Katie Gavenus: Don’t Forget the Phytoplankton! May 5, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Katie Gavenus

Aboard R/V Tiglax

April 26 – May 9, 2019

Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently in transit from ‘Seward Line’ to ‘Kodiak Line’

Date: May 5, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2305
Latitude: 57o 34.6915’
Longitude: 150o 06.9789’
Wind: 18 knots, South
Seas: 4-6 feet
Air Temperature: 46oF (8oC)
Air pressure: 1004 millibars
Cloudy, light rain

Science and Technology Log

Phytoplankton!  These organisms are amazing.  Like terrestrial plants, they utilize energy from the sun to photosynthesize, transforming water and carbon dioxide into sugars and oxygen.  Transforming this UV energy into sugars allows photosynthetic organisms to grow and reproduce, then as they are consumed, the energy is transferred through the food web.  With a few fascinating exceptions (like chemotrophs that synthesize sugars from chemicals!), photosynthetic organisms form the basis of all food webs. The ecosystems we are most familiar with, and depend upon culturally, socially, and economically, would not exist without photosynthetic organisms.

Indeed, productivity and health of species like fish, birds, and marine mammals are highly dependent upon the productivity and distribution of phytoplankton in the Gulf of Alaska. Phytoplankton also play an important role in carbon fixation and the cycling of nutrients in the Gulf of Alaska.  For the LTER, developing a better understanding of what drives patterns of phytoplankton productivity is important to understanding how the ecosystem might change in the future.  Understanding the basis of the food web can also can inform management decisions, such as regulation of fisheries.

niskin bottles on the rosette

Seawater captured at different depths by niskin bottles on the rosette transferred to bottles by different scientists for analysis.

To better understand these patterns, researchers aboard R/V Tiglax use the rosette on the CTD to collect water at different depths.  The plankton living in this water is processed in a multitude of ways.  First, in the lab on the ship, some of the water is passed through two filters to catch phytoplankton of differing sizes.  These filters are chemically extracted for 24 hours before being analyzed using a fluorometer, which measures the fluorescence of the pigment Chlorophyll-a.  This provides a quantitative measurement of Chlorophyll-a biomass. It also allows researchers to determine whether the phytoplankton community at a given time and place is dominated by ‘large’ phytoplankton (greater than 20 microns, predominantly large diatoms) or ‘small’ phytoplankton (less than 20 microns, predominantly dinoflagellates, flagellates, cryptophyte algae, and cyanobacteria).

Preparing filters

Preparing filters to separate large and small phytoplankton from the seawater samples.

For example, waters in Prince William Sound earlier in the week had a lot of large phytoplankton, while waters more offshore on the Seward Line were dominated by smaller phytoplankton.  This has important ramifications for trophic interactions, since many different consumers prefer to eat the larger phytoplankton.  Larger phytoplankton also tends to sink faster than small plankton when it dies, which can increase the amount of food reaching benthic organisms and increase the amount of carbon that is sequestered in ocean sediments.

The Chlorophyll-a biomass measurements from the fluorometer are a helpful first step to understanding the biomass of phytoplankton at stations in the Gulf of Alaska.  However, research here and elsewhere has shown that the amount of carbon fixed by phytoplankton can vary independently of the Chlorophyll-a biomass.  For example, data from 2018 in the Gulf of Alaska show similar primary productivity (the amount of carbon fixed by phytoplankton per day) in the spring, summer, and fall seasons even though the Chlorophyll-a biomass is much higher in the spring.  This is likely because of at least two overlapping factors.  Vertical mixing in the winter and spring, driven primarily by storms, brings more nutrients and iron into the upper water column. This higher nutrient and iron availability in the spring allow for the growth of larger phytoplankton that can hold more chlorophyll.  This vertical mixing also means that phytoplankton tend to get mixed to greater depths in the water column, where less light is available.  To make up for this light limitation, the phytoplankton produce more chlorophyll in the spring so they can more effectively utilize the light that is available.  This variation in chlorophyll over the seasons probably helps to make the phytoplankton community overall more productive, but it makes it problematic to use Chlorophyll-a biomass (which is relatively easy to measure) as a proxy for primary productivity (which is much more challenging to measure).

Phytoplankton sample in the flourometer

A sample of filtered, extracted phytoplankton is placed into the fluorometer.

To address the question of primary productivity more directly, researchers are running an experiment on the ship.  Seawater containing phytoplankton from different depths is incubated for 24 hours.  The container for each depth is screened to let in sunlight equivalent to what the plankton would be exposed to at the depth they were collected from.  Inorganic carbon rich in C13 isotope is added to each container as it incubates. After 24 hours, they filter the water and measure the amount of C13 the phytoplankton have taken up.  Because C13 is rare in ecosystems, this serves as a measurement of the carbon fixation rate – which can then be converted into primary productivity.

