Christine Webb: September 19, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christine Webb

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 11 – 26, 2017

Mission: Summer Hake Survey Leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA

Date: 9/19/2017

Latitude: 42.2917° N (Back home again!)

Longitude: 85.5872° W

Wind Speed: 6 mph

Air Temperature: 65 F

Weather Observations: Rainy

Here I am, three weeks deep in a new school year, and it’s hard to believe that less than a month ago I was spotting whales while on marine mammal watch and laughing at dolphins that were jumping in our wake. I feel like telling my students, “I had a really weird dream this summer where I was a marine biologist and did all kinds of crazy science stuff.”

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Me on marine mammal watch

If it was a dream, it certainly was a good one! Well, except for the part when I was seasick. That was a bit more of a nightmare, but let’s not talk about that again. It all turned out okay, right?

I didn’t know what to expect when signing on with the Teacher at Sea program, and I’m amazed at how much I learned in such a short period of time. First of all, I learned a lot about marine science. I learned how to differentiate between different types of jellyfish, I learned what a pyrosome is and why they’re so intriguing, I learned that phytoplankton are way cooler than I thought they were, and I can now spot a hake in any mess of fish (and dissect them faster than almost anyone reading this).

I also learned a lot about ship life. I learned how to ride an exercise bike while also rocking side to side.  I learned that Joao makes the best salsa known to mankind. I learned that everything – everything – needs to be secured or it’s going to roll around at night and annoy you to pieces. I even learned how to walk down a hallway in rocky seas without bumping into walls like a pinball.

Well, okay. I never really mastered that one. But I learned the other things!

Beyond the science and life aboard a ship, I met some of the coolest people. Julia, our chief scientist, was a great example of what good leadership looks like. She challenged us, looked out for each of us, and always cheered us on. I’m excited to take what I learned from her back to the classroom. Tracie, our Harmful Algal Bloom specialist, taught me that even the most “boring” things are fascinating when someone is truly passionate about them (“boring” is in quotes because I can’t call phytoplankton boring anymore. And zooplankton? Whoa. That stuff is crazy).

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Phytoplankton under a microscope

Lance taught me that people are always surprising – his innovative ways for dissecting fish were far from what I expected. Also, Tim owns alpacas. I didn’t see that one coming. It’s the surprising parts of people that make them so fun, and it’s probably why our team worked so well together on this voyage.

I can’t wait to bring all of this back to my classroom, specifically to my math class. My students have already been asking me lots of questions about my life at sea, and I’m excited to take them on my “virtual voyage.” This is going to be a unit in my eighth and ninth grade math classes where I show them different ways math was used aboard the ship. I’ll have pictures and accompanying story problems for the students to figure out. They’ll try to get the same calculations that the professionals did, and then we’ll compare data. For example, did you know that the NOAA Corps officers still use an old-fashioned compass and protractor to track our locations while at sea? They obviously have computerized methods as well, but the paper-and-pencil methods serve as a backup in case one was ever needed. My students will have fun using these on maps of my locations.

They’ll also get a chance to use some of the data the scientists took, and they’ll see if they draw the same conclusions the NOAA scientists did. A few of our team were measuring pyrosomes, so I’ll have my students look at some pyrosome data and see if they get the correct average size of the pyrosome sample we collected. We’ll discuss the implications of what would happen if scientists got their math wrong while processing data.

I am so excited to bring lots of real-life examples to my math classroom. As I always tell my students, “Math and science are married.” I hope that these math units will not only strengthen my students’ math skills, but will spark an interest in science as well.

This was an amazing opportunity that I will remember for the rest of my life. I am so thankful to NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program for providing this for me and for teachers around the country. My students will certainly benefit, and I have already benefited personally in multiple ways. To any teachers reading this who are considering applying for this program – DO IT. You won’t regret it.

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Me working with hake!

