Ragupathy Kannan: Salps to Shearwaters, August 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 22, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40.74767
Longitude: -70.41857
Water temperature: 25.3°C
Wind Speed: 7.18 knots
Wind Direction: 229 degrees
Air temperature: 24°C
Atmospheric pressure: 1014 millibars
Sky: Cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Life aboard this research vessel is fast-paced and absorbing.  I feel like I am a child in a toy shop, eager to learn and blog about so many of the happenings around me!  I spend much of my time high above in the flying bridge (above the bridge) with a panoramic 360 degree view of the horizon, documenting seabirds and mammals with colleagues—more on this later.  We suspend our surveying when the ship reaches a sampling station.  We have about 150 random sampling stations out in the ocean, ranging from close to coast (depth about 15 m) to right at the edge of the continental shelf (up to 500 m so far).  Cruising about 9 knots (about 10 mph), the ship zigzags along a predetermined track, stopping anywhere between 15-30 minutes at each sampling station. 

sampling station map
A map of our sampling stations. The black circles indicate plankton sampling sites; Dots show oceanographic stations where conductivity and temperature measurements are taken along with water samples for carbonate chemistry and nutrient analyses

At each station, an array of measurements are taken or specimens sampled.   

In my previous blog, I described a state-of-the-art device called the Imaging FlowCytoBot (IFCB).  But plankton are also sampled using more traditional methods.  We deploy Bongo Nets for plankton sampling.  Can you guess why they are called Bongos?  See the photo below. 

bongo nets
Bongo nets being pulled out after sampling. The chief bosun and student volunteers are on watch.

Note that there is a pair of bigger bongos and a pair of “baby” bongos.  These nets are lowered by a j-frame (arm that can be extended off the side of the ship) and winch, at various depths into the water and towed for particular distances through the water.  The time spent inside the water (5 minutes minimum) and the depth traversed (up to 200 meters) varies with station depth, but there is a Flowmeter at the mouth of each net that counts volume of water sampled.  So all measurements are standardized by volume.  The mesh size is 333 microns (1 micron = 1 millionth of a meter; 1 meter = 3.3 feet), meaning anything over 333 microns will be trapped.  (To put that in perspective, most cells in your body are about 100 microns).

flowmeter
A flowmeter at the mouth of a bongo net–-note the spinning fins that activate the water volume counting device

When they are pulled out, research personnel swing into action.  Most of them are undergraduate volunteers from various universities eager to get their hands wet (literally and figuratively) doing marine science.  The bigger bongo nets are hosed to flush all organisms to the bottom.  Then the bottom is opened and contents flushed into a sieve.  These samples are then preserved in formalin for future examination in labs on the mainland. 

Jessica rinses bongo nets
Jessica, an undergraduate volunteer, spraying the bigger bongo nets to flush plankton to the bottom
David rinses baby bongos
David (another undergraduate volunteer) sprays the smaller bongos
TAS Kannan rinsing nets
I lend a helping hand spraying the nets
emptying bongo nets
Jessica opens the bottom of the net and empties contents into a sieve
net contents
Much of the contents are Salps: jelly-like planktonic tunicates
salps and larval hake
Closer look at Salps with a larval hake fish (probably a Red Hake) near the center. More on hakes below.
Facts about Salps
The abundant salps are a vital component of the ecosystem. Source: archives.nereusprogram.org
crustacean
We even caught this beautiful planktonic crustacean (amphipod or isopod). It’s related to our rolly-pollies.
arrow worms
We also get some tiny arrow worms in our plankton samples. These torpedo-shaped worms belong to a phylum of predatory marine worms called Chaetognatha (“bristle jaws”). Photo courtesy Zatelmar
plankton jars
Plankton from the bigger bongos are preserved in 5% formalin for future analyses in mainland labs.

What happens to the contents of the pair of smaller bongos?  Our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh freezes the sample from one of them into small ziplock bags for a Florida lab which will conduct Stable Isotope Analyses.  The other one’s contents are preserved in ethanol for genetic testing (Ethanol is far easier on DNA than formalin) to determine such aspects as taxonomy and phylogenetic (evolutionary) relationships and use in larval fish age and growth studies.

sample bag
Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh bags a sample for freezing
labels
All specimens are carefully labeled and catalogued

So what are Stable Isotope Analyses?  If you are a beginning college student, you may be unaware of this sophisticated and widely-used technique.  (My ecology students should be well aware of this!).  Basically, the ratio of isotopes of a chemical element in a given sample is used to yield insights into aspects such as food preferences of the organism or to reconstruct its past environmental conditions.  It can also be used to determine where the plankton originated and thus get insights into ocean circulation.  The analyses are done with a device called mass spectrometer. 


Career Corner

I spoke with our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh about his career, research, and his advice for students.

Q. Harvey, tell us how a man from land-locked Minnesota ended up as a top marine biologist.

A. When I graduated from college I looked for a job with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but they were very competitive. So I applied for several NOAA positions from North Carolina down to the gulf coast. I got a job offer in NC.  This was after my B.S. in Aquatic Biology from St. Cloud State University.

Q. You did an M.S. while working with NOAA?

A. Yes, I went back to school part-time and got my Masters. I then went to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute [WHOI]

Q. From WHOI you came back to NOAA?

A. Yes.

Q. Has ocean acidity changed since NOAA started EcoMon?

A. It is hard to say because of seasonal variability.  We need more long-term data.

Q. Is ocean acidity world-wide increasing?

A. That’s what I see in the scientific literature.

Q. How about temperature?

A. Yes, the Northeast has seen an increase in water temperatures, especially in the Gulf of Maine, where it has increased about 0.9°C in about 4 decades.

Q. Has EcoMon helped document declines in sharks or whales?

A. Again, we need long-term data for that.

Q. Can you name one recommendation from EcoMon that has benefited sea life?

A. We get larval fish data.  Recently we started calculating Atlantic Mackerel Egg Index in collaboration with Division of Fisheries and Ocean Canada and the data indicated that there is a decline in the adult population.  This aided in the determination to lower catch limits for that species.

Q. Has the politics of climate change influenced your work?

A. No.  I have not had anyone try to change my research or findings in any way.  We have within NOAA good scientific integrity rules. We feel we have the ability to publish sound science research without any interference.

Q. You are highly published.  One of your papers on larval fish otoliths was with my former student Michael Berumen.  How are larval otoliths helpful in research?

A. One of the projects we have is trying to use larval hakes to examine stock structure (fish stock is a group of fish of the same species that live in the same geographic area and mix enough to breed with each other when mature) and estimate spawning stock biomass (the amount of mature fish).  We have interns in the lab who remove otoliths and get daily growth increments. That allows us to estimate age of the larva and spawning seasonality. 

Q. Can you tell based on this where they hatched?

A. That’s where we are headed.  Once we get information on when they were born and where they were collected, we hope to use oceanographic conditions to see if we can back-calculate where they may have come from and thus plot spawning locations to aid in stock structure analysis.

Q. One of the findings of past warming episodes is shrinking of foraminiferans and other small shelled organisms.  Is NOAA monitoring size of plankton?

A. We are.  That’s one of the projects we have just started: estimating size of Calanus finmarchicus, or Cal fin [see photo below].  This is a copepod crustacean and an important food for the endangered Right Whales. We have a 40-yr time series and have seen evidence of declining size of late-stage and adult Cal fin. We are trying to see if this has resulted in a decline in their energetic value.  They are a lipid-rich zooplankton.  If their size is related to their lipid storage they may be less nutritious for their predators.

Q. One of your papers indicated that about a third of fish and plankton species assessed in the northeast are vulnerable to climate change.  Is that trend continuing?

A.  Yes, as we monitor we continue to see shifts in fisheries, plankton, seabirds, and mammals.

Q.  What is your advice to early college undergraduates interested in marine science? 

A. Be flexible.  When I first started I thought I’d stay in Minnesota and work on adult fish stocks. I ended up working on larval fish and zooplankton.  Not focusing on one skill set and being able to adapt and look at various aspects will help you in the long run.

At the end of the interview, Harvey gave me this card and encouraged students to contact him for volunteer opportunities with NOAA. 

information card
Information Card from NOAA’s Oceans and Climate Branch
Calfin
Calanus finmarchicus, a subject of Harvey Walsh’s research. From: https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/nauplius/media/copepedia
food web slide
Harvey also kindly shared this slide explaining the locations of Calfin, Baleen Whales, and even you, in the food web. The highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whale feeds on plankton like calfins by filtering them through a sieve (baleen) in their mouths (slide: courtesy Harvey Walsh)


Personal Log

One of the best aspects of this voyage is the daily spectacular views of sunrises and sunsets.  I spend a lot of time high up on the fly bridge assisting in sea bird, sea mammal, and sea turtle surveys.  It’s also a treat to look around 360 degrees and see nothing but the horizon, nothing man-made except this big old ship gently bobbing up and down in the center, leaving a wide frothy wake behind.  Yet, in the vastness of the ocean, we are but a mere speck. It really is humbling to experience this vista.

The ship crew are very serious about safety.  We have periodic Fire and Emergency, Abandon Ship, and Man Overboard drills.  A billet posted on my door advises where to report in each of these scenarios.  We have “muster” points, meaning, where to meet, for each.  I was trained to get into my Anti Exposure Suit in less than two minutes.  That was easier said than done!

Kannan in survival suit
Here I am in my Anti Exposure Suit. I felt like an astronaut in it

The food continues to be sumptuous and delicious, cooked by two expert stewards Margaret and Bronley.  Never did I dream I will enjoy eggplant curry and coconut jasmine rice on a NOAA Ship far out into the sea.

Dinner menu
Dinner menu posted in the mess
stewards Margaret and Bronley
Margaret and Bronley are the two great cooks on board. Margaret makes her own Garam Masala, putting her unique fingerprint into her curry dishes (and delighting my Indian-American tongue)!
gym
I even get my daily work out in the ship’s small but well-appointed gym


Did You Know?

Hakes (see photo above) are lean whitefish belonging to the Cod family.  They are known as Gadoids (Order Gadiformes) and are grouped with cods, haddocks, whiting, and pollocks.  They are much sought-after for their delicate texture and mild flavor.  We get some hake larvae in our plankton tows.  Hake larvae are used by scientists for all kinds of studies.  For example, their otoliths (tiny ear bones) can enable identification of species and even help determine where they were hatched (by Stable Isotope Analysis—see above).  This information, combined with data on ocean currents and circulation, can help determine hotspots for hake reproduction to enable conservation and sustainable fisheries. 

Interesting animals seen lately

Fish:

Hammerhead Shark

Whale Shark

Tuna sp.

Mammals:

Pilot Whales

Minke Whales

Common Dolphins

Bottle-nosed Dolphins

Spotted Dolphins (riding the bow!)

