist, Nelson, has worked on the ocean for about 33 years and he has sailed for more than 1,500 hours and he has only seen 3 sharks. They mostly live in the open ocean, not on the continental shelf where we are doing our survey. If there were a shark nearby, our ship is so big and loud that it would be scared away.

Playing with syringodium

Today I saw a group of about 4 dolphins off the side of the ship. They were pretty far away, so I could not take pictures. Their dorsal fins all seemed to exit the water at the same time – it was very beautiful. A member of the crew spotted a sea turtle off the bow (front) of the ship and I saw several different types of sea birds, especially seagulls.

Yesterday afternoon we passed through the Gulf of Mexico near the Everglades and there were storm clouds covering the coastline. The crew says that it rains a lot in this part of the Florida coast and that Florida receives more thunderstorms than any other state. It is strange to me because I always think of Florida as “the sunshine state.”

Grey sky and green water in the Gulf of Mexico

The color of the ocean has changed quite a lot during the cruise. The water is clear and light blue near Miami, clear and dark blue farther away from the coast in the Atlantic Ocean, cloudy and yellow-green in coastal Gulf of Mexico, and cloudy and turquoise in the Florida Bay. Scientists say that the cloudiness in coastal Gulf of Mexico is caused by chlorophyll and the cloudiness in the Florida Bay is caused by sediment.

It has been hot and sunny every day, but the wet lab (where we process the water samples and marine samples), the dry lab (where we work on our computers), the galley and the staterooms are nice and cool thanks to air conditioning! I can tell that I am getting used to being at sea because now when we are moving, I feel as though we are stopped. And when we do stop to take measurements, it feels strange.

Did you know?

NOAA does not own the R/V Walton Smith. It is University of Miami ship that costs NOAA from $12,000 to $15,000 a day to use!

Organisms seen today…

–       Many sea birds (especially seagulls)

–       2 cormorants (an elegant black sea bird)

–       10-12 dolphins

–       1 sea turtle

–       Lots of small fish

–       Lots of zooplankton and phytoplankton (especially diatoms)

–       Sargassum and sea grass

Caitlin Fine: Chemistry Is All Around Us, August 4, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Aboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 6, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 10:32pm
Air Temperature: 30°C
Water Temperature: 30.8°C
Wind Direction: Southeast
Wind Speed:  7.7knots
Seawave Height: calm
Visibility: good/unlimited
Clouds: clear
Barometer: 1012 nb
Relative Humidity: 65%

Science and Technology Log

As I said yesterday, the oceanographic work on the boat basically falls into three categories: physical, chemical and biological. Today I will talk a bit more about the chemistry component of the work on the R/V Walton Smith. The information that the scientists are gathering from the ocean water is related to everything that we learn in science at Key – water, weather, ecosystems, habitats, the age of the water on Earth, erosion, pollution, etc.

First of all, we are using a CTD (a special oceanographic instrument) to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll, and depth of the water. The instrument on this boat is very large (it weights about 1,000 lbs!) so we use a hydraulic system to raise it, place it in the water, and lower it down into the water.

CTD
Lindsey takes a CO2 sample from the CTD

The CTD is surrounded by special niskin bottles that we can close at different depths in the water in order to get a pure sample of water from different specific depths. Nelson usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean and at the surface and sometimes he closes others in the middle of the ocean if he is interested in getting specific information. For each layer, he closes at least 2 bottles in case one of them does not work properly. The Capitan lowers the CTD from a control booth on 01deck (the top deck of the boat), and two people wearing a hard hat and a life vest have to help guide the CTD into and out of the water. Safety first!

Once the CTD is back on the boat, the chemistry team (on the day shift, Lindsey and I are the chemistry team!) fills plastic bottles with water from each depth and takes them to the wet lab for processing. Throughout the entire process, it is very important to keep good records of the longitude and latitude, station #, depth of each sample, time, etc, and most importantly, which sample corresponds to which depth and station.

