Jessie Soder: Steamin’ and Swimmin’, August 10, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessie Soder
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
August 8 – 19, 2011 

Mission: Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northern Atlantic
Date: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 

Weather Data
Time:  16:00
Location:  40°41.716N, 67°36.233W
Air temp: 20.6° C (69° F)
Water temp: 17° C (63° F)
Wind direction: West
Wind speed: 11 knots
Sea wave height: 3 feet
Sea swell:  5-6 feet 

Science and Technology Log

View from the flying bridge departing Woods Hole

Our departure from Woods Hole has been delayed a number of times due to several factors.  We were scheduled to leave the dock on Monday at 2pm, but due to rough seas (8ft on Georges Bank—which was where we were planning to go first) and a crane that needed to be fixed our departure was rescheduled for Tuesday at 10am.  On Tuesday, the crane was fixed, but then it was discovered that the ship’s engineering alarm system was not working properly, so our departure was delayed again for a few hours.  The crew worked hard to get the ship off the dock and we departed at 1:15 on Tuesday.  Yay!  We were on our way to Georges Bank, which was about a 15 hour “steam,” or, trip.

The purpose of the NOAA Fisheries Atlantic surfclam and ocean quahog survey is to determine and keep track of the population of both species.  This particular survey is done every three years.  NOAA Fisheries surveys other species too, such as ground fish (cod, haddock, pollock, fluke), sea scallops, and northern shrimp.  These species are surveyed more often—usually a couple of times each year.  Atlantic surfclams and ocean quahogs are surveyed less often than other fished species because they do not grow as fast as other species.  In fact, the ocean quahog can live for more than 150 years, but it only reaches about 6  inches across!  In comparison, the sea scallop lives for only 10 to 15 years and reaches a size of 8 inches.

There are 27 people on board this cruise.  Each person is assigned a watch, or shift, so that there are people working 24 hours a day. The work never stops!  Seventeen people on board are members of the crew that are responsible for the operation and navigation of the ship, machinery operation and upkeep (crane, dredge, etc.), food preparation, general maintenance, and electronics operations and repair.  There are a lot of things that need to happen to make things on a research ship run smoothly in order for the scientific work to happen!

NOAA Ship Delaware II docked in Woods Hole

Twelve people on board are part of the science team, including me, who collect the samples and record the data.  We are split into two watches, the noon-midnight watch and the midnight-noon watch.  We sort through the material in the dredge for the clams and the quahogs.  We measure and weigh them as well as document the location where they are collected.  Several members of the science team are volunteers.

Personal Log

A swimming beach near Nobska Lighthouse

Our delayed departure has given me a lot of time to talk to crew and to explore Woods Hole—which I have really enjoyed.  I have learned a lot about the responsibilities of the different members of the crew and about the maritime industry, which is something that has always interested me.  I was also able to visit the Woods Hole aquarium (twice!) and attend a talk given by crew from the R/V Knorr. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute operates the R/V Knorr and it was on this ship that the location of the wreck of the Titanic was located for the first time in 1985.  Additionally,  in 1977 scientists aboard this ship discovered  hydrothermal vents  on the ocean floor.  And, lastly, I had time to go swimming in the Atlantic Ocean!  The water was a bit warmer off the coast of Massachusetts than it is off the coast of Alaska…

Questions to Ponder

What is the difference between an ocean quahog and an Atlantic surfclam?

Kathleen Brown: Last Days at Sea, June 16-17, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Brown
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 7 – 18, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Dates: June 16-17, 2011

June 17, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 9:27 AM
Winds 7.2 KTs
Air Temperature: 14.89 degrees C
Latitude 41 47.28 N
Longitude 069 49.13 W

Personal Log

We are headed back into Woods Hole sometime tomorrow.

In one of my conversations with Captain Jimmy, he told me that he likes scientists to “enter the ship as customers and leave as family.” Without a doubt, I feel like the whole R/V Hugh R. Sharp team has made that happen. From the excellent meals cooked three times daily, to the willingness of the crew to answer any of my questions, I have felt included and welcome.