Christine Webb: August 19, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christine Webb

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 11 – 26, 2017

Mission: Summer Hake Survey Leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA

Date: 8/19/2017

Latitude: 48.59 N

Longitude: 126.59 W

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Barometric Pressure: 1024.05 mBars

Air Temperature: 59 F

Weather Observations: Sunny

Science and Technology Log:

You wouldn’t expect us to find tropical sea creatures up here in Canadian waters, but we are! We have a couple scientists on board who are super interested in a strange phenomenon that’s been observed lately. Pyrosomes (usually found in tropical waters) are showing up in mass quantities in the areas we are studying. No one is positive why pyrosomes are up here or how their presence might eventually affect the marine ecosystems, so scientists are researching them to figure it out. One of the scientists, Olivia Blondheim, explains a bit about this: “Pyrosomes eat phytoplankton, and we’re not sure yet how such a large bloom may impact the ecosystem overall. We’ve already seen that it’s affecting fishing communities because their catches have consisted more of pyrosomes than their target species, such as in the shrimp industry.”

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Sorting through a bin of pyrosomes

Pyrosomes are a type of tunicate, which means they’re made up of a bunch of individual organisms. The individual organisms are called zooids. These animals feed on phytoplankton, and it’s very difficult to keep them alive once they’re out of the water. We have one alive in the wet lab right now, though, so these scientists are great at their jobs.

We’ve found lots of pyrosomes in our hake trawls, and two of our scientists have been collecting a lot of data on them. The pyrosomes are pinkish in color and feel bumpy. Honestly, they feel like the consistency of my favorite candy (Sour Patch Kids). Now I won’t be able to eat Sour Patch Kids without thinking about them. Under the right conditions, a pyrosome will bioluminesce. That would be really cool to see, but the conditions have to be perfect. Hilarie (one of the scientists studying them) is trying to get that to work somehow before the trip is over, but so far we haven’t been able to see it. I’ll be sure to include it in the blog if she gets it to work!

One of the things that’s been interesting is that in some trawls we don’t find a single pyrosome, and in other trawls we see hundreds. It really all depends on where we are and what we’re picking up. A lot of research still needs to be done on these organisms and their migration patterns, and it’s exciting to be a small part of that.

Personal Log:

The science crew continues to work well together and have a lot of fun! Last night we had an ice cream sundae party after dinner, and I was very excited about the peanut butter cookie dough ice cream. My friends said I acted more excited about that than I did about seeing whales (which is probably not true. But peanut butter cookie dough ice cream?! That’s genius!). After our ice cream sundaes, we went and watched the sunset up on the flying bridge. It was gorgeous, and we even saw some porpoises jumping in the distance.

It was the end to another exciting day. My favorite part of the day was probably the marine mammal watch where we saw all sorts of things, but I felt bad because I know that our chief scientist was hoping to fish on that spot. Still, it was so exciting to see whales all around our ship, and some sea lions even came and swam right up next to us. It was even more exciting than peanut butter cookie dough ice cream, I promise. Sometimes I use this wheel to help me identify the whales:

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Whale identification wheel

Now we’re gearing up for zooplankton day. We’re working in conjunction with the Nordic Pearl, a Canadian vessel, and they’ll be fishing on the transects for the next couple days. That means we’ll be dropping vertical nets and doing some zooplankton studies. I’m not exactly sure what that will entail, but I’m excited to learn about it! So far the only zooplankton I’ve seen is when I was observing my friend Tracie. She was looking at phytoplankton on some slides and warned me that sometimes zooplankton dart across the phytoplankton. Even though she warned me, it totally startled me to see this giant blob suddenly “run” by all the phytoplankton! Eeeeep! Hopefully I’ll get to learn a lot more about these creatures in the days coming up.

Sam Northern: Ready, Set, Sail the Atlantic! May 5, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sam Northern
will be 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: May 5, 2017

Introduction

Greetings from south-central Kentucky! My name is Sam Northern, and I am the teacher-librarian at Simpson Elementary School in Franklin, Kentucky. I am beyond exited for this opportunity NOAA has given me. Yet, even more excited than me are my students. I don’t think anyone is more interested in learning about the ocean and its marine ecosystems than my first, second, and third graders. Each week I get to instruct each of the school’s 680 students at least once during Library Media Special Area class. My students do way more than check out library books. They conduct independent research, interact with digital resources, solve problems during hands-on (makerspace) activities, and construct new knowledge through multimedia software.

My participation in the Teacher at Sea program will not only further students’ understanding of the planet, it will empower them to generate solutions for a healthier future. This one-of-a-kind field experience will provide me with new and thrilling knowledge to bring back to my school and community. I am as excited and nervous as my first day of teaching eight years ago. Let the adventure begin!

