Sam Northern: Finding My Sea Legs, June 1, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sam Northern

Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter

May 28 – June 7, 2017

Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean

Date: June 1, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 40°58’N

Longitude: -67°03.9’W

Sky: Patchy Fog

Visibility: 2-5 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 215°SW

Wind Speed: 6 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 1-2 Feet

Swell Wave: 2-5 Feet

Barometric Pressure: 1012.5 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 11.2°C

Air Temperature: 11.2°C

Science and Technology Log

Marine Traffic May30_2
Approximate location of our first oceanography station [Source — Marine Traffic]
IMG_8622
The J-Frame is used to deploy equipment into the water.

En route to our first oceanography station just past Nantucket, Electronics Technician Tony VanCampen and my fellow day watch scientist Leann Conlon gave me an overview on how each sampling is conducted. This is where the pieces of equipment I described in my previous blog post (bongo nets and CTD) come into play.

Science is very much a team effort. I learned that a deck crew will be in charge of maneuvering the winch and the J-frame. Attached to the cable will be the bongo nets and the CTD which are carefully lowered into the ocean.

Bongo nets allow scientists to strain plankton and other samples from the water using the bongo’s mesh net. At each station the bongo will be sent down to within 5 meters of the bottom or no more than 200 meters. After the bongo has reached its maximum depth for a particular station, the net is methodically brought back to the surface—all the while collecting plankton and sometimes other small organisms like tiny shrimp. It usually takes about 20 minutes for the bongo nets to be cast out and returned on board with the samples.

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Here I am in my gear preparing to launch the first bongo nets.

Once the bongo nets have returned from the water to the aft (back) deck, our work begins. As a part of the Science Party, it is my job to rinse the entire sample into containers, place the plankton into jars, add formalin to jars that came from the big bongos and ethanol to jars that came from the small bongos. These substances help preserve the specimens for further analysis.

At the conclusion of the cruise, our plankton samples will be sent to the Sea Fisheries Institute in Poland where scientists and lab crew sort and identify the plankton samples which gives NOAA scientist an idea of the marine environment in the areas in which we collected samples.

IMG_8763.JPG
Flowmeter

Our Chief Scientist is David Richardson. Dave has been with NOAA since 2008. He keeps track of the digits on the flowmeter (resembles a small propeller) inside the bongo. The beginning and ending numbers are input into the computer which factors in the ship’s towing speed to give us the total volume of water sampled and the distance the bongo net traveled.

 

IMG_8629.JPG
CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, & Depth)

At various oceanography stations we perform a CTD cast which determines the conductivity, temperature, and depth of the ocean. The CTD is attached to the bongo nets or the CTD is mounted within a frame, which also holds several bottles for sampling seawater along with a mechanism that allows scientists on board the ship to control when individual bottles are closed. The CTD is connected to the ship by means of a conducting cable and data are sent electronically through this cable, in real-time, to the scientists on the ship. The scientists closely monitor the data, looking for temperature and particle anomalies that identify hydrothermal plumes. As the CTD is sinking to the desired depth (usually 5-10 meters from the bottom), the device measures the ocean’s density, chlorophyll presence, salinity (the amount of salt in the water), temperature, and several other variables. The CTD’s computer system is able to determine the depth of the water by measuring the atmospheric pressure as the device descends from the surface by a certain number of meters. There is a great deal scientists can learn from launching a CTD in the sea. The data tells us about dissolved inorganic carbon, ocean water nutrients, the levels of chlorophyll, and more. From the information gathered during CTD casts, researchers can investigate how factors of the ocean are related as well as the variation of organisms that live in the ocean.

Map of Leg 2 Stations
The highlighted lines are stations completed in the first leg. The circle indicates the stations for my leg of the survey.

It is fascinating to see the communication between the scientists and the NOAA Corps crew who operate the ship. For instance, NOAA officers inform the scientists about the expected time of arrival for each station and scientists will often call the bridge to inquire about Gordon Gunter’s current speed and the weather conditions. Even computer programs are connected and shared between NOAA Corps crew and the scientists. There is a navigation chart on the monitor in the bridge which is also displayed in the science lab so everyone knows exactly where we are and how close we are to the next station. The bridge must always approve the deployments and recovery of all equipment. There are closed circuit video cameras in various places around the ship that can be viewed on any of the monitors. The scientists and crew can see everything that is going on as equipment gets deployed over the side. Everyone on Gordon Gunter is very much in sync.

Personal Log

First Day at Sea (Tuesday, May 30)

img_8539.jpgToday, my shift began at 12 noon. It probably was not the best idea to have awakened at 6:00 a.m., but I am not yet adjusted to my new work schedule and I did not want to miss one of Margaret’s hearty breakfasts.

We cast out from the Naval Station Newport mid-morning. It was a clearer and warmer day compared to the day before—perfect for capturing pictures of the scenic harbor. I spent much of the morning videoing, photographing, and listening to the sounds of waves as they moved around the ship. I like to spend a lot of time on the bow as well as the flying bridge (the area at the top of the ship above the bridge where the captain operates the vessel). Before lunch, I was beginning to feel a little sea sick from the gentle swaying of the ship. I could only hope that I would find my sea legs during my first watch.IMG_8549.JPG

Gordon Gunter gracefully made its way alongside Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket—two islands off the coast of Cape Cod. Standing on the flying bridge and looking out at the horizon alleviated my sea sickness. At this position I was able to observe and photograph an abundance of wildlife. Seeing the sea birds in their natural habitat is a reminder that I am just a visitor on this vast ocean which so many animals call home. Watching birds fly seamlessly above the waves and rest atop the water gives me a yearning to discover all I can about this unique ecosystem and ways in which we can protect it.

Scroll around the video to see the view from the ship’s bow in all 360-degrees. 

The phrase, “to find one’s sea legs” has a meaning much deeper than freedom from seasickness. Finding your sea legs is the ability to adjust to a new situation or difficult conditions. Everything on board Gordon Gunter was new and sometimes difficult for me. Luckily, I have help from the best group of scientists and NOAA Corps crew a Teacher at Sea could ask for.

At 8:00 p.m. I was part of the leg’s first oceanography station operation. I watched closely as the bongo nets were tied tightly at the end then raised into the air by the winch and J-Frame for deployments into the sea. While the bongo nets and CTD were sinking port side, I looked out at the horizon and much to my amazement, saw two humpback whales surfacing to the water. The mist from their blows lingered even after they descended into the water’s depths.

IMG_8680
Phytoplankton

Once the bongo nets where recovered from the ocean, the crew and I worked quickly but with poise. We used a hose to spray the nets so that all the plankton would reach the bottom of the net when we dumped them into a container. I observed fellow scientist Leann pour each bongo’s sample into a jar, which she filled with water and then a small portion of formalin to preserve the samples. It began and was over so quickly that what took about an hour felt like ten minutes.

An hour later we reached our second station, and this time I was ready! Instead of mostly observing as I did during the first time, this time I was an active participant. Yes, I have a lot left to learn, but after my first day at sea and three stations under my belt, I feel like my sea legs are growing stronger.

Scroll around the 360-degree video to see the Science Party retrieve samples from bongo nets.

Becoming a Scientist (Wednesday, May 31)

I am not yet used to working until midnight. After all, the school where I teach dismisses students by 3:30 p.m. when the sun is still shining. Not to worry, I will adjust. It is actually exciting having a new schedule. I get to experience deploying the CTD and bongo nets during day light hours and a night time. The ocean is as mysterious as it is wide no matter the time of day.

You never quite know what the weather is going to be from one day to the next out at sea. Since my arrival at the ship in Newport, Rhode Island I have experiences overcast skies, sunshine, rain, and now dense fog. But that’s not all! The forecast expects a cold front will approach from the northwest Friday. Today’s fog made it difficult for the animal observers to spot many birds of whales in the area. Despite low visibility, there is still a lot to do on the ship. After our first bongo station in the early afternoon, we had a fire and abandon ship drills. Carrying out of these drills make all passengers acquainted with various procedures to be followed during emergency situations.

I thoroughly enjoy doing the work at each station. Our sampling is interesting, meaningful, and keeps my mind off being sea sick. So far, I am doing much better than expected. The excitement generated by the science team is contagious. I now long for the ship to reach each oceanography station so I can help with the research.

Marine Traffic May31.png
Approximate position of our last station on May 31 in Georges Bank.

Animals Seen

So far the animals seen have been mostly birds. I am grateful to the mammal and seabird observers, Glen Davis and Nicholas Metheny. These two are experts in their field and can ID a bird from a kilometer away with long distance viewing binoculars.

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Glen and Nicholas on the lookout.

 

New Terms/Phrases

[Source — Merriam-Webster Dictionary]

  • Barometer: an instrument for determining the pressure of the atmosphere and hence for assisting in forecasting weather and for determining altitude.
  • Altimeter: an instrument for measuring altitude; especially an aneroid barometer designed to register changes in atmospheric pressure accompanying changes in altitude.
  • Flowmeter: an instrument for measuring one or more properties (such as velocity or pressure) of a flow (as of a liquid in a pipe).
  • Salinity: consisting of or containing salt.
  • Conductivity: the quality or power of conducting or transmitting.
  • Chlorophyll Maximum: a subsurface maximum in the concentration of chlorophyll in the ocean or a lake which is where you usually find an abundance of phytoplankton.
  • Ethanol: a colorless flammable easily evaporated liquid that is used to dissolve things
  • Formalin: a clear, water like solution of formaldehyde and methanol used especially as a preservative.

Did You Know?

The average depth of the ocean is about 12,100 feet. The deepest part of the ocean is called the Challenger Deep and is located beneath the western Pacific Ocean in the southern end of the Mariana Trench. Challenger Deep is approximately 36,200 feet deep. It is named after the HMS Challenger, whose crew first sounded the depths of the trench in 1875. [Source — NOAA Official Website].

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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.

Julia West: It’s the Small Things in Life… March 20, 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 20, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge, 0800, 3/20/15
Temperature: 25.5°C (78°F)
Wind direction: 90° (E)
Wind speed: 6 knots
Sky condition: cumulus (cu), 15% cloud cover

First:

Sunrise, Gulf of Mexico
Sunrise on our first morning at sea – a nice way to start a new adventure!

I’m really excited to see everyone commenting and asking questions, and I hope I do a good job answering them. If you don’t get your answer right away, remember that I am learning too! I will be answering lots of them in the blog posts, and others in the comments, and hopefully I’ll get to most or all of them! The internet out here is marginal at best, so when the satellite connection is good, I try to run with it. That’s why there might be gaps in our communication.

