Vincent Colombo, A Brief Look at Alaskan Geography, June 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Vincent Colombo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: The Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 17, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Wind Speed: 19.3 knots
  • Sea Temperature: 7.1 degrees C
  • Air Temperature: 6.4 degrees C
  • Air Pressure: 1020.9 mb
Unalaska Island

Unalaska Island – the location of Dutch Harbor (Where they film the Deadliest Catch)

Unalaska Island

Unalaska Island

Unalaska Island

Unalaska Island

Science and Technology Log:

Everywhere we have gone on this cruise has had landscapes that pictures do no justice. Nothing, and I mean nothing compares to what you can see as you step out onto deck, feel the cool air hitting you in the face, and look out at a fog bathed landscape ahead. But how did these structures get here, and more importantly, how are they changing?

The answer has to do with a topic in science called plate tectonics. Imagine the earth was the size of an egg. The outermost layer, which we call the crust, would be about the thickness of an eggshell. This shell is broken into a number of pieces called tectonic plates. A tectonic plate may contain oceans, continents, or both. The plates move slowly relative to each other at rates of one to four inches per year. Where two plates meet is called a boundary (also fault), and this is the cause for many of the geologic events found on our planet.

There are three types of boundaries which can form.

  • Divergent: where two tectonic plates separate
  • Convergent: where two tectonic plates collide (the one of most importance in the Aleutian Islands)
  • Transform: where two tectonic plates slide past one another

In Integrated Science at Sussex Technical High School, students learn how plate tectonics cause phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanoes. During our research cruise, we are exploring the areas around the Aleutian Islands, Islands whose origin can be credited to plate tectonics.

Approaching the Island of the Four Mountains

Approaching the Island of the Four Mountains

In the picture above, you can see the Island of Four Mountains. Not surprising is the fact they are not mountains at all. In fact, they are massive Stratovolcanoes, or volcanoes that have built up massively over time in layers. The most active one, Mount Cleveland is the perfectly conical one to the right. Ash from eruptions in the Aleutian islands, Mount Cleveland in particular, delay plane flights on a regular basis.

But how do these massive volcanoes just shoot out from under the water? The answer is a convergent plate boundary and something called subduction. What we cannot see is the Pacific Plate colliding with the North American plate under the ocean. The Pacific Plate is being forced under the North American Plate in an area called a subduction zone. That plate being forced under causes a tremendous amount of pressure to form and magma (molten rock) is forced to the surface. The end result is the stunning, but dangerous landscape you see in the Aleutian Islands.

Not far away is the Aleutian trench, who’s depth is the flipside of the volcanoes and landscapes we are able to see. At one point in our trip we were floating in over 4,000 meters (about 12,000 feet) of water. In its deepest point, the Aleutian trench reaches a maximum depth of 8,109 meters, or (26,604 feet) at about 51° N, 178° W . Trenches are common along convergent boundaries and are one of their identifiying features. Here is a great link to a website which will let you learn more about the formation of Mount Cleveland, one of the MOST active volcanoes in the Aleutian Islands. Click here to learn more about Mt. Cleveland!

A view of Mount Cleveland

A view of Mount Cleveland

One very important thing to remember is the ocean is able to hide the various hazards which make the landscape so beautiful. The areas around some islands are referred to as widowmakers, because if a boat were to trawl a net behind them, the end result would not be positive.

A topographical map of the area

A topographical map of the area

The depth finder shows the hazards which the water can hide.

The depth finder shows the hazards which the water can hide.

Thought for the day: The Aleutian Trench said Mount Cleveland wasn’t my fault.

Personal Log:

Yesterday we got to go fishing for the first time with the trawl net. This makes my recreational gill net in Delaware look like child’s play. We caught over 300 Walleye Pollock, the fish we came to study. NOAA’s trawl net is much smaller than commercial nets, due to the fact they want to sample the fish, not catch the school of fish.  Now that the ball has started rolling, the fishing has just begun.

The trawl net being set out on deck.

The trawl net being set out on deck.

The net being set

The net being set

Could you ask for a more beautiful view while fishing?

Could you ask for a more beautiful view while fishing?

What we are here to catch

What we are here to catch

Meet the Crew: Brad Kutyna. Brad is a Fisherman onboard the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson. Brad has been a commercial fisherman out of Kodiak, Alaska ever since high school. Brad’s family owns and operates two commercial fishing boats out of Kodiak, Alaska named the F/V Victory and F/V Alitak. Being on the water is no strange feeling for Brad, he joined NOAA to assist in the preserving the fisheries which have been the life blood of his family. Brad is also an avid outdoorsmen who loves hiking, camping, and hunting.