Sea Birds:

Great Shearwater

Manx Shearwater

Cory’s Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Audubon’s Shearwater

Wilson’s Storm-petrel

Band-rumped Storm-petrel

Leach’s Storm-petrel

Black-capped Petrel

Red-necked Phalarope

Northern Gannet

In addition, several land birds on their south-bound autumn migration rested briefly on the ship.  I was not expecting to see Prairie Warblers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Brown-headed Cowbirds on a pelagic (=ocean) cruise!

Callie Harris: More than Meets the Eye, August 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 8/18/19

Weather Data from the Bridge:

 Latitude: 57° 01.32 N
Longitude: 155 ° 01.21 W
Wind Speed: 14.56 knots
Wind Direction: 334°
Air Temperature: 15.5°C
Sea Temperature: 15°C
Barometric Pressure: 1017 mbar


Science and Technology Log

Today marks our sixth day at sea. We are headed north into the Shelikof Strait between the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island. We are continuing along our survey stations with bongo nets and midwater trawls. A bongo net consists of two plankton nets mounted next to each other. These plankton nets are ring nets with a small mesh width and a long funnel shape. Both nets are enclosed by a cod-end that is used for collecting plankton. The bongo net is pulled horizontally through the water column by a research vessel. 

bongo net diagram
Bongo Net Diagram. Image credit: Flanders Marine Institute
Bongo nets on deck
Bongo nets on deck

We are using a combination of four total bongo nets simultaneously to sample plankton. Two of our nets are 60 cm in diameter and the other two are 20 cm in diameter respectively. Depending on the depth at each station, the nets are lowered until they reach a depth of ten meters above the sea floor. Scientists and NOAA crew on the scientific deck must constantly communicate with the bridge via radio during this survey to maintain consistent wire angles. Ideally, the goal is to maintain the winch wire angle at 45° so that the water flow into the nets is parallel to the ocean floor.

Callie measuring bongo angle
Me measuring the bongo net wire angle. Photo by Matt Wilson.

Plankton are plants and animals that float along in the oceans’ tides and currents. Their name comes from the Greek meaning “drifter” or “wanderer.” There are two types of plankton: tiny plants called phytoplankton, and weak-swimming animals called zooplankton. Oceanic plankton constitute the largest reservoir of biomass in the world’s oceans. They play a significant role in the transfer of energy within the oceanic ecosystems. Ongoing plankton monitoring data is essential for evaluating ecosystem health and for detecting changes in these ecosystems.

Plankton ID
One of the plankton ID cards we use when identifying samples under the microscope

Once the nets are brought back onto the deck, we immediately rinse the nets so that all of the plankton collects in the cod-end (the plastic tube attachment at the bottom). We carefully remove the cod-end tubes and bring them into the wet lab for processing. Using sieve pans, we filter the cod-end sample (plankton) into glass jars. We add formaldehyde and sodium borate to each jar to preserve the plankton for future analysis and study. NOAA Chief Scientist Matt Wilson informed me that all of the sample jars we collect on this expedition will actually be sent to the Plankton Sorting and Identification Center in Szczecin, Poland. Check out their website for more info: https://mir.gdynia.pl/o-instytucie/zaklad-sortowania-i-oznaczania-planktonu/?lang=en .

At even numbered stations, NOAA scientists on board will conduct a RZA (rapid zooplankton assessment) of samples collected using a microscope. This rapid assessment of plankton yields current data that allows scientists to quickly evaluate present-day ecosystem health and changes while they await more in-depth sample results and analysis from Poland.


Personal Log

Everything is still going great on day six at sea. Seas are remaining relatively calm, which I am very thankful for. I am actually sleeping more than I do at home. I am averaging about nine to ten hours sleep at night which is amazing! Most mornings, I get up and head down to the gym to run on the treadmill for some much needed exercise. As I said in my second blog, our meals have been delicious. Chief Steward Judy leaves us out some late night treats to help us get through our long shifts. I thoroughly enjoyed some late night ice cream to help me power through the last trawl of the night. I really like lunch and dinner time on the ship because it brings everyone together for a few minutes to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. Most of the scientists and NOAA crew and officers have traveled all over the world on scientific vessels. It is fascinating to hear about all of their stories and adventures. I have already decided to add the ‘PolarTREC’ (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating in Antarctica and/or the Artic) Program to my bucket list for a few years down the road. My most favorite organism that we have caught in the trawl so far was this Smooth Lumpsucker. 

Smooth lumpsucker
Smooth lumpsucker

Me and my buddy Mister Lumpsucker – Photos by Lauren Rogers


Did You Know?

The answers to day three blog’s temperature readings were 62.6°F for air temperature and 59°F for sea temperature.

All jellyfish are such weak swimmers that they too are considered plankton. There is also some scientific debate as to whether or not the Ocean Sun Fish (aka Mola mola) is considered a type of plankton. The sun fish is a passive planktonic creature which can only move vertically in the water column since it lacks a back fin. They have a long dorsal and anal fin that help them maneuver clumsily up and down in the water column.

Ragupathy Kannan: Starting with Plankton, August 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 18, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 38.2494289
Longitude: -75.0853552
Water temperature: 26.3°C
Wind Speed: 4.92 knots
Wind Direction: 122 degrees
Air temperature: 27.1°C
Atmospheric pressure: 1015 millibars
Sky: Partly cloudy


Science and Technology Log

In my previous blog posting, I explained the importance of plankton as base of the ecological pyramid upon which much of marine life in this ecosystem depends.  The past few days, I have witnessed and experienced in-person how scientists aboard this sophisticated research vessel collect and analyze sea water samples for plankton. 

Yesterday I spent some time with Kyle Turner, a guest researcher from the University of Rhode Island doing his M.S. in Oceanography.  He operates a highly sophisticated device called the Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB).  I was fascinated to learn how it works.  It is basically a microscope and camera hooked up to the ship’s water intake system.  As the waters pass through the system, laser beams capture images of tiny particles, mostly phytoplankton (tiny photosynthetic drifters).  As particles do, they scatter the light or even fluoresce (meaning, they emit their own light).  Based on this, the computer “zooms in” on the plankton automatically and activates the camera into taking photographs of each of them!  I was amazed at the precision and quality of the images, taken continuously as it pipes in the water from below.  Kyle says this helps them monitor quality and quantity of plankton on a continual basis. 

Kyle Turner and IFCB
Kyle Turner with the Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB)
Kannan and IFCB
Here I am examining a filamentous (hair-like) phytoplankton in the IFCB monitor.
IFCB computer screen
The various kinds of phytoplankton are neatly displayed on the IFCB’s computer screen. See my previous blog for a photo of the dazzling and colorful array of plankton out there! Plankton may lack the popularity of the more charismatic sea animals like whales, but much of life in the ocean hinges on their welfare.


Career Corner

Hello, students (especially bio majors).  In this corner of my blogs, I will interview some key research personnel on the ship to highlight careers.  Please learn and be inspired from these folks.

Here is my interview with Kyle Turner.

Q. Tell us something about your graduate program.

A. My research focuses on phytoplankton using bio-optical methods. Basically, how changes in light can tell us about phytoplankton in the water.

Q. How does this IFCB device help you?

A. It gives me real time information on the different types of phytoplankton in the location where we are.  We can monitor changes in their composition, like the dominant species, etc.

Q. Why are phytoplankton so important?

A. They are like trees on land. They produce about half the oxygen in the atmosphere, so they’re super important to all life on earth. They are also the base of the marine food web.  The larger zooplankton eat them, and they in turn are eaten by fish, and so on all the way to the big whales.  They all rely on each other in this big ocean ecosystem.

Q. How are phytoplankton changing?

A. The oceans are warming, so we’re observing shifts in their composition.

Q. What brought you into marine science?

A. I grew up on the coast.  I’ve always liked the ocean. I love science.  So I combined my passions.

Q. What is your advice to my students exploring a career in marine science?

A. Looking for outside research opportunities is important.  There are so many opportunities from organizations like NASA, NSF, and NOAA.  I did two summer research internships as an undergrad.  First was with NASA when I was a junior.  I applied through their website.  That was a big stepping stone for me. A couple of years later, I did another summer project with a researcher who is now my advisor in graduate school.  That’s how I met her.

Q. What are your future plans?

A. I’d love to get into satellite oceanography to observe plankton and work for NASA or NOAA.


Personal Log

I am pleasantly surprised by how comfortable this ship is.  I was expecting something more Spartan.  I have my own spacious room with ample work and storage space, a comfortable bed, TV (which I don’t have time for!), and even a small fridge and my own sink. Being gently rocked to sleep by the ship is an added perk! 

My own cozy stateroom
My own cozy stateroom
Sunrise view
A room with a view—sunrise from my window

The food is awesome.  We have two expert cooks on board, Margaret and Bronley. 

lunch
My first lunch on board
mess
The ship’s mess is a nice place to eat and interact with people. There’s always food available 24/7, even outside of meal hours.


Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter played a big role in recovery operations following Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

Barograph
This photo is displayed in the galley. Note the sharp decline in atmospheric pressure as Katrina thundered through.


Some interesting animals seen so far

  • Flying fish (they get spooked by the ship, take off and fly several yards low across the water!)
  • Cow-nosed Rays (see photo and caption below)
  • Leather-backed Sea-turtle (I’m used to seeing them on the beach in Trinidad—see my previous blog.  It was a treat to see one swimming close by.  I was even able to see the pink translucent spot on the head).
  • Bottle-nosed Dolphins
  • Seabirds (lots of them…. four lifers already—more on this later!)
school of cow-nose rays
We saw large schools of Cow-nosed Rays closer to the coast. These animals feed on bivalve mollusks like clams and oysters with their robust jaws adapted for such hard food. They are classified as Near Threatened due to their reliance on oyster beds which are themselves threatened by pollution and over exploitation.

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.”

IMG_20170817_103950017_HDR
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).

329 hobbit house 2
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.

CWeb
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.”

IMG_20170817_100329068
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:

IMG_20170818_094058774_HDR
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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
In December of 2016 I voyaged to Antarctica as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow.

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!

IMG_9038
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.

Nashville to Rhode Island_Flight Diary Pic

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.

Farallones
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

Otoliths

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

David Walker: Slowly Getting the Hang of Things (Days 3-5), June 29, 2015

Sexing Fish

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: Monday, June 29, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Weather Log 6/28/15
NOAA Ship Oregon II Weather Log 6/28/15

Weather remained quite calm through Days 3-5.  I observed a couple minor rain showers during the night shift.  As noted in the above weather log from the bridge, hazy weather (HZ) on multiple occasions during Day 4.  Sky condition on Day 4 went from 1-2 oktas in the morning (FEW), to 5-7 oktas (BKN), to 8 oktas (OVC) by midday.  The sky cleared up by the evening.

Science and Technology Log

Day 3 was incredibly busy.  There were no breaks in the 12 hour shift, as there were many trawl stations, and each catch contained a very large amount of shrimp.

According to many on deck, the shrimp catches on Day 3 would have been deemed successful by commercial shrimping standards.  I got lots of good practice sexing the shrimp from the catch — I sexed over 2000 shrimp on Day 3 alone.  Sexing shrimp is fairly easy, as the gonads are externally exposed.