Science and Technology Log

If you haven’t guessed by now, there are several methods of sampling plankton. Each one is used several times a day, when we get to one of the sampling stations. Since the whole point of these research cruises are… well… doing research, it is fascinating to see the communication between the scientists and the NOAA Corps crew who run the ship. At the beginning of the cruise, Pam, the FPC (Field Party Chief, or chief scientist), discussed the stations we need to get to with LT Marc Weekley, the operations officer (OPS), and ENS Dave Wang, the navigations officer (NAV). Together they made a plan. Some of the decision is based on weather; for example, in the first leg of the cruise, which ended just before I got here, there was bad weather coming in, so they decided to work south, to skirt most of the weather coming from the northwest, and then work back northward. Here is a map of the entire sampling area:

winter plankton sampling stations
These are the winter plankton sampling stations. Most of the stations to the east of Pascagoula were covered in the previous leg of the research cruise. The dots are about 30 miles apart. The light solid lines show the edge of the continental shelf and the dotted line is the edge of U.S. waters. Credit: Pamela Bond/NOAA

On our leg, we are doing a little zigzagging south, and then will be zigzagging west all the way toward Texas. There is constant communication between the officers on the bridge, the scientists in the lab, and the deck crew, especially as we get toward the sampling station. There is a navigation chart on the monitor on the bridge, and a video feed of the chart to the lab and every TV monitor on the ship, so everyone knows exactly where we are and how close we are to the next station. There are also closed circuit video cameras in various places around the boat that can be viewed on the lab and bridge monitors. The scientists and crew can see everything that is going on as equipment gets deployed over the side. The bridge has to give the OK for anything to be deployed or recovered, even a plankton net.

Our plankton sampling stations
These are the stations we are sampling. The X’s are stations we have completed as of early on 3/20, and the lines that connect the dots are how we have traveled.

There’s also a camera on the bow of the boat, looking down at the water. With that camera you can sometimes see dolphins “bow surfing.” The bow of the boat pushes a wave ahead of it, something you’ve probably seen if you’ve been in any boat with a motor. Imagine a permanent, amazing surfing wave – one that you can ride for miles! If you fall off the wave, just a few tail strokes and you’re back on it. That’s life as a dolphin!

OK, now back to plankton:

Today I want to introduce CUFES, or “Continuous Underwater Fish Egg Sampler.” This unit is pumping in seawater continuously, agitating it to funnel any plankton and fish eggs into the collecting device. This device was first used on the west coast, where the fish eggs are larger. Here in the Gulf, eggs are very, very small, and not the priority, so the CUFES is used to collect whatever plankton are pulled into it. The intake is 3 meters below the surface.

CUFES
This is the CUFES. The blue thing near the top is the agitator, and it creates a foam layer that you can see below it.

The water is agitated, and then funneled into a sieve. The water is piped right back into the ocean, and the plankton collect on the sieve. Every 30 minutes (yes, they have a timer), the sieve is removed, and the sample is rinsed and transferred to a small bottle. The bottle is filled with ethanol as a preservative. This sampling method provides a continuous record of plankton, in contrast to the isolated stations that are used for the rest of the sampling, which are about 30 miles apart. In addition, the ship has another device that continuously records temperature and salinity. This unit is called the……..wait for it……. thermosalinograph! Every 30 minutes, when the CUFES sample is taken, the minimum, maximum, and average temperature and salinity for that half hour gets imported right into the CUFES “event” (the computer data sheet). Also recorded are the start and end positions of the ship, as well as the water depth. There is no shortage of data, and this is just one of the plankton sampling methods!

CUFES sieve
The water then gets funneled into this sieve, where the plankton collect.

 

Chrissy and the CUFES
Here is Chrissy in the “wet lab,” ready to stop the water flow to the sieve, so she can collect the sample.

 

Andy and CUFES
Andy is collecting the sample, picking any stragglers from the sieve with tweezers.

Personal Log

Now that I’ve been on the ship for 3 days, life is falling into a routine. The scientists work 12 hour shifts – noon to midnight, and midnight to noon. There are two scientists on each shift, and Pam works long days overseeing both shifts. Chrissy, pictured above, is one of the midnight-noon workers. I wasn’t required to stand a particular shift; I float between both shifts as well, so I can work with everyone and get to know them all. Also, this way I don’t have to ask the same questions over and over again to the same people – I can spread out my repetition and drive them all less crazy! I’m kidding, because they are all incredibly patient. One thing about scientists is that they invite questions. Science is all about questions. And you can bet I’ve asked a few that had them scratching their head a bit, but we always find the answers!

More about the ship – you can find out a lot on the Gordon Gunter’s web page. That’s where I go to find out when meal times are! The ship is 224′ long. My stateroom is on the port side of the 01 deck (the first deck with windows that you can walk around, if you’re looking at the picture), toward the forward end. Above that is the 02 deck, which has a smaller interior. The 02 deck is where the life rafts are kept. Above that is the bridge deck, smaller still, but fun to be up there at the control center of the ship’s world! And the very top is the fly bridge – a cool place to hang out and see far and wide. Below the 01 deck is the main deck (also known as 1 deck), where the galley (mess deck) and lounges are. Below that is the 2 deck, where the engine and generators are, as well as the laundry room and a gym. This is the heart of the ship.

Johns on the bridge
ENS Kristin Johns at the controls on the bridge

One last picture (next time I’ll have more pics) – we had our first fire and abandon ship drills. These are extremely important, and everyone takes them seriously. I forgot to bring my camera to the fire drill, but I’ll try to remember next time. I had to put on my “gumby” suit, which is the survival suit we all need if we have to abandon ship. It’s an incredibly thick neoprene dry suit, and I felt rather silly in it, but it’s serious business! Cute, don’t you think?

Gumby suit
I will survive!

Did You Know?

In the Gulf of Mexico, the continental shelf extends about 60-100 miles from shore. The average depth of the Gulf is 1615 meters, with a maximum of about 4000 meters.

Challenge yourself: Where is the “Sigsbee Deep?” Are we going there?

New Term for the Day

Thalassophilia – love of the sea!

Julia West: Getting Ready to Head South to the Gulf of Mexico! March 11, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
(Almost!) Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: March 11, 2015

Introduction

Hello from the frozen north! From the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York, and from almost as cold southern Vermont, I welcome you to this blog of my new adventure. My name is Julia West, and in just a few short days I will be embarking on a new journey, leaving this place where the average temperature last month was a cozy 5°F (-15°C) and joining the crew and scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter in the Gulf of Mexico, where it will be more like 60°F (15°C).

The Gordon Gunter

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
The Gordon Gunter, length 224′, first launched in 1989 as the U.S. Naval ship Relentless, and converted to its present configuration for NOAA in 1998. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

First of all, if you’re the type who asks as many questions as I do (and I hope you are – questions are good!), you might be wondering why am I saying hello from two places, both NY and VT. Well, Oak Meadow School, “where” I teach, is in Brattleboro, VT. I live in NY, 3 hours away. And the students? They are everywhere! But of course if you are an Oak Meadow student, you already know all this. So I will say I am from both places, and I represent homeschooled students throughout the world, who will hopefully be tuning into this blog and adding comments. I invite everyone reading this to ask questions and share comments – I don’t need to know who you are, but hope you will introduce yourself.

I teach high school science, mostly biology and environmental science, and health, to homeschooled students through our distance learning program. I have been working for Oak Meadow for 22 years now. I am always looking for ways to bring our students together in our global community, and what better way to do that but to go out into the one “world ocean” that we all share. I’m passionate about science and scientific research, and very excited to share with you all that I learn. And believe me, I have much to learn. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any real field work, and the technology has changed so much that I am getting into student mode!

More About Me

Julia West - skiing Feb 2015
This is me on a backcountry ski tour last week here in the Adirondacks

 I would have to say I’m a landlubber who loves oceans. I’m more comfortable in the mountains where I can range far and wide, yet the unknown has a strong pull on me – I love new challenges. Living in a small floating space will be my first entry into a whole new world, which I hope will lead to more sailing experiences in the future. I don’t even know yet if I get seasick! I grew up with small boats on the many lakes we have here; I’ve taken plenty of ferries in various oceans, but I’ve never spent real time at sea. I love the outdoors – I am an avid cross-country skier, biker, hiker, and whitewater raft guide.

I don’t know the Gulf of Mexico; I have spent very little time in the south. We all hear about the Gulf in the news, and often not in a good way: hurricanes, BP oil spill, the dead zone…. I teach about these topics. I’m excited to get a firsthand perspective on the important research being done there. More on that soon, but first, I have to share this picture of some of the cool NOAA goodies that came in the mail last week! I have to admit – I really like the NOAA logo.

NOAA TAS goodies
The cool TAS swag that came from NOAA!

What I Know about NOAA

When most people think about NOAA, they are probably thinking about the National Weather Service forecast. NOAA is so much more! I have used the website as an incredible resource on meteorology, anything related to the oceans or atmosphere, fisheries, and climate science. As a science geek, I just have fun clicking around the NOAA website, checking it all out. It is NOAA scientists who map the ocean floor, providing safe passage for shipping. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service takes the lead in stewardship of the marine ecosystems in the U.S. And if you want the latest in climate monitoring and predictions, look to NOAA.

I also have learned a little bit about NOAA through my daughter, Joy. She was a Hollings scholar in college, which opened the door to employment with NOAA in Woods Hole, MA. Now a PhD candidate in marine biology, she still does some research on NOAA ships. Here is a picture of Joy on the R/V Auk a few years ago. The yellow creature is called a marine autonomous recording unit (MARU), otherwise known as a pop-up. It is deployed into waters of the continental shelf to record the sounds of marine mammals. These units are anchored to the bottom, and in six months, when it is time to retrieve them, an acoustic signal triggers the cable to release, and the unit “pops up” to the surface, where it is found and picked up.

Joy doing NOAA research
My daughter Joy (see any resemblance?) ready to deploy a pop-up in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off of Cape Cod. Photo credit: Denise Risch.

It was partly through Joy that I heard about the Teacher at Sea program, and I also have to credit her for reviving my interest in field science. So here I am!

What I Will Be Doing

What is a winter plankton survey anyway? I will be sharing lots of details about that in the next few weeks, as I learn. The fish resources in the Gulf (or anywhere) are important to humans, and it is through constant monitoring that we keep up on the status and health of fish populations. This data informs fishing regulations. The status of non-fishery species (those not used by humans) is equally important, as you know, because all species are necessary for a healthy ecosystem.

We will be sampling fish eggs, larvae, and juveniles, as well as their zooplankton predators and prey, to determine their abundance and distribution. We will be measuring physical properties of their habitat, as well as primary productivity. That’s about as far as I will go right now, at the risk of giving you incorrect information! I’ll be sharing details about the tools and methods used in upcoming blog posts.

Meanwhile, this map below shows the sampling locations – if you need me, you can look for me in one of these spots!

SEAMAP monitoring stations
SEAMAP monitoring stations in the Gulf of Mexico. You can be sure to find us around here somewhere! Photo credit: SEFSC (NOAA website)

New? Terms

If you can’t remember what plankton is, it’s time to look it up! How about primary productivity? Feel free to share your definitions by leaving a comment.

Today’s Question (leave a reply in the comment section with your answer!)

Who was Gordon Gunter?

Lastly

I love maps, and couldn’t help adding one. First stop Pascagoula, MS NOAA lab, where the ship will be waiting. Next “stop,” Gulf of Mexico!

Justin Czarka, August 9-10, 2009

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

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Dates: August 9-10, 2009

Weather data from the Bridge

Sunrise: 6:26 a.m.
Sunset: 20:03 (8:03 p.m)
Weather: fog Sky: partly to mostly cloudy
Wind speed: 15 knots
Wind direction: North
Visibility: less than 1 nautical mile (nm)
Waves: 9 feet

Science and Technology Log 

August 9 was a day for getting all the science gear aboard.  In order to conduct a research cruise at sea, you have to plan and pack all the materials you envision needing beforehand.  Once out at sea, there is nowhere to stop and pick up additional supplies.  Bill Peterson, the chief scientist from NOAA/ Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC), and another member of the science team,

The McArthur II at port in San Francisco prior to the cruise. She is 224 feet long with a breadth (width) of 43 feet.
The McArthur II at port in San Francisco prior to the cruise. She is 224 feet long with a breadth (width) of 43 feet.

