Catherine Fuller: Searching for Water in the Ocean, July 9, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 29 – July 18, 2019


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

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 9, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57° 47.549 N
Longitude: 147° 30.222
Wave Height: 0-1 with swell of 4 ft
Wind Speed: 1.7 knots
Wind Direction: 170 degrees
Visibility: 5 nm
Air Temperature:  13.1 °C
Barometric Pressure: 1014.4 mb
Sky: Overcast


Science and Technology Log

Ana’s Work: 

iron fish deployment
Dr. Aguilar-Islas oversees the iron fish deployment.
iron fish on deck
The “iron fish” on deck…
iron fish in water
..and in its habitat.

Dr. Ana Aguilar-Islas and her team of Annie, Kelsey, and Carrie are studying how the different sources of iron in the Gulf of Alaska influence its chemical structure.  Iron is considered a micronutrient, because it is a nutrient that is needed in lower quantities than silicate, phosphate and nitrate, which are macronutrients. Iron is essential for phytoplankton.  Iron does not easily remain dissolved in ocean water, but has a tendency to precipitate and become a particle.  It is essential for many functions within phytoplankton, including gene function and photosynthesis, so the presence or absence of iron in the water is an indicator of the viability of the ecosystem. 

Testing phytoplankton in both an iron-limited environment and an iron-rich one allows scientists to pinpoint the effect that iron has.  The water in the Gulf of Alaska is notable for having more iron, leading to larger zooplankton as compared to areas, such as Hawaii, where the lack of macronutrients in the water means that they’re much smaller.  The Copper River plume was an example of a naturally occurring source of iron although its decrease is exponential the farther you move from the plume. 

In order to test samples without any contamination from being in an iron ship, Ana’s team created a “bubble” room or a clean space to do testing.  Her samples come directly from the “iron fish,” a collection instrument that is towed along the starboard side of the ship, and a pump on deck sends water through a tube that is carefully strung from the “fish” through the hallways and into the “bubble.”  The team is testing water samples for dissolved iron, particulate iron, and ligands (naturally occurring structures that bind iron and allow it to stay dissolved in seawater).  Both the filtered (any plankton filtered out) and unfiltered samples that Ana’s team collects are also used by other teams to provide context for their own experiments, especially testing the behavior of phytoplankton populations in iron-rich and iron-poor water.

looking in the bubble
The bubble from the outside.
Annie at the bubble
Annie spends many hours patiently taking water samples in the bubble.


The Search for “Perfect” Water

After completing our comprehensive zig-zagging study through the Copper River plume, it was decided to continue on a path south to find HNLC (high nitrate low chlorophyll) water.  We’re specifically looking for water with a salinity over 32.4 psu and nitrates over 3 micromoles. Water like this would be low in iron.  Normally, the lack of iron is a factor that limits photosynthesis,.  However, in areas with these numbers, phytoplankton communities have evolved to survive in an iron-deprived environment. 

What Clay, Suzanne and Ana hope to do is to introduce both Copper River iron-rich water and commercially available iron into samples of these communities to see if a “bloom” or a sudden growth in population will occur.  It’s been a long search so far, taking us through an offshore eddy, watching salinity numbers slowly creep up as we leave the plume’s fresh water influence behind us.  To pass the time, my cribbage board came out and I’ve lost to Pete, Seth and Ana (although I beat Seth once).  To help Suzanne and Ana find their water, Seth stitched together a composite satellite picture of the chlorophyll in the Gulf from images taken over the last few weeks.  This showed an eddy south of the Copper River plume that provided a possible location for the right sampling of water.

Our initial target was 58 degrees N, 146 degrees W, however, we’re continuing on the journey south to see if we can find the right spot.  For a long time, we were towing the Acrobat behind us, trying to get additional readings, however, our speed with the Acrobat is limited to a maximum of 7 kts.  Early this morning, the Acrobat was pulled in and we’re now cruising at about 10 kts.  We’re supposed to move over to the GAK (Seward) line of waypoints after this, but the joke is that we’ll reach GAK 125, i.e. Honolulu, before we find water that fits the parameters we need.

After careful monitoring of our position and the information screens in the computer lab, it seems that our target water is between 57 degrees 21 minutes N between 145 degrees 42.8 minutes W and 145 degrees 39.9 W.  Finding the perfect water is complicated by the number of anomalies in the sea surface. We’re having the bridge go through specific maneuvers to take us back and forth through the target patch of water. As we move through what seems reasonable, Ana’s iron fish will be deployed to start bringing in  “perfect” water samples. 

Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies
These anomalies represent changes in sea surface temperature, and in turn in the chemical composition of the water. On the map, you can see the lines we’re surveying from left to right: Kodiak, Seward (GAK) and Middleton.
our course
Our zigzag course: the bridge asked if we were making course lines with an Etch-a-Sketch!

Since last night, there has been at least one person stationed in the computer lab with eyes on the underway data display to monitor the salinity and nitrate levels.  Today, with Dr. Strom, Clay and myself there, we jump every time the nitrate value does.  Once our target patch is isolated, Dr. Strom directs the bridge to zigzag the ship through it to find maximum nitrate values and then radios the iron fish team. It’s 2.1….it’s 2.7…quick! Collect samples!  It’s a crazy system, but for now it’s getting us the best results we can, considering the fluidity and changeability of the ocean. 

I’m not sure what the bridge thinks about our maneuvers, and we’re all imagining what they’re saying! They have been very patient and willing to go along with requests; they’re pretty used to the demands of scientists in search of specific answers.  We’re finding our highest values to be about 3.2 micromoles, and it seems that we’ve also narrowed down the “sweet spot.” In addition, a group of fin whales is moving through the area and is making regular appearances as we trace and retrace our path. At one point, Eric, the captain came down to chat and helpfully volunteered to look up the definition of “zig” and “zag” so that we would have our terminology correct.  Is zig the upward progression or the downward one?

Most of the science done on board is carefully planned and prepared for.  Methodologies are clean and precise in order to produce specific and incontestable results.  Sometimes, however, science requires taking advantage of the situation at hand to find optimum data.  Science can be messy and inexact, too, if the end result is finding the perfect drops of water in the ocean.


Personal Log

We are now over the 50% point in our trip.  It is a bit ironic that as the science team and the crew get to know each better and develop friendships, both sides are also looking ahead to the end of the trip.  It’s been fun to get to know the crew and to discover the personalities that make this ship run so smoothly. 

Our weather has been notably calm so far, with today’s nearly flat seas being the smoothest to date.  We have fog every day; every day the sea surface temperature is higher than the air temperature.  What might that be an indication of? Russ seems to think it’s a fairly unusual pattern.  Even though today’s temperature is in the mid-50s, the stillness and reflected light off the surface of the ocean almost make it seem warmer.  It looks like we can continue to expect fairly calm seas for the next few days, too.  Every day someone posts a weather forecast in the mess hall, and every day the forecast is similar.    

fog bank on the horizon
Seeing fog banks on the horizon is a daily occurrence.

We continue to eat remarkably well.  Today’s lunch was spaghetti or zoodles with eggplant parmigiana, shrimp, and hot veggies.  This week already, we’ve had pecan pies and oatmeal raisin cookies for dessert and apple and berry turnovers for breakfast.  The food is definitely one of the benefits of being on this ship!


Did You Know?

The fresh water measured in the Copper River plume equates to a quarter of the yearly excess melt from area glaciers.  The question then is, where does the other three-quarters go?


What do you want kids to know about your research?

Ana: There are nutrients in the water that sea creatures need: large nutrients and small ones.  The small ones are important because they’re needed more often, like vitamins being a more regular part of your diet than hamburgers.


Sea Creatures seen today:

fin whales
A small group of fin whales came near us several times during our zigzag maneuvers.

Martha Loizeaux: Sea You Soon, August 30, 2018


Martha Loizeaux: Plankton Palooza, August 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Martha Loizeaux

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 22-31, 2018

 

Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 22, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Latitude: 991 N
  • Longitude: 590 W
  • Water Temperature: 22.3◦C
  • Wind Speed: 1 knots
  • Wind Direction: WSW
  • Air Temperature: 23.3◦C
  • Atmospheric Pressure: 66 millibars
  • Sky: Mostly Cloudy

 

Science and Technology Log

Haven’t you always dreamed of having your own Imaging Flow Cyto Bot (IFCB)?  What an interesting scientific instrument that I am lucky enough to be taking care of while on this cruise!  Before we even left the dock, Jessica Lindsey (volunteer from the Maine Maritime Academy) and I were trained by Emily Peacock, research associate at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, on how to run this amazing piece of equipment!