Brad is also a former United States Marine. He graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, then proceeded to serve for four years with multiple deployments to Iraq,  and one stationing in Okinawa, Japan. Brad now happily resides in Kodiak, Alaska with his wife and two children. Brad’s wife has ties to Delaware, and it was very cool to talk about Sussex County with a man who lives half way around the world. Make no mistake, according to Brad, his adventure is not over, it has only just begun.

Brad Kutyna

Brad Kutyna

Brad wasting no time getting this by-catch salmon shark back in the water

Brad wasting no time getting this by-catch salmon shark back in the water

 

Did you know that?: Alaska contains over 130 active volcanoes and volcanic fields. Learn more by clicking here: Alaska Volcanoes

 

 

Kacey Shaffer: Here We Go! July 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kacey Shaffer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Location: Bering Sea

Date: July 27, 2014

 

Weather information from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 9º C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Wind Direction: 350º

Weather Conditions: Overcast

Latitude: 56º 29.3 N

Longitude: 170º 35.0 W

 

Science and Technology Log:

Before we get into detail about the mission, let’s think about the Oscar Dyson’s geographical location. It is important for us to understand this background knowledge so that we may appreciate the scientific research conducted by NOAA. Most of you have gathered that I am aboard the Dyson somewhere off the coast of Alaska. Our survey began and will end at port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Where is Dutch Harbor? Let’s take a look at a map…

Map of Alaska and Bering Sea

Map of Alaska and Bering Sea

Dutch Harbor is on the island of Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands.  We will take a scientific look at the Aleutian Islands before we learn about the Bering Sea. The Aleutian Islands separate the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean. How did this chain of islands come to be? Continental drift and volcanoes! The Pacific Plate moves northward and has been pushing against the North American Plate, which moves southward, for millions of years. The North American Plate is much less dense than the Pacific Plate and has been riding up onto the Pacific Plate. Here is an image that shows this action.

The Pacific Plate is shown on the left and the North American Plate is shown on the right. The volcanoes and mountains represent the Aleutian Islands.

The Pacific Plate is shown on the left and the North American Plate is shown on the right. The volcanoes and mountains represent the Aleutian Islands.

As you can see in the diagram, the Aleutian Islands are formed by volcanic eruptions along the area where these two plates collide. As I read in the book The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands: Region of Wonders, “During an eruption, lava, cinders, and ash burst through the earth’s surface at points of weakness in the globe’s mantle, caused by the collision of the plates, and each volcano leaves a telltale conical peak. Many of those eruptions have occurred below the surface of the sea, and only the tops of the mountains poke out of the water, making up many of the Aleutian Islands.” This is how the island of Unalaska came to be, thus Dutch Harbor was established!

Now we need to investigate the Bering Sea. What are some words we use to describe the Bering Sea? Cold, stormy, bleak, productive. If you have ever watched an episode of the Discovery Channel’s The Deadliest Catch, you’ve been given a peek at the “cold, stormy and bleak” aspect of the Bering Sea.

What about the “productive” side of this great sea? Three facts: 1. Alaska supplies about half of the total U.S. fishery. 2. The majority of this contribution comes from the Bering Sea. 3. The nation’s largest fishery is the Pollock fishery. NOAA has estimated that the 2012 Pollock catch value is more than $343 billion. Are you beginning to understand how valuable the Bering Sea is to our world?

In order to maintain or increase the value of the sea, management practices must be in place. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council provides advice to NOAA Fisheries. Also, NOAA conducts research cruises in the Bering Sea perform biological and physical surveys to ensure sustainable fisheries and healthy marine habitats. This is the ultimate purpose of the survey I’m joining. We are performing the third leg of the biannual Walleye Pollock Survey in the Bering Sea. In my upcoming blogs, we’ll dive into the technical aspects of the survey. Are you ready to see some sea life? I definitely can’t wait to get my hands on some critters! Prepare for sea selfies!

Personal Log:

As I type my blog, I’m sitting on the deck at a picnic table with the cool, crisp air blowing by. We are in transit to our first survey location. We got underway yesterday afternoon and I won’t see land again for many, many days. That is both exciting and scary at the same time! How do you think you’d feel knowing you are miles away from land? Would you worry about your safety? I am fully confident in the crew of the Oscar Dyson. They have been a great group of people to get to know and I’m sure they will take great care of everyone on board the cruise.

Backing up a couple of days, I want to share with you about my journey across North America and my first two days with the Dyson. After taking off from Columbus I made stops in Minneapolis and Anchorage before landing at the airport in Dutch Harbor. All three flights were smooth and I was thankful for a very calm landing in Dutch. The airport there is a real treat! Our pilot had everything under control though. From the airport we came straight to the ship. I was shown to my room and then we took off for supper at The Grand Aleutian Inn’s dining room. I was able to see a few bald eagles that night and we also took a scenic cruise around the two towns, Dutch Harbor and Unalaska. The next morning the other Teacher at Sea, Greg, and I hitched a ride to the Museum of the Aleutians. It was a great place to learn about the history of the Aleutian Islands. We also made stops at Alaska Ship Supply and Safeway. We had to make sure we were stocked up with the essentials (soda and some candy) to get us through the next three weeks!