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In 2015 I married my best friend, Kara, who is also a teacher. We enjoy collecting books, watching movies, and doing CrossFit.

About NOAA
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a scientific agency of the United States government whose mission focuses on monitoring the conditions of the ocean and the atmosphere. NOAA aims to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts. Sharing this information with others will help conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. NOAA’s vision of the future focuses on healthy ecosystems, communities, and economies that are resilient in the face of change [Source — NOAA Official Website].

Teacher at Sea
The Teacher at Sea Program (TAS) is a NOAA program which provides teachers a “hands-on, real-world research experience working at sea with world-renowned NOAA scientists, thereby giving them unique insight into oceanic and atmospheric research crucial to the nation” [Source — NOAA TAS Official Website]. NOAA TAS participants return from their time at sea with increased knowledge regarding the world’s oceans and atmosphere, marine biology and biodiversity, and how real governmental field science is conducted. This experience helps teachers enhance their curriculum by incorporating their work at sea into project-based learning activities for students. Teachers at Sea share their experience with their local community to increase awareness and knowledge of the world’s oceans and atmosphere.

Science and Technology Log
I will be participating in the second leg of the 2017 Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey in the Atlantic Ocean, aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. The survey will span 10 days, from May 28 – June 7, 2017, embarking from and returning to the Newport Naval Station in Newport, Rhode Island.

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Gordon Gunter Pic NOAA

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

The NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter is a 224-foot, multi-use research vessel. Gordon Gunter is well outfitted for a wide range of oceanographic research and fisheries assessments, from surveys on the health and abundance of commercial and recreational fish to observing the distribution of marine mammals. The Gordon Gunter carries four NOAA Corps officers, 11 crew members, and up to 15 scientists, and one Teacher at Sea.

My Mission
The principal objective of the Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey is to assess the hydrographic and planktonic components of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Ecosystem. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, plankton are countless tiny living things that float and drift in the world’s oceans and other bodies of water.

Plankton image

An almost transparent zooplankton is seen in an enlarged view.
Robert Arnold—Taxi/Getty Images

While on the Gordon Gunter, I can expect to collect zooplankton and ichthyoplankton throughout the water column (to a maximum depth of 200 meters) using paired 61-cm Bongo samplers equipped with 333 micron mesh nets. Scientists will preserve the plankton samples in formalin for further laboratory study. It is estimated that the Shelf-Wide Plankton Surveys will result in 300 types of plankton being sorted and identified by staff at the Sea Fisheries Institute in Poland through a joint studies program.

The National Ocean Service defines hydrography as the science that measures and describes the physical features of bodies of water. Aboard the Gordon Gunter, we will use traditional and novel techniques and instruments to collect information. Our research will calculate the spatial distribution of the following factors: water currents, water properties, phytoplankton, microzooplankton, mesozooplankton, sea turtles, and marine mammals. In fact, marine mammal and seabird observers will be stationed on the bridge or flying bridge making continual observations during daylight hours.

The survey consists of 155 Oceanography stations in the Middle Atlantic Bight, Southern New England, Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine. These stations are randomly distributed at varying distances. The progress of the survey will depend on transit time, sea state, and water depth of the stations, with deeper stations requiring more time to complete operations.

Gordon Gunter’s Scientific Computer System is a PC-based server, which continuously collects and distributes scientific data from various navigational, oceanographic, meteorological, and sampling sensors throughout the cruise. The information collected during the survey will enrich our understanding of the ocean.

Personal Log
Since the Teacher at Sea program began in 1990, more than 700 teachers have worked on NOAA Research cruises. I am both honored and humbled to add to this statistic. My teaching philosophy can be summed up in just two words: “Embrace Wonder.”

Working with Students

I believe that students’ exploration of authentic topics nurtures a global perspective and community mindedness. I cannot think of anything more authentic than real-world research experience aboard a NOAA vessel alongside world-renowned scientists.

I am looking forward to gaining clearer insights into our ocean planet, a greater understanding of maritime work and studies, and increasing my level of environmental literacy. I will bring all that I learn back to my students, colleagues, and community. I hope that my classroom action plans will inspire students to pursue careers in research as they deepen their understanding of marine biology. Without a doubt, the Teacher at Sea program will impact my roles as teacher and library media specialist.