I also learned how to sex crabs.  This is also a simple process, as there is no cutting involved (see graphic below).  The highlight of the day was the landing of a really large red snapper.  They let me take a picture with it before taking it inside for processing.  I was absolutely exhausted at the end of Day 3 and completely drenched in a mixture of sweat, salt water, and fish guts.

Day 4, in contrast, was very slow.  The trawl net broke on one of the early stations, so the research was delayed for quite awhile.  In fact, in my entire 12 hour shift, we only had to process two catches.  We were able to complete all CTD, bongo, and Neuston stations, however, quite efficiently.  I have gotten to the point where I can serve as the assisting scientist for the CTD, bongo catch, and Neuston catch on my own.  This data also requires two fisherman on hand — one to operate the crane, the other (along with me) to guide the device or net into the water.  The fishermen with whom I most commonly work are Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols, Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin, and Fisheries Methods and Equipment Specialist (FMES) Warren Brown (see photo).

On Day 5, I got great practice sexing a wide variety of fish.  An incision is made on the ventral side of the fish, from the anus toward the pectoral fin.  After some digging around inside the fish, you will find the gonads — either ovaries (clear to yellowish appearance with considerable vasculature, round in cross-section often many eggs) or testes (white appearance, triangular in cross-section).  As you might guess, larger fish are much easier to sex than smaller ones, and the ease of sexing is also species dependent.  To make matter even worse, many fish are synchronous hermaphrodites (containing both male and female sex organs), and some are protogynous hermaphrodites (changing from female to male during the course of life).  The ease of sexing is also species dependent.  For instance, I have found the sexing of adult puffer fish and lizardfish to be quite easy (very easily defined organs), however I have experienced considerable difficulty sexing the Atlantic menhaden (too much blood obscuring the organs).

Field Party Chief Andre DeBose provided me with a hypoxia contour chart (see below), representing compiled CTD data from Leg 1 and the beginning of Leg 2.  According to DeBose, these contour charts are generated by the National Coastal Data Development Center (NCDDC) once out of around every 10 stations, and they represent an average of data taken by station near the ocean floor.  A data point is defined as hypoxic if the dissolved oxygen content is below 2 mg/L.  On the below chart, you can see that many hypoxic areas exist along the Texas coast, near the shore.

Bottom Dissolved Oxygen Contours
Dissolved oxygen contours for water at ocean bottom — Plotted data thus far from the SEAMAP Summer Survey (June 9 – 26, 2015)

I could not wrap my head around why this trend exists in the data, as I figured that shallower water would be warmer, allowing for more plant life in greater density, and accordingly more dissolved oxygen in greater density.  Fisheries Biologist Alonzo Hamilton helped me better understand this trend.  The fact that the water is warmer in shallower areas means that more of the dissolved oxygen leaves the surface of water in these areas.  In addition, while plant life is indeed in greater concentration in shallower water, so is the concentration of aerobic microbes.  These organisms use up oxygen through respiration to decompose organic matter.  You can see on the above graphic that the greatest hypoxia is found in areas near major runoff (e.g. Matagorda Bay and Galveston Bay).  Among other things, this runoff feeds nitrates from plant fertilizer into the ocean, which supports growth of more algae (in the form of algal blooms).  Aerobic microbes decompose this excess organic matter once it dies, taking further oxygen from the water. Although it seems counterintuitive, at least to me, the greater heat and greater organism density actually leads to a more hypoxic environment.

I am slowly getting better with the species names of aquatic organisms, but as of now, I am still focusing on common names.  The common names often relate to the fish’s phenotype, and this helps me recall them with more ease.  Common name knowledge, however, is fairly useless when it comes to entering the organisms into the computer during species counts, as the computer only has scientific (Latin) names in its database.  I hope to learn more scientific names as the week progresses.

I am also slowly amassing a really interesting collection of organisms to take back with me to LASA High School.  CJ Duffie taught me how to inject crabs with formaldehyde to preserve them.  Upon return to port, I will spray these crabs with polyurethane, to preserve the outer shell.  I have also been preserving different organisms in jars with 20/80 (v/v) formaldehyde/saltwater.  If you know me, you know I love collecting things, so this process has been particularly enjoyable.  Fisheries Biologists Alonzo Hamilton and Kevin Rademacher have been very supportive in helping me collect good specimens for my classroom.

Personal Log

Life on the ship is very enjoyable.  My bed is comfortable, the work is exciting, the meals are excellent, and the company is gregarious.  However, I have completely lost track of time and date.  My “morning” is actually 11 PM, and my “evening” is actually 1 PM.  Accordingly, my “lunch” is actually breakfast, and my “breakfast” is actually lunch.  I also never have any idea what day of the week it is.  I called my girlfriend yesterday and was surprised to hear that she was not at work (it was a Sunday).

Regarding this blog, I have finally found the optimal time to write and upload photos.  As the satellite internet is shared by all of the ships in the area, it is not possible to access WordPress during the daytime.  Accordingly, I do all of my uploading and most of my writing between 2 and 6 AM.  This works for me, as long as I can find time for the blog between research stations.

I really enjoy the people on the night shift.  Kevin Rademacher, Alonzo Hamilton, and Warren Brown provide such a wealth of knowledge.  These three are absolute experts of their craft, and it is a true honor to work with them.  I am nearing the end of my first week on the ship, and I am still learning just as much as I was on my first day – this is incredibly exciting.

I have found that Alonzo really enjoys the TV show, “Chopped,” as it seems to be on every time I enter the dry lab.  It is pretty interesting to observe him watching the show, as he enthusiastically comments on all of the dishes and regularly predicts the correct winner.

I am also getting well through one of the books I brought – Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safron Foer.  It is a very odd read, but it has been enjoyable so far.

I am looking very forward to every new day.

Did You Know?

The scorpionfish that we are catching are some of the most venomous creatures in the world (see Scorpaenidae) .  These fish have spines that are coated with a venomous mucous, and their sting is incredibly painful – just ask CJ Duffie!  These fish are also incredible masters of camouflage, changing in color and apparent texture to disguise themselves, so as to catch more prey.

Notable Species Seen


David Walker: Lots to Do, Lots to Learn (Days 1-2), June 26, 2015

Sorting by species

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: Friday, June 26, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Weather Log 6/26/15
NOAA Ship Oregon II Weather Log 6/26/15

Weather was quite calm on Days 1 and 2.  As noted in the above weather log, the only real disturbance was a small squall (SQ) observed at 7 AM on Day 2.  Sky conditions are estimated in terms of how many eighths of the sky are covered in cloud, ranging from 0 oktas (completely clear sky) through to 8 oktas (completely overcast).  FEW in the above log represents 1-2 oktas of cloud coverage.  SCT represents 3-4 octas, and BKN represents 5-7 oktas.

Science and Technology Log

I have been assigned the night watch, which runs from 12 midnight to 12 noon.  Accordingly, on Day 1, I went to sleep around 2 PM and woke up around 10 PM to prepare for watch. My first day consisted mostly of general groundfish biodiversity survey work, one of the focuses during the summer being on shrimp species.  Data collection points have been randomly plotted throughout the Gulf, and data is collected via trawling the seafloor, which consists of the boat pulling a fishing net behind the boat, along the seafloor, for a predetermined length of time.  To allow for collection along the seafloor, the net has rollers on the bottom.  The net also contains a “tickler chain” to stir up organisms (mainly shrimp) from the seafloor, so that they can be captured with the net. The trawl catch is transferred to the boat, where the following steps are completed:

Tranferring catch to boat
CJ Duffie transferring a trawl catch to the boat.

1. The total catch is weighed.
2. The catch is run along a belt, and the three significant shrimp species (white, brown, and pink) are taken out and saved. In addition, multiple unbiased samples are taken from the catch and saved.  The sample should contain at least one of each species encountered in the catch.
3. The entire taken sample is sorted by species.
4. Individuals within each species are counted.
5. Length, weight, and gender are recorded for shrimp individuals within a significant species (white, brown, and pink).
6. Length measurements are taken for all other species individuals within the sample. Weight and gender are recorded for one individual out of every five within a species, for species other than shrimp.
7. Everything is returned to the ocean.

Sorting by species
Sorting the catch by species along the belt. Left to Right — Volunteer CJ Duffie, Equipment Specialist Warren Brown, me, and Research Fisheries Biologist Kevin Rademacher.

On Day 1, we completed the above process for 4 separate catches.  Aside from my lack of knowledge, the only other mishap was that my middle finger accidentally got pinched by a fairly large Atlantic Blue Crab.  I was amazed at the amount of force of the pinch, as well as the amount of pain caused.  I ended up having to break the crab’s claw off in order to free myself.

Also on Day 1, I got to observe the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) sensor in action.  A CTD’s “primary function is to detect how the conductivity and temperature of the water column changes relative to depth” (NOAA).  The salinity of the seawater can be determined from this conductivity and temperature data.  On the Oregon II, the CTD also contains a dissolved oxygen sensor for measuring levels of dissolved oxygen in the seawater.  In addition, the CTD is housed in a larger metal frame (called a “rosette”) with water bottles, allowing for sampling at various depths.  Various data collection points have been randomly plotted throughout the gulf, and data collection consists of sending the CTD (+ dissolved oxygen sensor and water bottles) to and from the ocean floor.  The photo at right shows the data output – the y-axis represents water depth, temperature is recorded in blue (two data points taken at each scan), salinity is recorded in red, and dissolved oxygen is recorded in green (2 data points taken at each scan).  The ocean floor was at a very shallow depth (between 10 and 20 meters) for all sampling done on Day 1.

CTD data output
CTD data output

On Day 2, we completed more shrimp survey work and CTD sampling.  I also got to participate in a plankton survey at the beginning of my shift.  This entailed dropping two fine-mesh nets into the water – a dual-bongo and a neuston – and dragging them through the water to collect plankton.  The dual-bongo is lowered to a predetermined depth, while the neuston remains at the surface.  Obtained plankton is transferred to a jars with salt water and formaldehyde (for preservation) and sent to a lab in Poland (with which NOAA has a partnership) where it is categorized, measured, etc.

Personal Log

I have already met all of the scientific personnel and most of the other core and crew on the ship.  Andre Debose is the Field Party Chief, and he heads up all scientific operations on the ship.  The Executive Officer of the ship is Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Eric Johnson, a NOAA Corps Officer.  These are the two people who approve of all of my blog posts before I submit them to NOAA. The night watch (12 AM – 12 PM) consists of me, Kevin Rademacher, Warren Brown, and Alfonso Hamilton (watch leader).  The day watch (12 PM – 12 AM) consists of Adam Catasus, Jeffrey Zingre, Joey Salisbury, and Michael Hendon (watch leader).  CJ Duffie completes his watch from 6 AM to 6 PM. Adam, Jeffrey, and CJ are volunteer graduate students from Florida.  This is their first NOAA research cruise, but they have already completed a two-week leg, so they know much more than I do.  Alfonso, Kevin, Warren, Adam, and Joey are all seasoned NOAA veterans, have completed many years of research cruises, and have a wealth of knowledge.