We are taking samples for 6 different types of analyses on this cruise: nutrient analysis, chlorophyll analysis, carbon analysis, microbiology analysis, water mass tracers analysis and CDOM analysis.

The nutrient analysis is to understand how much of each nutrient is in the water. This tells us about the availability of nutrients for phytoplankton. Phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients in order to live. The more nutrients there are in the water, the more phytoplankton can live in the water. This is important, because as I wrote yesterday – phytoplankton are the base of the food chain – they turn the sun’s energy into food.

Carbon
Sampling dissolved inorganic carbon

That said, too many nutrients can cause a sudden rise in phytoplankton. If this occurs, two things can happen: one is called a harmful algal bloom.  Too much phytoplankton (algae) can release toxins into the water, harming fish and shellfish, and sometimes humans who are swimming when this occurs.  Another consequence is that this large amount of plankton die and fall to the seafloor where bacteria decompose the dead phytoplankton.  Bacteria need oxygen to survive so they use up all of the available oxygen in the water. Lack of oxygen causes the fish and other animals to either die or move to a different area. The zone then becomes a “dead zone” that cannot support life. There is a very large dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River. So we want to find a good balance of nutrients – not too many and not too few.

The chlorophyll analysis serves a similar purpose. In the wet lab, we filter the phytoplankton onto a filter.

chlorophyll
I am running a chlorophyll analysis of one of the water samples

Each phytoplankton has chloroplasts that contain chlorophyll. Do you remember from 4th grade science that plants use chlorophyll in order to undergo photosynthesis to make their own food? If scientists know the amount of chlorophyll in the ocean, they can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in the ocean.

Carbon can be found in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) or in the cells of organisms. Do you remember from 2nd and 4th grade science that plants use CO2 in order to grow? Phytoplankton also need CO2 in order to grow. The carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it tells us the amount of CO2 in the ocean so we can understand if there is enough CO2 to support phytoplankton, algae and other plant life. The carbon analysis can tell us about the carbon cycle – the circulation of CO2 between the ocean and the air and this has an impact on climate change.

The microbiology analysis looks for DNA (the building-blocks of all living organisms – kind of like a recipe or a blueprint). All living things are created with different patterns or codes of DNA. This analysis tells us whose DNA is present in the ocean water – which specific types of fish, bacteria, zooplankton, etc.

The water mass tracers analysis (on this boat we are testing N15 – an isotope of Nitrogen, and also Tritium – a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen) helps scientists understand where the water here came from. These analyses will help us verify if the Mississippi River water is running through the Florida Coast right now. From a global viewpoint, this type of test is important because it helps us understand about the circulation of ocean water around the world. If the ocean water drastically changes its current “conveyor belt” circulation patterns, there could be real impact on the global climate. (Remember from 2nd and 3rd grade that the water cycle and oceans control the climate of Earth.) For example, Europe could become a lot colder and parts of the United States could become much hotter.

This is an image of the conveyor belt movement of ocean currents

The last type of analysis we prepared for was the CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter) analysis. This is important because like the water mass tracers, it tells us where this water came from. For example, did the water come from the Caribbean Sea, or did it come from freshwater rivers?

I am coming to understand that the main mission of this NOAA bimonthly survey cruise on the R/V Walton Smith is to monitor the waters of the Florida Coast and Florida Bay for changes in water chemistry. The Florida Bay has been receiving less fresh water runoff from the Everglades because many new housing developments have been built and fresh water is being sent along pipes to peoples’ houses. Because of this, the salinity of the Bay is getting higher and sea grass, fish, and other organisms are dying or leaving because they cannot live in such salty water. The Bay is very important for the marine ecosystem here because it provides a safe place for small fish and sea turtles to have babies and grow-up before heading out to the open ocean.

Personal Log

This cruise has provided me great opportunities to see real science in action. It really reinforces everything I tell my students about being a scientist: teamwork, flexibility, patience, listening and critical thinking skills are all very important. It is also important to always keep your lab space clean and organized. It is important to keep accurate records of everything that you do on the correct data sheet. It can be easy to get excited about a fish or algae discovery and forget to keep a record of it, but that is not practicing good science.