Toby Auth out of Oregon State University, Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), up all the science equipment onto the deck of the McArthur. Some of the equipment we hauled onto the ship included bongo frames and bongo nets (used to collect specimen samples in the ocean), Niskin bottles (to collect water samples in the water column at various depths), dissecting microscopes, a fluorometer (to measure the amount of phytoplankton in the water), and crate after crate of sample jars.

In order to transfer all of the science equipment onto the McArthur II we laid out a cargo net flat on the pier that the crane dropped to us.  Then we hauled the equipment from the truck and placed it on the cargo net.  Next the cargo net holds were attached to the crane, which lifted the materials onto the deck of the ship. We unpacked the cargo net, conducted additional cargo lifts, and then stored all the equipment in the labs.  Using the crane sure beat hauling up all the equipment by hand!  The scientists have to get all the equipment placed in the labs, which is a lot of work.  I helped one of the scientists, Tracy Shaw, who studies zooplankton, set up the dissection microscope by securing it to the table.  On dry land, tables will not move around, but we had to tie it down to prepare for any possible rough seas.

This is me working to prepare the CTD for a practice launch in San Francisco Bay. We made sure that the Niskin bottle seals were in working condition.
This is me working to prepare the CTD for a practice launch in San Francisco Bay. We made sure that the Niskin bottle seals were in working condition.

August 10 we were to set sail in the morning. That has been changed until this afternoon, which gives the science team time to prepare some of the equipment before heading out to sea, along with conducting emergency drills and briefings. This morning the science team and NOAA crew worked together to prepare the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) probe. This involved cleaning the Niskin bottles and replacing cracked O-rings to ensure a secure seal around the bottle openings. If the bottles are not sealed properly, water and air (upon reaching the surface) can enter the bottle from the water column at an undesired location.  We also ensured that the lids close tightly, providing a vacuum seal.

Personal Log 

Living and working on a boat will be a new experience for me.  There are many unknowns in the process, but it is exciting to be learning something new nearly every minute.  I took a walk around the ship’s interior this afternoon, amazed by how much space is contained inside the McArthur II. The staterooms (where one sleeps) are large, containing a desk and a lounge chair.  They also have a sink, with a bathroom that is shared by the adjoining stateroom. The McArthur also has a fitness room for staying fit at sea, along with a lounge to for relaxing with movies, books, and even espresso!  The McArthur II surely will be home for the next nine or ten days.

I have been most impressed with the welcome I have received from both the NOAA crew and the scientists from NOAA, Oregon State University, the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) and the U.S. Coast Guard.  Everyone is friendly, helpful, and full of cooperation. It is encouraging to observe the teamwork between people.  I appreciate having the opportunity to learn alongside the scientists and crew.  Being a teacher, I am used to being the one with the knowledge to impart or the activity to do.  It is exciting being aboard because now I am the student, eager to take notes, ask questions, and learn from those alongside me.  I have to say, each person has been an effective teacher!  So we are off to Bodega Bay for our first sampling and there’s a rumor going around that a Wii Fit competition might be getting under way!

Today’s Vocabulary 

Transect line- when conducting research at a predetermined latitude or longitude and continue to collect data samples along that line Niskin bottles- these containers have openings on both the top and bottom.  As it drops through the water column it fills with water.  At a predetermined depth both ends close, capturing water from that specific depth inside the bottle that can be brought back to the surface and analyzed. Water Column- a vertical section of water where sampling occurs

Allison Schaffer, September 27, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allison Schaffer
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
September 14 – 27, 2007

Mission: Ichthyoplankton Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 27, 2007

A beautiful sunset on the Gulf of Mexico
A beautiful sunset on the Gulf of Mexico

Science and Technology Log 

The past few days have been kind of crazy on the ship.  Two days ago we did a fire drill and an abandon ship drill. We did these drills the within the first few days of our cruise and I got lost trying to get to my correct area for the abandon ship drill. But this time, not a problem. First we did a fire drill.  They sounded the horn and let us know it’s a drill and all the scientists report to the same area where wait for word from the bridge to release us from our drill.  While we were waiting, the crew suited up in the gear they would need for a real fire and the Executive Officer, or XO, Nathan Hancock, picked me and one of the other scientists to help out with the fire hose. I was up front and held the nozzle while the other scientist supported the hose. That was my very first fire hose experience!  Next we did an abandon ship drill. Everyone on board is assigned a specific area to report to and you must bring with you few items: your survival suit for cold water, a long sleeve shirt, long pants and a hat. Once everyone has reported to their area, we wait for word from the crew to let us know we can head back to the lab.  Then yesterday, we did a man overboard drill. To simulate a real man overboard situation, the crew threw a dummy into the water, sounded the man overboard alarm and alerted everyone that there was a man overboard on the port (left) side.

The scientists all report to the same area and have the important job of being the eyes for the crew while they ready the rescue boat.  For this drill, we stood up on deck and pointed in the direction of the man overboard as the crew deployed the rescue boat and headed in the direction we were pointing.  We did that until the rescue boat was in view of the man overboard.  I liked watching the crew in action and seeing how well they worked together.   Last night I was able to visit the bridge to see how they run everything up there.  My shift was over and the night shift was getting set up to do their first station of the night.  I asked if I could stick around and watch them do a station so I would know what it’s like from the perspective of the officers.  It was very cool. And then we had our last full station today.  I finished my last bongo, Neuston and CTD tonight. We will be doing some more methot samples as we head home for me and some other teachers to bring to their classrooms.  So we aren’t completely done with everything, but the cruise is definitely winding down.

Personal Log 

Last day of stations was today!  This is exciting because it means that we successfully finished the leg of our cruise. But at the same time it’s sad because that means I will be going home soon.  And I just figured out how to get everywhere on the ship.  As educational and fun as this has been, I am excited to get home.  I have so many stories that I can’t wait to share with everyone and hopefully inspire some of my co-workers to get involved with experiences like this.

Addendum: Glossary of Terms 

  • Visibility is how far ahead you can see from the ship.  On a very foggy day you may only have a visibility of 10 ft whereas on a clear day you can see all the way to the horizon, or 12 nautical miles.
  • Wind direction tells you which way the wind is blowing from: 0° is north, 90° is east, 180° is south, and 270° is west.
  • Sea wave height is the height of the smaller ripples
  • Swell height is the estimates larger waves
  • Sea level pressure (or Barometric Pressure) indicates what the trend of the weather has been. High barometric pressure usually means sunny weather and rain can not build up in clouds if they are being squeezed together by high pressure.  Low barometric pressure means rainy or stormy weather is on the way.
  • Present Weather is a description of what the day’s weather is.

– Courtesy of Thomas Nassif, NOAA Teacher at Sea, 2005 Field Season

  • Field Party Chief or FPC is in charge of the team of scientists on board the ship. This person oversees all activities having to do with collection of samples and is the go to person in case anything goes wrong that the scientists can’t handle.  They also act as an extra set of hands when needed.
  • Bongo Net is two circular frames 60 cm in diameter sitting side by side with two 333 micron nets and a weight in the center to help it sink.  At the base of each net is a plastic container used to collect all the plankton that can be easily removed so we can retrieve the samples
  • Lab Scientist is the scientist that stays in the lab to work the computers recording the data on sample time, sample depth and is the one that relays information to the deck
  • personnel about when the nets have hit maximum depth.  They keep watch in case anything goes wrong underwater.
  • Deck Scientist is the scientist out on deck getting the nets ready, rinsing the nets, collecting and preserving samples.  They are the eyes on deck in case anything goes wrong at the surface or on deck.
  • Neuston Net is one net 1 X 2 meters with a 947 micron net.  Neuston samples are done only at the surface and placed in the water for ten minutes.
  • The Bridge is the navigational hub of the ship. This is where the officers steer and navigate the ship and where all the equipment is located to help them to do so.  It is usually the top deck on ships to give the crew the best visual of the water.
  • XO or Executive Officer is the second in command to the CO.  The XO is responsible for the administration of the ship, supervising department chiefs as well as all officers.  They are also responsible for the budget.

Allison Schaffer, September 25, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allison Schaffer
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
September 14 – 27, 2007

Mission: Ichthyoplankton Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 25, 2007

Science and Technology Log

Today I took my first CUFES sample.  CUFES stands for Continuous Underway Fish Egg Sampler.  The purpose of this is to map the distributions of fish eggs along our cruise path and the samples are collected every 30 minutes.  Basically what happens is there is an intake pump at the bow of the ship to collect water at the surface.  From there the water pumped into a collector where the water is run over a sieve to catch any eggs.  We preserve the eggs for ID back at the lab on land.  This is something that usually just the lab scientist handles, but they allowed me the opportunity to try it out a few times.  Along with collecting all the samples, all the information about latitude and longitude, time, and sample number must be input into the computer to collect all the information needed to map the distribution once the numbers have been collected.

Since I have been working as a deck scientist since we started stations, the FPC (Field Party Chief) offered me a chance to stay inside and to see what the lab scientist does while we are working out on deck. This way I would get to see both sides of the collection process. We got the 10 minute to station notice from the bridge, the lab scientist started filling in station information into the computer.  She inputs longitude and latitude, time, sample number, and station number in databases for each of the different sample methods.  For this station we were doing bongo, Neuston and CTD sample collections. Once we got the OK that the deck and bridge were ready, she sent out the OK that she was ready and the deck got started placing the bongo in the water.  She let them know the final depth they were going to give them an idea of how long the collection will take.  The sensor that goes in with the bongo relayed all the information about depth back to her. Once we hit maximum depth, she gave them the “all stop” and they started hauling it back in. The Neuston involves the same information being entered into the computer but all she needs to relay to the deck personnel is the 2 minute warning and so they could start hauling the net back in.  The CTD seemed very complicated so I just sat quiet and tried not to ask too many questions and distract her.  For this the graphs on the screen displayed everything that the CTD reads and as they lowered into the water column I watched as the graphs collected all the data.  She let them know how deep to go, when to pull it back up and how long to leave the CTD at each depth.  She also fired the three bottles to collect water for chlorophyll measurements.  They brought it back on deck and that was it for this station up in the lab.

Personal Log 

I am very thankful that I got put on a cruise with such a great team of people.  Between the crew and scientists, everyone has been so helpful and accommodating.  The FPC always goes out of his way to take pictures for me, explain things further and give me opportunities to experience everything the scientists do.  Coming on as a volunteer I wasn’t sure how much of the different tasks they would allow me to do, but they have been great explaining everything and showing me the different things.  They have also been helpful showing me different techniques when rinsing samples and helping me out with the different ship terms and names.

Addendum: Glossary of Terms 

  • Visibility is how far ahead you can see from the ship.  On a very foggy day you may only have a visibility of 10 ft whereas on a clear day you can see all the way to the horizon, or 12 nautical miles.
  • Wind direction tells you which way the wind is blowing from: 0° is north, 90° is east, 180° is south, and 270° is west.
  • Sea wave height is the height of the smaller ripples
  • Swell height is the estimates larger waves
  • Sea level pressure (or Barometric Pressure) indicates what the trend of the weather has been. High barometric pressure usually means sunny weather and rain can not build up in clouds if they are being squeezed together by high pressure.  Low barometric pressure means rainy or stormy weather is on the way.
  • Present Weather is a description of what the day’s weather is.

