Betsy Petrick: Shipwreck! June 29, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019

Mission: Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 29 , 2019

Science Log

I sat with the marine archaeologists and chief scientist and the operators of the ROV in a control room bolted to the back deck of the Point Sur.  Inside were at least 12 video monitors showing views from the ROV in color and infra-red, a sonar scanner, various mapping tools to track the location of the ROV and the ship, and controls for all the equipment on the ROV including cameras, lights, the sampling tray and robotic arms.  For a while we stared at the silty sea floor seeing nothing more than a few shrimp and rockfish and sea cucumbers. Every once in a while the ROV would kick up a cloud of silt and we would watch it swirl across the screen looking much like images of the cosmos.  

sonar of shipwreck
A sonar image shows the shape of the shipwreck on the seafloor. The sonar helps guide the ROV over the ship at a safe operating distance.

Suddenly a ghostly vertical shape appeared ahead, covered in part by a white lacey growth.  The closer we moved the more clear it became – this was the bow of the shipwreck we were looking for!  It stood out on the seafloor like a lone bedraggled sentinel in a watery desert. The ROV hovered around it.  We could see white branching coral called Lophilia, anemones, a long-legged Arrow crab and other species of marine life.  The ROV moved along what we thought was the length of the shipwreck. An anchor lay on its side with one hooked arm lifted and around it we began to see other things: white ceramic plates, a ceramic whiskey jug, some metal rods with a loop on one end that most likely came from the rigging.  

Bow of the Ship
This is the bow of the ship. All that is left is a large beam sticking up off the seafloor. It is covered in life.

The ROV passed over and around the artifacts, trying to see them closely, but at the same time we could not pick up or even move the silt away to see what else lay buried there.  With each new pass over the wreck more things were seen: a copper bell, some ceramic cups with blue decoration. We were not treasure seekers out to plunder. A good archaeologist doesn’t take artifacts out of context without good reason and permission.  Melanie Damour, the marine archaeologist for the expedition likens a shipwreck to a crime scene. Each clue tells the investigator a part of the story of what happened. If a clue is taken away, it becomes harder to piece the story together. Our expedition is to map and photograph the wreck, so we won’t disturb anything we see.  

Fish in and around artifacts
Fish make their home around the anchor of the shipwreck and other artifacts

Finally, the controlled mapping of the shipwreck began.  This is called photogrammetry. The plan was to do three passes lengthwise ten meters apart, and then repeated transects across the whole ship.  From these combined overlapping images, the archaeologists will make a 3-D map of the wreck. Hours later, mapping complete, the ROV returned to the ship.

Personal Log

By evening, a squall had found us, rain fell for a short while, the wind whipped the waves up, the ship pitched and rolled in an uncomfortable way, and to say the least, I lost my newfound sea legs and my cookies.  You don’t want to know the rest. 

waterspout
Every day there are amazing things to see. Here a waterspout has formed between a storm cloud and the sea.


Betsy Petrick: Highs and Lows of Scientific Exploration, June 27, 2019



NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019


Mission:
Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 27, 2019

Science Log

Yesterday was a doozy of a day I think everyone on the ship would agree.  One frustrating setback after another had to be overcome, but one by one each problem was solved and the day ended successfully.  If you would like to read more about this expedition, it is featured on the NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research website.

The first discovery yesterday morning was that the ship’s pole-mounted ultrashort baseline tracking system (USBL) had been zapped with electricity overnight and was unusable.  This piece of equipment is a key piece of a complex system. Without it we would not know precisely where the ROV was, nor could we control the sweeps of the ROV over the shipwrecks for accurate mapping.  The scheduled dive time of 1330 (that’s 1:30PM!) was out of the question. There was even talk of returning to port to get new equipment. Yikes. This would cost the expedition $30,000-$40,000 for a full 24 hours of operation, and no one wanted to do this. 

