David Murk: Sun Sets on This Story, May 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Murk
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7 – 22, 2014.


Taken by LTJG Begun
Taken by LTJG Begun


Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping

Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, U.S. East Coast

Weather Data from the Bridge – Tuesday, May 20

We are at: 36⁰N, 074⁰W

Weather: Few clouds

Visibility: 10 miles

Wind : 12 Knots from 270⁰ (use your 360⁰ compass)

Temperature: Water is 15⁰ Celsius, as is the air.

Our present location can also be found at: (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/).

Science and Technology :

“We’ll start the first plankton tow around 1:30 or 2,” said Chris Taylor (NOAA Fisheries scientist). Note to selfmake sure I have sunscreen… Then Chris added – “a.m. not p.m.” – new note to self- forget sunscreen, instead buy travel mug at ship store.”   Ever since our plankton tow net was damaged in Florida, Chris has been on his computer and conferring w/ his office, the CO and Derek Sowers, the Expedition Coordinator on how to get another net. Thanks to a lot of people’s flexibility, a net was found. So, like taking an early morning run to 7-11 for a gallon of milk, we took a run into Cape Canaveral and met a charter boat with net and frame.

After searching for samples on the west side of the Gulf Stream, we are now crossing it and going fishing on the east side of this “river” that moves more water per second than all the world’s rivers combined.  (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/gulfstreamspeed.html )

There are many different ways to do plankton tows, each for a different purpose. An underwater sled is hauled behind the boat called a “Continuous Plankton Recorder” that is like a conveyor belt and does what the name implies. Our method was to use a frame about the size of a hockey net (GO BLACKHAWKS!)  attached to a fine screen net. The tapered net was about 18 feet (6 meters) long and was towed off the side of the ship. The trick is to have the net rise and fall at the surface and down to 60 feet below the surface. Tyler Sheff (Chief Boatswain) found every available weight to attach to the frame and cable that held the net. After a few trials and adding about 200 pounds to the net it worked like a charm.

Picture taken by LTJG Begun
Picture taken by LTJG Begun

By 4 a.m. we were pulling in our first haul. Amongst the Sargassum plants were FISH! Chris and I meticulously washed the net with salt water and then he separated out all the plankton (phytoplankton are the plants and zoo plankton are microscopic animals). He then put each tow’s sample in alcohol for preservation to send to the lab for genetic analysis to see if some of the many fish larvae and eggs were indeed Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.

Going Fishin'!
Going Fishin’!


Taken by LTJG Begun
Taken by LTJG Begun
ChrisTaylor washing sargassum


Juvenile (and very healthy) pufferfish amongst plankton.

Did you know?

First – find the differences in these two pictures :

George S. Blake - courtesy of Wikipedia
George S. Blake – courtesy of Wikipedia
Okeanos Explorer -photo courtesy of NOAA
Okeanos Explorer -photo courtesy of NOAA


We have spent a large amount of time on the Stetson Mesa on the Blake Plateau. Why the name “Blake Plateau”?  Short answer is that it is named after a ship that was named after a man.  The ships above both were ships designed to explore.  The urge to explore and answer questions brought about from those explorations is timeless. NOAA’s origins were during President Thomas Jefferson’s administration. This branch of the country’s uniformed service will continue to evolve. America’s 21st century premier exploration ship, the Okeanos Explorer, is following in the footsteps of the 19th century’s premier exploratory ship – the George S. Blake. That ship was named after the man who saved the Constitution. (and you thought it was Nicholas Cage)   But that’s a story for another time and can be found at:


and :

George S. Blake’s claim to fame

And one loose end – speaking of finding the differences in photos- and kudos to TAS Denise Harrington & Kalina’s dad for finding the difference in my second blog’s mystery photo challenge of the fact that because of rough seas, the rails on the tables in the mess can be raised to prevent food from sliding to the floor.


Personal Log 

Everyone’s nose has turned toward home. Some of the crew have been out to sea since February and the missing and euphoria for terra firma and the lap of family is thick.   The same for me with Mollie, Sophie, Izzie and Owen, I miss them tremendously. I’m so anxious to see the best fifth graders ever and my other friends and family. We really don’t need a quote to send it home but Frank Herbert’s words hit the nail on the head.