Stateroom
My stateroom

My stateroom is quite nice.  There is sufficient storage space for all of my clothing and equipment, such that I am able to keep most everything off of the floor.  I am rooming with Joey Salisbury (I have top bunk), but as Joey is on the day shift, we do not see too much of each other.  I am quite paranoid about not waking up on-time, so I tethered my cell phone to a pipe on the boat, directly above my head.  This way, the phone alarm blares directly toward my face, and there is no danger of my phone falling off of the bunk.

I have not yet experienced any seasickness, although I am still taking preventative medication every day.  Andre noted before we left that ginger helps with seasickness, so I brought some ginger ale and ginger cookies.

The food served on the ship is amazing, definitely much more than what I was expecting.  There are multiple course options for each meal, and everything I have had so far has been exceptional.  The highlight was the made-to-order omelet that I had for breakfast after 7 hours of sorting and measuring fish.

Notably, I also got to experience two boat safety drills on Day 1 – a fire drill, and an abandon ship drill.  For the abandon ship drill, I got to try on my survival suit.  It is made out of neoprene, so in that regard it reminds me of fly fishing waders.  However it feels quite claustrophobic once you put your arms in it and zip it
halfway up your face.  I needed much assistance in putting it on.

Survival suit
In my survival suit, during an abandon ship drill

Did You Know?

NOAA has a Commissioned Service, one of the seven Uniformed Services of the United States.  The NOAA Corps consists only of Commissioned Officers (i.e. no enlisted personnel or Warrant Officers).  The Corps first became a Commissioned Service in 1917, during World War I, as the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey Corps.  In 1965, this Corps was renamed the Environmental Science Services Administration Commissioned Corps, and in 1970, was again renamed the NOAA Corps (Source — NOAA).

Notable Species Seen

David Walker: Introduction, June 22, 2015

Oregon II

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

Mission: SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 22, 2015

Introduction

Greetings from Austin, Texas.  My name is David Walker, and I will be posting here over the next couple of weeks to chronicle my participation in the second leg of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) SEAMAP Summer Bottomfish Survey in the Gulf of Mexico.  I leave for Galveston tomorrow and could not be more excited.

Backpacking Big Bend
On a recent backpacking trip to Big Bend National Park

About Me: I am about to begin my sixth year as a high school teacher at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) in Austin, Texas.  LASA is a public magnet school which draws students from the entirety of Austin Independent School District.  Currently, I teach three courses — Planet Earth, Organic Chemistry, and Advanced Organic Chemistry.  Planet Earth is a project-based geobiology course with a major field work component, which consists of the students completing field surveys of organisms in local Austin-area parks and preserves.  Organic Chemistry is an elective course which covers the lecture and laboratory content of the first undergraduate course in organic chemistry.  Advanced Organic Chemistry is an elective course framed as an independent study, in which students address the content of the second undergraduate course in organic chemistry.  I also sponsor our school’s Science Olympiad team, and we compete around the nation in this science and engineering competition.  This year, LASA Science Olympiad placed third in the nation, this representing the best any team from Texas has ever performed!  Outside of teaching, my interests include backpacking, fly fishing, ice hockey, birding, record collecting, photography, dancing, and karaoke, in no particular order.

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.  More specifically, NOAA defines its mission as Science, Service, and Stewardship — 1) To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, 2) To share this knowledge and information with others, and 3) To conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.  NOAA’s vision of the future consists of healthy ecosystems, communities, and economies that are resilient in the face of change [Source — NOAA Official Website].

About TAS: 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 allows them to enhance their curriculum by incorporating their work at sea into project-based activities for their students.  They are also able to share their work with their local community to increase awareness and knowledge of the state of the world’s oceans and atmosphere, and current research in this field.

My Mission: I will be participating in the second leg of the 2015 SEAMAP (SouthEast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Summer Bottomfish Survey in the Gulf of Mexico, aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II.  The survey will span two weeks, from June 24 – July 7, 2015, beginning in Galveston, Texas, and ending in Pascagoula, Mississippi

The Oregon II research vessel was built in 1967 and transferred to NOAA in 1970.  Its home port is Pascagoula, Mississippi, at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Mississippi Laboratories.  More information about the ship can be found here.

Oregon II
NOAA Ship Oregon II in 2007
[Source — NOAA Website]
The Chief Scientist for the survey is Kim Johnson (NOAA Biologist), and the Field Party Chief for my leg of the survey is Andre DeBose (NOAA Biologist).  According to Ms. Johnson, the survey has three main objectives — shrimp data collection, plankton data collection, and water column environmental profiling.

1) Shrimp data collection involves catching shrimp in a 40 foot shrimp net, towed at 2.5 knots.  Caught shrimp will all be weighed, measured, sexed, and taxonomically categorized.  This is completed for 200 individuals in each commercial shrimp category, and real-time data is distributed weekly (see SEAMAP Real-Time Plots).  This data is of incredible importance to the commercial fishing industry, especially considering that the season-opening is in late July.

SEAMAP
SEAMAP shrimp survey data from 2014
[Source — GSMFC Website]
2) Plankton are drifting animals, protists, archaea, algae, or bacteria that live in the ocean water column and cannot swim against the current [Source — Plankton].  Regarding plankton data collection, the Oregon II houses two types of collection nets — dual bongos and a neuston net.  As many plankton are microscopic in size, these nets contain a very fine mesh.  The dual bongos are used to sample the water column at an oblique angle, while the neuston net is used to collect surface organisms (“neuston” is a term used for organisms that float on top of the water or exist right under the water surface — see Neuston).  This data is used to “build a long term fishery-independent database on the resource species important to the economy of the Gulf of Mexico” [Source — NOAA Plankton Surveys].

3) The third mission of the survey is water column environmental profiling.  These profiles are completed using a CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) device, which is sent back and forth between the surface and the ocean floor (the entire water column) and allows for the collection of real-time data.  The main focus of this survey is the measuring of dissolved oxygen levels in the water to identify and monitor areas of hypoxia.  In aquatic ecosystems, hypoxia “refers to waters where the dissolved oxygen concentration is below 2 mg/L. Most organisms avoid, or become physiologically stressed, in waters with oxygen below this concentration. Also known as a dead zone, hypoxia can also kill marine organisms which cannot escape the low-oxygen water, affecting commercial harvests and the health of impacted ecosystems” [Source — Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Watch].  NOAA has partnered with the National Coastal Data Development Center (NCDDC) and other agencies to centralize this data, which has been collected and analyzed for 15 years.  This summer’s survey is quite important, as the large amount of rainfall over the past two months could have significantly affected levels of dissolved oxygen in the ocean, and accordingly, zones of hypoxia.

My Goals: Through this program, I hope to accomplish four main objectives —

1) Learn as much as I can about the biology I encounter, especially in terms of taxonomic classification and biodiversity.  This will be directly applicable to the biodiversity unit and project in my Planet Earth class.

2) Understand in detail the methods by which NOAA real-time data is collected, plotted, and presented to the public.  This will be directly applicable to updating the data analysis and presentation portions of the biodiversity project in my Planet Earth class.

3) Upon my return, create a project-based activity for my Planet Earth students, based on the research I conduct aboard the ship.  Students will use the real-time data from my leg of the survey (to be posted online) to come to conclusions regarding the biologic and environmental profile of the Gulf of Mexico.  This will become part of the Planet Earth course unit global biodiversity.

4) Present my research experience and resulting project-based curriculum to the science faculty of LASA High School, emphasizing the value of research-based activities and projects in high school science.

That’s it from me.  My next post will be from the Gulf of Mexico!

David Walker
NOAA Teacher at Sea
LASA High School
Austin, Texas

   

Kelly Dilliard: Plankton Nets and a Right Whale Calf, June 2, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kelly Dilliard
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

May 15 – June 5, 2015

Mission: Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 2, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Pressure: 1017.02 mb
Air Temperature: 12.5 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 96%
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Wind Direction: 355 degrees

Science and Technology Log:

Sarah Fortune
Sarah Fortune with a full cod end.

Sarah Fortune, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) was testing her plankton net a few days ago and I thought that it would be fun to describe the process.  A plankton net is hoisted overboard on a similar winch and winch cable as the CTD and is used to collect samples of plankton from the ocean.  A single plankton net has a large hoop at the opening, about 50 cm in diameter that then tapers down to a collection container, called a cod end, at the other end.  The plankton net is a little over 3 meters long.  Many plankton nets are actually paired side by side and commonly referred to as “bongo” nets for due to the two hoops looking like bongo drums.  The mesh of the net is made of nylon and can vary in mesh size.  This particular net has a mesh of 330 microns or a third of a millimeter.  This allows researchers to capture very small plankton (millimeter sized).

Plankton net fully extended after being down at about a depth of 150 meters.
Plankton net fully extended after being down at about a depth of 150 meters.

trip mechanism
Trip mechanism used to open and close the plankton net.

The plankton net that Sarah will be using for her research on bowhead whales is designed to open and close at specific depths using a special clasp, called a double trip mechanism.  A rolled up net is lowered to the target depth, a weight is sent down the winch cable and opens the double trip mechansim and the net.  As the boat moves, ever so slightly, organisms are collected in the net.  The net is then brought back to the surface using the winch and then closed again with a weight at another target depth.  I gathered that the double trip mechanism was a bit finicky, so Sarah was practicing the technique.

Plankton net
Washing down the plankton net.

Once the net was out of the water, it was washed down with a hose to make sure that all of the organisms were in the cod end.  Further washing occurred on deck.  The cod end also contains mesh in spots, so the excess water flushes out and the organisms are left in the container (the cod end).  If there is a lot of excess water and organisms these are dumped into a bucket and then brought up to the wet lab to be processed.  A subset of the sample was poured into a test tube, via a funnel, and put in a freezer for further examination off the ship.  If there is excess water, the sample is poured through a mesh sieve to remove the excess water.  Other samples were also saved in beakers.

cod end
Cod end with lots of Calinus finmarchicus.

Sieve
Collection being sieved. The red coloring of the sample comes from Calinus finmarchicus.  There are also some clear jellyfish in there, but they are difficult to see.

Sarah also had a stereoscopic microscope along to examine the catch, though this is a somewhat difficult task as the specimens move around a lot with the ship’s motion.  The target specimen was Calanus finmarchicus, the primary food of the North Atlantic Right Whale.  These are incredibly tiny organisms, typically ranging in size from 2-4 millimeters.  At one point Dr. Baumgartner had one on his finger and even that was difficult to see except for the red pigment.  He also related to us onlookers an interesting analogy of how much an individual right whale would need to consume in one day.  Basically, every right whale needs to eat the weight of a Volkswagen Beetle of Calanus finmarchicus every day.  That is a lot of very small organisms.  Some other interesting organisms that were captured in the plankton net over the day included microscopic starfish, jellyfish, krill, and a fish (which was thrown back into the ocean).