Max, the team’s underwater systems engineer, worked his magic, and replaced the damaged part.   This required expert knowledge and some tricky maneuvers. Once this was fixed, the next step was to send a positioning beacon down to the seafloor to calibrate the signal from the ship to the ROV so that we would be able to track it precisely.  Calibrating means that the ship and the ROV have to agree on where home is. The beacon is attached to three floats connected together to make a “lander”, and then 2 heavy weights are attached as well. The weights take the beacon down. The lander brings it back to the surface later.  The deployment went without a hitch. However, when the lander floated to the surface, we noticed it was floating in a strange way. When we hauled it aboard, we discovered that one of the glass floats had imploded – probably due to a material defect under the intense pressure at 1200m below sea level – and all we had left of that unit was a shattered mess of yellow plastic. 

imploded float
The glass float inside this yellow “hard hat” imploded. It’s a good thing there are two others to bring the transponder back to the surface.

In spite of that, the calibration was complete and we could send the ROV on its mission.  We loaded the experiments onto the back of the ROV, along with another lander and weights.  This was the exciting moment! The crane lifted the ROV off the ship deck and swung it out over the water.  But in the process, the chain holding the weights broke and, with a mighty groan from all of us watching, both of them sank into the sea.  Back came the ROV for a new set of weights. Luckily nothing was damaged. By 1745 (5:30PM), 5 hours after the scheduled time, the ROV went over the side for a second time successfully.  Once this was done the Chief Scientist was able to crack a smile and relax a bit.

mounting a new lander
The team works to mount a new lander on the ROV.
Launching the ROV
Launching the ROV off the back deck, loaded with experimental equipment and a lander.
mechanical arm
The mechanical arm on the ROV retrieved a microbial experiment left on the sea floor in 2017. We watched it all on the big screen in the lab.

Now we had an hour to wait for the ROV to reach the sea floor again, and begin its mission of deploying and retrieving experiments.  Inside the cabin of the ship, some of us sat mesmerized by the drifting phytoplankton on the big screen, hoping to see the giant squid that had been spotted on the last expedition. Up in the pilothouse the captain was on duty holding the ship in one spot for as long as it took for the ROV to return. Not an easy job!  

Yesterday I saw what scientific exploration is really like.  As someone said, “Two means one, and one means none,” meaning that when you are out at sea, you have to have a second or even a third of every critical piece of equipment because something is inevitably going to break and you will not be able to run to Walmart for a new one.  Failures and setbacks are part of the game. As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I am looking at all that goes on on the ship through the lens of a classroom teacher. Yesterday’s successes were due to clear headed thinking, perseverance, and team work by many. These are precisely the qualities I hope I can foster in my students.  

Jennifer Dean: Scientists and Surveys, May 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jennifer Dean

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 12 – May 24, 2018

Mission: Conduct ROV and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside six marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA) to assess the efficacy of this management tool to protect species of the snapper grouper complex and Oculina coral

Geographic Area of Cruise: Continental shelf edge of the South Atlantic Bight between Port Canaveral, FL and Cape Hatteras, NC

Date: May 16th, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 32° 05.2647’ N
Longitude: 79°13.2777’ W
Sea Wave Height: 1-3 feet
Wind Speed:  9.2 knots
Wind Direction: 166.61°
Visibility: 7-8 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 21.7 °C
Sky:  Overcast, rainy and lightning

Science and Technology Log
Scientists- A Team of Diverse Skills:

Swiftia exerta

Swiftia exerta identified and photographed prior to collection by the ROV

After the ocean floor has been mapped with multibeam sonar, ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) dives are made to ground truth the maps and to describe the benthic habitat and fauna and flora.  In order to identify the taxonomy of what we see in the video and photos, we often need to sample the macrobiota.  Many species of sponges, gorgonians and black corals are very difficult to identify from photos alone, and some are even new species.  Taxonomist, specializing in deep-coral ecology, Professor John Reed, works in this field of science that involves an understanding of organisms by using a variety of features both on the macroscopic and microscopic level for identification.   The red arrow in the picture is pointing to one of the target species in these dives, the gorgonian coral, Swiftia exerta.  Gorgonian octocorals are often called by their common names of sea fans and sea whips.  They are characterized generally by being sessile (attached to the bottom), colonial (composed of hundreds of individual animals called polyps) and belonging to the phylum Cnidaria. For more information about corals see the link below.
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral01_intro.html

ROV collects coral

Manipulator used to sample the Swiftia before depositing into a sampling bottle or drawer.