– Courtesy of Thomas Nassif, NOAA Teacher at Sea, 2005 Field Season

  • Field Party Chief or FPC is in charge of the team of scientists on board the ship. This person oversees all activities having to do with collection of samples and is the go to person in case anything goes wrong that the scientists can’t handle.  They also act as an extra set of hands when needed.
  • Bongo Net is two circular frames 60 cm in diameter sitting side by side with two 333 micron nets and a weight in the center to help it sink.  At the base of each net is a plastic container used to collect all the plankton that can be easily removed so we can retrieve the samples
  • Lab Scientist is the scientist that stays in the lab to work the computers recording the data on sample time, sample depth, station number, sample time and is the one that relays information to the deck personnel about when the nets have hit maximum depth.  They are the eyes underwater.
  • Deck Scientist is the scientist out on deck getting the nets ready, rinsing the nets, collecting and preserving samples.  They are the eyes on deck in case anything goes wrong at the surface or on deck.
  • Neuston Net is one net 1 X 2 meters with a 947 micron net.  Neuston samples are done only at the surface and placed in the water for ten minutes.
  • CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth.  It is lowered into the water column to get salinity, chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen and turbidity readings at the stations. There are three bottles that are attached to the CTD to take water samples at the surface, mid layer and bottom of the water column at that station.
  • The Bridge is the navigational hub of the ship. This is where the officers steer and navigate the ship and where all the equipment is located to help them to do so.  It is usually the top deck on ships to give the crew the best visual of the water.

Allison Schaffer, September 21, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allison Schaffer
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
September 14 – 27, 2007

Mission: Ichthyoplankton Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 21, 2007

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 12 nautical miles
Wind direction: E
Wind speed: 12 kts.
Sea wave height: 1 – 2 feet
Swell wave height: 2 – 3 feet
Seawater temperature: 29.0 degrees
Present Weather: Partly Cloudy

Science and Technology Log 

Today we had the opportunity to try out two new sample methods.  One method is along the same lines as the bongo and Neuston sample but this one is called a methot.  A methot is 2.32 X 2.24 m frame with 1/8” mesh netting.  The total length of the methot net is 43 feet. It’s huge! It works just like regular plankton net where it has a large opening and then as it moves towards the end it becomes more and more narrow and eventually ends at a collection container. The reason this is my first time doing one is because they are usually done only at night and since the net is so large they must be done in fairly deep water. The deck personnel helped us put the net in the water and then we waited.  As the net was brought back on deck, we rinsed it down and collected samples the same way we would a bongo or Neuston sample. Of course with such a large net we collect bigger animals that we would with the other two.  We did collect some fairly large fish along with smaller larvae.  Our collection wasn’t the most excited some of the scientists have seen but to me, it was very exciting.

The second collection we took wasn’t a plankton collection but a water sample.  It is important to know the physical and biological parameters of different areas when collecting. For this, we used a very large (and expensive) piece of technology: a CTD which stands for conductivity, temperature and depth.  The CTD also measures dissolved oxygen and can do all of these measurements without actually collecting any water.  We do however collect water to look at chlorophyll levels.  The CTD frame has three bottles attached to the frame to collect water throughout the water column.  Once we open the bottles on deck and set them, the lab scientist has the capability to fire the bottles shut at different depths. All measurements and water collection happen at three areas in the water column. One data and water collection is done at maximum depth, the second at mid depth at the third just a few feet from the surface.  After all of the data has been collected, the CTD is brought back on deck where we bring the water samples up to the lab to test. It was definitely an exciting day on deck today.

Personal Log 

It has one week since we left port in Pascagoula and I am having such a great time!  I forgot how much fun field work is and how excited I get over the smallest things when it comes to animals.  I am so fortunate to have such an experience and I can not wait to get some samples home to share with our students.  I already have started making some lesson plans!

Addendum: Glossary of Terms 

  • Visibility is how far ahead you can see from the ship.  On a very foggy day you may only have a visibility of 10 ft whereas on a clear day you can see all the way to the horizon, or 12 nautical miles.
  • Wind direction tells you which way the wind is blowing from: 0° is north, 90° is east, 180° is south, and 270° is west.
  • Sea wave height is the height of the smaller ripples
  • Swell height is the estimates larger waves
  • Sea level pressure (or Barometric Pressure) indicates what the trend of the weather has been. High barometric pressure usually means sunny weather and rain can not build up in clouds if they are being squeezed together by high pressure.  Low barometric pressure means rainy or stormy weather is on the way.
  • Present Weather is a description of what the day’s weather is.

– Courtesy of Thomas Nassif, NOAA Teacher at Sea, 2005 Field Season

  • Field Party Chief or FPC is in charge of the team of scientists on board the ship. This person oversees all activities having to do with collection of samples and is the go to person in case anything goes wrong that the scientists can’t handle.  They also act as an extra set of hands when needed.
  • Bongo Net is two circular frames 60 cm in diameter sitting side by side with two 333 micron nets and a weight in the center to help it sink.  At the base of each net is a plastic container used to collect all the plankton that can be easily removed so we can retrieve the samples
  • Lab Scientist is the scientist that stays in the lab to work the computers recording the data on sample time, sample depth and is the one that relays information to the deck personnel about when the nets have hit maximum depth.  They keep watch in case anything goes wrong underwater.
  • Deck Scientist is the scientist out on deck getting the nets ready, rinsing the nets, collecting and preserving samples.  They are the eyes on deck in case anything goes wrong at the surface or on deck.
  • Neuston Net is one net 1 X 2 meters with a 947 micron net.  Neuston samples are done only at the surface and placed in the water for ten minutes.
  • CTD 
  • Photic Zone 

Allison Schaffer, September 18, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allison Schaffer
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
September 14 – 27, 2007

Mission: Ichthyoplankton Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 18, 2007

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 12 nautical miles
Wind direction: NE
Wind speed: 18 kts.
Sea wave height: 3 – 4 feet
Swell wave height: 3 – 4 feet
Seawater temperature: 27.5 degrees
Present Weather: Mostly Cloudy

Our sample from one of the bongo collections
Our sample from one of the bongo collections

Science and Technology Log 

I woke up this morning excited and ready to go! My morning doesn’t exactly start bright and early at 6am but tends to start much later around 10am.  The way life on board the boat works for the team of scientists is that there are two teams: the night watch which is from midnight to noon and the day watch runs from noon to midnight. The field party (that’s what the team of scientists on board is called) consists of six scientists and the FPC (Field Party Chief).  I work as part of the day watch along with two of the other scientists.  The remaining three work the night shift. Each of the pre-selected stations is about 30 miles apart, so it takes us close to three hours to commute between stations. Once we arrive at the station, all the sample collections and last about 45 minutes to an hour. After we have completed a station we head back into the lab where we have three hours to wait until our next station. During this time we usually watch a movie, read a book, email friends, family or work, do work, play cards, etc. Or in my case, I like to sit out on the deck and look at the ocean since living in Chicago it’s not something I get to see everyday.

Teacher at Sea, Allison Schaffer, rinsing one of the bongo samples into a glass container to be preserved
Teacher at Sea, Allison Schaffer, rinsing one of the bongo samples into a glass container to be preserved

So this particular morning, I wake up and get dressed just in time for an early lunch before our shift. Today it happens that we reach our station around 11 and since each station takes about an hour, myself and the other scientists from my shift decided we would head up and relieve the night shift early so they can head down for lunch since lunch is only out until noon. Since they had already done the bongo net sampling and preserving, we finished up the station with a Neuston collection. Once we labeled all the samples, I sat down at one of the computers to do some more emailing and started staring out the window in the lab. It was another beautiful day on the Gulf! At least from my perspective it was.  What I didn’t see yet on our horizon was a fairly large storm system was headed our way from the Atlantic across Florida in our direction. We arrived at our second station, did our two sample collections and headed back in for dinner. When we got back in, the FPC said that the Commanding Officer (or CO), Lieutenant Commander Brian Parker, said we were going to be heading south to get away from the storm. He said that was our best bet to avoid any bad weather and that the safety of everyone on board is most important to him.  We would definitely not be able to hit anymore stations on my shift but we now had the rest of the night off to relax!

Bongo nets coming out of the water getting rinsed down by one of the scientists
Bongo nets coming out of the water getting rinsed

Personal Log 

I have been finding some very cool animals in the samples we have collected!  The other deck scientist and I spend more time looking through our sieves to see what caught than we do doing anything else. At our first station we got more jellies—and the stinging ones this time!  But at our second station, we caught a bunch of juvenile flat fish and eels.  And we are getting tons of crabs and shrimp!  Little tiny ones!  It is still amazing to me the variety of what we are finding and the different colors of everything! Bright blue copepods, orange or purple crabs, purple amphipods, silvery blue and yellow jacks, silvery blue half beaks, yellow and gray triggers, pink shrimp, and more!

 

Teacher at Sea, Allison Schaffer, taking wire angle measurements for the bongo nets using the inclinometer.
Allison Schaffer taking wire angle measurements for the bongo nets with the inclinometer
Teacher at Sea, Allison Schaffer holding a cannon ball jelly caught in the Neuston net
Allison Schaffer holding a cannon ball jelly caught in the Neuston net

Allison Schaffer, September 16, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allison Schaffer
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
September 14 – 27, 2007

Mission: Ichthyoplankton Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 16, 2007

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 12 nautical miles
Wind direction: NE
Wind speed: 10 kts.
Sea wave height: 1 – 2 feet
Swell wave height: 1 – 2 feet
Seawater temperature: 30.1 degrees
Present Weather: Clear with scattered clouds

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Allison Schaffer, gets ready to set sail aboard NOAA Ship GORDON GUNTER
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Allison Schaffer, gets ready to set sail aboard NOAA Ship GORDON GUNTER

Science and Technology Log 

We left port in Pascagoula, MS and headed toward the coast of Florida’s panhandle to begin our ichthyoplankton survey. The purpose of the cruise is to assess the abundance and distribution of the early life stages of different fish. I am part of Leg II of the Fall Ichthyoplankton cruise.  Leg I took place the two weeks prior.  Throughout the Gulf of Mexico there are 143 pre-selected stations set about 30 miles apart at specific latitudes and longitudes.  They spread across the Gulf of Mexico’s continental shelf in water depth of 6 meters to just over 200 meters.  Some species we are specifically keeping and eye out for are king and Spanish mackerel, red drum, and snapper.

Once we arrived at our first station, I put on my hard hat and got to work.  The first sample collected was done using a bongo frame net.  This is two circular frames 60 cm in diameter sitting side by side with two 333 micron nets and a weight in the center to help it sink. At the base of each net is a plastic container used to collect all the plankton that can be easily removed so we can retrieve the samples.  The bongo net is placed in the water and deployed near the bottom.  We don’t want it to hit bottom though!  The bongo sampler is towed at a 45 degree angle that I, as one of the deck scientists, measure using an inclinometer and report back to the lab scientist.  The time that the bongo is in the water depends on how deep it is at each station.  Once the tow was completed, the bongo was brought back on board and using a sea water hose, I rinsed the net allowing all the plankton to fall into the container to collect any plankton caught in the net.  I removed the collection container and rinsed the sample into a sieve.