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

The Okeanos Explorer will get a facelift in North Kingston and head out in August.

I’ll come back for 3 glorious days with my class, forever changed by the privilege of getting a view into other people’s lives.

Saying thank you for this experience is a must.

  • I have to thank NOAA for selecting me for this opportunity. So many others more deserving, but I’m glad someone was asleep at the bridge last winter and allowed me to sneak in.
  • Expedition leader- Derek Sowers for his constant humor and patience at having to rewrite my drafts so as not to incur costly and lengthy litigation and Chris Taylor for not getting mad that I bungled the salinity #’s.
  • Commander Ramos and his Officers Pralgo, Rose, Begun, and Pawlenko for their tolerance with the interns and me constantly seeking permission to enter the bridge. They also shared with me a wealth of knowledge and career opportunities in NOAA for my students.  Gracias to the other crew- TR, Pedro, and James and Head and Second Engineers Vinnie and Nancy, and Chief Boatswain Tyler for their willingess to answer questions and give me time and not complain when i was standing in exactly the wrong spot.
  • The mapping interns, Danielle, Kalina, and Sam for their appetite for hilarity, work and meals.
  • To Vanessa and Jackie for always being quick to laugh or answer my questions.
  • To my mom and sister for taking care of business and Lil’ Sebastian.
  • To Mrs. Steinman, Mrs. York, Mrs. Helminski, Dr. Scarpino, Char, Diane and my students for allowing me this time away.
  • And most of all to Mollie, Sophie, Izzie , Owen and Jacqui for going full sail during the windiest month of the year.

I miss my class


Jennifer Fry: March 9, 2012, Oscar Elton Sette

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship, Oscar Elton Sette
March 12 – March 26, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Study
Geographical area of cruise: American Samoa
Date: March 9, 2012

Personal Log

Pago Pago

With the morning light, the island’s landscape came into view.  Looking back toward land was the single road, a variety of buildings, consisting of numerous churches, restaurants, schools, and hotels.  I have come to learn that each small village has its own church and outdoor meeting hall.  Behind the buildings the topography extended upward forming a steep hillside covered with green, lush tropical plants, including a variety of palms and fruit trees laden with mangoes and papayas.

After a hearty Samoan breakfast with ten of the scientists that will be on the research vessel, we met with representatives from the local marine sciences community at the American Samoan government building.  Chickens, chickens, and a small clutch of baby chickens happily pecked on the lawn in front of the building which put a smile on my face.

These chickens found their home in front of the Government Building of Pago Pago, American Samoa.

Scientific Log

The chief scientist, Dr. Donald Kobayashi, began by introducing the team of scientists and gave a brief overview of the upcoming mission aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette.

The variety of investigations that will be conducted during these next 2 weeks which include:.

  1. Midwater Cobb trawls:  Scientists, John  Denton, American Museum of Natural History, and Aimiee Hoover, acoustics technician , Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research of the University of Hawaii, will conduct nighttime tows that will focus on epipelagic and pelagic juvenile reef fish and bottomfish species.
  1. Bot Cam: Using a tethered camera that is later released to float to the surface, and using acoustics–a.k.a. sonar readings–scientists Ryan Nichols, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center , Meagan Sundberg, Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research of the University of Hawaii, and Jamie Barlow , Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, will collect samples of fish at selected sites during the cruise.
  1. CTD experiments: “Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.”   At predetermined locations scientists Evan Howell, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and Megan Duncan, Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at the University of Hawaii, will collect water samples called “profiles” taken of the water column at different depths.  This data is very important in determining the nutrients, chlorophyll levels, and other chemical make-up of the ocean water.
  1. Plankton tows:  Using plankton and Neuston nets, scientists Louise Giuseffi, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and Emily Norton,University of Hawaii, Manoa, Biological Oceanography department, will conduct day and nighttime plankton tows focusing on plankton and microplastic marine debris.  Scientists will be  looking at a specific species of plankton called the copepod.  This study will also be collecting microplastic pieces, some of which are called “nurdles” which are small plastic pellets used in the manufacturing process. Unfortunately most plastic debris will never degrade and just break into smaller and smaller pieces potentially working their way into the food web, making this research and its findings very important to environmental studies.
  1. Handline fishing using a small boat, the Steel Toe: Scientists Ryan Nichols, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Meagan Sundberg, Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at the University of Hawaii, and Jamie Barlow, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, will conduct daily fishing expeditions obtaining scientific data on bottomfish, grouper and snapper species.   They will be focusing on life history factors including age, growth, male/female ratios, length and weight.  This is very exciting research since the last data collected from this region was from the 1970s and 80s.