Phytoplankton samples from the rosette are also preserved for later analysis in various labs onshore.  Some of the samples will be processed using High Performance Light Chromotography, which produces a pigment profile.  These pigments are not limited to Chlorophyll-a, but also include other types of Chlorophyll, Fucoxanthin (a brownish pigment found commonly in diatoms as well as other phytoplankton), Peridinin (only found in photosynthetic dinoflagellates), and Diadinoxanthin (a photoprotective pigment that absorbs sunlight and dissipates it as heat to protect the phytoplankton from excessive exposure to sunlight).  The pigment profiles recorded by HPLC can be used to determine which species of plankton are present, as well as a rough estimate of their relative abundance.

A different lab will also analyze the samples using molecular analysis of ribosomal RNA.  There are ID sequences that can be used to identify which species of phytoplankton are present in the sample, and also get a rough relative abundance.  Other phytoplankton samples are preserved for microscopy work to identify the species present.  Microscopy with blue light can also be used to investigate which species are mixotrophic – a fascinating adaptation I’ll discuss in my next blog post!

It is a lot of work, but all of these various facets of the phytoplankton research come together with analysis of nutrients, iron, oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon, temperature, and salinity to answer the question “What regulates the patterns of primary productivity in the Gulf of Alaska?”

There are already many answers to this question.  There is an obvious seasonal cycle due to light availability.  The broad pattern is driven by the amount of daylight, but on shorter time-scales it is also affected by cloud cover.  As already mentioned, vigorous vertical mixing also limits the practical light availability for phytoplankton that get mixed to greater depths.  There is also an overall, declining gradient in primary productivity moving from the coast to the deep ocean. This gradient is probably driven most by iron limitation.  Phytoplankton need iron to produce chlorophyll, and iron is much less common as you move into offshore waters.  There are also finer-scale spatial variations and patchiness, which are partly driven by interacting currents and bathymetry (ocean-bottom geography). As currents interact with each other and features of the bathymetry, upwelling and eddies can occur, affecting such things as nutrient availability, salinity, water temperature, and intensity of mixing in the water column.

View of horizon from station GAK

The early-morning view from station GAK on the ‘Seward Line.’ Patterns of primary productivity are driven both by amount of cloud cover and amount of daylight. During our two weeks at sea, we actually sampled at GAK1 3 separate times. The amount of daylight (time between sunrise and sunset each day) at this location increased by nearly 60 minutes over the two week cruise!

The current work seeks to clarify which of these factors are the most dominant drivers of the patterns in the Gulf of Alaska and how these factors interact with each other. The research also helps to determine relationships between things that can be more easily measured, such as remote-sensing of chlorophyll, and the types of data that are particularly important to the LTER in a changing climate but are difficult to measure across broad spatial scales and time scales, such as primary productivity or phytoplankton size community. Phytoplankton are often invisible to the naked eye.  It would be easy to overlook them, but in many ways, phytoplankton are responsible for making the Gulf of Alaska what it is today, and what it will be in the future.  Understanding their dynamics is key to deeper understanding of the Gulf.

Personal Log

The schedule along the Seward Line and as we head to the Kodiak Line had to be adjusted due to rough seas and heavy winds.  This means we have been working variable and often long hours on the night shift. It is usually wet and cold and dark, and when it is windy the seawater we use to hose down the zooplankton nets seems to always spray into our faces and make its way into gloves and up sleeves.  But we still manage to have plenty of fun on the night shift and share lots of laughs.  There are also moments where I look up from the task at hand and am immersed in beauty, wonder, and fascination. I get to watch jellies undulate gracefully off the stern (all the while, crossing my fingers that they don’t end up in our nets  — that is bad for both them and us) and peer more closely at the zooplankton we’ve caught.  I am mesmerized by the color and motion of the breaking waves on a cloudy dawn and delighted by the sun cascading orange-pink towards the water at sunset.  I am reminded of my love, both emotional and intellectual, for the ocean!

Float coats

We experienced a lot of wind, rain, waves, and spray from the high-pressure hose (especially when I was wielding the hose), but bulky float coats kept us mostly warm and dry.

Did You Know?

Iron is the limiting nutrient in many offshore ecosystems.  Where there is more iron, there is generally more primary productivity and overall productive ecosystems.  Where there is little iron, very little can grow.  This is different than terrestrial and even coastal ecosystems, where iron is plentiful and other nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous) tend to be the limiting factors.  Because people worked from what they knew in terrestrial ecosystems, until about 30 years ago, nitrogen and phosphorous were understood to be the important nutrients to study.  It was groundbreaking when it was discovered that iron may be a crucial piece of the puzzle in many open ocean ecosystems.

Question of the Day:

Regarding sustainability and scalability of intensive ocean resource harvesting: If humans started eating plankton directly, what could happen? And a follow-up: Can we use algae from harmful bloom areas?

Question from Leah Lily, biologist, educator, and qualitative researcher, Bellingham, WA

I first shared this question with the zooplankton night crew.  The consensus was that it was not a good idea to harvest zooplankton directly for large-scale human consumption.  Some krill and other zooplankton are already harvested for ‘fish oil’ supplements; as demand increases, the sustainability of this practice has become more dubious.  The zooplankton night crew were concerned that if broader-scale zooplankton harvest were encouraged, the resource would quickly be overharvested, and that the depletion of zooplankton stocks would have even more deleterious consequences for overall ecosystem function than the depletion of specific stocks of fish. They also brought up the question of how much of each zooplankton would actually be digestible to humans.  Many of these organisms have a chitinous exoskeleton, which we wouldn’t be able to get much nutrition from.  So it seems like intensive ocean harvesting of zooplankton is likely not advisable.