The IFCB is a computer, microscope, camera, and water flow controller all in one.  Emily describes it as “plumbing combined with electronics”.  It uses a water intake system from the ship to run a constant flow of water into extremely tiny hoses. As the water flows through these hoses, a laser beam of light shoots at every tiny particle that is in the water.  The tiny particles in the water, mainly phytoplankton (microscopic drifting plants), react to the sudden burst of light.  The phytoplankton scatters the light and also can react by fluorescing (reacting to one wavelength of light by giving off a different wavelength).  The computer detects this scattering and fluorescing to determine where the phytoplankton is in the water flow.  The microscope focuses in on each phytoplankton cell and the camera takes a picture!  Scientists simply get the IFCB going and at the end of the day they have hundreds of pictures of plankton!  Isn’t that incredible?!

Martha IFCB

Here I am learning how to use the IFCB! It is SO COOL!

One thing I’ve learned about this particular cruise is that it’s all about plankton!  We are collecting samples and data for scientists at the University of Rhode Island, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and NOAA’s own Narragansett Lab, just to name a few.  What are all of these scientists studying?  Plankton!  Why?  Plankton is the microscopic lifeblood of the ocean.  The word plankton comes from a Greek word, oikos, meaning “drifter.”  Plankton refers to all the living things of the ocean that are drifting with the currents.  They are present throughout the water column and consist of two types:  phytoplankton and zooplankton.  Can you guess the difference?  Phytoplankton is like a plant.  It has chlorophyll and does photosynthesis.  Zooplankton is an animal.  There are many zooplankton species that hunt, hide, and do other things that larger animals do.  Most plankton is microscopic or close to it.  Phytoplankton does at least half of all the photosynthesis in the WORLD.  So you can think that every other breath you take contains oxygen created by phytoplankton.

Both types of plankton are the base of the marine food chain. If major changes happen in the community of plankton in the sea, these changes will impact the entire food chain all the way up to the apex predators (top predators).  So, as you can see, plankton is SUPER important.  If plankton populations are healthy, it indicates that much of the rest of the ecosystem is healthy too.

Some scientists use equipment, like the IFCB, to study samples of phytoplankton.

plankton on screen

Associate Researcher Emily showing us the program that allows you to see pictures of the phytoplankton sampled.

We also are collecting zooplankton in nets (called “bongo” nets) and preserving samples for scientists to analyze in the lab.  More on that to come soon!

My students have been learning that scientists always start an experiment with a question.

Scientists on this mission are not exactly leading an experiment, but they are responsible for monitoring.  The monitoring of an ecosystem tells us WHAT is happening there.  Scientists from all over the world can then use the monitoring data that we find to research and experiment WHY things are happening the way they are.  This is where the scientific method will come in and an experiment will start with a question.

For example, through the plankton samples that we take on this monitoring mission, scientists may notice a change in the amount of larval hake (tiny baby hake fish).  They can then ask the question, “Why are larval hake populations decreasing?” which may lead them to a hypothesis such as, “larval hake populations are decreasing due to climate change”.  They can test this hypothesis by comparing the plankton data to other types of data (such as pH and water temperature) in the same areas over time.  Thus, an experiment!

So our job now is to collect the important data that can help scientists understand what’s happening and think of ways to investigate “why” and “how”.

Bottom line, I really love plankton.  And you should too.  That breath you just took?  Thank plankton.

screen shot of plankton

Pictures of glorious plankton!

 

Scientist Spotlight – John Loch – Seabird Observer

Enough about plankton!  During all of this plankton excitement, I have also spent some time on the fly bridge (the top level of the deck of the ship), asking questions to our two seabird observers, John and Chris.  Their job is to stand watch all day, looking for and identifying seabirds, marine mammals, sea turtles, and any notable (large) animals.  Here’s a little interview with John Loch, Seabird Observer:

 

Seabird observer

John observing seabirds from the fly bridge

Me – Why is your job so important?

John – My job is to monitor seabird populations to help detect changes in numbers or distribution of species.  We estimate a 300 square meter area around the ship and record all birds seen within that area.  We enter our data into a computer, noting species, life stage, number seen, and direction of flight.  Over time, we may notice trends in numbers and distribution which is important to understand this ecosystem.

 

Me – What do you enjoy most about your job?