Sample
View of sample using the light of the microscope.  The red organisms with out black eyes are Calinus finmarchicus.  The organisms with two black eyes are krill.

Personal Log:

In past few days we have encountered patches of thick fog that in some cases have lasted for hours.  This has hampered our whale observations, one because we cannot see them in the fog, and two we cannot stand up on the fly bridge (above the bridge) when the fog horn is on (very loud).  So, our sighting numbers are significantly down, with a whole day in which we did not see a single whale of any kind.  One evening, though, we had a really good show from a mother and calf North Atlantic right whale.  We have seen these two before on two occasions.  The mother is 1950.  Her calf was up near the surface for nearly an hour shaking its fluke and flippers, breaching, and rolling onto its back.  The calf also rolled all over the mom when she was at the surface.  This all occurred very close to the ship so everyone on the fly bridge and the bridge was able to watch and see the action pretty clearly.  I was able to capture several photographs and tried a few videos with my camera.  It is not very easy to shoot videos on a boat that is rocking up and down, but I think they turned out okay.

Right whale calf
Various images of right whale calf: “V” shaped blow, characteristics of right whales (upper left), fluke (upper right), calf swimming on its back with flippers flapping (middle row), and a head shot (bottom row). Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355. These photos are cropped images of photographs taken with a telephoto lens.

Breaching right whale
Right whale calf breaching. Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355. These photos are cropped images of photographs taken with a telephoto lens.

Right whale
Right whale calf rolling over the back of its mom, 1950. Notice the callosities pattern on the mom and the two blow holes. Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355. These photos are cropped images of photographs taken with a telephoto lens.

Only a few more days on the ship.  Unfortunately with the fog and the lack of right whale sightings the scientists have not necessarily accomplished all of their objectives, including testing out a new tag that could be used to track a whale for several days.  We come into port early Friday, June 5th.

Group shot
Group shot of the scientists on board (minus Eric Matzen who was only on for the first leg).  Back row from left to right: Mark Baumgartner, Lisa (Grace) Conger, Corey Accardo, Sarah Fortune, and Hansen Johnson.  Front row from left to right: Kelly Dilliard (me), Sabena Siddiqui, Jenn Gatzke, Suzanne Yin, Peter Duley (chief scientist), Divya Panicker, and Chris Tremblay.

Whale poop (strangely colored area) from a fin whale.   Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355. These photos are cropped images of photographs taken with a telephoto lens.
Whale poop (strangely colored area) from a fin whale. Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355. These photos are cropped images of photographs taken with a telephoto lens.

DJ Kast, Bongo Patterns, June 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical areas of cruise: Mid Atlantic Bight, Southern New England, George’s Bank, Gulf of Maine
Date: June 1, 2015

Science and Technology Log:

Bongo Patterns!

Part of my job here on NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow is to empty the plankton nets (since there are two we call them bongos). The plankton is put into a sieve and stored  in either ethanol if they came from the small nets (baby bongos) or formalin if they came from the big nets (Main bongos).

What are plankton? Plankton is a greek based word that means drifter or wanderer. This suits these organisms well since they are not able to withstand the current and are constantly adrift. Plankton are usually divided by size (pico, nano, micro, meso, macro, mega). In the plankton tows, we are primarily focused on the macro, meso and megaplankton that are usually with in the size range of 0.2- 20 mm  (meso), 2-20 cm (macro), and above 20 cm (mega) respectively.

Group Size range Examples
Megaplankton > 20 cm metazoans; e.g. jellyfish; ctenophores; salps and pyrosomes (pelagic Tunicata); Cephalopoda; Amphipoda
Macroplankton 2→20 cm metazoans; e.g. Pteropods; Chaetognaths; Euphausiacea (krill); Medusae; ctenophores; salps, doliolids and pyrosomes (pelagic Tunicata); Cephalopoda; Janthinidae (one family gastropods); Amphipoda
Mesoplankton 0.2→20 mm metazoans; e.g. copepods; Medusae; Cladocera; Ostracoda; Chaetognaths; Pteropods; Tunicata; Heteropoda
Microplankton 20→200 µm large eukaryotic protists; most phytoplankton; Protozoa Foraminifera; tintinnids; other ciliates; Rotifera; juvenile metazoansCrustacea (copepod nauplii)
Nanoplankton 2→20 µm small eukaryotic protists; Small Diatoms; Small Flagellates; Pyrrophyta; Chrysophyta; Chlorophyta; Xanthophyta
Picoplankton 0.2→2 µm small eukaryotic protists; bacteria; Chrysophyta
Femtoplankton < 0.2 µm marine viruses

(Omori, M.; Ikeda, T. (1992). Methods in Marine Zooplankton Ecology)

We will be heading to four main geographical areas. These four areas are: the Mid Atlantic Bight (MAB), the Southern New England (SNE), Gulf of Maine (GOM), and George’s Bank (GB). I’ve been told that the bongos will be significantly different at each of these sites.  I would like to honor each geographical area’s bongos with a representative photo of plankton and larval fish.  There are 30 bongos in each area, and I work on approximately 15 per site.

DJ Kast holding the large plankton net. Photo by Jerry P.
DJ Kast holding the large plankton net. Photo by Jerry Prezioso

Bongos in the Sunset. Photo by DJ Kast
Bongos in the Sunset. Photo by DJ Kast

Here is a video of a Bongo launch.

 

Flow Meter Data. It is used how to count how far the plankton net was towed. Used to calculate the amount of animals per cubic meter. Photo by DJ Kast
Flow Meter Data. It is used how to count how far the plankton net was towed to calculate the amount of animals per cubic meter. Photo by DJ Kast

 

The plankton nets need to be wiped down with saltwater so that the plankton can be collected on the sieve.

 

Day 1: May 19th, 2015

My first Catch of Plankton! Mostly zooplankton and fish larvae. Photo by: DJ Kast
My first Catch of Plankton! Mostly zooplankton and fish larvae. Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 1: Fish Larvae and Copepods. Photo by: DJ Kast
Day 1: Fish Larvae and Copepods. Photo by: DJ Kast

 

 

Day 2: May 20th, 2015

Larval Fish and Amphipods! Photo by: DJ Kast
Larval Fish and Amphipods! Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 3: May 21st, 2015

IMG_7096
Day 3, the plankton tows started filling with little black dots. These were thousands of little sea snails or pteropods. Photo by DJ Kast

IMG_7100
Clogging the Sieve with Pteropods. Photo by DJ Kast

IMG_7110
Close up shot of a Shell-less Sea Butterfly. Photo by: DJ Kast

IMG_7121
Glass Eel Larva. Photo by DJ Kast

 

Day 4: May 22nd, 2015

Butterfly fish found in the plankton tow. Photo by; DJ Kast
Butter fish found in the plankton tow. Photo by; DJ Kast

IMG_7187
Baby Triggerfish Fish Larvae Photo by: DJ Kast

Swimming Crab. Photo by DJ Kast
Swimming Crab. Photo by DJ Kast

IMG_7174
Megalops or Crab Larva. Photo by: DJ Kast

IMG_7176
Polychaete Worms. Photo by: DJ Kast

IMG_7165
Salp. Photo by: DJ Kast

 

Day 5: May 23, 2015

Unidentified organism Photo by DJ Kast.
Unidentified organism
Photo by DJ Kast.

Sand Lance Photo by DJ Kast
Sand Lance Photo by DJ Kast

Polychaete worm. Photo by DJ Kast
Polychaete worm. Photo by DJ Kast

3 amphipods and a shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast
3 amphipods and a shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast

Such diversity in this evenings bongos. Small fish Larva, shrimp, amphipods. Photo by DJ Kast
Such diversity in this evening’s bongos. Small fish Larvae, shrimp, amphipods. Photo by DJ Kast

Small fish Larva. Photo by DJ Kast
Small fish Larvae. Photo by DJ Kast

Below are the bongo patterns for the Southern New England area.

I have learned that there are two lifestyle choices when it comes to plankton and they are called meroplankton or holoplankton.

Plankton are comprised of two main groups, permanent or lifetime members of the plankton family, called holoplankton (which includes as diatoms, radiolarians, dinoflagellates, foraminifera, amphipods, krill, copepods, salps, etc.), and temporary or part-time members (such as most larval forms of sea urchins, sea stars, crustaceans, marine worms, some marine snails, most fish, etc.), which are called meroplankton.

Day 6: May 24th, 2015

Copepod sludge with a fish larva. Photo by: DJ Kast
Copepod sludge with a fish larva. Photo by: DJ Kast

Baby Bongo Sample in ethanol. Photo by: DJ Kast
Baby Bongo Sample in ethanol. Photo by: DJ Kast

Megalops? Photo by: DJ Kast
Megalops?
Photo by: DJ Kast

Fish Larvae. Photo by: DJ Kast
Fish Larvae. Photo by: DJ Kast

Side station sample from the mini bongos on the sieve. Photo by: DJ Kast
Sample from the mini bongos on the sieve. Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 7: May 25th, 2015

???? Photo by DJ Kast
???? Photo by DJ Kast

Tiny Snail. Photo by DJ Kast
Tiny Snail. Photo by DJ Kast

Georges Bank- It is a shallow, sediment-covered plateau bigger than Massachusetts and it is filled with nutrients that get stirred up into the photic zone by the various currents. It is an extremely productive area for fisheries.

Photo by: R.G. Lough (NEFSC)
Photo by: R.G. Lough (NEFSC)

Today, I learned that plankton (phyto & zoo) have evolved in shape to maximize their surface area to try and remain close to the surface. This makes sense to me since phytoplankton are photosynthesizers and require the sun to survive. Consequently, if zooplankton are going to consume them, it would be easier to remain where your food source is located. I think this would make for a great lesson plan that involves making plankton-like creatures and seeing who can make them sink the least in some sort of competition.

Photo by DJ Kast
Photo by DJ Kast

Harpactacoid Copepod. Photo by DJ Kast
Harpactacoid Copepod. Photo by DJ Kast

The Biggest net caught sand lance (10 cm). Photo by DJ Kast
The Biggest net caught sand lance (10 cm). Photo by DJ Kast

Fish Larvae. Photo by DJ Kast
Fish Larvae. Photo by DJ Kast

Day 8: May 26th, 2015 Very Diverse day,  Caprellids- skeleton shrimp, Anglerfish juvenile, Phronima inside of salp! Photo by DJ Kast

Photo by: DJ Kast
Juvenile Anglerfish aka Monk Fish. Photo by: DJ Kast

IMG_7483
Sand Shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast

IMG_7469
A tiny krill with giant black eyes. Photo by DJ Kast

IMG_7454
A small jellyfish! Photo by: DJ Kast

IMG_7451
A phronima (the bee looking thing inside the translucent shell) that ate its way into a salp and is using the salp as protection. Photo by: DJ Kast

Video of the phronima:

Caprellids or Skeleton Shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast
Caprellids or Skeleton Shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast

Video of the Caprellids:

Day 9:  May 27th, 2015= Triggerfish and colorful phronima (purple & brown). Our sieves were so clogged with phytoplankton GOOP, which is evidence of a bloom. We must be in very productive waters,

Evidence of a Phytoplankton bloom in the water, Photo by: DJ Kast
Evidence of a Phytoplankton bloom in the water. Photo by: DJ Kast

Juvenile Triggerfish. Photo by: DJ Kast
Juvenile Triggerfish. Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 10: May 28th, 2015= change in color of copepods. Lots of ctenophores and sea jellies

A Sea jelly found in George's Bank. We are in Canada now! Photo by: DJ Kast
A comb jelly (ctenophore) found in George’s Bank. We are in Canada now! Photo by: DJ Kast

Gooseberry: a type of ctenophore or comb jelly. Photo by DJ Kast
Sea Gooseberry: a type of ctenophore or comb jelly. Photo by DJ Kast

Did you  know? Sea Jellies are also considered plankton since they cannot swim against the current.