However, when I talked with the lead phytoplankton researcher on board, she thought there might be slightly more promise in harvesting phytoplankton.  It is more unlikely, she thinks, that it would get rapidly depleted since there is so much phytoplankton out there dispersed across a very wide geographic scale.  Generally, harvesting lower on the food chain is more energy efficient. At every trophic level, when one organism eats another, only a fraction of the energy is utilized to build body mass. So the higher up the food web we harvest from, the more energy has been ‘lost’ to respiration and other organism functions.  Harvesting phytoplankton would minimize the amount of energy that has been lost in trophic transfer.  Unlike most zooplankton, most phytoplankton is easily digestible to people and is very rich in lipids and proteins.  It could be a good, healthy food source.  However, as she also pointed out, harvesting phytoplankton in the wild would likely require a lot of time, energy, and money because it is generally so sparse.  It likely would not be economically feasible to filter the plankton in the ocean out from the water, and, with current technologies, not particularly environmentally friendly.  Culturing, or ‘farming,’ phytoplankton might help to address these problems, and in fact blue-green algae/Spirulina is already grown commercially and available as a nutritional supplement.  And there may be some coastal places where ‘wild’ harvest would be practical.  There are a number of spots where excess nutrients, often from fertilizers applied on land that runoff into streams and rivers, can cause giant blooms of phytoplankton.  These are often considered harmful algal blooms because as the phytoplankton die, bacteria utilize oxygen to decompose them and the waters become hypoxic or anoxic.  Harvesting phytoplankton from these types of harmful algal blooms would likely be a good idea, mitigating the impacts of the HABs and providing a relatively easy food source for people.  However, it would be important to make sure that toxin-producing plankton, such as Alexandrium spp. (which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning) were not involved in the HAB.

Katie Gavenus: Thinking Like A Hungry Bird, April 28, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Katie Gavenus

Aboard R/V Tiglax

April 26-May 9, 2019

 

Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently on the ‘Middleton [Island] Line’

Date: April 28, 2019

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1715
Latitude: 59o 39.0964’ N
Longitude: 146o05.9254’ W
Wind: Southeast, 15 knots
Air Temperature: 10oC (49oF)
Air pressure: 1034 millibars
Cloudy, no precipitation

 

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday was my first full day at sea, and it was a special one! Because each station needs to be sampled both at night and during the day, coordinating the schedule in the most efficient way requires a lot of adjustments. We arrived on the Middleton Line early yesterday afternoon, but in order to best synchronize the sampling, the decision was made that we would wait until that night to begin sampling on the line. We anchored near Middleton Island and the crew of R/V Tiglax ferried some of us to shore on the zodiac (rubber skiff).

This R&R trip turned out to be incredibly interesting and relevant to the research taking place in the LTER. An old radio tower on the island has been slowly taken over by seabirds… and seabird scientists. The bird biologists from the Institute for Seabird Research and Conservation have made modifications to the tower so that they can easily observe, study, and band the black-legged kittiwakes and cormorants that choose to nest on the shelfboards they’ve augmented the tower with. We were allowed to climb up into the tower, where removable plexi-glass windows look out onto each individual pair’s nesting area. This early in the season, the black-legged kittiwakes are making claims on nesting areas but have not yet built nests. Notes written above each window identified the birds that nested there last season, and we were keen to discern that many of the pairs had returned to their spot.

Gavenus1Birds

Black-legged kittiwakes are visible through the observation windows in the nesting tower on Middleton Island.

Gavenus2Birds

Nesting tower on Middleton Island.

The lead researcher on the Institute for Seabird Research and Conservation (ISRC) project was curious about what the LTER researchers were finding along the Middleton Line stations. He explained that the birds “aren’t happy” this spring and are traveling unusually long distances and staying away for multiple days, which might indicate that these black-legged kittiwakes are having trouble finding high-quality, accessible food. In particular, he noted that he hasn’t seen any evidence they’ve been consuming the small lantern fish (myctophids) that generally are an important and consistent food source from them in the spring. These myctophids tend to live offshore from Middleton Island and migrate to the surface at night. We’ll be sampling some of that area tonight, and I am eager to see if we might catch any in the 0.5 mm mesh ‘bongo’ nets that we use to sample zooplankton at each station.

The kittiwakes feed on myctophids. The myctophids feed on various species of zooplankton. The zooplankton feed on phytoplankton, or sometimes microzooplankton that in turn feeds on phytoplankton. The phytoplankton productivity is driven by complex interactions of environmental conditions, impacted by factors such as light availability, water temperature and salinity as well as the presence of nutrients and trace metals. And these water conditions are driven by abiotic factors – such as currents, tides, weather, wind, and freshwater input from terrestrial ecosystems – as well as the biotic processes that drive the movement of carbon, nutrients, and metals through the ecosystem.