John – I enjoy seeing anything new or rare.

 

Me – How could scientists use your monitoring data to lead an investigation (using the scientific method)?

John – Our data has shown, for example, that some populations of birds, such as the gannet, have steadily declined over the last 20 years.  Researchers can ask “Why are gannet populations declining?” and can use oceanographic data in combination with bird observation data to come up with a hypothesis to test.

 

 

Personal Log

I was excited to get underway this afternoon!  Although many of us slept on the ship last night, we have been on the dock until 2:30 this afternoon, when we finally watched the crew release the lines and the ship cruise through the harbor and out to sea!

bow in harbor

A view of the bow as we head out to sea!!

We began our day with a scientist meeting where Harvey Walsh, our Chief Scientist, explained our route and the “stations” where we would be slowing down or stopping the ship to take our data.  He explained our 3am-3pm/3pm-3am shifts that we alternate so that whenever a station is reached, day or night, data can be collected.  I’m lucky to intersect these shifts and work “on watch” from 8am-8pm!  This means that I will support and assist scientist in their data collection during this time, and generally be present and available.

Scientist showing route

Chief Scientist Harvey explaining our route on the Northeast Shelf.

We also heard from Libby, our Operations Officer, who explained our state rooms, bathrooms, shared spaces, and general “do’s and don’ts” of the ship.

Safety briefing

Libby, our Field Operations Officer, explaining the safety procedures of Gordon Gunter

I have to say I am pleasantly surprised by our living quarters aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.  I have my own state room with a shared bathroom, small closet, sink, and even a desk.  It is quite spacious!  I’m also excited about the food options on board, but more about that later!

view from room window

The view from my state room…not bad!

Tonight is our first night out at sea!  Luckily, I’m not feeling seasick, but rocking and rolling as I type this does feel pretty strange!  Everyone says we’ll get used to it and it will feel normal in no time.

I am so excited for our first morning and sunrise out at sea!  Stay tuned!

 

Did You Know?

Phytoplankton come in all different colors, just like the flowers in your garden.  Since they are so tiny, we don’t see the colors unless there is a lot of plankton all together.  They also contain more than one color in their cells, similar to leaves that change from green to brown, red, or orange.

noaa phytoplankton

Colorful phytoplankton, photo courtesy of NOAA

Question of the Day

Do you think the amount and type of plankton in an area can affect how many sharks live there?  Why?

NOAA shark

Do sharks rely on plankton? Photo courtesy of NOAA

 

 

 

 

Roy Moffitt: Bring in the Bongos, August 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Healy 1801 –  Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 16, 2018

 

Current location/conditions:

Evening August 16 – Due west of Barrow, Alaska within sight of the coast

Air temp 35F, sea depth  40m , surface sea water temp 41

 

Bring in the Bongos

Bongo Nets ready for deployment

Bongo Nets ready for deployment

In a previous blog I showed the Methot net that catches very small (1-5cm) fish. However, if we want to catch sea life even smaller, we bring in something called a “bongo net.”  The bongo nets have very small openings–the larger nets are 500 micron (1/2 a millimeter) and the smaller nets are 150 micron.   In the picture below, you will see the back tail fin of the Healy with the bongo nets suspended from the hydraulic A-frame.  The A-frame supports a system of pulleys that are used to deploy and retrieve equipment (such as nets and moorings).

 

 

 

 

bongo canister

Organisms caught in the bongo net are washed down into this canister attached at the end.

The net looks and feels more like a tough nylon fabric, however, the water freely flows through the opening trapping the tiny organisms of the sea.  These organisms are pushed into the canister at the end of the net as shown in the picture on the right. While most of them are pushed into the canisters, many are stuck on the side of the net in a sticky goop.   The gelatin like goop is sprayed off the net with seawater by using a hose.  The process takes just a few minutes. Since I was the net holder and stretcher I got little wet!

 

 

Copepods in a Jar

Copepods in a Jar

The main organisms that we caught today were copepods. They are shown in the jar appearing pink.  Copepods are small crustaceans only 1-2mm in size that drift in the sea and feed on phytoplankton. Copepods are an important bottom of the food chain member of the ecosystem and serve as prey for fish, whales, and seabirds.