Once the coral is identified through visual inspection with the ROV’s high-definition video, Andrew David uses the robotic arm (called the “manipulator”) to get the sample into a collection bin. The ROV brings the sample to the surface to be processed by the scientists.  And yes — this picture with the red arrow pointing at a book below the monitor screen is for my students — they still use field guides!

Field guides help in confirming identification and to confirm key features on those species that may be spotted that are less common- or for science teachers who are trying to do a quick cram study.

Field Guide

Scientists still use field guides!

 

The calyces contain many calcareous sclerites that can interfere with the PCR reaction.  PCR selectively can amplify codes of DNA that then can be sequenced and its DNA compared in a nucleotide database program like BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool).  These samples will serve as an outgroup for phylogenetic analysis of Swiftia in the Gulf of Mexico. The captions of the pictures explain the actions of each of the scientific team members seen in the images and a listing below gives their names, titles, associated organization and a very brief description of a portion of their skill sets brought for this expedition at sea.

Stephanie Farrington, biological research specialist from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University. She not only has ability to identify the marine biota but also manages, analyzes and tracks the enormous amounts of data collected during the trip.

Elizabeth Gugliotti, graduate student at the University of Charleston.
She collects and processes the coral samples for future phylogenetic analysis. Her thesis advisor is Dr. Peter Etnoyer, a marine biologist and lead scientist for NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Ecology Lab. In addition, on this adventure, she is my state room bunk mate.

Jason White, ROV technician, to be featured in the next blog.  University of North Carolina Wilmington Undersea Vehicles Program.  Piloting the ROV underwater to capture photo/video images and samples, bringing the ROV on and off the ship using a winch and pulleys.

Eric Glidden, ROV technician, University of North Carolina Wilmington Undersea Vehicles Program.  Piloting the ROV underwater to capture photo/video images and samples, bringing the ROV on and off the ship using a winch and pulleys.

Stacey Harter, research ecologist, NOAA National Marine Fishery Service, Panama City Laboratory.  See her featured in earlier blog under What’s My Story.

Andrew David, research fisheries biologist at Panama City Lab in Panama City, Florida.
He makes a running commentary on habitat and species recording with the live video footage, as well as operating the robotic arm to collect samples.

John Reed, Research Professor at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, featured below.  He specializes in taxonomy of invertebrate and deep-sea coral ecology.  Featured below in What’s My Story.

LT Felicia Drummond, research scientist and NOAA corps member.  She assists in fish identification and brought the additional bonus skill set as a yoga instructor and volunteered to lead us in yoga on the Skybridge on breaks.

Personal Log

I am enjoying my crash course in fish and invertebrate identification.  LT Drummond in this image offered to identify species out loud for my benefit, filling the background noise of habitat readings and descriptions with shout-outs about Spotted Goatfish and Graysby.  My favorite, so far, has to be the Sharpnose Puffer.

Sharpnose Puffer

Sharpnose Puffer

Everyone on board Pisces is extremely helpful and friendly.  I can’t overstate this point enough, I continue to feel welcome and included in all aspects of the operations of this expedition.

Learning common names

LT Drummond teaching me the common names of a variety of fish species during live video stream during ROV dive

It is interesting to watch how many mini-lessons occur between the crew to help each other. From the database tutorial between a graduate student and the data manager to explanations by the ROV operator to the fisheries biologist on how to operate the joystick and other control buttons on the video equipment.