Then the fun part! I got to look around and see what we caught.  Our first station was full of jellies! I rinsed the samples and placed them in jars to preserve them for identification back at the lab on land. The next sample I collected was done using a Neuston net.  This is very different from the bongo nets in that it is one large net 1 X 2 meters with a 947 micron net and we sample only at the surface.  The Neuston is placed in the water for ten minutes and then brought back on board, rinsed and preserved the same way as the bongo nets. Once I was done with that I headed back inside where we label everything to make sure all samples have numbers and what equipment was used for collection.  I sat down to email some friends back home feeling a little overwhelmed but excited to get to our next station!

Personal Log 

I am still getting my sea legs and learning as I go.  Since today was my first day on deck, everything was very new to me but that didn’t stop me from jumping right in.  My fellow deck scientist has been very helpful and patient about teaching me everything and making sure I feel comfortable doing the different tasks.  I can’t wait to learn more!

Addendum: Glossary of Terms 

  • Visibility is how far ahead you can see from the ship.  On a very foggy day you may only have a visibility of 10 ft whereas on a clear day you can see all the way to the horizon, or 12 nautical miles.
  • Wind direction tells you which way the wind is blowing from: 0° is north, 90° is east, 180° is south, and 270° is west.
  • Sea wave height is the height of the smaller ripples
  • Swell height is the estimates larger waves
  • Sea level pressure (or Barometric Pressure) indicates what the trend of the weather has been. High barometric pressure usually means sunny weather and rain can not build up in clouds if they are being squeezed together by high pressure.  Low barometric pressure means rainy or stormy weather is on the way.
  • Present Weather is a description of what the day’s weather is.

Courtesy of Thomas Nassif, NOAA Teacher at Sea, 2005 Field Season  

  • Field Party Chief or FPC is in charge of the team of scientists on board the ship. This person oversees all activities having to do with collection of samples and is the go to person in case anything goes wrong that the scientists can’t handle.  They also act as an extra set of hands when needed.
  • Bongo Net is two circular frames 60 cm in diameter sitting side by side with two 333 micron nets and a weight in the center to help it sink.  At the base of each net is a plastic container used to collect all the plankton that can be easily removed so we can retrieve the samples
  • Inclinometer is the instrument which measures the wire angle to insure that the bongo nets are at the ideal 45 degrees.
  • Lab Scientist is the scientist that stays in the lab to work the computers recording the data on sample time, sample depth and is the one that relays information to the deck personnel about when the nets have hit maximum depth.  They keep watch in case anything goes wrong underwater.
  • Deck Scientist is the scientist out on deck getting the nets ready, rinsing the nets, collecting and preserving samples.  They are the eyes on deck in case anything goes wrong at the surface or on deck.
  • Neuston Net is one net 1 X 2 meters with a 947 micron net.  Neuston samples are done only at the surface and placed in the water for ten minutes. 

Joan Raybourn, August 25, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 25, 2005

Personal Log

Today was the last day of our two-week adventure at sea. At dawn this morning, we paused for a while before entering the north end of the Cape Cod Canal. While we have been within sight of land for a day or two, it was strange to see land on both sides of us. The canal was built in the 1930s, and using it to get back to Woods Hole saves at least half a day’s sailing time. Without it, we would have to sail all the way around the “arm” of Cape Cod. We slipped into the canal and eased our way south, back into civilization. We stood on the bow of the ship and watched fish playing in the water, seabirds hovering hopefully over them. People walked their dogs on the path beside the canal, and sailboats passed silently. All was quiet. When a siren split the air, we knew we were back.

The trip through the canal took about an hour and a half, and we were in Buzzards Bay. We made our way through the islands and back around to Woods Hole, to the pier where our trip began. We cleaned the labs and packed our gear and samples to go ashore. At the pier, a gangplank was attached to the ALBATROSS IV so that we could move “all ashore that was going ashore”. We lugged boxes and crates over it to the NOAA warehouse, the EPA truck, and the NOAA van that would take the samples back to the lab in Rhode Island. It was a strange feeling to be back on land. At the beginning of the trip, my body had to adapt to the motion of the ship, and for the first two days I staggered around until I got my sea legs. Back on land, my body had to adapt again; even though my brain knew I was on solid land, the sensation of motion persisted.

And then it was over. By 2:30, everyone who was leaving was gone, and our shipboard community was dissolved. Since my flight home is not until tomorrow, I will stay one more night aboard the ALBATROSS IV. It’s a little lonely now, with everyone gone and no work to do. But I’ve been up since midnight, when my last watch began, and an early bedtime tonight will be welcome. What an adventure this has been! I will never forget my days out on the wide blue sea, with nothing to see but sky and wind and ocean. Whenever city life hems me in, I’ll be able to go back in my mind’s eye, feeling the wind and the sunshine, and watching the endless play of the sea, all the way to forever.

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Joan Raybourn, August 24, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 24, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 43°32’ N
Longitude: 69°55 W
Visibility: 8 miles
Air Temperature: 17° C
Wind direction: E (99 degrees)
Wind speed: 5 knots
Sea wave height: 1’
Sea swell height: <1’
Sea water temperature: 18.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1018.0 millibars
Cloud cover: 7/8 Cumulus

Question of the Day: At what degrees on the compass would you find the intermediate directions? (Use information below to help you and look for the answer at the end of today’s log.

Yesterday’s Answer: GMT stands for “Greenwich Mean Time”. GMT is the time at the Prime Meridian, which passes through Greenwich, England. People around the world can use this time as an international reference point for local time. We are on Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), which is four hours behind GMT. At 1:33 a.m. GMT, it was already August 24 in Greenwich, but our local time was 9:33 p.m. EDT, still August 23, so that is the date I used in the log.

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Science and Technology Log

Over the last eleven days, the ALBATROSS IV has zigzagged back and forth across southern New England waters, Georges Bank, and the Gulf of Maine. The collection stations were chosen in advance of the trip and plotted on an electronic chart. So how does the crew drive the boat to the next station?

Ship navigation is a combination of automated and manual tasks. Based on the ship’s current position and the latitude and longitude of the next station, the navigator determines what heading to take. That is, he decides in exactly which direction to go using a compass. The ship has an electronic gyroscope as well as a manual compass similar to the ones you may have seen, only larger. It has a magnetic needle that points north, and is divided into 360 degrees. The cardinal directions are these: 0° is north, 90° is east, 180° is south, and 270° is west. The navigator enters the heading into the ship’s navigation computer, and if conditions are normal, he can set the ship on Autopilot. Then the computer will automatically adjust the ship’s direction to keep it on course.

The fact that the ship is running on Autopilot does not mean that the crew can take a break. The crew sets the ship’s speed depending on weather and sea conditions, and on how much other ship traffic there is in the area. In open water, the ALBATROSS IV cruises at about ten to twelve knots, which means we cover about 10 to 12 nautical miles per hour. The crew must constantly monitor to make sure the ship is operating safely and efficiently. They plot the ship’s course on paper, monitor weather conditions, watch for other ships and communicate with them, and adjust the ship’s course and speed. At the collection stations, they are able to put the ship at the exact latitude and longitude called for, and keep it there during water casts and sediment grabs, or moving at just the right speed for plankton tows.

Navigators keep a constant watch out for other ships, using a combination of visual and radar data. They use radar to pinpoint the ships’ locations, and often can be seen scanning the sea with binoculars. Signal lights on ships help with navigation, too. Ships have a red light on the port (left) side and a green light on the starboard (right) side. This helps navigators know which side of a ship is facing them and in which direction it is headed. Of course, radio communication makes it possible for ships’ crews to talk to each other and make sure they are passing safely.

Personal Log

Tonight will be the last night of the cruise. We expect to be back in Woods Hole by midday tomorrow, two days earlier than planned. We’ve been blessed with excellent weather, and have made good time cruising between stations. I was very excited last night to see fireworks in the toilet! Toilets on the ship are flushed with sea water, which often contains some bioluminescent phytoplankton. Sometimes the swirling action of the water will excite them, and we’ll see blue-green sparkles and flashes as the water washes down. (Sewage and waste water are biologically treated on board so that they are safe to release into the ocean.)

I want to thank the crew of the ship, especially the NOAA Corps officers who have welcomed me on the bridge and answered many questions about ship operations. I am particularly grateful to Capt. Jim Illg, who reviewed all of my logs, and Ensign Patrick Murphy, who answered many questions about weather and navigation.

Finally, I want to thank the scientists who willingly shared their knowledge and patiently taught me protocols for their work. Jerry Prezioso, a NOAA oceanographer, served as chief scientist on this cruise. He helped me prepare ahead of time via telephone and email, and has been endlessly helpful to this novice seafarer. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he has a knack for turning any event into a positive experience. Jackie Anderson, a NOAA marine taxonomist, taught me to operate the CTD unit and helped me identify the kinds of zooplankton we captured in the bongo nets. Don Cobb, an EPA marine environmental scientist, helped me understand the kinds of research the EPA is doing to monitor the health of our oceans and estuaries. Thanks to all of them for their  work in keeping Planet Earth healthy, and for making this an experience I can take back to my classroom and use to help make science real for my students.

Today’s Answer: The intermediate directions are those that fall between the cardinal directions, so to find their degree equivalents, find the halfway point between the numbers for each cardinal direction. Northeast would be at 45°, southeast would be at 135°, southwest would be at 225°, and northwest would be at 315°.

Joan Raybourn, August 23, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 23, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 44°23’ N
Longitude: 66°37’ W
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind direction: W (270 degrees)
Wind speed: 12.7 knots
Sea wave height: 1’
Sea swell height: 1’
Sea water temperature: 11.1°C
Sea level pressure: 1014.7 millibars
Cloud cover: 1/8 Clear with a few cumulus clouds low on the horizon

Question of the Day: What does “GMT” stand for and how does it affect the date in the log information above?

Yesterday’s Answer: The clock shows 9:17 a.m. There are 24 hours around the clock face. The hour hand is pointing a little past the 9, so that is the hour. To read the minute hand, notice its position. On a twelve-hour clock, this position would indicate about 17 minutes past the hour. Since this clock counts off 24 hours instead of counting to 12 twice, the afternoon and evening hours have their own numbers. For example, 4:00 p.m. on a twelve-hour clock would be 16:00 on a twenty-four-hour clock. There is no need to indicate a.m. or p.m. since each hour has its own unique number.

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Science and Technology Log

Today I spent some time up on the bridge talking to the crew about weather. The ship collects all kinds of weather data from on-board sensors, including air temperature, air pressure, wind speed and direction, and relative humidity. It also receives weather data from sources outside the ship via satellite link and email. I was especially interested in how the crew determines visibility, cloud cover, sea wave height, and sea swell height, since these represent subjective data. “Subjective” means that someone uses known data and their own experience to make a judgment. Here are some examples.

Visibility just means how far you can see into the distance. This is very hard to judge on the sea because there are no reference points – no objects to “go by” to decide how far away something is. Radar gives an accurate distance from the Albatross IV to objects such as other ships, and on a clear day, the horizon is about twelve miles away. A navigator learns to estimate visibility by combining radar information with how far away objects look in relation to the horizon. It takes a lot of practice to be able to judge visibility using only your eyes!