Scientists deploy CTD

This CTD instrument and water sampling rosette is deployed at each station during the day to collect information about temperature and salinity. It also collects water that is analyzed for dissolved oxygen, nitrates, chlorophyll, dissolved inorganic carbon, dissolved organic carbon, and particulates.

CTD at sunset

When the sun sets, the CTD gets a break, and the night crew focuses on zooplankton.

Part of the work of the LTER is to understand the way that these complex factors and processes influence primary productivity, phytoplankton, and the zooplankton community structure. In turn, inter-annual or long-term changes in phytoplankton and zooplankton community structure likely have consequences for vertebrates in and around the Gulf of Alaska, like seabirds, fish, marine mammals, and people. In other words, zooplankton community structure is one piece of understanding why the kittiwakes are or are not happy this spring. It seems that research on zooplankton communities requires, at least sometimes, to consider the perspective of a hungry bird.

Peering at a jar of copepods and euphausiids (two important types of zooplankton) we pulled up in the bongo nets last night, I was fascinated by the way they look and impressed by the amount of swimming, squirming life in the jar. My most common question about the plankton is usually some variation of “Is this …” or “What is this?” But the questions the LTER seeks to ask are a little more complex.

Considering the copepods and euphausiids, these researchers might ask, “How much zooplankton is present for food?” or “How high of quality is this food compared to what’s normal, and what does that mean for a list of potential predators?” or “How accessible and easy to find is this food compared to what’s normal, and what does that mean for a list of potential predators?” They might also ask “What oceanographic conditions are driving the presence and abundance of these particular zooplankton in this particular place at this particular time?” or “What factors are influencing the life stage and condition of these zooplankton?”

Euphausiids

Euphausiids (also known as krill) are among the types of zooplankton we collected with the bongo nets last night.

Copepods in a jar

Small copepods are among the types of zooplankton we collected with the bongo nets last night.

As we get ready for another night of sampling with the bongo nets, I am excited to look more closely at the fascinating morphology (body-shape) and movements of the unique and amazing zooplankton species. But I will also keep in mind some of the bigger picture questions of how these zooplankton communities simultaneously shape, and are shaped by, the dynamic Gulf of Alaska ecosystem. Over the course of the next 3 blogs, I plan to focus first on zooplankton, then zoom in to primary production and phytoplankton, and finally dive more into nutrients and oceanographic characteristics that drive much of the dynamics in the Gulf of Alaska.

 

Personal Log 

Life on the night shift requires a pretty abrupt change in sleep patterns. Last night, we started sampling around 10 pm and finished close to 4 am. To get our bodies more aligned with the night schedule, the four of us working night shift tried to stay up for another hour or so. It was just starting to get light outside when I headed to my bunk. Happily, I had no problem sleeping until 2:30 this afternoon! I’m hoping that means I’m ready for a longer night tonight, since we’ll be deploying the bongo nets in deeper water as we head offshore along the Middleton Line.

WWII shipwreck

While on Middleton Island, we marveled at a WWII shipwreck that has been completely overtaken by seabirds for nesting.

Shipwreck filled with plants

Inputs of seabird guano, over time, have fertilized the growth of interesting lichens, mosses, grasses, and even shrubs on the sides and top of the rusty vessel.

 

Did You Know?

Imagine you have a copepod that is 0.5 mm long and a copepod that is 1.0 mm long. Because the smaller copepod is half as big in length, height, and width, overall that smaller copepod at best offers only about 1/8th as much food for a hungry animal. And that assumes that it is as calorie-dense as the larger copepod.

 

Question of the Day:

Are PCBs biomagnifying in top marine predators in the Gulf of Alaska? Are there resident orca populations in Alaska that are impacted in similar ways to the Southern Resident Orca Whale population [in Puget Sound] (by things like toxins, noise pollution, and decreasing salmon populations? Is it possible for Southern Resident Orca Whales to migrate and successfully live in the more remote areas of Alaska? Questions from Lake Washington Girl’s Middle School 6th grade science class.

These are great questions! No one on board has specific knowledge of this, but they have offered to put me in contact with researchers that focus on marine mammals, and orcas specifically, in the Gulf of Alaska. I’ll keep you posted when I know more!

Kevin Sullivan: Baring the Bering, August 28, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin C. Sullivan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
August 17 — September 2, 2011

Mission: Bering-ALeutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area:  Bering Sea
Date:  August 25-28, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  56.95N
Longitude: 162.93 W
Wind Speed:  10 Knots
Surface Water Temperature: 10.5 C
Air Temperature:  55F
Relative Humidity: 97%

Science and Technology Log

My attempt at play on words for the title: “Baring the Bering”…… somewhat fitting as what we have been doing is literally trying to uncover and expose the hidden truths and secrets that this sea has to offer.  I have become more comfortable with the scientific terminology being used on board and also have gotten into a nice flow with the overall processes going on and with the actual procedures and techniques being utilized to conduct these investigations.  In the last blog entry, I was discussing the work I was doing alongside the oceanographers. I have been continuing this work and adding additional learning outcomes each day as this team throws more and more learning opportunities my way.