I could not have possibly anticipated moments like today, May 15th, when Prof. John Reed shared a video made about a deep dive in a manned submersible.  Witnessing the creatures of the deep from people who captured this footage themselves and are making novel discoveries in both the past and present continues to amaze me.

Morning view

Morning view from the porthole of my stateroom on Pisces

 I’m also surprised at the ease to which I am able to sleep on a bunkbed on the Pisces rocking in the Atlantic Ocean.  There is something calming at night about the motion or maybe it is my exhaustion after a full day of activity.  Whichever it might be, my basic needs have been met and exceeded for shelter, food and sleep.  I do miss my family and friends–and even my nonbiological kids (aka my students). I am thankful for my oldest daughter sending me emails that keep me in touch with the happenings at home.   There is so much to tell and words/photos don’t do justice to the experiences I am having.

Did You Know?
Certain species of Scamp or Mycteroperca phenax, have a coloration differential that distinguishes the dominant male in the group from lesser males and females.  And if the dominant male dies or is fished from the group, the most dominant female within 2 months can change sex and become the new leader for the school of females.  For the extra curious read about the research on this phenomenon, authored by R. Grant Gilmore and Robert S. Jones, Color Variation and Associated Behavior in the Epinepheline Groupers, Mycteroperca microlepis (Goode and Bean) and M. Phenax Jordan and Swain in the Bulletin of Marine Science  51(1): 83-103,1992.

Fact or Fiction?
A majority of corals reproduce by asexual reproduction and are considered r-strategist.
To learn more about their reproductive habits of sending out a larval form called a planula (after egg and sperm combine) visit NOAA’s link below.
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral06_reproduction.html

What’s My Story? Professor John Reed
The following section of the blog is dedicated to explaining the story of one crew member on Pisces.

What is your specific title and job description on this mission?  Research Professor, Deep Sea Coral Program at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

How long have you worked for Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and in this field?  42 years

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job? Favorite part is going to sea and all parts of fieldwork, whether it is on land or sea.  His least favorite is the administrative paperwork and bureaucratic forms and processes that go along with the job.

When did you first become interested in this career and why?  He always knew he wanted to do something outside, and in middle school was interested in careers of such as a forest ranger or archaeologist.  In high school he started watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau TV series and began following the travels of this family in the documentary type series as they visited underwater coral reefs and original marine habitat never explored and shared with the public before.  After that he was hooked.

What science classes or other opportunities would you recommend to high school students who are interested in preparing for this sort of career? He commented that students should take their basic STEM curriculum, but emphasized it is equally important to have a broad background of the arts, civics and humanities and studies outside the STEM focus.  In high school and undergraduate school students will need to develop their basic foundations of essential understandings of biology, chemistry, genetics, and mathematics including statistics, , and in his field to learn some basic anatomy/physiology of organisms.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited?  He is by far a world traveler with 60 expeditions around the world, visiting 50 different countries and he considers himself extremely fortunate to have the opportunities to go down to 3000 feet deep in a submersible to see things that have never been seen before. He mentioned Papua New Guinea as one of his favorites, and that during one submersible dive off Granada, they accidentally dropped down into a volcano and then subsequently got blown out by the hot water plume.  In another exciting submersible dive in the Florida Keys, they were the first to dive into giant sink holes, 1000 ft deep and some ½ mile in diameter. On one of the sink hole dives, they got attacked by an eight foot swordfish which hit the plexiglass sphere in which they were sitting in the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible, which was rather unnerving. So in a pitch black environment, except for the lights provided by the sub he said it feels a bit like being in a fish bowl with a 380 degree field of view.

Do you have a typical day or skills and tasks you perform? A typical year involves 2-3 months at sea or in the field and then a return to the lab or office, where his work involves primarily computer work.  Following a typical 2 week cruise an additional 2-3 months is required to analyze the ROV photos and videos, to proof all the notes and data that has been recorded, and then write up the cruise report.  After that, then trying to publish manuscripts and write grants to do the fieldwork takes up the remainder of a typical year.  100% “soft” money is used to support this sort of research. “Soft” money means that they must get grants to support all aspects of the study, paying the principle investigator salary and his/her team, and 48% or more overhead is typically paid to the investigators home institution.