Day 11: May 29th, 2015: Border between Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine!

Krill found in the Gulf of Maine. Photo by DJ Kast
Krill found in the Gulf of Maine. Photo by DJ Kast

Callenoid Copepods. Photo by DJ Kast
Callenoid Copepods- its so RED!!! Photo by DJ Kast

Gulf of Maine! Water comes in from the North East Channel (the Labrador current), coast on one border and George’s  Bank on the other. Definitely colder water, with deep ocean basins. Supposed to see lots of phytoplankton. Tidal ranges in the Gulf of Maine are among the highest in the world ocean

Gulf of Maine currents! Photo by NEFSC NOAA.
Gulf of Maine currents! Photo by NEFSC NOAA.

Day 12: May 30th, 2015: day and night bongo (Just calanus copepods vs. LOTS of krill.)

Krill, Krill, Krill! Photo by DJ Kast
Krill, Krill, Krill! Photo by DJ Kast

Krill are normally found lower in the water column. The krill come up at night to feed and avoid their predators and head back down before dawn. This daily journey up and down is called the vertical migration.

Video of Krill moving:

Day Sample. Photo by DJ Kast
Day Sample. Photo by DJ Kast

Night Sample. Photo by DJ Kast
Night Sample (look at all those krill). Photo by DJ Kast

Day 13: May 31th, 2015: Calanoid Copepod community.  Calanoida feed on phytoplankton (only a few are predators) and are themselves the principal food of fish fry, plankton-feeding fish (such as herring, anchovies, sardines, and saury) and baleen whales.

Calanious Community. Its so RED! Photo by DJ Kast
Calanus Community. It’s so RED! Photo by DJ Kast

Day 14: June 1st, 2015:

Brittle Stars caught in the Plankton Tow. Photo by DJ Kast
Brittle Stars caught in the Plankton Tow. Photo by DJ Kast

Tusk shell. Photo by DJ Kast
Tusk shell. Photo by DJ Kast

Side profile of Shrimp caught in the plankton nets. Photo by DJ Kast
Side profile of Shrimp caught in the plankton nets. Photo by DJ Kast

Shrimp Head. Photo by DJ Kast
Shrimp Head. Photo by DJ Kast

Shrimp Tail with Babies. Photo by DJ Kast
Shrimp Tail with Babies. Photo by DJ Kast

Day 15: June 2nd, 2015: Last Day

Gooey foamy mess in the sieve with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast
Gooey foamy mess in the sieve with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast

Gooey foamy mess in the net with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast
Gooey foamy mess in the net with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast

Gooey foamy mess in the jar with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast
Gooey foamy mess in the jar with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast

Map of all the Bongo and CTD/ Rosette Stations. Photo by DJ Kast.
Map of all the Bongo and CTD/ Rosette Stations (153 total). Photo by DJ Kast.

Through rough seas and some amazingly calm days, we have all persevered as a crew and we have done a lot of science over the last 16 days. We went through 153 stations total. I have learned so much and I would like to thank Jerry, the chief scientist for taking me under his wing and training me in his Ecosystem Monitoring ways.  I would also like to thank Dena Deck and Lynn Whitley for believing in me and writing my letters of recommendation for the Teacher at Sea program. I would love to do this program again! -DJ Kast

June Teisan, Tuna: From Plankton to Plate (and a side of STEM careers), May 15, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
June Teisan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 1 – 15, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Plankton Study
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, May 15, 2015

Science and Technology Log:

tuna
Tuna (photo from NOAA Fisheries)

Bluefin tuna are incredible creatures. Remarkably fast predators, they can swim at speeds up to 40 miles per hour and dive deeper than 3000 feet. They hunt smaller fish and invertebrates, and grow to between 6 to 8 feet long and weigh in at 500 pounds on average. Bluefin tuna are prized for their meat in the US and in other countries. Because bluefin tuna are relatively slow-growing, they are more vulnerable to overfishing than species that are faster growing or more productive. Atlantic bluefin tuna spawn in the western Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico. Since the early 1980s, NOAA has worked to conserve and manage the stock of bluefin tuna by monitoring stock in the Gulf of Mexico.

The data collected on plankton cruises provides one piece of the complex puzzle of the regulation of commercial and recreational fishing. Ichthyoplankton data is added to findings from trawl teams catching juvenile sizes of certain species, analysis of gonads and spawn from adult fish caught on other cruises, and other stock assessment information. Data analysis and modeling examine these information streams, and serve as the basis of stock assessment recommendations brought to policy makers.

Below is how we collect the plankton:

Hosing down the Neuston net to collect plankton in the codend.
Hosing down the Neuston net to collect plankton in the codend.

Plankton from codend is transferred to sieve.
Plankton from codend is transferred to sieve.

Sieve is tilted and plankton is transferred to sample jars.
Sieve is tilted and plankton is transferred to sample jars.

Transferring plankton to sample jar.
Transferring plankton to sample jar.

Sample jar is topped off with preservative solution.
Sample jar is topped off with preservative solution.

Jars are labeled and boxed for analysis in the lab.
Jars are labeled and boxed for analysis in the lab.

Spring ichthyoplankton surveys have been conducted for over 30 years, and my Teacher at Sea time has been an amazing glimpse behind the scenes of NOAA’s critical work maintaining the health of our fisheries.

SEAMAP Full Cruise (3)
SEAMAP Cruise Track May 1 – 15, 2015

Personal Log:

I expanded my career queries beyond the NOAA science team to interview a few of the ship’s crew members aboard the Oregon II and heard some terrific stories about pathways to STEM careers.

Laura
ENS Laura Dwyer – Navigation Officer, Oregon II

 

ENS Laura Dwyer – Navigation Officer, Oregon II

Path to a STEM Career: Laura’s career path began with a bachelor’s degree in International Business. After college she spent time as caretaker for her aging grandmother, then moved to Bali and certified as a scuba instructor. When she returned to the states, Laura investigated the NOAA Corps, and took more university courses for the science credits she needed to apply. In doing so she earned her Master’s in Marine Biology. Laura began her Basic Officer Training in NOAA Corps in January 2013, graduated, and now serves her country as Ensign on the Oregon II.

Best Part of Her Job: Laura knows she has a ‘cool’ job: she gets to pilot a 170 foot vessel.

Favorite Teacher: Mrs. Coppock. Laura’s 3rd grade teacher…She was in her late 60s or early 70s but every year Mrs. Coppock would start the school year by doing a head stand in front of the class. The inspirational lesson behind this gymnastic move was two-fold: Women can do anything they set their mind to, and age is just a number.

Larry
LTJG Larry Thomas – Operations Officer, Oregon II

Path to a STEM Career: Larry earned a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology.  He worked as a fisheries observer out of NOAA’s Galveston, Texas lab, and volunteered as a guest biologist on NOAA vessels Gordon Gunter and Oregon II. Larry was raised in a military family with both parents serving in the Army, but had not known about the NOAA Corps until he met Corps officers during his time on NOAA vessels. Larry graduated with BOTC 116 in June 2010 and serves as Lieutenant, Junior Grade (LTJG)on the Oregon II.

Best Part of His Job: Larry appreciates that his work allows him to do and see things most people don’t experience, like being up close with 8-10 foot tiger sharks brought in on long line survey cruises or a rare encounter with sea turtles that have been tagged and released.

Favorite Teachers: Frank Ramano and George Cline, both college professors who were passionate about their work and helpful with any questions, offering guidance when Larry needed it.

Olay
Olay Akinsanya – Junior Engineer, Oregon II

Olay Akinsanya – Junior Engineer, Oregon II

Path to a STEM Career: Olay chose a career in the military because it was a great combination of hands on work and potential for training and further education. He served 8 years in the Navy, earning a GSM certification (Gas turbine Systems Mechanic). After his military service, he took exams with the Coast Guard to certify to be able to stand engine watch, which means qualified to be responsible for entire engine room. Olay then found out about NOAA through a friend and now works as a junior engineer on the Oregon II. He enjoys the work and finds it a good fit for his schedule; the shorter trips allow him to visit on shore with his daughter regularly.

Best Part of His Job: The opportunity to continue to build his skills and experience, to advance his career. And the food is good!

Favorite Teacher: Adrian Batchelor, a teacher at Mid-Atlantic Maritime School. “Mr. Batchelor is retired military, holds a GSM, and spent a lot of time with me, explained the job, encouraged me to reach out at any time. He’s been a great mentor.”

Classroom Fish ID Activity:

Correctly identify the “by catch” fish we brought up in our plankton nets. (Hint: we netted Flying Fish, Mahi Mahi, Half Beak, Little Tunny, File Fish, Sargassum Trigger Fish, Chub, Burr Fish, and Sargassum Fish). Enter your answers as a comment to this post!

B
Specimen A

C
Specimen B

A
Specimen C

G
Specimen D

E
Specimen E

F
Specimen F

 

D
Specimen G

Shout out to the students in Ms. Meredith Chicklas’ classes at  in Troy, Michigan, and in Ms. Kelly Herberholz’s classes at Dakota High School in Macomb, Michigan! 

A BIG thank you to the NOAA Fisheries Staff in Pascagoula, Mississippi, to the officers and crew of the Oregon II, and the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program Staff for this incredible adventure.

Julia West: Bongos! March 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: March 22, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 1700; clouds 100%, stratus; wind 325° (NNW), 9 knots; air temperature 22°C, sea temperature 25°C

Science and Technology Log

Here’s what we have covered as of Sunday evening, 3/22. I’m getting quite the tour of the Gulf! Notice we are going back and forth across the shelf break (the edge of the continental shelf), as that is our area of interest.

Stations covered 3/22
This is what we’ve covered so far. We’re doing well!

Again, thanks to all of you who are reading and asking questions. One recent question had to do with whether we are bringing specimens back. So let me explain what we do with them. Most plankton are so small that you see them best through a microscope. So the “specimens” that we are bringing back are all in jars – thousands of organisms per jar! Every time we collect samples, we get at least three jars – two from the bongo nets and one (or more) from the neuston net. That’s not including the CUFES samples described earlier, which are only big enough for a tiny bottle. Here are some pictures:

Kim labeling a sample
Kim Johnson (scientist) in the wet lab, labeling a sample. Notice the cardboard boxes – they are all full of sample jars, both empty and full.