I am very excited and fortunate to be part of this important scientific research project, and the significant data collected by the scientists.

Did You Know?
American Samoa pronunciation: The first syllable of “Samoa” is accented.
Pago Pago (capital of American Samoa): The “a”  pronunciation uses a soft “an” sound as in “pong.”

Animals Seen Today
Frigate birds
Common Myna
“Flying Foxes” Fruit bats
Brown tree frog
Dogs, various
Chickens, various

Jillian Worssam, July 15, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jillian Worssam
Onboard U.S. Coast Guard Vessel Healy
July 1 – 30, 2008

Ron Heinz
Ron Heinz

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 15, 2008

For the past thirteen days I have predominantly been working with the MOCNESS team. These scientists have opened their nets to me, and I have entered a world of plankton, juvenile fish, copepods, jelly fish, crab larva, and even juvenile squid.  There is though one member of our team who I have been remiss in mentioning, meet Ron! Ron Heinz is the head of the nutritional ecology lab for AFSC (Alaska Fisheries Science Center) in Juneau, Alaska. And well Ron collects samples of species and literally blows them up!  Yes you heard me, he combusts his samples.

Ron has a quest, he wants to know how much energy is stored in a fish and how it is partitioned, specifically in either fat or protein.  Basically juvenile fish want protein to help them grow muscle to avoid predators, they also want to store fat for the winter when there is nothing to eat.

The underlying question in Ron’s research is:  what happens to juvenile fish as the climate warms and there is a “mis-hatch” between when the food is available and the fish, hatch.   Ron’s current project is collecting fish, identifying the species, and saving samples for the lab in Juneau.  He will freeze his samples for transport, and then the fun begins again.

The MOCNESS is deployed ready to catch juvenile fish, and other micro critters.
The MOCNESS is deployed ready to catch juvenile fish, and other micro critters.

To extract fat from juvenile fish the process is simple: -Grind up the sample. -Add solvents to the sample to dissolve the fat. (the fat is trapped in suspension with the solvent) -Filter the sample to remove all other “stuff.” -Evaporate the solvent and weigh the left over and voila, you have fat.

Ron and Elizabeth are working together in identifying these juvenile fish; it is not an east task.
Ron and Elizabeth are working together in identifying these juvenile fish; it is not an east task.

To extract protein we now need the other “stuff.”    Nitrogen is found in protein, so simply put, burn the fish sample, remove the CO2 and you have Nitrogen.  Multiply by 6.25 and voila, you have the amount of protein.  To do this he… drum roll please, combusts the sample,  torches it, and poof.  Since there is not a lot of existing data on larval fish Ron is a forerunner in his field.

Ron is ready to collect a sample from this cod-end from on of the MOCNESS nets.
Ron is ready to collect a sample from this cod-end from on of the MOCNESS nets.

Basically Ron is developing nutritional labels for marine species.  He finds out what the different species are made of and in turn can then figure out what would be considered a healthy ecosystem for that specific species.  Right now the target species in his research are pollock, pacific cod, and arrow tooth flounder.  Ron has also made nutritional  labels for other species including a five foot sleeper shark.    In a nutshell his “nutritional labels” tell of metabolic demand, and how who eats whom when and why is so important.

I think I have been up for a day, really bad hair but over 120 fish at this sampling station.
I think I have been up for a day, really bad hair but over 120 fish at this sampling station.

Right now the pollock we are collecting have approximately less than 1% body fat, in the fall it is hoped that they will have 3- 4% body fat so as to survive the winter.  The diet of pollock is predominantly micro-zooplankton.  And for those of you who do not know pollock, every time you eat a fish stick, you are eating pollock! So there you have it “Ron’s World.”  It might be a small and microscopic world but in marine ecology it is very important!