 

 

 

Flowmeter

Flowmeter suspended at the top of a bongo net

On the front of each net there is a flow meter as shown in the picture. It looks like a little torpedo with a propeller.  When the net trawls behind the ship, water flows through the net.  The amount of water that passes through the net can be calculated.  Using this calculation and the amount of organisms in the net, scientists can calculate the density of living microorganisms at a certain heights in the water column.  With annual samples scientists will be able to determine any changes over time including changes to the overall health of the regional ecosystem.  Today’s samples will also be sent out to a lab for further analysis.

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

Today I had unique experience– listening to wildlife.  This was a highlight.  Marine mammal acoustic scientists, Katherine Berchok and Stephanie Grassia, released an acoustic buoy this afternoon.  On top of the ship they put up an antennae and listened in for whales and walrus.  They were able to hear the constant underwater chatter between walruses.   As I wore the headphones and listened in, I was in awe at the grumbles and the ping sounds the animals were making back and forth underwater.  While we don’t know what the walrus were communicating back and forth to each other, to eavesdrop on these conversations, miles away, in real-time, was a pretty special experience.

 

Now and Looking forward

We did not see any ice today. I am looking forward to getting out of the fog and rain and returning back to the ice in the coming days.

Lacee Sherman: Teacher Running Out of Witty Blog Titles June 27, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lacee Sherman

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 6, 2018 – June 28, 2018

 

Mission: Eastern Bering Sea Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date:  June 27, 2018

Snailfish!!!

TAS Lacee Sherman with an Okhotsk Snailfish

Weather Data from the Bridge at 15:00 on 6/27/18

Latitude: 56° 32.03 N

Longitude: 168° 08.15 W

Sea Wave Height: 2 ft

Wind Speed: 9 knots

Wind Direction: 229° (SW)

Visibility: 8 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 9.8° C

Water Temperature: 8.5° C

Sky:  Broken cloud cover

Water and cloud cover

Water and cloud cover on 6/27/18 @ 15:00

Science and Technology Log

Sometimes the pursuit of scientific knowledge requires very precise scientific instruments, and sometimes it just requires a bucket, funnel, and a coffee filter.  During the CTD casts, a special bottle collects water samples from a specific depth.  The CTD can hold multiple water sample bottles, so a few days ago I was able to choose the location for an extra water sample to be taken.  The required water sample was taken near the ocean floor, and I requested one at about 15 meters below the surface.

On the EK60 we had noticed a lot of “munge” in the water near the surface and we wanted to know exactly what was in the water that was reflecting an acoustic signal back up to the transducers since it did not appear to be fish.  The upper part of the water column that had the munge was expected to have more small and microscopic organisms than the sample taken at a lower depth because of what had been seen on the EK60.

Water Collection Bottle

CTD water collection bottles

The CTD water bottles have flaps on the ends that can be triggered at specific depths.  When the two CTD bottles were brought back on the ship, they were opened to pour out the water samples.  Once the required 1 liter sample from the bottle taken near the ocean floor was put aside for another scientific study, the rest of the water was put into large white buckets to be sampled and inspected as we saw fit.  We had one large bucket filled with water from near the bottom which we labeled “deep” and the water from only 15 meters down, which we labeled “shallow”.

We used coffee filters placed in funnels to strain out any microscopic organisms from the water.  We had one set up for the “shallow” water sample, and another for the “deep” water sample.  When there was a tiny bit of water left in the filter, we used a pipette to suck up the slurry of microscopic organisms and a bit of water and place them in a glass dish.  From there, we took a few drops from each dish and put them under a dissecting microscope.

Filtering Ocean Water

Funnel and coffee filter straining the living organisms out of ocean water

 

Using the dissecting microscope we were able to identify a few things that we were seeing, and even take photos of them through a special part of the microscope where a camera could be attached.  We did not individually identify everything that we saw, but we did notice that there were diatoms, rotifers, crab larvae, and some type of egg.  There was a noticeable difference though between the quantity of organisms in the shallow and deep samples.  As predicted, the shallow water sample had many more microscopic organisms than the deep water sample.

 

Personal Log

Yesterday we did two trawls and one Methot sample.  I understand so much more now about exactly how all of the instruments work and how to operate some of them.  I finally feel like I was getting the hang of everything and able to be more helpful.  Each trawl takes about 3 hours plus processing time, so the days pass much quicker when we are fishing often.