It is important to keep organized records

It is also important to stay safe – every time we are outside on the deck with the safety lines down, we must wear a life vest and if we are working with something that is overhead, we must wear a helmet.

I have been interviewing the scientists and crew aboard the ship and I cannot wait to return to Arlington and begin to edit the video clips. I really want to help my students understand the variety of science/engineering and technology jobs and skills that are related to marine science, oceanography, and ships. I have also been capturing videos of the ship and scientists in action so students can take a virtual fieldtrip on the R/V Walton Smith. I have been taking so many photos and videos, that the scientists and crew almost run away from me when they see me pick up my cameras!

Captain Shawn Lake mans the winch

The food continues to be wonderful, the sunsets spectacular, and my fellow shipmates entertaining. Tomorrow I hope to see dolphins swimming alongside the ship at sunrise! I will keep you posted!!

Did you know?

The scientists and crew are working 12-hour shifts. I am lucky to have the “day shift” which is from 8am to 8pm. But some unlucky people are working the “night shift” from 8pm to 8am. They wake-up just as the sun is setting and go to sleep right when it rises again.

Animals seen today…

zooplankton under the dissecting microscope

–       Many jellyfish

–       Two small crabs

–       Lots of plankton

A sampling of zooplankton

–       Flying fish flying across the ocean at sunset

–       A very small larval sportfish (some sort of bluerunner or jack fish)

Some moon jellyfish that we collected in the tow net

Caitlin Fine: Mississippi River Chasers! August 3, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Onboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 6, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 3, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 10:18pm
Air Temperature: 29.5°C
Water Temperature: 31.59°C
Wind Direction: North
Wind Speed: 3 knots
Seawave Height: calm
Visibility: good/unlimited
Clouds: Partially cloudy (cumulos and cirrus)
Barometer: 1011.0mb
Relative Humidity: 72%

Science and Technology Log

The oceanographic work on the boat can be divided into three categories: physical, chemical, and biological. In this log, I will explain a little bit about the part of the research related to the physics of light. Upcoming 5th graders – pay attention! We will be learning a lot about light in January/February and it all relates to this research project.

Brian and Maria are two PhD students who are working with the physical components. They are using several optical instruments: the SPECTRIX, the GER 1500, the Profiling Reflectance Radiometer (PRR), and the Profiling Ultraviolet Radiometer (PUV).

Bryan and Maria
Brian and Maria take optic measurements with the SPECTRIX and GER 1500

The SPECTRIX is a type of spectroradiometer that measures the light coming out of the water in order to understand what is in the water. For example, we can measure the amount of green light that is reflected and red and blue light that is absorbed in order to get an idea about the amount of chlorophyll in the water. This is important because chlorophyll is the biggest part of phytoplankton and phytoplankton are tiny plant-like algae that form the base of the food chain on Earth.

PUV
Brian lowers PRR into the water

The PRR and the PUV measure light at different depths to also understand what is in the water and at what depth you will find each thing in the water. The light becomes less bright the further down you go in the water. Most of light is between 0-200 meters of depth. The light that hits the water also becomes less bright based upon what is in the water. For example, you might find that chlorophyll live at 10 meters below the surface. It is important to understand at what depth each thing is in the water because that tells you where the life is within the ocean. Most of the ocean is pitch-black because it is so deep that light cannot penetrate it. Anything that lives below the light level has to be able to either swim up to get food, or survive on “extras” that fall below to them.

Personal Log

These few days have been very fun and action-packed! I arrived on the ship on Sunday afternoon and helped Nelson and the crew get organized and set-up the stations for the cruise. Several other people had also arrived early – two graduate students who are studying the optics of the water as part of their PhD program, one college student and one observer from the Dominican Republic who are like me – trying to learn about what NOAA does and how scientists conduct experiments related to oceanography.