For example, yesterday we were dealing with primary productivity. This study is essentially trying to determine the rate at which photosynthesis is occurring.  The amount of Phytoplankton–autotrophs (Self-feeders) obtaining their energy from sunlight–varies in different ecosystems as well as over time.  For example, for the school where I teach, Sandy Hook, NJ is a nearby coastal estuarine system.  Being an estuary and at mid-latitude, we have very high nutrient levels compliments of river runoff (in fact, excess runoff leads to algal blooms…think of it as pouring liquid Miracle-Gro into the waters and the resulting bloom that would occur.  In the end, unfortunately, it leads to eutrophication, decrease in O2 and potentially fish kills) as well as strong sun angle.  Therefore, we have large availability of productivity and biomass.  The Bering Sea also has tremendous productivity and therefore biomass as well.  Here, the relatively shallow seas of the Bering allow the Phytoplankton to transfer solar energy into chemical energy within the photic zone (area in which sun can penetrate). This coupled with the upwelling of nutrients off the shelf-break create the base of the food chain within these valuable, productive fisheries.  There is still a lot of uncertainty as to the transport and fate of this setup but it is clear that we need to learn more and concentrate our efforts into putting these pieces together.

So, the actual procedure is to again take water from the CTD’s (explained in last Blog) Niskin Bottles at various depths and then “feed” these marine plants nutrients and give them there other ingredient to conduct photosynthesis, which is sunlight (they are already in H2o).  We then take these samples and put them into a tank which is on the deck of the boat and has continuously circulating water.  We also put on Mesh Nylon bags to mimic the light concentration from the various depths they were taken from.  So for example, a sample taken at surface or near surface may be left without coverage whereas a sample taken at 50 meters may have two bags over the bottle and scatter the light entering to be representative of the light conditions the sample came from.  In the picture below, you can see this tank, the bottles under experiment (the gray bottle in lower left is one with a mesh bag for light reduction and the dark bottle in the lower right allows no light through and is the control)  and the continuous water circulating output in the lower right hand of the tank.

Primary Productivity Experiment

Primary Productivity Experiment

Now, the cool part of this, is that the nutrients that we introduced to the sample have been “laced” by stable isotopes of Carbon and Nitrogen.  This way, after the sample has been filtered and the chlorophyl analyzed, we can make certain assumptions about how productive these phytoplankton are based on the isotope markers.

I cannot emphasize the importance of these producers enough.  Think of them as being the base of a pyramid (which is often used by ecologists) — if they are removed, all of the other trophic (feeding) levels cannot exist.  It takes a tremendous amount of producers to feed fewer and larger carnivores.  This has to do with a rule in Ecology/Biology refered to as the “10% rule”.  We cover this in class and will review it in more detail.  In the interim, check out this website for pre-reading information on the flow of energy in an ecosystem.

I often cite the following excerpt in class to illustrate this concept:

“Three hundred trout are needed to support one man for a year. The trout, in turn, must consume 90,000 frogs, that must consume 27 million grasshoppers that live off of 1,000 tons of grass.”

G. Tyler Miller, Jr., American Chemist (1971)

Ok, so for the next few blogs, I will start to debrief my followers on my experiences aboard the Oscar Dyson as they relate to the Fisheries end of this cruise and tie it into the Oceanographic studies I have spent the last few entries explaining.  I figured it made most sense to start at the base of the food chain and make my way up to the higher ordered species and then summarize with the interactions of all components for the Bering Sea and in turn, our global sea that represents 97% of all of Earth’s water supply.

In the interim, check out Where I am, almost real-time HERE.  From this site, you can obtain current latitude/longitude, wind speed, water temp etc.

Personal Log

As I noted in the last blog, Hurricane Irene was a real threat to the East Coast and NOAA’s “Hurricane Hunters” (see last blog entry) did an excellent job at keeping the public informed about the status of the storms strength, location, and traveling direction.  I brought it up last entry to illustrate the depth and scope of NOAA as an organization.  Now that she has come and left her mark, lets take it one step further.  Many places in the Mid-Atlantic received over 10″ of rain.  Can you name two major river basins along the East Coast that drain into the Atlantic Ocean?  If this water travels over millions of people’s yards (that have been heavily fertilized), and farming areas with livestock, think of the nutrient input into the Atlantic Basin.  Relate this to the work currently being done on the Oscar Dyson.  Remember, that off our coast of NJ, we often have to worry about an influx of too many nutrients and algal blooms…..If you want to learn more about causes/effects, then read this website about eutrophication.

During our travels yesterday, we were just offshore of very remote Cape Newenham, Alaska.  I took the following picture.  At the top of this mountain you can make out a white structure.  This was part of a system titled “White Alice Communication Systems” which was a “US Air Force telecommunication link system constructed in Alaska during the Cold War.  It also connected remote Air Force sites in Alaska such as Aircraft Control and Warning (AC&W), Distant Early Warning line (DEW Line) and Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS).  The system was advanced for its time, but became obsolete within 20 years following the advent of satellite communications.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Alice_Communications_System)

White Alice 08-27-11

White Alice 08-27-11

Chum Salmon 08/26/11

Chum Salmon 08/26/11

Maggie Prevenas, May 8, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: May 8, 2007

Science Log

I’ve been feeling a little sad these past few days because the Healy 0701 mission is coming to a close. There’s been so much data taken, so many measurements done, and more than a few hypotheses tested.  So WHAT has been learned?