My Goals
Through this program, I hope to accomplish the following:

  • Learn as much as I can about NOAA careers, life at sea, and the biology I encounter. These topics will be infused in my library media instructional design projects.
  • Capture and share my experience at sea via photographs, videos, 360-degree images, interviews, journaling, and real-time data of the EcoMon survey.
  • Understand the methods by which NOAA scientists conduct oceanic research. I would like to parallel the process by which scientists collect, analyze, and present information to the research my students conduct in the library.
  • Create a project-based learning activity based on the research I conduct aboard the ship. Students will use the real-time data from my leg of the survey to draw their own conclusions regarding the biologic and environmental profile of the Atlantic Ocean. Students will also collect data from their local environment to learn about the ecosystems in their very own community. I plan to use the project-based learning activities as a spring board for the design and implementation of student-led conservation efforts.
  • Present my research experiences and resulting project-based curriculum to the faculty of Simpson Elementary and members of the Kentucky Association of School Librarians. My classroom action plan and outreach activities will be shared with teachers from far and wide via my professional blog: www.misterlibrarian.com

Did You Know?
In 2016, NOAA sent 12 teachers to sea for a total of 182 days. Combined, these teachers engaged in 4,184 hours of research!

My next post will be from the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter in the Atlantic Ocean. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions, or would like me to highlight anything in particular. I will look for your comments below or through my Twitter accounts, @Sam_Northern and @sesmediacenter.

Michael Wing: What’s there to see out there? July 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Date: July 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Northwest wind 5 to 15 knots, wind waves 1’ to 3’, west swell 3’ at 14 seconds, patchy fog.

Science and Technology Log

I’ve been putting in long hours on the back deck, washing plankton in sieves and hosing down the hoop net. Often by the time the sample is safely in its bottle and all the equipment is rinsed off, it’s time to put the net down and do it all again.

On the back deck

Here’s where I wash plankton on the back deck

But, when I look up from the deck I see things and grab my camera. The surface of the ocean looks empty at first glance but it isn’t really. If you spend enough time on it, you see a lot.

Black Footed Albatross

Black Footed Albatross

Black footed albatrosses turn up whenever we stop to collect samples. They probably think we are a fishing boat – we’re about the same size and we have a cable astern. They leave once they find out we didn’t catch any fish. Kirsten tells me these birds nest on atolls east of Hawaii, and that most of the thirty or so species of albatross live in the southern hemisphere.

Mola

Mola

We also see lots of molas, or ocean sunfish. These bizarre looking fish lie on their side just under the water’s surface and eat jellyfish. They can be really large – four feet long, or more. I wonder why every predator in the ocean doesn’t eat them, because they are big, slow, very visible and apparently defenseless. The scientists I am with say that sea lions sometimes bite their fins. Molas are probably full of bones and gristle and aren’t very appetizing to sharks and seals. There are more molas than usual; one more indicator of the extra-warm water we’re seeing on this cruise.

Spouting whales

Humpback whales; one has just spouted

whale back

The back of a humpback whale

And of course there are WHALES! At times we a have been completely surrounded by them. Humpback whales, mostly, but also blue whales. The humpbacks are black with white patches on the undersides of their flippers and barnacles in places. They are playful. They breach, slap the water with their flippers, and do other tricks. The blue whales are not really blue. They are a kind of slate grey that may look blue in certain kinds of light. They are longer and straighter and bigger than the humpbacks, and they cruise along minding their own business. Their spouts are taller.

Humpback whale flukes

Humpback whale flukes

When we see one whale breaching in the distance, we call out. But, when a bunch of whales are all around us, we speak in hushed voices.

Personal Log

Orange balloon

Orange balloon

I have seen six balloons floating on the water, some dozens of miles offshore. Four of them were mylar, two like this one. The scientists I am with say they see the most balloons in June, presumably because June has more graduations and weddings. Maybe it’s time to say that balloons are not OK. When they get away from us, here’s where they end up.

Container ship

Container ship

We see container ships on the horizon. Sometimes they hit whales by accident. Every t-shirt, pair of sneakers, toy and electronic device you have ever owned probably arrived from Asia on one of these. Each of those boxes is forty feet long.

This is my last post from the R/V Fulmar. I go home tomorrow. I sure am grateful to everyone on board, and to NOAA, Point Blue Conservation Science, the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary for giving me the opportunity to visit this special place.