What are some other careers or divisions of study at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute? The engineering division is developing AUVs (Automated Underwater Vehicles), and wave gliders, equipment used on submersibles, acoustics, and software the is used for tracking on the ROV.  Another division is their biomedical unit where chemists are looking at bioactive products from the sponges and other creatures found in the marine environment.  Their aquaculture program is developing a closed circulation system, trying to address the pollution created by some aquaculture programs.. And the division that Prof. Reed works for is the Deep Coral Biology Program that studies corals and fishes, and is  also studying  the genetics and bioinformatics of marine systems.

Why does your research matter?  He views his primary mission in the realm of basic science, discovering and researching new reefs and then trying to protect them.  His research and discoveries resulted in the first deep-water coral Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the world, the Oculina Coral Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) in 1984; and in 2010, a 16,000 sq. mile Deep-water Coral HAPC which extends from Florida to North Carolina. He is asking scientific questions such as, what kind of fish community do you see on a high relief vs. low relief bottom? How well are the MPAs working–are they providing spawning and breeding grounds, protecting from destructive fishing procedures?  How does the dive footage compare outside and inside the MPA area for human impacts?  In the long run he views his research helping the fishing community and providing protections for sustaining these habitats and food webs for future generations.

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Jennifer Dean: Sampling the Sea Floor, May 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jennifer Dean

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 12 – May 24, 2018

Mission: Conduct ROV and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside six marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA) to assess the efficacy of this management tool to protect species of the snapper grouper complex and Oculina coral

Geographic Area of Cruise: Continental shelf edge of the South Atlantic Bight between Port Canaveral, FL and Cape Hatteras, NC 

Date: May 15, 2018

Weather from the Bridge
Latitude: 32° 23.3070’ N
Longitude: 79°02.4555’ W
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 feet
Wind Speed:  10.7 knots
Wind Direction: 131.42°
Visibility:  10 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 25.1°C
Sky:  Scattered Cloud Cover

Science and Technology Log

Multibeam Bathymetry
Lieutenant Jamie Hart (seen on the bridge in the picture below) explained how sonar pings allow software to paint a picture of the ocean floor.

Communication between the bridge, the technicians and the scientists are continuous to keep the mission coordinated and progressing.

With GPS that determines the latitude and longitude, the sonar determines the last piece of information to gain a three-dimensional view.  Adjustments have to be made below deck by Mr. Todd Walsh, Hydrographic senior technician (see previous post for additional information). The echo of return waves are detected downstream and calibrated to adjust for time, salinity, depth and a host of other factors to create the images used by the scientist to choose a path for sampling.

Images like the ones above are being used to determine locations for the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) dives and to aid in navigation during the collection of samples and observations when running transects for inventory of the fish, coral and habitat.

Robotic Arms and Taking Samples of Coral and Sponges

Screen displays in front of the ROV operator, Eric Glidden, includes information on the sea floor gathered from the multibeam sonar technology. Other screens include information coming in from a still camera, cameras that are set to view the sampling bottles and drawers, as well as high definition images of the live ocean floor feed ahead of the ROV and images from cameras directly on the robotic arm.  The blue image in the picture is Pisces, another smaller red image not visible on this photo is the location of the ROV. The ROV operator ensures that there are no collisions, even if there is a loss of power or other malfunction, the ROV floats to the surface for recovery.

Two modes of sampling with ROV attachments visible in this image; on the left a suction hose and on the right is the robotic claw, used both to maneuver the hose and to grab samples for removal from the ocean floor by twisting and rotating the claw device. Using this arm reminds me a bit of those arcade area claws where one attempts to grab that coveted stuffed animal prize to have it ultimately not clasp or drop the treasure.  Unlike these games, the ROV operator and the claw expertly grasp and deposit coral and sponges with a 5 function arm system.