Cloud cover just means the amount of the sky that is covered by clouds. This is expressed in eighths. Today the cloud cover was about 1/8, meaning about one eighth of the sky had clouds and seven eighths was clear. To make the estimate, mentally divide the sky in half and ask yourself if about half of the sky is cloudy. If you see that less than half the sky has clouds, then mentally divide the sky into fourths, and then eighths. This can be tricky if the clouds are scattered around because it is hard to see a fraction that isn’t all “together”. Once again, this skill takes a lot of practice.

Sea swell height and sea wave height are both descriptors of how the ocean surface is behaving. These are important to observe because they affect the motion of the ship. Swells are large rolling humps of water that are created by the winds from storms. Navigators can tell how far away the storm is by observing the speed of, and length between, the swells. The ship might rock with long, slow swells caused by a storm hundreds of miles away, or with the shorter, faster swells of a storm that is closer. Waves, on the other hand, are caused by local wind; that is, the wind that is blowing right at your location. Waves might just be rippling the water if the wind is light, but can be large if the wind is strong. Both swell height and wave height are estimated in feet from the trough (bottom) to the crest (top) of the wave. Again, this skill takes lots of practice.

Personal Log

Yesterday we got word that a pod of about seventy right whales had been sighted in the Bay of Fundy. This represents a large fraction of this endangered species’ entire population of fewer than 300. Our route has taken us up a little way into the bay, and we have been eagerly watching for whales. We’ve seen several blows in the distance, and occasionally a glimpse of a long back breaking the water. Most of them have been fin whales, but we did see two or three right whales before it was completely dark. It’s exciting to see these giants of the ocean and we hope to see more when the sun comes up.

Joan Raybourn, August 22, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 22, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 42°17’ N
Longitude: 69°38’ W
Wind direction: SE (130 degrees)
Wind speed: 10.3 knots
Air Temperature: 19°C
Sea water temperature: 21.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1016.5 millibars
Cloud cover: High, thin cirrus

Question of the Day: What time does the 24-hour clock in picture #7 show?

Yesterday’s Answer: Sediment is composed of all the small particles of “stuff” that sink to the ocean floor. Near the coast, fresh water is flowing into the ocean from rivers and streams, and human activity creates more matter that is flushed into the ocean. Because there are more sources of sediment near the coast, it collects more quickly there than it does in the open sea.

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Science and Technology Log

Advances in computer technology have made the process of collecting plankton and water samples much easier than it was in the past. During a plankton tow or a water cast, many different people are working together from different parts of the ship, and technology makes it easier to communicate, obtain plankton and water samples from precise locations, and protect equipment from damage. The ship’s crew navigates the ship to the exact station location and maintains the location while the samples are collected, there are scientists and crew members on the aft deck handling the collection equipment, a crew member operates the winch to lift and move the equipment, and a scientist operates the computer system that collects data from the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth instrument (CTD).

The stations, or places where we will collect samples, are designated in advance of the trip and plotted on a computer map. A computer chooses the stations randomly so that we get information from all over the area with no accidental human pattern. The ship’s commanding officer and the head scientist work together to determine the course the ship will take to visit each station. Many factors must be considered, including efficiency, fuel conservation, and weather. Once the course is set, the chief scientist “connects the dots” on the computer map. Then it is easy to see where we are going next, how far away it is, and when we can expect to be there. “Are we there yet?” is a question asked not only by children on vacations, but by scientists and crew at sea!

When the ship approaches a station, the bridge crew makes an announcement so that everyone knows to get ready. “Ten minutes to bongo” means that it is time for the CTD operator to fire up the computer, for the winch operator to get set, and for the deck crew and scientists to get into their gear and make sure the equipment is ready to go. There is a video camera on the aft deck that enables everyone inside to see what is happening on the deck. This makes it easier to coordinate the collection process and to act quickly if there is an emergency.

When the ship is at the exact position of the station, the bridge radios the winch operator. He in turn lets the CTD operator know that we are ready to begin. The CTD person starts the computer program and tells the deck crew to turn the CTD on. The winch operator lifts the equipment and casts it over the side of the ship into the ocean. The “cast” might have just the CTD unit, or water bottles to collect water samples, or the bongos to collect plankton samples. The CTD goes down on every cast since it is collecting data that is important for the success of the tow as well as for further study.

During the cast, the CTD operator watches the computer display to make sure collections are made at the correct water depths. He or she talks to the winch operator over a walkie-talkie so that he knows how far to drop the line and when to pull it back up.  Plankton is collected at about 5 meters above the ocean floor. The ship’s computer tells us how deep the water is and the CTD tells us how deep the instrument itself is. By comparing these two numbers, the CTD person can make sure the equipment doesn’t drag the bottom, which would damage it and contaminate the samples. Once the CTD and the collection equipment are out of the water, the unit is turned off and the CTD operator finishes up the data collection process by entering information such as date, time, latitude, longitude, station and cast numbers. We just finished Station #75, and will be doing our 100th cast at the next station. (More than one cast is done at some stations.) Sample collections at each station can take anywhere from about 20 minutes for a relatively shallow plankton tow to about 2 hours if we are in deep water and collecting plankton, water, and sediment.

During the cast, the CTD operator can watch as the computer creates line graphs showing the data that is being recorded by the CTD unit. In picture #6 above, the line graph on the right shows the depth, while the graph on the left shows the sea temperature in red, the density of the water in yellow, salinity in blue, and fluorescence in green. Density is kind of like how “thick” the water is, salinity is how salty it is, and fluorescence is a measure of phytoplankton. Line graphs show change over time, so we can see how these values change while the CTD is in the water.

Personal Log

Some adaptations take longer than others. Since I switched watches, I have never been completely sure of what day it is, and when I get up in late morning, I’m always surprised to see lunch being served instead of breakfast. However, I have learned to use the physics of the ship’s motion to make everyday tasks easier. Carrying a heavy load up the stairs is easier if you wait for a swell to lift the ship and give you a little boost, and opening doors and drawers, standing up, and even drinking water is easier if you do it with, rather than against, the roll of the ship. As much as I staggered around for the first two days of the cruise, I wonder now if dry land will feel odd when we get there at the end of the week.

Joan Raybourn, August 21, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 21, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 42°17’ N
Longitude: 69°38’ W
Wind direction: SE (130 degrees)
Wind speed: 10.3 knots
Air Temperature: 19°C
Sea water temperature: 21.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1016.5 millibars
Cloud cover: High, thin cirrus

Question of the Day: Why does sediment collect on the ocean floor more rapidly near the coast than it does further out in the ocean?

Yesterday’s Answer: The stern of the ship is at the back, and the sun rises in the east, so the ship must have been heading west.

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Science and Technology Log

On this cruise, there are actually two separate but complementary kinds of research going on. We have two scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who are collecting samples of the sediment on the ocean floor, which will be analyzed both biologically and chemically. Biology is the study of living things, so the scientists will look to see what organisms are living in the top layer of the ocean floor. The chemical analysis will show what non-living substances, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus compounds, are present. Chemicals may occur naturally, or may be a result of pollution. This work gives us information about human influence on the ocean ecosystem.

To collect the ocean floor sample, scientists use a sediment grab (picture #1). The “grab” is lowered into the ocean until it hits the bottom, where the container closes and “grabs” a sample of whatever is down there. Then it is hauled back to the surface and opened to see what has been collected. There could be sand, silt, mud, rocks, and any creatures living at the bottom of the ocean. There are two chambers in the grab. From one chamber, the top 2-3 cm of sediment are scooped into a pot, mixed up, and put in jars for later chemical analysis. This thin top layer will yield information about the most recent deposits of sediment. Near the coast, that sample may represent matter that has settled to the ocean floor over a year or so. Further out, that much sediment would take several years to deposit. The contents of the other chamber are dumped into a bucket and washed through a sieve to remove the sediment and leave only the biological parts.

The sieves used for the sediment sample are very much like the ones used for the plankton samples, but bigger and with larger mesh at the bottom (picture #4). The bigger “holes” in the mesh allow silt and sand to be washed out. Whatever is left in the sieve is put into jars and stored in coolers for later analysis. The sample contains evidence of what lives in the benthic layer, the top layer of the ocean floor. This evidence could be plankton, worm tubes, or remains of once-living animals.

At each station where a sediment grab is performed, three water samples are taken, one each from the bottom, the middle, and the surface of the ocean. One liter of each water sample is filtered (picture #6) to analyze its nutrient content. This process is somewhat similar to the chlorophyll filtering I described in yesterday’s log. The filters are saved to be analyzed in laboratories, which will look for both dissolved nutrients and particulate matter. Dissolved nutrients are like the sugar that dissolves in your cup of tea – you can’t see it, but it’s still there. Particulate matter consists of tiny bits (particles) of things such as plankton, whale feces, plants, anything that might be swirling around in the ocean.

The EPA is primarily concerned with human influences on natural environments. By collecting sediment and water data, scientists can see what substances humans are putting into the ocean, and what effects they are having on the plants and animals living there. This work meshes well with the plankton research work, since the health of the plankton is directly influenced by the health of its environment. Everything in the natural world is connected, and we humans must learn how to balance our wants and needs with the needs of all other living things. If we are not careful about how we use our Earth, we will upset the balance of nature and create negative consequences that we may not see for years. For example, if chemicals dumped into the ocean (on purpose or accidentally) kill large numbers of phytoplankton, then the entire food web will be disrupted in a kind of ripple effect, like a stone dropped into a pond. The zooplankton (who eat phytoplankton) will starve, and the animals that eat zooplankton will either starve or move to a different part of the ocean, which in turn changes that part of the ecosystem. From this very small example, maybe you can see how huge our responsibility is to keep our oceans (and other environments) clean.

Personal Log

I am so grateful to Jerry Prezioso, our NOAA chief scientist, and Don Cobb, our EPA scientist. They have included me in all of their operations from Day 1, and have been infinitely patient with my many questions. They have explained things over and over until I “got it”, from procedures for collecting samples to the science behind all their work. It has been eye-opening to be on the student side of learning. Many times I have not even had enough background knowledge to know what questions to ask, or have been almost paralyzed with fear that I might do something wrong and skew someone’s data. I know this experience will help me better understand my students who go through these same feelings of anxiety and joy when they are learning something new.

Joan Raybourn, August 20, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 20, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 42°17’ N
Longitude: 69°38’ W
Wind direction: SE (130 degrees)
Wind speed: 10.3 knots
Air Temperature: 19°C
Sea water temperature: 21.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1016.5 millibars
Cloud cover: High, thin cirrus

Question of the Day: Based on the caption for photo #6 above, in which direction was the ALBATROSS IV traveling when the picture was taken?

Yesterday’s Answer: Our location at 41.39 N and 67.11 W means our goldfinch was 160 nautical miles from Woods Hole. A nautical mile is equal to one minute of latitude and is slightly longer than an ordinary land mile.

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Science and Technology Log

In addition to collecting zooplankton samples, we also collect water samples and measure the amount of chlorophyll they contain. Phytoplankton are too small to see, but an instrument called a flourometer can measure their presence. The flourometer shines a beam of light through the water sample and measures how much blue light (fluorescence) is present.