Common murre

Common murre

Did You Know? When common murre chicks fledge, they jump out of their nests onto the surface of the sea. The drop can be forty or fifty feet. At this point they can swim, but they don’t know how to fly or find food. So, their fathers jump in after them and for the next month or two father and chick swim together on the ocean while the father feeds the chick. These are small birds and they can easily get separated in the rough seas. When this happens, they start calling to each other. It sounds sort of like a cat meowing. We have heard it often on this cruise.

Murre with chick

Adult murre with almost-grown chick

Michael Wing: Introduction to El Niño, July 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of Bodega Bay, California
Date: July 22, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Northwest wind 15-25 knots, wind waves 3’-5’, northwest swell 4’ – 6’ at eight seconds, overcast.

Science and Technology Log

UC Davis graduate student and Point Blue Conservation Science intern Kate Davis took some plankton we collected to the Bodega Marine lab in Bodega Bay. She said she is seeing “tropical” species of plankton. A fellow graduate student who is from Brazil peeked into the microscope and said the plankton looked like what she sees at home in Brazil. The flying fish we saw is also anomalous, as is the number of molas (ocean sunfish) we are seeing. Plankton can’t swim, so some of our water must have come from a warm place south or west of us.

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The Farallon Islands are warmer this year

The surface water is several degrees warmer than it normally is this time of year. NOAA maintains a weather buoy near Bodega Bay, California that shows this really dramatically. Click on this link – it shows the average temperature in blue, one standard deviation in gray (that represents a “normal” variation in temperatures) and the actual daily temperature in red.

NOAA buoy data

Surface seawater temperatures from a NOAA buoy near Bodega Bay, California

http://bml.ucdavis.edu/boon/climatology.html

As you can see, the daily temperatures were warm last winter and basically normal in the spring. Then in late June they shot up several degrees, in a few days and have stayed there throughout this month. El Niño? Climate change? The scientists I am with say it’s complicated, but at least part of what is going on is due to El Niño.

Ryan at flying bridge

San Francisco State University student and Point Blue intern Ryan Hartnett watches El Nino

So what exactly is El Niño?

My students from last year know that the trade winds normally push the surface waters of the world’s tropical oceans downwind. In the Pacific, that means towards Asia. Water wells up from the depths to take its place on the west coasts of the continents, which means that places like Peru have cold water, lots of fog, and good fishing. The fishing is good because that deep water has lots of nutrients for phytoplankton growth like nitrate and phosphate (fertilizer, basically) and when it hits the sunlight lots of plankton grow. Zooplankton eat the phytoplankton; fish eat the zooplankton, big fish eat little fish and so on.

During an El Niño event, the trade winds off the coast of Peru start to weaken and that surface water bounces back towards South America. This is called a Kelvin wave. Instead of flowing towards Asia, the surface water in the ocean sits there in the sunlight and it gets warmer. There must be some sort of feedback mechanism that keeps the trade winds weak, but the truth is that nobody really understands how El Niño gets started. We just know the signs, which are (1) trade winds in the South Pacific get weak (2) surface water temperatures in the eastern tropical pacific rise, (3) the eastern Pacific Ocean and its associated lands get wet and rainy, (4) the western Pacific and places like Australia, Indonesia, and the Indian Ocean get sunny and dry.

This happens every two to seven years, but most of the time the effect is weak. The last time we had a really strong El Niño was 1997-1998, which is when our current cohort of high school seniors was born. That year it rained 100 inches in my yard, and averaged over an inch a day in February! So, even though California is not in the tropics we feel its effects too.

Sausalito sunset

Sunset from the waterfront in Sausalito, California

We are in an El Niño event now and NOAA is currently forecasting an excellent chance of a very strong El Niño this winter.

NOAA map

Sea surface temperature anomalies Summer 2015. Expect more red this winter.

What about climate change and global warming? How is that related to El Niño? There is no consensus on that; we’ve always had El Niño events and we’ll continue to have them in a warmer world but it is possible they might be stronger or more frequent.

Personal Log

So, is El Niño a good thing? That’s not a useful question. It’s a part of our climate. It does make life hard for the seabirds and whales because that layer of warm water at the surface separates the nutrients like nitrate and phosphate, which are down deep, from the sunlight. Fewer phytoplankton grow, fewer zooplankton eat them, there’s less krill and fish for the birds and whales to eat. However, it might help us out on land. California’s drought, which has lasted for several years now, may end this winter if the 2015 El Niño is as strong as expected.