For a fun engineering activity that models these robotic systems visit this activity https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/edu/collection/media/hdwe-URRobot56.pdf

After samples are recovered topside they are brought inside the wet lab for processing, barcoding, photographing and for those samples needing genetic analysis, placed in vials and test tubes filled with ethanol for longer term storage and preservation of the coral’s tissues.

John K. Reed (Biologist/Taxonomist) discusses the sampling of a recovered sponge with Felicia Drummond (LT NOAA Corps).  Dr. Reed explains to me the octagonal polyps to look for when identifying this particular type of coral.

Caribbean Spiny lobster

Caribbean Spiny lobster, Panulirus argus. One of the many biotic factors observed on this ROV dive.

Other highlights this day were observations of two sandbar sharks and a stout moray eel, spotted on May 14th dive, and May 13th respectively.

Personal Log

May 13th, day 2 on the ship, I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I found myself playing corn hole off the back of a ship in the Atlantic ocean with Navy officers, deckhands, stewards, engineers and scientists at sunset. For those of you that may not have heard of such a game, it involves throwing 4 bean bags at a hole.  Landing on the board seen in the pictures without sliding off, is a point.  Getting the bean bag into the hole is 3 points.  First team to 12 wins.  I enjoyed the additional challenge of being on a swaying ship, keeping one’s balance and making the toss, all at the same time.

This was a fun and an amazing day with a fire hose dose of information coming at me.  There are so many interesting directions of study pulling for my attention.  I am curious about the formation of the ocean floor that gives the appearance of ancient Mayan formations.  The evolution of these block-like limestone formations created from water erosion and the laying down of sediment layers makes for beautiful habitat for a diversity of creatures seen during the dives.  Yet the biotic factors are equally fascinating to study with their adaptations of form, corals with polyps that have 6 tentacles, belonging to a subclass of Hexacoralia to 8 tentacles, from another subclass Octacoralia.  What advantages and disadvantages do these differences in form provide to these creatures in their marine environment?  Some of these hard corals we are observing and collecting evolved back in the Miocene.  To learn more about coral and for ideas and activities for teaching about coral evolution visit this site:  https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral04_reefs.html

Last, but not least, I was on this adventure during Mother’s Day, so I not only want to thank my own mother for helping to get my daughters to school and looking after pets and plants during my absence, but for being a constant and committed pillar of support for me growing up and now into my adult life.  I wouldn’t be living the dream without her guidance and not to mention those brutal critiques of my writing over the decades.  Thanks to my mom and all the others mom’s out there reading this blog!  Happy Belated Mother’s Day.

Did You Know?
Scientists make observations about not only a sponges’ appearance but also its texture and smell.  Some are very stinky giving off odors similar to that of a rotten egg and vomit while others can emit a spicy aroma!

Fact or Fiction?
Excretions from certain sponges are demonstrating pancreatic cancer fighting properties.  Additional information can be found at this link for the extra curious:
http://www.fau.edu/newsdesk/articles/marine-sponge.php

What’s My Story?  Stacey Harter
The following section of the blog is dedicated to explaining the story of one crew member on Pisces.

What is your specific title and job description on this mission?  Chief Scientist and Fisheries Ecologist

Stacey Harter

Stacey Harter, Chief Scientist and Fisheries Ecologist, posing after emergency training

How long have you worked for NOAA?  16 years

What path did you take to get to your current position?  Undergraduate at Florida State University with a degree in Biology;  As an undergraduate, she did an internship at the Panama City lab and fell in love with the research side of marine science. She got her Master’s degree in marine science at the University of South Alabama and at the end of her Master’s she took a position as a contractor for 5 years before becoming a staff member with NOAA as a federal employee.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job? She enjoys going to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meetings and giving them information on what they have learned about the MPAs and then seeing that data being used to make management decisions.
Reading all the ROV data is quite time consuming and can become monotonous at times.

