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]

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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.

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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.

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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.