This process is fairly delicate and great care must be taken to get a good representative water sample, and then not to contaminate it during processing. Water samples are collected in two ways: some are collected in water bottles that are attached to the bongo cable, and others are collected from a hose that is pumping sea water into the plankton lab.  In picture #1 above, our chief scientist, Jerry Prezioso, is collecting a sample from the plankton lab hose. The sample itself is poured through a filter into the bottle to remove any large particles that may be present. Then 200 ml of the sample water is pumped through a fiberglass filter (picture #2). The filter traps chlorophyll as the water passes through. Even though the large amounts of chlorophyll in land plants gives them their bright green color, the small amounts present in phytoplankton are not visible, so you can’t see it on the filter. In picture #3, Jerry uses tweezers to remove the filter (a small white circle) and place it into a cuvette, which is a small test tube. The cuvette contains acetone, which preserves the sample. Then it is placed upside down in the cooler for 12 to 24 hours, which allows the chlorophyll on the filter to wash out into the acetone.

When the sample is ready to be measured, it is taken out of the cooler along with a “blank”, a cuvette of plain acetone with no chlorophyll present. The two cuvettes must warm up a little before they are read, because water condensation on the outside of the cuvette can result in a false reading. We use the flourometer to take three separate readings. When we do science investigations at school, we determine which factors are constant (kept the same for each trial) and which are variable (the thing you are changing in each trial). In this case, the variable is the amount of chlorophyll on the filter. In order to make sure we are measuring only chlorophyll, we also “read” two constants: a solid standard, which is contained in its own tube and used for every trial, and the blank containing only acetone. After the chlorophyll sample is read, we can compare the three sets of data to see how much chlorophyll is really there. In picture #4, I am putting a cuvette into the flourometer, which will shine a light through it and display a number value. The numbers for the solid standard, the blank, and the chlorophyll sample are all recorded on the clipboard along with data such as date, time, and where the sample was collected. Later, the data will be entered into a computer for further analysis.

Why do we want to know about chlorophyll in the ocean? Well, chlorophyll is produced by plants, in this case, phytoplankton. By measuring the amount of chlorophyll in the water samples, scientists are able to determine how much phytoplankton is present. Since phytoplankton is the base of the ocean food web, it is one more piece of the ocean ecosystem puzzle.

Personal Log

Today I switched from the day watch to the night watch, but the timing was good because we had a long steam between stations and I was able to get a little extra sleep before doing a double watch. While all the scientists usually eat meals together, we work in teams to cover the watches, so I will be working with a different set of people. I am now on watch from noon to 6:00 p.m. and from midnight to 6:00 a.m. We will be working our way north for the next week, and the probability of seeing whales is increasing. That will be exciting!

Joan Raybourn, August 19, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 19, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40’ 17” N
Longitude:  70’ 08” W
Wind direction: NNE (29 degrees)
Wind speed: 19.6 knots
Air temperature: 19° C
Sea water temperature: 22.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1018.1 millibars
Cloud cover: cloudy

Question of the Day: Yesterday a goldfinch visited us, but we are far out to sea. When I took the picture above (#6), our position was 41.39 N and 67.11 W. About how far was this little guy from Woods Hole, Massachusetts?

Yesterday’s Answer: Qualitative data is the “what” that your doctor can observe but not necessarily measure. She might look in your ears, eyes, and throat, feel your internal organs through your abdomen, observe your spine, test your reflexes, have you balance on one foot with your eyes closed, and ask general questions about how you feel. Quantitative data is the “how much”; it is something that can be measured. Your doctor will probably measure how tall you are and how much you weigh, and take your temperature and your blood pressure. If she takes blood or urine samples, they will be analyzed for both qualitative and quantitative properties. We are observing and recording similar kinds of data about the ocean, so scientists can get a good picture of the health of this ecosystem.

8

Science and Technology Log

We are very fortunate on this cruise to be able to deploy a drifter buoy. The NOAA Office of Climate Observation (OCO) established the Adopt-a-Drifter program in December 2004. The program makes buoys available to teachers who are participating on cruises as Teachers at Sea. Our drifter has been adopted by my school, Greenbrier Intermediate School of Chesapeake, Virginia, and by Julie Long’s school, Farnsworth Middle School of Guilderland, New York. We named him (It’s a buoy!) Moose in honor of the fact that he was deployed in the Georges Bank area of the Gulf of Maine, which has a number of GOMOOS (Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing Systems) buoys. Moose is the fourth drifter buoy to be deployed as part of the NOAA program, and joins over 1,000 drifter buoys collecting data worldwide.

The buoy itself is a blue and white sphere about the size of a beach ball. It is attached to a drogue, a long “tail” that hangs below the buoy and ensures that it is drifting with the surface currents and not being pushed along by the wind. The buoy is equipped with a water temperature sensor, and a transmitter so that its position and temperature data can be beamed to a satellite, which relays this information to a ground station that will place it on a website. Julie and I decorated the buoy with our school names and signatures – it even has a Greenbrier Intermediate School sticker and a picture of our panther mascot. Then we deployed the buoy on August 18 by tossing it over the side of the ship while it was moving slowly. It was a little sad to see Moose drifting off without us, so small on the huge ocean, but we can follow his adventures for the next 410 days by checking the Adopt a Drifter website. You can begin tracking it here. You can find Moose by clicking on his WMO number, which is 44902. The website will give you the location of the buoy (latitude and longitude) and the date, time, and temperature of the surface water at that location.

What can scientists do with the data about surface water currents that buoys such as Moose are collecting? Of course it can be used to track major ocean currents. Knowledge of currents is useful for understanding the ocean ecosystem and for navigation. But this data will also be used to build models of climate and weather patterns, predict the movement of pollution spills, and even to assist with forecasting the path of approaching hurricanes.

Personal Log

I finally feel like I am becoming useful as a scientist on this cruise, not just an interested observer. Although I have been busy helping from Day 1, I am gaining confidence about conducting some parts of the work on my own. I have learned to collect and preserve the plankton samples, process water samples for chlorophyll, and operate the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth), a computer linked instrument that measures oceanographic data. This morning I was up in time to watch a beautiful sunrise and had time to do a load of laundry during a long steam between stations. We had a raft of seabirds sitting hopefully off the stern while we were stopped for some work, and the weather is cool and sunny. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

Joan Raybourn, August 18, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 18, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 41.36 N
Longitude:  67.11 W
Wind direction: N (343 degrees)
Wind speed: 2.6 knots
Sea water temperature: 17.9°C
Sea level pressure: 1019.3 millibars
Cloud cover: 00 Clear

Question of the Day: What kind of quantitative and qualitative data does your doctor take when you go in for a checkup? (Read the science log below for explanations of these terms.)

Yesterday’s Answer: Phytoplankton are eaten by zooplankton, which are in turn eaten by penguins, sea birds, fishes, squid, seals, and humpback and blue whales.

7

Science and Technology Log

On some of the plankton tows, we attach a set of “baby bongos”, which are a smaller version of the big bongos. Their nets are made of a much finer mesh, so they catch even smaller kinds of plankton. The samples retrieved from the baby bongos are sent to scientists who are working on genetic analysis. By examining the DNA present in the samples, they can discover new species and determine how known species are distributed in the water.

After the nets are washed down, and their contents are in the sieves, we bring the sieves inside to preserve the samples. The plankton from each net go into separate jars, two jars for each big bongo haul, and two more if we do a baby bongo haul. The plankton are carefully washed out of the sieve and into the jars with a small stream of water. Then we add formaldehyde to preserve the samples in the big bongo jars, and ethanol to preserve the genetic samples in the baby bongo jars. Each jar is labeled to show where it was collected, and stored until we get to shore. The big bongo samples each have a special purpose. One will be analyzed to see what kinds of ichthyoplankton, or tiny baby fish, are present. The second jar will be analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively. Qualitative data tells what kind of plankton you have. Quantitative data tells how much plankton the jar contains. You can think of these as “the what (qualitative) and how much of the what (quantitative)”.

All of this data is an indicator of the health of the ocean ecosystem. It’s kind of like when you go to the doctor for a checkup. Your doctor takes your pulse and your temperature, looks in your mouth and ears, tests your reflexes, and takes other kind of data to see how healthy you are. The scientists involved in this project are giving the ocean a checkup. We are collecting data on the water itself (salinity and temperature at different depths), on the plankton that live in it, and on the weather. Over the years, patterns develop that help scientists know what is “normal” and what is not, how weather influences the ocean ecosystem, and how to predict future events.

Personal Log

I decided not to take a nap yesterday afternoon, and I can feel the difference this morning. It was hard to get up! Sometimes it is hard to remember what day it is because of the six-hour watch schedule. Instead of a nap yesterday, I went up on the hurricane deck with my book and just sat. I read a little, watched the other crew do a bongo haul, dozed a little, but mostly just watched the sky and the ocean. The sea stretches all the way to the horizon in every direction, the sun sparkles on the water, a few feathery clouds float in the sky. Very occasionally, a far away fishing boat or cargo ship slips by. Life is good. We are planning to deploy our drifter buoy this afternoon. More about that tomorrow.

Joan Raybourn, August 17, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 17, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40’ 17” N
Longitude:  70’ 08” W
Wind direction: NNE (29 degrees)
Wind speed: 19.6 knots
Air temperature: 19° C
Sea water temperature: 22.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1018.1 millibars
Cloud cover: cloudy

Question of the Day: What kinds of animals depend on plankton as a major food source?

Yesterday’s Answer: Phytoplankton are producers, since they make their own food.

6

Science and Technology Log

On this cruise aboard the ALBATROSS IV we will be taking plankton samples at 90 stations off the coast of New England. The stations are randomly chosen by a computer, so some are close together and some are further apart. The idea is to get a broad picture of the ecological health of the entire region.

The actual process of plankton collection is called a plankton tow, because the nets are towed through the water while the ship is moving slowly, collecting plankton as the water moves through them. Can you guess why the collection apparatus is called a bongo? (Look at picture #2 above.) The frame looks just like a pair of bongo drums! Attached to the frame are two long nets that collect the plankton. The bongo isn’t heavy enough to sink into the water evenly on its own, so a lead ball is added to help pull it down to the bottom smoothly. (See pictures 3 & 4.) The bongo is attached to a cable, which is in turn attached to a pulley system that lowers the bongo into the water and pulls it back up again. Since we only want floating plankton, we have to be sure the bongo doesn’t scrape the bottom. We lower the bongo to about 5 meters above the bottom, and then bring it back up.

The nets bring in all kinds of zooplankton, very small but big enough to see. (Most phytoplankton are so tiny they slip right through the net!) There are lots of copepods, which are related to lobsters, and sometimes arrow worms, which are tiny predators that love to eat copepods! There are other species as well, including some jellyfish. We have to be very careful to save the entire sample so that scientists back on shore can see exactly what was living near each station. When the nets are back on board, we use a hose to wash the plankton down to the bottom of the net. Then we untie the net, dump the plankton into a sieve, and spray some more to be sure nothing is left in the net. At the end of this process, we tie the bottoms of the nets again (so they are ready for the next tow) and take the sieves with the plankton inside to the wet lab for the next step. I’ll describe the process of preserving the plankton samples in tomorrow’s log.