Exhibit at the Museum of the Aleutians

Exhibit at the Museum of the Aleutians

Our departure from Dutch Harbor was a beautiful one. Many of the crew members commented on what a beautiful day we were having and how extraordinarily warm it was. The deck crew allowed me to stand on one of the front decks to watch the process of undocking and cruising out of the harbor. They wasted no time as we had our first three drills right away. I’m going to save myself some embarrassment and not share the photo of me donning the survival suit. Let’s just say I’m a little too short for it! Later on that evening we received a call in the lounge that the bridge crew was spotting some whales just west of the ship. I was able to reach the bridge just in time to see a few humpback whales breeching and a few dolphins playing in front of us. That short experience made me really look forward to sorting our first catch. What is one critter from the sea you would like to see in person?

 

Did you know?

There are nearly 40 active volcanoes that mark the line where the Pacific Plate and North American Plate meet.

Christine Hedge, September 9-11, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Chukchi Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 9-11, 2009

Positions 
From Latitude: 790 6’N/ Longitude: 1550 47’W
To Latitude: 780 3’N/ Longitude: 1590 41’W

Alex Andronikov labels and bags rock samples for further study.

Alex Andronikov labels and bags rock samples for further study.

Science and Technology Log 

Exploring the Unknown 
Geologically speaking, parts of the Arctic Ocean are some of the least explored areas on earth because they are often covered with thick ice. Geologists know there is an ultra-slow spreading center (where seafloor pulls apart) called the Gakkel Ridge.  They know where major features such as abyssal plains, plateaus, and ridges are, but the story of how this area formed is still the subject of much discussion. Where exactly are the plate boundaries in the Arctic?  Which direction are they moving?  Which forces formed the Arctic Basin?  These are great questions that geologists continue to investigate. In 7th grade we study plate tectonics.  Our textbooks contain maps showing where the plates are pulling apart (divergent boundaries), pushing together (convergent boundaries), and sliding past one another (transform boundaries). I had never noticed before this trip that clear plate boundaries are not shown under the Arctic Ocean.

FOR MY STUDENTS: There are some great animations showing plate movements at this site.

Looking Back in Time with Rock Samples 

Kelley Brumley and Alex Andronikov are geologists on board the Healy. They have been analyzing the data collected by the echosounding instruments to better understand the forces at work here. But what they have really been looking forward to is seeing what type of rock the seamounts, ridges, and plateaus below the Arctic Ocean are made of, and how these features were created.

Our first 2 dredge sites brought up muddy sediment and lots of:

  • Ice rafted debris: These are rocks that are frozen into ice that breaks from shore and carried out to sea. They can come from glaciers, or river deltas or any shoreline.  Some show glacial striations (scratches left behind by glaciers).
  • Coated sediments: These are crumbly, compressed mounds of sediment coated with a dark precipitate.
Dredge #2 was a muddy affair.  Using the hose, I helped separate the sediment from the rocks.  That’s me in the turquoise gloves!

Dredge #2 was a muddy affair. Using the hose, I helped separate the sediment from the rocks. That’s me in the turquoise gloves!

The next 3 dredges broke off rock samples from the steep slopes over which they were dragged. This was what the geologists were hoping for – samples of bedrock.  The rock samples that were dredged up show us that the geological history of the region is very complex.  Analyzing the chemistry and mineral composition of these rocks will help to answer some of the questions Kelley, Alex, and other Arctic geologists have about this part of the Arctic Ocean.  The rocks are cleaned, carefully labeled, and shipped to Stanford University, the University of Michigan, and the USGS (United States Geological Survey) for further study. Who knows, maybe the rocks that were collected today will help to clarify models for the geologic history of this part of the Arctic Ocean.

Personal Log 

On September 11, I was able to call my students in Indiana. Jon Pazol, (ARMADA teacher at sea) has an Iridium satellite phone that he graciously allowed me to borrow.  How fun to stand on the helicopter pad of the Healy and field questions from Carmel, Indiana.

Rock samples from a successful dredge operation

Rock samples from a successful dredge operation

Dredges sometimes bring up more than rocks and sediment. This arthropod came up with one of the dredge samples.

Dredges sometimes bring up more than rocks and sediment. This arthropod came up with one of the dredge samples.

Calling my students.  You can see in the background that there is much more ice than a few days ago.

Calling my students. You can see in the background that there is much more ice than a few days ago.