Bongo sample
This is a nice sample from one of the bongo nets. Lots of little guys in there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These samples get brought back to shore for analysis in the NOAA lab. Oddly, many of the samples get sent to Poland to be analyzed! Why Poland, you ask? Well, for a few decades we have had a cooperative agreement with the Polish sorting and identification center. They remove the fish and eggs from all samples, as well as select invertebrates. These specimens and the data get sent back to US for analysis. We double check some of the IDs, and plug the data into models. (If you are a biology student, this is an example of how models get used!) The information then goes to fisheries managers to use to help form fishing regulations. This division of NOAA is called the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which manages stocks of fish populations.

NOAA has been doing spring and fall plankton sampling for 30 years now. Winter sampling is newer; it started in 2007. SEAMAP (SouthEast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) is cooperative agreement between the Gulf states, federal (NOAA), and university programs. The samples from the states and universities get sent to Poland with our samples. The the timing of the surveys is to target specific species when they are spawning. This winter survey is targeting grouper, tilefish, and other winter spawning species. The other surveys target bluefin tuna, red drum, red snapper, and mackerels, which spawn at other times of the year. The invertebrate data is used to build an understanding of invertebrate community structure throughout the Gulf.

In science, research is cumulative. We know, from past research, what the mortality rate of some fish species is. So if we get a fish larva or fry that is a certain size, we can estimate the percentage of that size larvae that will reach adulthood, and back calculate to see how much mortality has already happened to get fish of that size. All this allows us to get a peek into the size of adult population.

The first piece of equipment that we use when we get to each station is the bongo nets. You can see how they got their name!

Bongos
The bongo nets just entering the water. They will be lowered to 200m, or near the bottom if it is shallower.

Here are the bongos ready to be deployed:

Bongos ready to deploy
These bongos are ready to go as soon as we get the OK.

Flow meter for bongos
This little whirlybird is the flow meter.

SeaCAT
The SeaCAT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flow meter is inside each bongo net, near the top. We read the numbers on it before the net goes out, and after it comes back. Using this information – the rate of flow, together with the area of the opening, we can calculate the volume of water filtered. The SeaCAT is a nifty unit that measures conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth. Since we have a much fancier unit to measure these factors, we use this primarily for depth, so we know when we are getting to 200 meters (or the bottom, whichever comes first). We go to 200 meters because that is the lowest effective light penetration. Phytoplankton need light, and zooplankton need phytoplankton! What’s more, larval fish have not yet developed their lateral line (the organ that many fish use to sense vibrations in the water around them), so they feed visually. Even if they want to eat something below the photic zone, they wouldn’t be able to “see” it yet.

I, of course, am full of questions, and knowing that I’m supposed to identify every acronym I write, I asked what SeaCAT stands for. The unit is made by a company called SBE (Sea Bird Enterprises), so is the CAT just a fun name that they came up with? Nobody knew the answer! But everyone was curious, and Tony and Steve (both electronics technicians) did some emailing and got the answer straight from SBE. CAT stands for “Conductivity And Temperature” (seems we could have figured that out). And the Sea? Could be for Seabird, Seattle, or just the plain ol’ sea!

Deploying the bongos
Here I am holding the “codends,” ready to drop them over the side. The crane does all the heavy lifting. Photo by Andy Millett

 

Once we get the nets in the water, the crane operator monitors the speed that it is lowered. Our job is to communicate the “wire angle” constantly to the bridge and the lab. Here’s how this is done:

Measuring wire angle
Measuring the wire angle (angle of the cable) with the inclinometer. Photo by Madalyn Meaker.

The angle of the cable is important because it allows the nets to sweep the desired amount of water as they are pulled up. If the wire angle is too high (above 55°), the crew on the bridge slows the ship down just a bit. The perfect angle is 45°. Many other factors can mess this up, most notably current. The ship has to be facing the right direction, for example, so the current isn’t coming toward the ship (have you ever been fishing and had your line swept under the boat?). It’s tricky business, requiring constant communication between bridge, lab, and deck! Oh, and by the way, the cable is a “smart wire,” meaning it has electrical flow through it, which is how the depth gets communicated to the computers. Fascinating technology, both on the micro and macro scale!

Once we pull in the bongos, we hose them off very thoroughly, to get any of the little plankton that are stuck to the net. They are all funneled into the codend, which is a PVC cylinder. From there, we dump the sample into a sieve, and transfer it into a jar, and get read to do it again in 3 hours or so.

Bongo cod end
This is a close-up of the “cod end” of the bongo, where the plankton get funneled into.

Plankton from the bongo
This is the sample from one of the bongo nets. Can you see why it’s hard to come up with pictures of individual organisms? There are thousands in here!

Did I tell you that sampling goes on 24/7? Perhaps you figured that out when you heard the shift times. It costs a lot to run a ship; operations continue whether it’s night or day.

Personal Log

Now, to keep people happy when they are living in close quarters, far from home, and working strange shifts, what’s the most important thing of all? FOOD! The Gunter is well known among NOAA circles for having fantastic food for people of all diet types and adding ethnic flavor to her meals. The person responsible for our good and abundant food is Margaret, our Chief Steward. She has worked for NOAA for ten years, and says it’s the best job she has ever had. Her husband is now retired from the Coast Guard, so they moved around a lot. Margaret worked for the Coast Guard for four years, then went back to cooking school, and had various other jobs before signing on with NOAA. She has a few years left before she retires, and when she does, what will she do? She wants to do subsistence farming! This is right up my alley – Margaret and I have a lot to talk about! Not to mention the fact that Margaret makes her own juices, some amazing homemade hummus, AND dries her own fruit (dried cherries -yum!).

Margaret, chief steward
Margaret, assembling some spinach lasagna rolls while talking about her life.

Margaret also has a helper, Mike, who was reluctant to have his picture taken. He’s not the usual assistant steward, but sure seems highly capable! It always sounds like a lot of fun is being had in the galley.

Gunter dining room
The dining room, or “mess deck.”

condiment selection
World’s largest selection of condiments, including anchovy sauce and REAL maple syrup!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch spread
Decisions….

more food
and more decisions…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it for this post – I’m getting hungry. Time to eat!

Challenge Yourself

What executive branch of the U.S. government does NOAA belong to? Is it the same branch that oversees our national parks? How about our national forests?

Did You Know?

There are nearly 4000 active oil and gas platforms in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (NOAA), and more than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells (Assoc. Press, 2010)

Oil and gas platforms in the Gulf
Locations of the active oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. From http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/

 

Crystal Davis, When Science Goes Wrong, July 6 2014

Preserving Plankton
Preserving Plankton

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Crystal Davis

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 23 – July 7, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Sunday July 6, 2014

Weather: Clear and Sunny

Waves: 1-2 feet

Science and Technology Log:

The title of this post should actually be, “when science doesn’t go exactly as planned,” but that doesn’t sound quite as dramatic.

If you have ever written a lab report, you know that there is a section for procedures (what you did). The procedures need to be explicit so that they can be replicated by another individual who will obtain the same results. If your experiment cannot be replicated, your experiment is not valid and is useless. While it is okay for your hypothesis to be different than your expected outcomes, you always have to follow your procedure.

But . . . what if you’re in the middle of the ocean potentially hundreds of miles away from shore and on a deadline? You can’t go back to shore. There are at least thirty people on your boat and a lot of money invested in this data collection. Yet you still have to come up with a way to complete your survey. The events that follow are incidents that occurred on the Oregon II from July 26-July 6 and how the scientists coped with these situations.

Sharks 

Juvenile Hammerhead Shark
Hammerhead Shark, Courtesy of Robin Gropp

In August, NOAA conducts a Longline Survey surveying sharks. Sharks are captured, identified and many are tagged with tracking devices to monitor the location and population density of sharks. Other sharks are sampled to determine age, analyze growth, sexual maturity and study stomach contents.

When sharks are captured in the trawl net on the Groundfish Survey, Robin (the intern) has been releasing them back into the Gulf after collecting data. However, not all of the sharks survive being pulled up in the net. The picture to the left is of a juvenile Hammerhead that did not survive. While this saddens me, he has been frozen and will be used to educate students in the outreach programs that NOAA participates in.

Nature vs Science

Waves crashing on the bow of the Oregon II
Waves crashing on the bow of the Oregon II. This picture was not taken on my survey, but this is what the weather felt like to me.

Sometimes mother nature interferes with the survey and things don’t go exactly as planned. For the first week of my trip we ran into some bad weather. There was a series of storms that came off the coast bringing rain, thunder, lightning and waves that were five to seven feet high. The weather conditions were so bad that the day shift couldn’t immediately collect data at a number of stations. They spent a lot of time waiting for the squalls to pass until it was safe to collect data. In fact, the weather in the Fall Groundfish Survey is so bad that there are a few extra days built in to run from hurricanes.

 

This morning we were trawling off the mouth of the Mississippi River and brought up a net full of sargassum (seaweed). The entire net, all 42 feet of it, was completely full of sargassum and very little marine life. No one on the boat had seen this much sargassum in the net before. This catch had to be thrown back overboard because the data is not usable. Basically, with that much sargassum in the net, the scientists are not sure if the trawl was fished properly. There is the possibility that because the net was so heavy, it was bogged down, uneven or not scraping the bottom of the ocean floor evenly.

 

Formalin

Plankton preserved in Formalin
Plankton preserved in Formalin

On the Oregon II, plankton samples are preserved in Formalin (40% Formaldehyde). Formalin is a clear substance that stops cells from breaking down. A few days ago we noticed that the Formalin was no longer clear, it was in fact opaque. You can see this in the picture on the left. My night shift crew was worried that it was no longer useful and that we could not bring planktons samples back to the lab in Pascagoula. However, our chief scientist assured us that we could still use the Formalin and that it would be effective. The color change indicated that the base in the mixture was breaking down but since we only have a couple more days of plankton sampling, that it will be fine.

Personal Log:

I arrived back home last night and let me tell you it is strange to be back on land. I was never seasick on the Oregon II, but I am 100% landsick now. I find myself swaying from side to side anytime I’m standing still (Dock Rock is the official term). And when I woke up last night to get a glass of water, I fell over because I was swaying so much. It’s actually pretty funny but I will be glad once this goes away.

I’m still taking in my experience from the last two weeks but I am so grateful for the people I met and was able to work with. Everyone on the Oregon II was helpful, accommodating, friendly and made me feel at home. They took time out of their day to answer my questions, give me tours, tell me stories about their history and adventures on board, go over their research and they were genuinely interested in what I do in my classroom. XO (Executive Officer) LCDR Eric Johnson spent a good chunk of his time telling me about the NOAA Corps and made me want to sign up. Although I’m not too old to apply, (I have too many attachments at home to do so) if I could do the last ten years over I would apply to their program. I will definitely make sure my students know that the NOAA Corps is an option for them and am hoping to make a trip down to San Diego to take them on one of the boats next year.