Sunset from the deck

Sunset from the deck

My fellow scientists have made travel on this journey fun and worthwhile. I can’t count the number of times someone yelled over to me, “Hey Kathleen, get a picture of this. Your students will love it!” It has been a pleasure to be around others who are curious and passionate about the sea.

In my classroom, I try to convey to my students that science is about collaboration. I will have many real life examples to share with them when I return.

My thanks to the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program, my colleagues and students at Freeport Middle School, and my family, for supporting me on this adventure of a lifetime!

June 16, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1:28 PM
Winds 9.3 KTs
Air Temperature: 14.67 degrees C
Latitude 41 08.86 N
Longitude 069 20.97 W

Science and Technology Log

It has been amazing to me to see the variations in the catches from the many tows. When the tension on the wire used to haul the net is high, it might be because we have a huge haul of sea scallops. Sometimes the table will be filled with so many sand dollars it is difficult to see anything else. We had a number of tows that contained large amounts of brittle stars. The arms of the brittle stars move like little worms. (It is eerie to see thousands of them wiggling.) The last tow, in the open area, had only forty-six scallops. The pile was filled with quahogs, urchins, starfish, sea cucumbers, hermit crabs, and rocks. Sometimes the animals we collect are covered in mud and sometimes the sediment is very sandy. We are now traveling in the shipping channel and the sea floor is rocky. Before we began to tow in this area, the scientists put the rock chains on the dredge. There is also a metal chute attached to the table so that the larger rocks can more easily be rolled back into the ocean.

Brittle Stars

Brittle Stars

We have now completed the inventories in the closed areas of Georges Bank. I learn that large areas in the Gulf of Maine had originally been closed as a measure to restore groundfish stocks. What scientists discovered is that, over time, the sea scallops flourished in the closed areas. It was an unintended result of the fisheries management policies.

There is always something interesting to learn about the species that we collect. Sea scallops have the ability to move through the water column by clapping their shells together. Sometimes, moving up five or six inches can mean escape from a predator like a starfish. (Of note, during this study we also count and measure empty sea scallop shells, provided that they are still hinged together. These empty shells are called clappers.) Speaking of starfish, on this trip we have seen five species of starfish, in colors ranging from purple to yellow to orange. The common name for my favorite starfish is sunburst, an animal that looks just like it sounds. Monkfish, sometimes referred to as goosefish, are called an angler fish. There is a modified spine at the top of its mouth that appears as though the fish is dangling bait. With this structure, the monkfish can lure a prey near its enormous mouth (and sharp teeth) and capture it. The longhorn sculpin feel like they hiss or grunt when they are picked up. I have learned that it is likely the sound is the vibration of a muscle in their chest.

Scientist of the day watch

Scientist of the day watch

The technology used to support the science on this survey is remarkable. In the dry lab, there are fifteen computer screens being used to track all of the data collected. These are in addition to the many that are being used to manage the ship. Everything is computerized: the CTD collection, the route mapping, and the information about the species we are catching. After each tow, the Chief Scientist or Crew Chief can immediately plot the data from the catch. Several screens show images from the cameras that are placed at various locations on board the deck. From the dry lab, the scientists can watch the dredge go in and out and view the tension on each cable. When the technology fails, as it did for four hours one day this week, it is up to the crew and scientists to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it.

When the ship is off shore for hundreds of miles, the skills and talents of each individual on board must be accessed for anything that happens out of the ordinary. The Captain is the chief medical officer. The crew acts as firefighters. The scientists and crew work together on mechanical issues – like yesterday when the hydraulics on the CTD stopped working. Working aboard a scientific research vessel is perfect for those who are flexible and innovative.

Personal Log

It is difficult to explain how beautiful the scene from the back deck of the ship looks. All I can see to the horizon lines is dark blue water. Flocks of seagulls follow the ship to scavenge the buckets of fish we throw overboard. Last evening the full moon was bright and round. When I breathe in the salt air, I think about how grateful I am that I am here.

Question of the Day
Why are the rubber rain pants worn by marine workers called “oilers”?