On Monday morning, we gathered for a team meeting to discuss the mission of the cruise, introduce ourselves, and get an updated report on the status of the Mississippi River water. It turns out that the water is going in a bit of a different direction than previously projected, so we will be changing the cruise path of the ship in order to try to intersect it and collect water samples.

CTD
I am helping lower the CTD into the water

Monday we all learned how to use the CTD (a machine that we use to collect samples of water from different depths of the ocean) and other stations at the first several stops. It was a bit confusing at the beginning because there is so much to learn and so many things to keep in mind in order to stay safe! We then ate lunch (delicious!) and had a long 4-hour ride to the next section of stops. When we arrived, it was low tide (only 2 ft. of water in some places) so we could not do the sampling that we wanted to do. We continued on to the next section of stops (another 3 hour ride away!), watched a safety presentation and ate another delicious meal. By this time, it was time for the night shift to start working and for the day shift to go to bed. Since I am in the day shift, I was able to sleep while the night shift worked all night long.

Today I woke up, took a shower in the very small shower and ate breakfast just as we arrived at another section of stops. I immediately started working with the CTD and on the water chemistry sampling. We drove through some sea grass and the optics team was excited to take optical measurements of the sea grass because it has a very similar optical profile to oil. The satellites from space see either oil or sea grass and report it as being the same thing. So scientists are working to better differentiate between the two so that we can tell sea grass from oil on the satellite images. The images that Maria and Brian took today are maybe some of the first images to be recorded! Everyone on the ship is very excited!

Several hours later, we came to a part of the open ocean within the Florida Current near Key West where we believe water from the Mississippi River has reached. Nelson and the scientific team believe this because the salinity (the amount of dissolved salt) of the surface water is much lower than it normally is at this time of year in these waters. Normally the salinity is about 36-36.5 PSUs in the first 20 meters and today we found it at 35.7 PSUs in the first 20 meters. This may not seem like a big difference, but it is.

The water from the Mississippi River is fresh water and the water in the Florida Keys is salt water. There is always a bit of fresh water mixing with the salt water, but usually it is not enough to really cause a change in the salinity. This time, there is enough fresh water entering the ocean to really change the salinity. This change can have an impact on the animals and other organisms that live in the Florida Keys.

Additionally, the water from the Mississippi River contains a lot of nutrients – for example, fertilizers that run off from farms and lawns into gutters and streams and rivers – and those nutrients also impact the sea life and the water in the area. Nelson says that this type of activity (fresh water from the Mississippi River entering the Florida Current) occurs so infrequently (only about ever 6 years), scientists are interested in documenting it so they can be prepared for any changes in the marine biology of the area.

For all of these reasons and more, we took a lot of extra samples at this station. And it took almost 2 hours to process them!

In the evening, we stopped outside of Key West and the director of this program for NOAA, Michelle Wood, took a small boat into the harbor because she cannot be with us for the entire cruise.

Key West
Sunset over Key West - a beautiful way to end the day

She asked me if I’d like to go along with the small boat to see Key West, since I have never been there before, and of course I agreed! I got some great pictures of the R/V Walton Smith from the water and we saw a great sunset on the way back to the ship after dropping her off with Jimmy Buffet blasting from the tourist boats on their own sunset cruises.

We will be in the Mississippi River plume for most of tonight. Everyone is very excited and things are pretty crazy with the CTD sampling because we are doing extra special tests while we are in the Mississippi River plume. We might not get much sleep tonight. I will explain in my next blog all about the chemistry sampling that we are doing with the CTD instrument and why it is so important.

Did you know?

On a ship, they call the kitchen the “galley,” the bathroom is the “head,” and the bedrooms are called “staterooms.”

One interesting thing about the ship is that it does not have regular toilets. The ship has a special marine toilet system that functions with a vacuum and very thin pipes. If one of the vacuums on one of the toilets is not closed, none of the toilets work!