Golden Gate Bridge

Rain will come again to California

Did You Know? El Niño means “the boy” in Spanish. It refers to the Christ child; the first signs of El Niño usually become evident in Peru around Christmas, which is summer in the southern hemisphere. The Spanish in colonial times were very fond of naming things after religious holidays. You can see that in our local place names. For instance, Marin County’s Point Reyes is named after the Feast of the Three Kings, an ecclesiastical holy day that coincided with its discovery by the Spanish. There are many other examples, from Año Nuevo on the San Mateo County coast to Easter Island in Chile.

Window selfie

Michael Wing takes a selfie in his reflection in the boat’s window

Michael Wing: How to Sample the Sea, July 20, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of Marin County, California
Date: July 20, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: 15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots, wind waves 3-5’ and a northwest swell 3-4’ four seconds apart.

Science and Technology Log

On the even-numbered “lines” we don’t just survey birds and mammals. We do a lot of sampling of the water and plankton.

Wing on Fulmar

Wing at rail of the R/V Fulmar

We use a CTD (Conductivity – Temperature – Depth profiler) at every place we stop. We hook it to a cable, turn it on, and lower to down until it comes within 5-10 meters of the bottom. When we pull it back up, it has a continuous and digital record of water conductivity (a proxy for salinity, since salty water conducts electricity better), temperature, dissolved oxygen, fluorescence (a proxy for chlorophyll, basically phytoplankton), all as a function of depth.

CTD

Kate and Danielle deploy the CTD

We also have a Niskin bottle attached to the CTD cable. This is a sturdy plastic tube with stoppers at both ends. The tube is lowered into the water with both ends cocked open. When it is at the depth you want, you clip a “messenger” to the cable. The messenger is basically a heavy metal bead. You let go, it slides down the cable, and when it strikes a trigger on the Niskin bottle the stoppers on both ends snap shut. You can feel a slight twitch on the ship’s cable when this happens. You pull it back up and decant the seawater that was trapped at that depth into sample bottles to measure nitrate, phosphate, alkalinity, and other chemical parameters back in the lab.

Niskin bottle

Niskin bottle

When we want surface water, we just use a bucket on a rope of course.

We use a hoop net to collect krill and other zooplankton. We tow it behind the boat at a depth of about 50 meters, haul it back in, and wash the contents into a sieve, then put them in sample bottles with a little preservative for later study. We also have a couple of smaller plankton nets for special projects, like the University of California at Davis graduate student Kate Davis’s project on ocean acidification, and the plankton samples we send to the California Department of Health. They are checking for red tides.

Hoop net

Hoop net

We use a Tucker Trawl once a day on even numbered lines. This is a heavy and complicated rig that has three plankton nets, each towed at a different depth. It takes about an hour to deploy and retrieve this one; that’s why we don’t use it each time we stop. The Tucker trawl is to catch krill; which are like very small shrimp.  During the day they are down deep; they come up at night.

Tucker trawl

Part of the Tucker trawl

 

krill

A mass of krill we collected. The black dots are their eyes.

What happens to these samples? The plankton from the hoop net gets sent to a lab where a subsample is taken and each species in the subsample is counted very precisely. The CTD casts are shared by all the groups here – NOAA, Point Blue Conservation Science, the University of California at Davis, San Francisco State University. The state health department gets its sample. San Francisco State student Ryan Hartnett has some water samples he will analyze for nitrate, phosphate and silicate. All the data, including the bird and mammal sightings, goes into a big database that’s been kept since 2004. That’s how we know what’s going on in the California Current. When things change, we’ll recognize the changes.

Personal Log

They told me “wear waterproof pants and rubber boots on the back deck, you’ll get wet.” I thought, how wet could it be? Now I understand. It’s not that some water drips on you when you lift a net up over the stern of the boat – although it does. It’s not that waves splash you, although that happens too. It’s that you use a salt water hose to help wash all of the plankton from the net into a sieve, and then into a container, and to fill wash bottles and to wash off the net, sieve, basins, funnel, etc. before you arrive at the next station and do it all again. It takes time, because you have to wash ALL of the plankton from the end of the net into the bottle, not just some of it. You spend a lot of time hosing things down. It’s like working at a car wash except with salty water and the deck is pitching like a continuous earthquake.