Methot net being brought on deck

Methot net coming on deck after a haul

In our second trawl of the day we ended  up catching a really neat kind of snailfish that isn’t very common.  It’s always exciting to get something other than pollock in the nets, and it was really neat this time since no one else had ever seen one before either!  After spending a lot of time taking photos, looking at identifying features and using books and the internet to help, we finally were able to identify it as an Okhotsk Snailfish.

Today we are steaming back to Dutch Harbor, AK and I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about leaving life on the ship behind.  I will miss being a part of research and working with the MACE team.  I love being able to do research, and work closely with scientists and learn more about something that I really enjoy.  I will also definitely miss seeing the ocean every day.  I think it will probably be strange to walk on land now.  Since the ground won’t be moving anymore, hopefully that means that I can stop walking into walls!

All operations stopped on the ship last night so that we can have enough time to make it back to land before 09:00 on June 28, 2018.  Today I will be packing up my things, cleaning up my room for the next person, and then helping to clean and scrub the fish lab. Tomorrow I will return to life as a land dweller, although hopefully not forever.

Did You Know?

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “The Bering Sea has more than 300 species of fish, including 50 deep-sea species, of which 25 are caught commercially. The most important among them are salmon, herring, cod, flounder, halibut, and pollock.”

 

 

 

Susan Dee: Ten Minutes to Bongo: Bongo, Bongo, Bongo, May 30, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Dee

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 

May 23 – June 7, 2018

Mission:  Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeaster Coast of U.S.

Date:  May 30, 2018

Weather From Bridge

Latitude:  40° 42′
Longitude:  072° 35′
Sea Wave Height:  1-2 feet
Wind Speed:  calm
Wind Direction:  calm
Visibility:  overcast
Air Temperature:  15.5°C
Sky: overcast

Science and Technology Log

At Day 5, I am getting acclimated to life on the sea.  Days are filled with data collection at randomly selected stations.  One of the collections is of plankton, phytoplankton, zooplankton and ichthyoplankton. Plankton sampling has occurred since the early 19th century with simple collecting devices.  In early ocean sampling, it was believed that plankton were evenly distributed throughout the ocean, so a sample taken anywhere would be a good representation for a large area.  This idea is no longer supported. The belief is that there are large scale spatial variations in concentrations of plankton populations, which has lead to random sampling methods using bongo nets. Widely used since the 1970’s, bongo nets are named from their side by side configuration which makes them look like a set of bongo drums.

There are two sets of bongo nets the ship is using: a regular bongo with a diameter of 61 cm and 333 micron mesh and two different sets of baby bongos, 22 cm in diameter, and one set with 333 micron mesh and the other with 165 micron mesh for smaller organisms.  As the station to sample is approached, the bridge announces “Ten minutes to Bongo!” and all scientists and crew get prepared to deploy bongos.  They are lowered into the water with a crane and winch system  and towed for 8 to 25 minutes, depending on the depth, at a speed of 1-2 knots  There is an important communication between the bridge and the scientists during bongo deployment. The ship gets to the correct GPS and slows down for the tow. See video for deployment procedure:

A video of bongo deployment (no dialogue)

Bongo Deployment

Bongos being lowered into the water

When nets are retrieved, the bongos are rinsed to collect all the samples to the cod-end of the net. The baby bongo samples are preserved in ethyl alcohol to be sent to the Narraganset Lab to look for fish eggs and larvae and to the University of Connecticut to get a census of marine zooplankton. The large bongo samples are preserved in formaldehyde to be sent to a lab in Poland to identify species  and count numbers.

Bongo catch

Samples collected in cod-end of bongo net

After nets are washed they are prepared for next station. The cod-ends are tied with the “Taylor” knot shown below. After many attempts and a very patient teacher, I finally learned how to tie this knot.

Taylor knot

The “Taylor” cod-end knot

 

Washing out sieve

Washing out sieve to capture sample to be put into jar

 

Sample jar

Sample preserved and ready to be sent to lab to identify species

The questions scientists are trying to answer with the data from these samples are:

  1. What living plankton organisms does the sea contain at a given time?
  2. How does this material vary from season to season and year to year?

As scientist Chris Taylor reminded me, no sample is a bad sample. Each sample contributes to the  conclusions made in the end.  After samples are examined by the labs, I look forward to seeing the results of this survey.