When did you first become interested in this career and why? Even though Stacey grew up in landlocked New York, her passion for marine science started early on with visits to Sea World and watching the Discovery channel as a kid. In high school she realized that she could take this interest in the marine world and make a career out of it.

What science classes or other opportunities would you recommend to high school students who are interested in preparing for this sort of career?  She recommends as much math and science as one can take.  She highly recommends students participate in internships.  She has witnessed many times over the years that these internship opportunities later turn into long-term employment. In addition she recommends students volunteer in research labs and try to experience as many aspects of the different parts of the career as possible.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited for work?Around 2009 she went down in a manned submersible and explored the unique deep ocean communities at 2500 feet. She was blown away by the incredible different and original biota found in this environment.

Do you have a typical day? Or tasks and skills that you perform routinely in this job? Her typical day involves identifying fish species on video footage collected during and after dives. Another task she regularly performs is using software programs like Access and Excel for data analysis. She shared that about every couple of years she communicates their research by attending both scientific meetings and delivering information to the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council.

Has technology impacted the way you do your job from when you first started to the present? Definitely.  When she first started, pad and paper were used for recording dive information and species observed which was later entered after a dive into Excel.  Now everything is done digitally and directly into computer software as the dive occurs.  In addition to the approach to data collection, media storage has changed with how video footage is stored into hard drives rather than on mini-DV tapes.

What is one misconception or scientific claim you hear about how the ocean and atmosphere works and/or NOAA’s mission that you wished the general public had a greater awareness of? She doesn’t spend all of her time on boats doing field work. While field work is a fun, it is actually a very small portion of the job. She actually spends about 90% of her time at a desk in front of her computer analyzing data and writing reports.

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Jennifer Dean: Routine and Regulations, May 13, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jennifer Dean

Aboard Pisces

May 12 – May 24th, 2018

Mission: Conduct ROV and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside six marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA) to assess the efficacy of this management tool to protect species of the snapper grouper complex and Oculina coral

Geographic Area of Cruise: Continental shelf edge of the South Atlantic Bight between Port Canaveral, FL and Cape Hatteras, NC

Date: May 13th, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 30°25.170’ N
Longitude: 80°12.699’ W
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 8.4 knots
Wind Direction: 55°
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 25.9°C
Sky:  Scattered Cloud Cover

Science and Technology Log

A team on deck working to get the Mohawk, a Remotely Operated Vehicle ready to deploy

A team on deck working to get the Mohawk, a Remotely Operated Vehicle ready to deploy

It isn’t real science if it works the first time.  Isn’t this what we try to get our students to understand as they start an original long-term project or design their first experiment?  I hope as a teacher to give my students opportunities to experience set-backs, struggles, even occasional failures and develop characteristics of resilience and persistence.  Today I got the privilege to see collaboration in action, between scientists, NOAA corps officers, engineers and deck hands to overcome problems and do science. On Saturday I observed how a team worked to get the Mohawk, a Remotely Operated Vehicle, in the water and tracking correctly.  After a quick recovery from the tracking issue, the flash on a camera system became temperamental on the next deployment. These challenges reminded me that, in real science, additional troubleshooting is an on-going part of the adventure.  I watched firsthand how working on a team with multiple skill sets and ideas can make the difference in the success or failure of a mission’s goals.

 

Mohawk, the Remotely Operated Vehicle

Mohawk, the Remotely Operated Vehicle

Mohawk, the Remotely Operated Vehicle

This ROV carries on it both a high definition camera for video footage as well as a low definition camera that is used to overlay information about the site such as water depth, latitude/longitude and the time a photo is taken.  There is the capability to take still shots from one meter up that capture an area of approximately 7 square meters every 2 seconds.  For additional information on this ROV and to see what kind of video the instrument can capture visit the links provided. 
https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/news/features/1213_mohawk.html
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/caribbean-mapping/rov-video.html 

Stacey Harter, the chief scientist and fisheries ecologist, along with LT Felicia Drummond, seen from behind in this image, monitored the video footage and recorded and observed species such as barracuda, lionfish and gag fishes.