The CTD was lowered and fired over 200 times in rough water

The CTD was lowered and fired over 200 times in rough water

This research here, this Bering Sea Ecosystem Study, has been some of the first research done with SEASONAL ice during this time of the year. SEASONAL ice is ice that melts and then reforms each year. The algae blooms occur because the seasonal ice melts, creating a stable freshwater layer, a place for the algae to grow.  The algae take up nutrients, which act as a fertilizer, and explode in numbers. The nutrients are quickly used up. The bloom for that year is over.

Rob tested the water for iron, getting baseline data to see if it is a limiting factor in Bering Sea productivity.

Rob tested the water for iron, getting baseline data to see if it is a limiting factor in Bering Sea productivity.

In areas of the Bering Sea that we visited that were really shallow, like around Nunivak Island, the ice has melted and the nutrients have been used. The bloom is over.

Nancy Kachel collected many samples from the CTD during this research mission.

Nancy Kachel collected many samples from the CTD during this research mission.

What has been a surprise to some of the scientists is that the very productive algae blooms occur at the ice edge, not so much under the ice.

When phytoplankton reproduce very quickly they can actually turn the color of the seawater green. Photo from Ray Sambrotto.

When phytoplankton reproduce very quickly they can actually turn the color of the seawater green.

The algae need sunlight, and the sunlight just doesn’t seem to penetrate ice. Algae explode in large numbers when the ice, under which they have been growing, melts away.

Although this seems to be a small observation, it is actually HUGE!  Or at least it was for me. Look at areas of the Arctic that do not have the seasonal ice.  The flow of energy in that ecosystem is different. The energy transfer from sunlight through the high Arctic permanent ice to the algae that populate the Arctic Ocean is different. Same thing with the Antarctic permanent ice.

This is one of the deepest drops that the CTD made. Over 3000 meters!

This is one of the deepest drops that the CTD made. Over 3000 meters!

If the Arctic or Antarctic holds more seasonal ice, i.e. starts melting, the model of how energy is transferred in the polar region will change. Knowing how seasonal ice acts as a medium to facilitate algal blooms will be very important. Right now is a critical time to research this key component.

TAS Maggie observing the sea ice

TAS Maggie observing the sea ice

I learned a huge amount about ice. I made ice observations many, many times. The scientists on this mission to help them interpret their data will use that information.

The science community has named this an International Polar Year (IPY). What I am doing, in trailing along with scientists, is acting to translate and understand the Bering Sea Ecosystem Study, and to act to educate others about cutting edge scientific research of climactic change. I think I can begin to start telling you the story.

Maggie Prevenas, Week 3 in Review, April 28, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 28, 2007

Week in Review

Monday, April 23: The ice is back so we have resumed our ice observation. Every two hours we haul ourselves up to the Bridge and write down our observations in a form. It averages about 7 times a day, and Robyn and I split up the observations so we have equal numbers. We are contributing ?

Weather was really icky. The morning helicopter observations were canceled because of poor visibility and wind. The wind has calmed down a bit, but the fog is still present. It will make for difficult observations in some areas. The rest of the research team is working steadily in the labs. They are all looking forward to the sampling of the ice algae for tomorrow. Robyn and I are trying to prepare for the webinar for Thursday. The scientists who will be on the show have been super helpful in providing us with materials for the webinar.

Tuesday, April 24: Scientists on ice. We hit very thick ice last night. The scientists are ready to go out for an ice sample. The ship just tucked up, into the ice. It let down a metal ramp, and down we went. All of the scientists were very excited to get off the boat. They have been stuck in a lab since the cruise started.

Most of the scientists are doing experiments associated or needing seawater. The stop on the ice was the first for all of them, to drill ice cores, collect ice and melt it down. When they return to the ship, they test it to see what secrets it may tell. The visit to the ice had almost a party-like atmosphere. Remember the reason they were collecting ice samples, was because of the puzzling results they were getting. I believe every single scientist and assistant were on the ice except the marine mammal and bird folks, who are doing a different kind of sampling. The scientists were on the ice from 8:30 am through 11 am. That is the time when oxygen release and chlorophyll is dramatically observed and measured. They will be returning to the ice in the future to continue to take the ice samples.

Seal Tagging: Oh, but my day was not over yet. I was about to get a hands-on experience in tagging ice seals. Instead of re-explaining it all here, I thought I could ask you to go into my journals and check the entry ‘Seal Tagging Adventure.’ You can get very good details and photos of the event. We got back to the ship around four pm. My tail was dragging from leaping over snow banks and falling over ice chunks. Tagging seals is a very rigorous science occupation.

Wednesday, April 25: Getting ready for the webcast. This was the last full day we had to deal with all the background of materials that needed to come to us for the webinar. Both of the scientists Alex DiRobertis, and Jeff Napp, provided us with a nice powerpoint presentation for our audience to see while we talked.