The weather has gone back to “normal”, which today means 15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots, wind waves 3-5’ and a northwest swell 3-4’ only four seconds apart. Do the math, and you’ll see that occasionally a wind wave adds to a swell and you get slapped by something eight feet high. We were going to go to Bodega Bay today; we had to return to Sausalito instead because it’s downwind.

sea state

The sea state today. Some waves were pretty big.

We saw a lot of humpback whales breaching again and again, and slapping the water with their tails. No, we don’t know why they do it although it just looks like fun. No, I didn’t get pictures. They do it too fast.

Did You Know? No biologist or birder uses the word “seagull.” They are “gulls”, and there are a lot of different species such as Western gulls, California gulls, Sabine’s gulls and others. Yes, it is possible to tell them apart.

David Walker: Equilibrium at Sea (Days 6-9), July 3, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Walker
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 24 – July 9, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 3, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Weather Log 7/2/15

NOAA Ship Oregon II Weather Log 7/2/15

Weather has fortunately continued to be calm.  The only main deviation from clear skies has been haziness (symbolized “HZ” on the above weather log from 7/2/15).  On 7/2/15, sky condition varied from FEW (3-4 octas) in the very early morning, to SCT (3-4 octas) and BKN (5-7 octas) at midday and afternoon, to SCT (3-4 octas) in the evening and night.  Swell waves have varied throughout the past couple of days, from less that 1 meter to around 3 meters in height.

Science and Technology Log

The past few days honestly blend completely together in my mind.  I feel as though I have reached an equilibrium of sorts on the boat.  The night shift has proceeded normally – station to station, trawl to trawl, CTD data collection at each station, plankton collected periodically throughout the shift.  Certain trawl catches have been exceptionally muddy, which poses a further task, as the organisms must first be separated from all of the mud and cleaned, before they can be identified.

In addition, on Day 6, the trawl net was damaged on a couple of occasions.  I’ve realized that a trawl rig is quite the complicated setup.  The trawling we are doing is formally called “otter trawling”.  Two boards are attached at the top of the rig to aid in spreading out the net underwater.  To allow the net to open underwater, one of the two lead lines of the net contains floats to elevate it in the water column.  A “tickler chain” precedes the lead lines to stir fish from the sea floor and into the net.  The fish collected by the net are funneled into the terminating portion of the net, called the “cod end”.  FMES Warren Brown is an expert when it comes to this entire rig, and he is in charge of fixing problems when they arise.  On Day 6, Warren had to fix breaks in the net twice.  With help from Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols and Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin, new brummel hooks were attached to the head rope for one of the door lifting lines, and a new tickler chain was installed.

I also learned a lot more of the specifics involved in the workup of the plankton catch.  The dual bongo contains two collection nets in parallel.  Plankton is removed from the cod ends of these nets, but not combined.  The plankton from the left bongo is transferred to a mixture of formaldehyde (10% v/v) and sea water for preservation.  The plankton from the right bongo is transferred to 95% ethanol.  The reason for this is that different solvent mixtures are needed to best preserve different parts of the plankton in the sample.  The formaldehyde solution is best for fixing tissue, yet it tends to dissolve hard parts (for example, otoliths, discussed below).  The ethanol solution is better for preserving hard parts (bones, cartilage, etc.).  This explains the need for two bongos.  Workup of collected plankton from the Neuston net is similar, except many non-plankton species are often collected, which have to be removed from the sample.  Highlight non-plankton species from the past couple days have been sailfin flyingfish (Parexocoetus brachypterus) and a juvenile billfish (Istiophoridae).  Neuston-collected plankton is transferred to 95% ethanol.  This solvent is the only one needed here, as only DNA analysis and stock assessment are conducted on Neuston-collected plankton.  All plankton is shipped to Poland, where a lab working in collaboration with NOAA will analyze it.  Samples are broken down according to a priority species list sent by NOAA.

The CTD survey is coming along nicely.  Progress through July 1 is shown on the below bottom dissolved oxygen contour.  Similar trends to those commented on in my last blog post continue to be observed, as a further area of hypoxia has been exposed near the coastline.  You can see that our survey is progressing east toward Mississippi (we will finish this leg in Pascagoula, MI, though the survey will continue on to the Florida coast during Leg 3).