Animals seen today…

  • Zooplankton that live in the sargassum (a type of seaweed that usually floats on the water) –baby crab, baby shrimp, and other zooplankton. The sargassum is a great habitat for baby crab, baby shrimp, and baby sea turtles.
  • Baby flying fish
  • Two juvenile Triggerfish

    Triggerfish
    We caught a young triggerfish in our tow net

Becky Moylan: Preliminary Results, July 13, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Becky Moylan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
July 1 — 14, 2011


Mission: IEA (Integrated Ecosystem Assessment)
Geographical Area: Kona Region of Hawaii
Captain: Kurt Dreflak
Science Director: Samuel G. Pooley, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist: Evan A. Howell
Date: July 13, 2011

Ship Data

Latitude 1940.29N
Longitude 15602.84W
Speed 5 knots
Course 228.2
Wind Speed 9.5 knots
Wind Dir. 180.30
Surf. Water Temp. 25.5C
Surf. Water Sal. 34.85
Air Temperature 24.8 C
Relative Humidity 76.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1013.73 mb
Water Depth 791.50 Meters

Science and Technology Log

Results of Research

Myctophid fish and non-Myctophid fish, Crustaceans, and gelatinous (jelly-like) zooplankton
Crustaceans

Chief Scientist guiding the CTD into the ocean
Chief Scientist guiding the CTD into the ocean

Beginning on July 1st, the NOAA Integrated Ecosystem Assessment project (IEA) in the Kona region has performed scientific Oceanography operations at eight stations.  These stations form two transects (areas) with one being offshore and one being close to shore. As of July 5th, there have been 9 CTD (temperature, depth and salinity) readings, 7 mid-water trawls (fish catches), over 15 acoustics (sound waves) recordings, and 30 hours of marine mammal (dolphins and whales) observations.

The University of Hawaii Ocean Sea Glider has been recording its data also.The acoustics data matches the trawl data to tell us there was more mass (fish) in the close to shore area than the offshore area. And more mass in the northern area than the south. This is evidence that the acoustics system is accurate because what it showed on the computer matched what was actually caught in the net. The fish were separated by hand into categories: Myctophid fish and non-Myctophid fish, Crustaceans, and gelatinous (jelly-like) zooplankton.

Variety of Non-Myctophid Fish caught in the trawl
Variety of Non-Myctophid Fish caught in the trawl

The CTD data also shows that there are changes as you go north and closer to shore. One of the CTD water sample tests being done tells us the amount of phytoplankton (plant) in different areas. Phytoplankton creates energy by making chlorophyll and this chlorophyll is the base of the food chain. It is measured by looking at its fluorescence level. Myctophids eat phytoplankton, therefore, counting the amount of myctophids helps create a picture of how the ecosystem is working.

The data showed us more Chlorophyll levels in the closer to shore northern areas . Phytoplankton creates energy using photosynthesis (Photo = light, synthesis  = put together) and is the base of the food chain. Chlorophyll-a is an important pigment in photosynthesis and is common to all phytoplankton. If we can measure the amount of chlorophyll-a in the water we can understand how much phytoplankton is there. We measure chlorophyll-a by using fluorescence, which sends out light of one “color” to phytoplankton, which then send back light of a different color to our fluorometer (sensor used to measure fluorescence). Myctophids eat zooplankton, which in turn eat phytoplankton. Therefore, counting the amount of myctophids helps create a picture of how the ecosystem is working.   The data showed us more chlorophyll-a levels in the closer to shore northern areas.

Bringing in the catch

The Sea Glider SG513 has transmitted data for 27 dives so far, and will continue to take samples until October when it will be picked up and returned to UH.

Overall the mammal observations spotted 3 Striped dolphins, 1 Bottlenose dolphin, and 3 Pigmy killer whales.  Two biopsy “skin” samples were collected from the Bottlenose dolphins. A main part of their research, however, is done with photos. They have so far collected over 900 pictures.

Looking at all the results so far, we see that there is an area close to shore in the northern region of Kona that has a higher concentration of marine life.  The question now is why?

We are now heading south to evaluate another region so that we can get a picture of the whole Eastern coastline.

Personal Log

In the driver's seat
In the driver's seat