I’m particularly grateful to the Chief Scientist Andre DeBose and Watch Leader Taniya Wallace who made sure I knew I was not going to die at sea. As the boat was leaving Galveston I could not stop crying because I was 100% certain I was never coming back ( I may have watched The Perfect Storm too many times). Andre and Taniya were so reassuring and comforting and I can never thank them enough for that.

I’m looking forward to using the knowledge, pictures and data from this trip in my classroom next year. I’m also excited because I heard that I can apply to be a volunteer on a NOAA cruise and am looking forward to this in the future.

 

Kainoa Higgins: Mantas and Megalopae, June 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kainoa Higgins
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
June 18 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northern California Current
Date: Saturday, June 28, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge: Current Latitude: 45° 59.5’ N Current Longitude: 125° 02.1’ W Air Temperature:  12.7° Celsius Wind Speed: 15 knots Wind Direction: WSW Surface Water Temperature: 15.5 Celsius Weather conditions: Partly cloudy

Find our location in real time HERE!

Science and Technology Log:

Neuston Net and Manta Tow Today, the weather is pleasant but the sea seems more than restless. The show must go on! I step onto the open deck behind the wet lab just as Dr. Curtis Roegner, a fisheries biologist with NOAA, is placing a GoPro onto the end of an extensive net system.

Dungeness Crab – A Pacific Northwest Delight Photo Credit: http://www.smokeybay.com

While Curtis specializes in the biological aspects of oceanography, he is especially interested in the synthesis of the ocean system and how bio aspects relate to other physical and chemical parameters. He joins this cruise on the Ocean Starr as he continues a long-term study of distribution patterns of larval crabs. The species of focus: Cancer magister, the Dungeness crab; a table favorite throughout the Pacific Northwest.

While I have been known to eat my weight in “Dungies”, I realize that I know very little about their complex life cycle. We begin with “baby crabs”, or crab larvae. Once they hatch from their eggs, they quickly join the planktonic community and spend much of their 3-4 month developmental process adrift – at the mercy of the environmental forces that dictate the movement of the water and therefore, govern the journey of these young crustaceans. It has been generally assumed that all planktonic participants float wherever the waters take them. In that context, it makes sense that we have been finding large numbers of larvae miles offshore during our nighttime trawl sorting. Still, not all are swept out to sea. Every year millions make their way back into the shallows as they take their more familiar, benthic form which eventually grows large enough to find its way to a supermarket near you. The question is: How? How do these tiny critters avoid being carried beyond the point of no return? Is it luck? Or is there something in the evolutionary history of the Dungeness crab that has allowed it to adapt to such trying conditions?

Dungeness Crab Megalopae
“Dungie” babies

Curtis tells me about recent research that suggests that seeming “passive” plankton may actually have a lot more control of their fate than previously supposed.  By maneuvering vertically throughout the column they can quite dynamically affect their dispersal.  Behavioral adaptation may trigger vertical migration events that keep them within a particular region, playing the varied movement of the water to their advantage.  Curtis believes the answer to what determines Dungie abundance lies with with the Megalops, the final stage of the larva just prior to true “crab-hood”. By the end of this stage they will have made their way out of the planktonic community and into estuaries of the near shore zone.

Kainoa and Curtis
Dr. Curtis Roegner explains the importance of his study

This continued study is important in predictably marking the success or failure of a year’s class of crab recruitment. That is to say, the more Megalopae that return to a region, the better the promise of a strong catches for the crabbing industry – and a better chance for you and me to harvest a crab or two for our own table!

As Curtis and I discuss his research, he continues preparing his sampling equipment. The instrument looks similar to the plankton nets we use in marine science at SAMI only it’s about ten times longer and its “mouth” is entirely rectangular, unlike the circular nets I am used to using. I’ve heard the terms “manta”, “bongo” and “neuston” being tossed around lab and yet I am unable to discern one from the other. It’s time I got some answers!

Curtis explains that the Megalopae he wants to catch are members of the neuston, the collective term given to the community of organisms that inhabit the most surface layer of the water column. The Neuston net is named simply for its target. It occurs to me that a “plankton net” is a very general term and that they can come in all shapes and sizes. In addition, the mesh of the net can vary drastically in size; the mesh on our nets at school is roughly 80µm, while the mesh of this net is upwards of 300μm (1 µm or micrometre is equivalent to one millionth of a metre).

Manta tow & Neuston net
The manta body design for neuston sampling. A specialized plankton tow.

I’m still confused because I am fairly certain I have heard others refer to the tool by another name. Curtis explains that while any net intended to sample the surface layer of the water column may be referred to as a neuston net, this particular net had a modified body design which deserved a name of its own. The “manta” is a twin winged continuous flow surface tow used to sample the neuston while minimizing the wake disturbance associated with other models. The net does seem to eerily resemble the gaping mouth of a manta ray. These enormous rays glide effortlessly through the water filtering massive volumes of water and ingesting anything substantial found within. On calm days, our metallic imposter mimics such gracefulness. Today however, it rides awkwardly in the chop, jaggedly slicing and funneling the surface layer into its gut. It’s all starting to make sense. Not only is this a plankton net designed to sample plankton, it is also a plankton net designed to sample only the neuston layer of the planktonic community.   The modified body sitting on buoyed wings designed to cover a wider yet shallower layer at the top of the water column further specified the instrument; a neuston net towed via manta body design for optimized sampling. Got it.

Collected Plankton Sample
A filtered sample of various crustaceans collected from the neuston

After the tow is complete, Curtis dumps the cod end of the net into a sieve, showing me an array of critters including more than a dozen Megalopae! Two samples are frozen to ensure analysis back at the Hammond Lab in Astoria. There, Curtis will examine the developmental progress of the Megalopae in relation to the suite of data provided by the CTD at each testing site. This information, along with various other chemical and physical data will be cross-examined in hopes of finding correlation – and perhaps even causation – that make sense of the Dungeness crabs’ biological and developmental process.

Analysing CTD Data
Dr. Curtis Roegner looks for patterns relating crab Megalopae and CTD data

The CTD 

CTD
The CTD measures conductivity, temperature and depth among other auxiliary measurements

Fundamentally, a CTD is an oceanographic instrument intended to provide data on the conductivity, temperature and depth of a given body of water. The CTD is one of the most common and essential tools on board a research ship. Whether it’s Jason exploring benthic communities, Sam hunting jellies, or Curtis collecting crab larvae, all can benefit from the information the CTD kit and its ensemble of auxiliary components can provide about the quality of the water at a given test site. In general, the more information we collect with the CTD the better our ability to map various chemical and physical parameters throughout the ocean. Check out the TAScast below as I give a basic overview of and take a dive with the CTD and its accessories.  

 

 

Personal Log:

Just when I thought I was beginning to get the hang of it…. Hold on, I have to lie down. As I mentioned above, the seas have been a bit rougher and I’ve been going through a phase of not-feeling-so-hot for the first time this trip. It’s odd because we hit some rougher ocean right out of Eureka and it didn’t seem to faze me much. I stopped taking my motion sickness medicine a few days in, and though I’ve picked it back up just in case, I’m not entirely convinced it’s the only contributing factor. I think it has more to do with my transition onto the night shift and all the plankton sorting which requires lots of focus on tiny animals. The night before last was particularly challenging. In the lab, all of the papers, books and anything else not anchored down slid back and forth and my body felt as if it were on a giant swing set and seesaw all at once. In addition, each time I looked out the back door all I could see was water sloshing onto the deck through the very drainage holes through which it was intended to escape. I remember wondering why there were so many rolls of duct tape strapped to the table and why chairs were left on their side when not in use. Well, now I know. Earlier today we made a quick pit stop in Newport, Oregon – home of the Hatfield Marine Science Center as well as NOAA’s Marine Operations Center of the Pacific. In short, this is where NOAA’s Pacific fleet of vessels is housed and the home base to several members of my science team, including Chief Scientist, Ric Brodeur.

The NOAA Pacific Fleet
The NOAA Pacific fleet at rest in Newport, OR.

I remember the anticipation of seeing the R/V Ocean Starr, a former NOAA vessel, for the first time. Growing up in Hawai’i, I remember these enormous ships making cameo appearances offshore, complete with a satellite dome over the bridge, only imagining the importance of the work done aboard. Now here I was, walking amongst the giants I idolized as a kid – the difference being that my view was up close and personal from behind the guard gate, a member of their team. I’m totally psyched even though I attempt to pretend like I’ve been there before. As much as I could have spent all afternoon admiring, I needed to make the most of our two hour layover in the library uploading blog material. Unfortunately the satellite-based internet is incredibly finicky out at sea. It’s a first world problem and understandably a part of life at sea, I realize, but all the same, I apologize to all those anticipating regular updates. I continue to do the best I can. I can say, however, that the Hatfield Marine Science Center boasts a fantastic library. I look forward to exploring the rest of the facility upon my final return in a little over a week. ‘Till then, BACK TO SEA!

Carol Schnaiter, Near the End, June 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Schnaiter

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 7 – 21, 2014

Mission: Groundfish Survey

A beautiful day
A beautiful day!

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Friday, June 20, 2014

Weather: Partly cloudy. Winds 5-10 knots. Waves 1 meter

Science and Technology:

Collecting plankton is a very important activity for the scientists on the ship. Everyday and night they collect the very tiny plants and animals we refer to as plankton. Plankton is very important because it supplies the world with oxygen and it is the beginning of many food chains.

Plankton
This is what we collect using the bongo nets.

The bongo nets are used to collect the plankton from the water. There are two bongo drums connected together and lowered into the water. Each one has a cylinder container connected to the end of the net with holes covered with mesh so that the water can flow out, but the mesh catches the plankton.

Tiny plants and animals that drift in the ocean currents flow into the nets. When the nets are brought back onto the ship, they are rinsed so that nothing is lost. The material collected is then rinsed into sieves and into jars with preservatives. The scientists that use the plankton for research decide which preservatives will be added. Sometimes it is in ethanol and sometimes in formalin, it is up to the scientists at the lab. All of these jars are sent to the lab on land and sometimes the material may be sent to labs in Poland to be examined.

To know how far the nets need to be lowered the scientists work with the deck crew and the bridge. Everyone makes sure the nets go very deep into the water, but that the nets do not touch the bottom. If they did touch the ocean floor there is a good chance that the nets would be damaged.

They also need to monitor how much water flows through the nets while the nets are in the water. To do this there are small flow meters connected to the nets. Before the nets go into the water, the numbers on the flow meter are put into the computer. After the nets come back up the numbers are again entered into the computer. Looking at the difference between these two numbers let the scientist know how much water flowed through the nets.

Flow meter on bongo net
Here is the flow meter on the bongo net.

The main reason plankton surveys are conducted is to collect samples for estimating the number and place where fish larvae can be found.

When we are doing the CTD, we must give the weather conditions: cloud cover, height of waves, and the color of the water.

Here I am checking the sky and water.