A couple of other distinct memories stand out in my mind from the past couple of days:

  • Sexing “ripe” fish. Sometimes, certain species of fish are so fertile over the summer that certain individuals are deemed “ripe”.  Instead of cutting into these fish, they can be more easily sexed by applying pressure toward that anus and looking for the expression of semen or eggs.  One of the species for which this technique is most often applied this time of year is the Atlantic cutlassfish (Trichiurus lepturus).  One must be careful, however, for as I found out, the gametes sometimes emit from the anus with much force, shooting across the room.  It only takes wiping fish semen off of your face once to remember this forever.
  • Flying fish. I saw my first flyingfish (Exocoetidae) during a plankton collection with the neuston net.  The net would scatter the fish, and they would fly for cover, sometimes 10-15 meters in distance.  Amazing.
  • Preparing sand dollars. Interestingly, the sand dollars we caught (Clypeaster ravenelii) looked brown/green when they came out of the ocean.  Sand dollars are naturally brownish, and in the ocean, they are most often covered in algae.  We kept a couple of these organisms to prepare.  To prepare, we first placed the sand dollars in a dilute bleach solution for awhile.  We then removed them and shook out the sand and internal organs.  We then placed them back in the bleach for a little longer, until they looked white, with no blemishes.  The contrast between the sand dollar, as removed from the ocean, and this pure white is quite remarkable.
  • Otoliths.  Fisheries biologist Kevin Rademacher showed me a nifty way to remove the otoliths from fish.  Otoliths, “commonly known as ‘earstones,’ are hard calcium carbonate structures located behind the brain of bony fishes,” which “aid fish in balance and hearing” (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).  When viewed under microscope and refracted light, otoliths show a pattern of dark translucent zones (representing period of quick growth) and white opaque zone (representing periods of slower growth).  By counting the white opaque zones (called “annuli”), fisheries biologists can estimate the age of the fish.  Granted, this process differs for different fish, as different fish species have different otolith size.  Accordingly, a species standard is always prepared (usually a fish raised from spawn, from which the otoliths are taken at a known age) to estimate the growth time associated with one whole annulus for the particular species.  Sample otoliths are compared to the standard to estimate age.  Otolith analysis also allows scientists to estimate “growth rates,…age at maturity, and trends of future generations” (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).  On this survey, we only take otoliths from fish that are wanted for further laboratory analysis, but are too large to store in the freezer.  On some surveys, however, otoliths are removed from all fish caught.  I got to remove the otoliths from a large red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).  The first step is to make an incision to separate the tongue and throat from the lower jaw.  The hand is then inserted into the hole created, and using a fair bit of force, the throat and gills are ripped away from the head to expose the vertebrae.  The gills are then cut from the base of the vertebrae, to expose the bony bulb containing the sagittal otoliths.  Diagonal cutters are then used to crack open the boney bulb containing the sagittal otoliths, and the otoliths are removed using forceps.

Personal Log

I am still feeling great on the boat.  The work is quite tiring, and I usually go straight to the shower and the bed after my shift ends.  Interestingly, I think I’m actually gaining quite a bit of weight.  The work is hard and the food is excellent, so I’ve been eating a bunch. I’ve been getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, which is more than I normally get when I am at home, especially during the school year.  One thing I have been noticing ever since the trip started is that I have been having quite nightmarish dreams every night.  This is rare for me, as I usually either don’t have dreams or can’t remember the ones that occur.  I initially thought that this might be due to the rocking of the boat, or maybe to the slight change in my diet, but I think I’ve finally found the culprit – Dramamine®.  Research has indicated that this anti-motion sickness drug can cause “disturbing dreams” (Wood, et al., 1966), and I have been taking this medication since the trip started.  This hypothesis is consistent with the observation that my nightmares lessened when I reduced my daily Dramamine® dose from 2 pills to one. I finished Everything is Illuminated and have begun a new novel (Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald). I am now well into the second week of my trip!

Did You Know?

Earrings can be made from fish otoliths (ear stones).  These seem to be quite popular in many port cities.  Check out this article from the Juneau (Alaska) Empire Newspaper.

Notable Species Seen