Several kinds of data (besides the plankton itself) are collected on each tow. For example, we take water samples to analyze for salinity and chlorophyll, and the EPA scientists are collecting samples of the ocean floor. In the days to come, I will describe them and explain how computers are used to make all of this work easier. Stay tuned!

Personal Log

I am becoming much more comfortable with the routine tasks of the trip. I can handle the bongo pretty well, and can preserve the plankton samples we get. I am learning to operate the computer end of the process and will soon be able to do that on my own. I can use the tracking system to see where we are going next and how long it will be until we get there. Do I have time to take some pictures? How about to grab a snack? I enjoy talking with the crew, and have discovered that “it’s a small world after all” – our navigator grew up in Virginia Beach and another crew member just built a house in Chesapeake. I can now walk without too much trouble, and this morning I awoke before my alarm went off because I heard the engines slow down as we approached a tow station. There is rumor of a cookout on the deck tonight, so I’d better go get in a nap before then!

Joan Raybourn, August 16, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 16, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40’ 17” N
Longitude:  70’ 08” W
Wind direction: NNE (29 degrees)
Wind speed: 19.6 knots
Air temperature: 19° C
Sea water temperature: 22.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1018.1 millibars
Cloud cover: cloudy

Question of the Day:  What is phytoplankton’s place in the food chain? (producer or consumer)

Yesterday’s Answer: Factors that could influence the depth to which sunlight penetrates the sea water include amount of cloud cover and how clear the water is. If the weather is clear, more sunlight makes it through the atmosphere to the surface of the sea. If the water is clear, the sunlight can go deeper than if the water is murky with a large mass of surface plankton, excess nutrients, pollutants, or silt.

5

Science and Technology Log

In yesterday’s log I talked about phytoplankton. The other group of plankton is zooplankton. Phytoplankton are plants, and zooplankton are animals. If you think of the sea as a bowl of soup, the zooplankton are the chunky parts. They include organisms that spend all of their lives as plankton, as well as the baby forms of other seas animals, such as crabs, lobsters, and fish. Most zooplankton eat phytoplankton, making them the second step up the ocean food chain.

While you would need a microscope to see most phytoplankton, you can see most zooplankton with an ordinary magnifying glass. Many are big enough to see with the naked eye. While phytoplankton need to stay near the surface of the sea in order to absorb the sunlight they need for photosynthesis, zooplankton can live at any depth. Zooplankton have structural adaptations that help them float easily in the ocean currents. Some have feathery hairs to that can catch the current. Others have tiny floats filled with air, and still others contain oil that helps them float. There are even behavioral adaptations that zooplankton have developed to help them survive. One kind of snail makes a raft of air bubbles and floats on that. Some even link together and float through the ocean looking like skydivers holding hands.

Many animals go through several physical changes as they go through their life cycles. For example, a butterfly begins life as an egg, hatches into a caterpillar (larval stage), makes a chrysalis, and finally emerges as a beautiful adult. Many marine animals go through similar changes, and during their larval stage they are part of the mix of plankton in the ocean. These “temporary” zooplankton are called meroplankton. These include baby crabs, lobsters, clams, snails, sea stars, and squid. Permanent plankton are called holoplankton, and include copepods, krill, sea butterflies, and jellyfish.

One of our deck hands joked about having sushi for breakfast right after we completed a very productive plankton tow. We might not like that kind of sushi, but many ocean animals love it, and depend on it as their food source. Krill (shrimp-like zooplankton) are a very popular menu item with penguins, sea birds, fishes, squid, seals, and humpbacks and blue whales. “A single blue whale may devour up to eight tons of krill a day.” (from Sea Soup: Zooplankton by Mary M. Cerullo)

Most of the plankton we are collecting on this cruise are zooplankton. We preserve them in jars, and when the cruise is over they will be sent to laboratories where other scientists will analyze the samples. We also analyze water samples for chlorophyll, though, which is made by phytoplankton and is therefore an indicator of their health. In the days to come, I will describe the procedures used for the plankton collection, as well as those used for the EPA research.

Personal Log

Life on board a research vessel is not all work and no play. During down time, people rest, read, play games, watch movies, work on needlework, or get a snack, much like life at home. When I am not on watch, I write my logs, take and organize pictures, take a shower, do laundry, send email, and sleep. The scientists are usually able to eat meals together around the time we switch watches. We gather for breakfast around 5:30 a.m., for lunch around 11:30 a.m., and for dinner around 5:30 p.m. It’s nice to have a chance to catch up with each other while one group comes to work and the other goes off to bed.

Joan Raybourn, August 15, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 15, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40° 01’ N
Longitude: 71° 37’ W
Wind direction: SSW (207)
Wind speed: 14 knots
Air temperature: 24° C
Sea water temperature: 24.8° C
Sea level pressure: 1015 millibars
Cloud cover: Hazy

Question of the Day: There is some variation in the depth to which sunlight penetrates. What factors could account for this?

Yesterday’s Answer: Because phytoplankton use photosynthesis to make their own food, they live near the surface of the ocean where they can absorb sunlight. Enough sunlight for photosynthesis penetrates to about 10 meters below the surface.

4

Science and Technology Log

“Phytoplankton are incredibly small. Each one is a single cell or a chain of identical cells. One teaspoon of seawater can hold a million phytoplankton.” (from Sea Soup: Phytoplankton by Mary M. Cerullo) They are so small that pictures of them must be taken through a microscope that magnifies them hundreds times. There are thousands of different kinds of phytoplankton, and new species are being discovered all the time. In fact, some kinds of phytoplankton were thought to be dust specks on microscope slides, until researchers built microscopes that are more powerful and discovered that those specks were really living organisms. Even though phytoplankton are plants, they don’t look like plants on land. They don’t have roots, stems, or leaves. “Instead they resemble spiky balls, tiny harpoons, links on a bracelet, spaceships, and many other shapes that defy description.” (Cerullo)

Why should we care about something that most of us will never see? First, phytoplankton are the base of the ocean food web, and all other living organisms in the ocean depend on them. Many ocean animals (including zooplankton) eat them, and are in turn eaten by larger animals. Without phytoplankton, the ocean food web would collapse. A special kind of phytoplankton called zooxanthellae helps to build coral reefs, one of the largest structures on earth. Corals are animals, but they need the help of the zooxanthellae to survive. The zooxanthellae live with the corals, providing food and oxygen, helping the corals take in minerals, and giving the corals their beautiful colors. Many people are worried about global warming, often called the greenhouse effect. This phenomenon is mostly due to the release of excess carbon dioxide into the air, which traps heat in the upper atmosphere. Every year, phytoplankton use nearly half of the carbon dioxide, slowing down global warming. Phytoplankton also help replace the ozone layer, which protects us from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. The remains of ancient phytoplankton provide us with oil and natural gas to use for energy. When they died, their remains sank to the bottom of the ocean, were covered with layers of mud, and over millions of years changed into oil deposits. “Products made from phytoplankton also filter swimming pools, distill fruit juice, wine, and beer, put the polish in toothpaste, and keep dynamite from exploding too soon. But perhaps most important, phytoplankton help us to breathe. About half of the world’s oxygen comes from phytoplankton. That means every other breath you take is thanks to phytoplankton.” (Cerullo)

As you can see, keeping the ocean environment healthy for phytoplankton is very important. Whenever you enjoy your warm house on a cold day, enjoy pictures of corals, eat fish, brush your teeth, or just breathe, you have phytoplankton to thank!

Personal Log

Now that we have been at sea for almost two days, I am adjusting to the watch schedule, which is different from normal life on land. My watches are from 6:00 a.m. to noon and from 6 p.m. to midnight. I try to get four or five ours of sleep between midnight and 6:00 a.m., and a shorter nap in the afternoon. Sometimes there is time to rest even on watch, while we are traveling to the next station. It’s a good time to catch up on reading, or wander around and ask questions about ship operations. About halfway through the cruise, Julie and I will swap watch schedules so that we can each experience what happens at other times of the day. Meals are excellent; usually better than I eat at home, since someone else is doing the cooking! The weather continues to be warm and muggy, but this morning is a little cooler. The crew is keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Irene, which does not look like a threat to our mission. Best of all, I have not been seasick, and probably won’t be unless we hit some rough seas. Today we discovered a stowaway in the wet lab. As the fume hood was being repaired, a bat flew out and perched on the ceiling (See picture #6). Definitely not a shipboard critter! Our chief scientist, Jerry, caught it in a paper cup and released it. We were close enough to land that the little guy should make it safely to a more hospitable habitat. Until tomorrow.

Joan Raybourn, August 14, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 14, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40° 01’ N
Longitude: 71° 37’ W
Wind direction: SSW (207)
Wind speed: 14 knots
Air temperature: 24° C
Sea water temperature: 24.8° C
Sea level pressure: 1015 millibars
Cloud cover: Hazy

Question of the Day: Phytoplankton are plants and use photosynthesis to make their own food. Where in the ocean would you expect to see phytoplankton living?

3

Science and Technology Log

The main function of this cruise is to collect plankton samples, which will be analyzed to determine the health of the ecosystem. The word plankton comes from the Greek “planktos”, meaning to drift. These tiny creatures of the sea have very little swimming ability of their own, but drift with the currents of the ocean. Plankton fall into two groups: phytoplankton, which are plants and require sunlight for photosynthesis; and zooplankton, which are animals. Phytoplankton are the base of the ocean food web and are the food source for zooplankton. Some kinds of zooplankton are plankton for their entire lives, drifting at the mercy of ocean currents. Other kinds of zooplankton are in the larval stage of their life cycles and will grow and change into free swimmers or bottom dwellers. Most plankton are microscopic, but some are much larger, such as jellyfish. I will expand on these topics in the days to come.

In addition to the plankton research, we have two scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with us. They are collecting samples from the bottom of the ocean, as well as water samples at each of their sampling locations. The first sample collected this morning was mostly sand, and it will be analyzed for both chemical and biological properties. The chemical analysis will show what kind and how much of any pollutants are present. The biological analysis will show how many and what kind of organisms are living on the ocean floor. Both sets of information give important clues to the health of the ocean ecosystem, and about human impact on it.

These two sets of data, from the plankton collection and the ocean floor collection, will give scientists a good picture of how healthy this part of the ocean ecosystem is. Healthy plankton is critical to the health of all other ocean species, since it is the base of the food web. Humans can have an impact on that through pollution of the water, whether intentional or not. This research will help us understand how we can keep our oceans healthy.

Personal Log

I arrived in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on Friday evening and spent the night in town. At the motel, I met the other teacher, Julie, who will be sailing on this cruise. She teaches eighth grade science in Albany, New York. On Saturday morning we made our way to the dock and boarded our home for the next two weeks, the NOAA ship Albatross IV. Jerry, our chief scientist, showed us around the boat and introduced us to the crew and other scientists. We moved into our room, retrieved linens from a closet and made up our bunks. At 2:00 p.m., we set sail for the southern portion of our cruise. It was foggy as we left the harbor so visibility was poor. We participated in an abandon ship drill, struggling into our “Gumby” suits and learning how to work all the parts that will keep us safe if we have to abandon the ship. In a real emergency, I will have to be much faster! The weather, while humid, is much cooler than back home in Virginia Beach. Julie and I are on opposite watch schedules, so we will see each other only briefly during the cruise. The crew and scientists are all very friendly and helpful, which is good because I have so much to learn!