It was also time for me to start preparing for the classroom visits to St. George and St. Paul Islands. There were activities to write, brochures to track activities, and materials to hunt down. That took a lot of time for me, because I decided to take the students K-8. Robyn took the 4 high schoolers. All of my students would rotate through two different classes. In each class there were three different stations. I wanted to engage the students in some kind of active learning.

It was also time to write and reflect on the seal tagging.

I took almost 150 pictures of the seal tagging adventure. I needed to select the best for the Journal Article on tagging seals. I also needed to write an article and highlight those images in the Journal. I completed it by the end of the day, and turned it back to the Polartrec website along with the 18 pictures I selected to illustrate the activity.

Thursday, April 26 Webcast day. A zillion details to wade through. To make matters a bit more complicated, the place where we normally have our webinar was going to be used by the science team, so we had to seek out an alternative spot to broadcast.

At first we chose the chief scientists room. But the static and noises from the phone made us try yet another room. Down on the third floor to try two other rooms. Time was tight, it was 12:30 time to broadcast! So we decided to start it going in the regular spot and then move out into the hallway as the scientists meeting continued.

However, as soon as we moved, the feedback from the speakers overwhelmed us. For every word we spoke there was an echo. We were just about to hang up early when someone got the bright idea to go into my room and continue the webinar. All 7 of us picked up one piece of the telephone system and moved as one into my small stateroom.

We were good to broadcast for another 10 minutes, before the iridum phone broke connection. We tried and tried to call back. On the last try, Robyn got through. After 60 minutes of technological torture, we were done! Yahoo! And now back to the St. George presentations we were developing for the next day. I stayed up until 1:30 making pollack, krill, and phytoplankton puppets. I also needed to put all my Hawaii products out for the kids to try. Dried pineapple, mango, ginger, candy postcards, and pencils. I hoped the students would enjoy learning about my students on Maui. I checked and double checked my duffle bag to make sure I had all the materials and then some more!

Friday, April 27, 2007: The zodiac to St. George. Right after breakfast, the team of scientists and others (us teacher kine) were directed to the helo area (where the helicopter is stored) to put on our survival suits. The MS 900. Since I was going to have my students try on the suit I was wearing, I was able to keep it on, and change into my street clothes at the school.

The zodiac ride over was so much FUN! Splash, splash, kersplash, the person at the front of the bow got very wet. The rest of us hid behind him and let him take the salty spray. Once on the island, we were transported to the school via a little white bus.

THAT’S when the fun really began!

We did an icebreaking activity (person bingo) that was a real hit! Each person had a piece of paper with 20 questions. Each person had to find someone in the general meeting area who could answer that question right. Then, they put their name on the sheet. The first one with a complete blackout wins.

Then we rolled into our next activity, ‘Which creature do you identify with best?’ There were loads of people who stood by the polar bear, humpback whale, and walrus. The phytoplankton and pollack were ignored by everyone.  Hopefully by the end of the day, they might warm up to this microscopic creature and learn that it controls the entire ecosystem.

The elementary students and middle schools funneled through my stations. Of course their favorite was the station about Hawaii, mostly because of the treats I offered, perhaps? I do believe they have learned a little more about my island home and the students I teach. I hope we can continue or friendship via a blog spot I recently set up. They were incredibly respectful and curious students!

We brought the four high schoolers and some teachers and community members back o the ship with us. They were given a nice tour of the boat and supper. Back to the zodiacs they went. We waved Aloha to our new friends.

Saturday, April 28: St Paul. The other Pribilof Island. Stormy seas were forecasted. To the Coast Guard it was all about safety. To Robyn and me it was all about getting there and back. We had a presentation scheduled for the school from 11-12:30. We wanted to connect with the community.

St. Paul is larger than St. George. The helicopter was an efficient way to transport people off the boat (those who were going home) and pick up people coming to the boat (those scientists who were joining our adventure). Robyn, David Doucet (air safety manager) and I were the first flight out. Robyn and I were very excited and nervous at the same time.

Up and off we flew, 6 miles from the ship to the airport over the freezing cold Bering Sea. One minute on the ship, blink twice, we were landing safely at the airport in St. Paul. Tonia Kushin, teacher from St. Paul and I had been in contact with each other since late March. We wanted to bring her students culture to my students culture and make a meaningful connection. She took us on a tour of St. Paul, and then took us to her school. Both Robyn and I took in her tour like a sponge.

It was a wonderful time! We were set up in the library, a most fantastic place to learn. Surrounded by student made kayaks, a seal skeleton, and many antique photos from the olden time, we began our introductions.

Our education activity stations were a hit. I think the one the students enjoyed most was getting into and out of the MS 900 suit and bunny boots.

We talked to the audience about marine mammals, then broke into activity stations, then were treated to a celebration of dance. Their costumes were gorgeous!

Their dance lively!

Their song rang clear and sweet.

It brought tears to my eyes.

I went back to the Aleut classroom to see their costumes up close and was rewarded with the students coming up to me and answering all my questions. Their wonderful teacher too!