Personal Log:

I am enjoying every second of this cruise.  We did hit rough seas but I had no effect due to wearing the patch. Hopefully, we will have calm seas as we head to the Gulf of Maine. The food is great. Chef Dennis prepares awesome meals.  I am eating a lot!! Even had an ice cream bar set up last night.  Life is very comfortable on the ship.

 

INTERVIEW: Andrew Harrison and Maddie Armstrong

I choose to interview ship members Andrew Harrison and Maddie Anderson because they are in the process of earning their mariner licenses.  Also, the perspective from a female in a male dominated career is of interest.  I often get questions from students about opportunities in the marine science field.  The marine science field has many paths to take. One path is research and another is earning a Merchant Mariner license.  There are several ways to obtain a Merchant Mariners USCG license. The two most common paths are the hawsepiper and Maritime academy.  The hawsepiper path begins with accumulating sea hours, taking training courses, completing board assessment and passing the USCG exam.  This path can take up to 14 years to complete. In the Maritime college route,  requirements for Merchant Mariner license can be complete in 4 years and earn a college diploma.  The interviews below give some direction to pursuing a career on a ship.

Interviewees role on ship:

Andrew Harrison- assignment on ship- Crew Able Body

Maddie Armstrong –assignment on ship- student and science party volunteer

The connecting link between Maddie and Andrew is they both are affiliated with Maine Maritime Academy.  Andrew graduated in 2015 and Maddie is presently a student.  What interested me the most is that a Maritime degree could be granted through college studies. I had no idea this was an option for students interested in maritime careers. There are 7 Maritime academies across the US. https://www.edumaritime.net/usa/top-maritime-programs, each with their unique specialty.  All programs are USCG approved and students earn license upon graduation through the US Coast Guard.  From talking to Andrew and Maddie I feel attending college to earn a merchant mariners license prepares one better for life at sea.

What degree do you hold?

Andrew: I have a BA Vessel Operations and Technology and a 500 Ton license.

Maddie: I will graduate with double major BA in Marine Science / Vessel Operations and Technology. Presently I have a 200 ton license but the plan is to graduate with a 500 Ton and 3rd Mate license.

Where did your interest in marine science stem from?

Andrew:  Since I was 14, I have been sailing and love the ocean

Maddie: Growing up in the middle of Maine, it was difficult to experience the ocean often.  My parents would take me to the ocean as a reward or holiday gift.

What experiences do students at Maine Maritime Academy get to prepare for maritime license?

Maddie:  The academy has a ship, The State of Maine, which is a moving classroom. Students practice navigation on the ship. There is also the Pentagoet Tug to practice barge pulling. Smaller vessels are available to practice to practice navigation on.  At the academy you can practice on real ships.

Andrew: The Academy gives students a faster way to obtain license than a non collegiate Hawsepiper route. Through a maritime college you also earn a college degree and graduate with a license. The academy route is faster but also more expensive. To obtain a similar license without going to an academy would take up to 15 years. Plus the academy has connections to job opportunities after graduation.

What other ships have you worked on over the years?

Andrew:  I was a deck hand on Spirit of South Carolina; worked on yachts out of Charleston; Space X barge AD- collected rocket after launch

Maddie: I have had some experience on a lot of different vessels through the academy. I started working on the Schooner Bowdoin and Brig Niagara for a summer. Then moved on to charter boats and small cruise ships.

What advice would you give a student who is interested in pursuing a Merchant Mariners license?

Andrew: Volunteer on ships as much as you can. Experience on a Schooner is invaluable.  Be prepared to put in the time.

Maddie: You have to be self driven and want to be on the water. You also have to be self confident and willing to give it your all at a moments notice.

How much time can a merchant mariner expect to spend at sea each year?

Andrew: It varies with the vessel and cruise.  It can be 9 months at sea and 3 months off; 60 days at sea; and 69 days off; 5-7 weeks on and 3-5 off. The bottom line is to be prepared to be away from home for long periods of time.

What are your interests and hobbies when you are on shore?

Andrew:  Fishing, sailing, scuba, reading and video games.

Maddie: I like to read, hike and learn to play instruments. Now I am learning to play a didgeridoo- a wind instrument developed by indigenous Australians.

Where do you see yourself working in 10 years?

Maddie: Working on a research vessel with ROV exploration.

Andrew:  In 10 years, I plan to be a 1600 Ton Master Captain working for NOAA or another cruise company.

 

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!