Can you find the pollock, the lumpsucker, and the copepods?
Can you find the pollock, the lumpsucker, and the copepods?


Quote of the Day: The Earth, like the sun, like the air, belongs to everyone – and to no one.  -Edward Abby

FOR MY STUDENTS: Can you find a quote about nature that inspires you?

Seven to Eight fin whales sighted off the port bow, close enough to hear and see.
Seven to Eight fin whales sighted off the port bow, close enough to hear and see.

Geoff Goodenow, May 5, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Geoff Goodenow
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

May 2 – 25, 2004

Mission: Swordfish Assessment Survey
Geographical Area:
Hawaiian Islands
May 5, 2004

These data noted at about 1600 hours:

Lat: 19 27
Long: 156 02
Sky: Sunshine; clouds hanging over coastline
Air temp: 26C
Barometer: 1011.0
Wind: 290 at 11 knots
Relative humidity: 55%
Sea temp: 26.7C
Depth: 2392 m

Science and Technology Log

Retrieving the longline takes about 2.5 hours. This morning it brought in one mahi mahi (dolphinfish) alive, and one bigeye tuna that had died on the line. Trolling afterwards brought in 3 more fish including one big eye and two yellowfin tunas. Samples were collected as yesterday.

I will give you a better idea over the next few reports as to how different samples are going to be used. I’ll start with the blood serum, liver and muscle tissue samples being taken by Michele who is from Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS).

The blood serum contains a compound called vitellogenin. It is a precursor to a protein needed for egg yolk production. It is typically in relatively high levels in females. Environmental stresses such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) which include PCBs, pesticides such as DDT and chemical flame retardants among others, can elevate vitellogenin levels noticeably in males. A heightened level suggests that their immune system is compromised. Serum will be analyzed for levels of that compound.

Liver, muscle tissue and serum will be analyzed by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry for the presence of POPs. From all of this it might become possible to determine if there is a correlation between level of POP and presence of vitellogenin and therefore stress on the immune system.

Surface plankton tows were done this afternoon, and tows at depth (60 meters)will take place tonight after longline is set. Tonight’s set of the longline will be north to south just a few miles west of where the first two were set. Both of those were set along a north to south line which overlapped by about 1/3. (They were not 20 miles apart as I stated yesterday) I learned that the line was intentionally cut last night probably by some fishermen who felt this line intruded upon their territory. We did recover all of our gear.

Personal Log

It was not until nearly the end of the longline recovery that the two fish were hauled in. Consequently, it was a long morning and as it was looking totally unproductive, Chris, our physician assistant/medical officer, suggested that the Teacher at Sea program was really a way to get people on board in case a sacrifice is needed to make the waters more productive. No wonder my students were encouraging me to participate. But later I heard that it was bad luck for our fishing to eat bananas on deck so eyes turned toward several who were in violation and ignoring that doctrine. I wonder what it will be tomorrow.

The big eye which came aboard was not identified with certainty until opened. Striations on its liver, I presume not present in other tuna species (certainly not in all) confirmed it to be big eye. I asked chief scientist, Rich Brill, the significance of those and he explained in some detail that they are part of a mechanism for keeping the liver warm. I will attempt to explain that mechanism another time. It is a neat piece of plumbing for sure.

I also observed Steve as he used a laser to determine the focal point of a big eye’s lens for each color of light. This, too, is something I will try to explain at another time. The big eye tuna’s lens was nearly spherical and about 3 cm diameter.

For a change of pace, here are a few bits about the ship that the captain shared with me yesterday. This was built for the navy in the 1980s as a listening ship for submarines. It was refitted for research in Jacksonville, FL then brought here through the Panama Canal. It can store about 30 days of food and enough fuel (160,000 gallons of diesel) to stay out comfortably for about 50 days. We can make our own fresh water at a rate of approximately 3000 gal/day.


How do eruptions of Hawaiian volcanoes compare to those like Mount St. Helens, for example?

The height of these volcanic islands affects wind speeds and sea conditions as noted yesterday. How much above sea level is the highest point on Maui? on Hawaii? If you consider its base on the ocean floor as part of its overall height, how tall is the highest peak on Hawaii? Is that taller than Mt. Everest?

It’s nice to be hearing from some of you; thanks for writing. That’s all for now.