She told me that the dancing group is getting smaller and younger with each passing year. Seems many teenagers are no longer interested in learning the Aleut ways. I understood what she said. It is difficult to compete with videogames and the internet. I see some of my students in Hawaii making those same choices.

Before we knew it, it was time to go. The wind had picked up considerably and we needed to leave the school, WIKI WIKI!

We said a hurried good-bye, and left St. Paul behind. I left the island with a treasure trove of memories, and a stack of Styrofoam cups for the St. Paul students experiment “Down to the Deep.”

That kinda says it all for me.  This experience is all about science and making cultural connections. It is all one ocean, one voice, one earth.

Maggie Prevenas, April 24, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 24, 2007

Science Log: Science on Ice

We hit very thick ice last night. That is exactly what the scientists were waiting for.  So the ship just tucked up into the ice, let down a metal ramp, and down we went.

The scientists were able to walk off the boat by way of this metal ramp. They had to grasp the handrails and walk backwards down the ramp. It was like climbing down a ladder.

The scientists were able to walk off the boat by way of this metal ramp. They had to grasp the handrails and walk backwards down the ramp. It was like climbing down a ladder.

All of the scientists were very excited to get off the boat. They have been researching in a lab since the cruise started. Most of the scientists are doing experiments associated with or needing seawater.

Most of the scientists are working with sea water. The collection of sea water  directly from these holes was a new protocol.

Most of the scientists are working with sea water. The collection of sea water directly from these holes was a new protocol.

The stop on the ice was the first for all of them, to drill ice cores, to collect ice and water directly from the hole.

Dr. Ned Cokelet drills an ice core using a gas powered engine. It allows the scientists to take samples quickly and efficiently.

Dr. Ned Cokelet drills an ice core using a gas powered engine. It allows the scientists to take samples quickly and efficiently.

When they return to the ship, they test it to see what secrets it may tell. Remember the reason they were collecting ice samples, was because of the puzzling results they were getting.

Ice samples were brought back onboard the Healy by attaching a rope and dragging them up the ramp.

Ice samples were brought back onboard the Healy by attaching a rope and dragging them up the ramp.

I believe every single scientist and assistant were on the ice except the marine mammal and bird folks, who are doing a different kind of sampling. The scientists were on the ice from 8:30 am through 11 am. That is the time when oxygen release and chlorophyll is dramatically observed and measured. They will be returning to the ice three more times to take the ice samples.

Seal Tagging: Oh, but my day was not over yet. I was about to get a hands-on experience in tagging ice seals. Instead of re-explaining it all here, I thought I could ask you to go into my journals and check the entry ‘Seal Tagging Adventure.’ You can get very good details and photos of the event. We got back to the ship around four pm. My tail was dragging from leaping over snow banks and falling over ice chunks. Tagging seals is a very rigorous science occupation.

Maggie Prevenas, April 24, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 24, 2007

Science Log

Before I started this adventure onboard the Healy, we were told about the opportunity to run a deep-sea pressure experiment with our students. All that was needed was a Styrofoam object decorated with Sharpie pens. I got some Styrofoam balls and bowls, a package of Sharpies and the students went to work decorating the objects.

They were a bit difficult to pack. The goal was to get them here in one piece. The TSA at most airports did all they could to protect my fragile cargo (NOT!) When I got on the ship, I put them on my desk and waited for the opportunity.

This little mesh bag held the Styrofoam balls.

This little mesh bag held the Styrofoam balls.

It just so happened that on Saturday night, April 21, we were going to have a deep, deep, station collection. The CTD (rosette water sampling machinery) was to be dropped down to 2500 METERS. So we gathered our travel mesh bags together, stuck the Styrofoam in the bags, and went in search of the CTD operator, Scott Hiller, from Scripts Oceanography Institute. He said no problemo! He’d make sure the Styrofoam balls, bowls and cups got down there and back.

Scott Hiller from Scripts Oceanography Institute said he would make sure the balls,  bowls and cups would be taken down and up again.

Scott Hiller from Scripps Oceanography Institute said he would make sure the balls, bowls and cups would be taken down and up again.

So in the interest of science, I stayed up late, determined to see the experiment through from start to finish. The hours ticked away. 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock. The rosette sunk deeper and deeper. 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock, 1 o’clock, 1:30 it hit the bottom.

These Styrofoam objects were tucked in a mesh bag and tied to the side of the CTD rosette.

These Styrofoam objects were tucked in a mesh bag and tied to the side of the CTD rosette.

That’s 2500 METERS. So how many feet is that?

That’s 2500 METERS. So how many feet is that?

It had to sit on the bottom for 45 minutes, and then get hauled back up to the surface. 2:00, 3:00. Wow, I was up, witnessing a science experiment at 6 hours past my regular bedtime. Now this is science!

Scientists regularly stay up to do their research at all hours of the night.

Scientists regularly stay up to do their research at all hours of the night. I never expected to be up this late.

When the rosette hit the surface, attached were the Styrofoam forms, but what did they look like? Your assignment is to write a hypothesis as to what you think happened to the balls and bowls that were lowered into the deep deep Bering Sea.

Stay tuned!