Stacey Harter, the chief scientist and fisheries ecologist, along with LT Felicia Drummond, seen from behind in this image, monitored the video footage and recorded and observed species such as barracuda, lionfish and gag fishes.

As the video footage streamed in the fisheries ecologists worked to identify fish species, corals and sponges.  I  liked these special keyboards that were modified for quicker entry of more commonly found species.  As the ROV dropped onto the ocean floor a variety of fish from Gags to Scamps to angelfish came into view.  While two scientists identified fishes others distinguished between corals and sponges. Names were being called out like “Red Finger Gorgorian” coral, “Clathrididae” and “Tanacetipathes.”

 

 

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these special keyboards that were modified for quicker entry of more commonly found species

Stacey Harter, the chief scientist and fisheries ecologist, along with LT Felicia Drummond, seen from behind in this image, monitored the video footage and recorded and observed species such as barracuda, lionfish and gag fishes.  I was amazed by the clarity and color in the images.

 

 

 

Personal Log

My first day on Pisces began with a beautiful sunrise and a chance to take a quick picture before we left the dock.  I was also able to explore the Skybridge and spotted several pods of dolphins on our way out to the Marine Protected Areas.  Images below are captioned to explain the Welcome Aboard meeting and other events of the morning and early afternoon on my first day at sea.  Most of the morning involved learning some of the safety features of the ship including practicing for three types of emergencies- fire, abandon ship and man over-board.  Although I have a smile on my face in the picture, I realize the serious nature of practicing for the unexpected and it reminded me of our school shooting drills; that although rare and unlikely to happen, are still a necessary drill to routinely engage in and practice for, in order to expect quick responses that can make the difference in saving lives later.

The canister I am holding provides enough air for two to three minutes to escape from a situation that involves fumes from fire.  I now know where my survival suit, life jacket and my assigned life boat is located and have practiced getting into both my life jacket, survival suit and can quickly navigate to the location of my assigned life boat.  This task may seem simple, but I still find myself confused on whether to turn right or left after coming down stairs and looking at doors and walkways that all resemble each other.

 

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LT Jamie Park delivers the Welcome Aboard meeting in the Galley on Pisces

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Safety training involves finding and putting on your assigned survival suit and finding a life boat

 

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Sunrise at Mayport Naval Station, May 12th

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Pisces at Mayport Naval Station May 12th right before departure

 

Fact or Fiction?

Lionfish consume over 50 other species of fish and have spines that can sting releasing a venom into a person’s bloodstream that can cause extreme pain and even paralysis.

To find out more and the answer visit the link below
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish-facts.html

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Mr. Todd Walsh explains how the multibeam bathymetry works

What’s His Story?  Mr. Todd Walsh

The following section of the blog is dedicated to explaining the story of one crew member on Pisces.

What is your specific title and job description on this mission?
Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician

How long have you worked for NOAA?  What path did you take to get to your current position?
10 years. Todd took classes that gave him a strong background in math and science in high school. This foundational work allowed him to continue into college in the medical field.  He later became interested in land management and dendrology which led him to take more STEM related classes at night school exposing him to a variety of engineering content and hydrology.  Later he was recruited by NOAA and accepted his first position with NOAA out of Alaska.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job?
He likes being able to integrate a group’s (like scientists) needs with his ability to satisfy their aims and missions.  His least favorite is being away from his family.

What science classes or other opportunities would you recommend to high school students who are interested in preparing for this sort of career?  Todd recommends being strong in your physical sciences and that taking your math classes are key to doing well in this sort of career.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited?
Midway Island, Johnston Atolls and being up on the Arctic circle

Has technology impacted the way you do your job from when you first started to the present?
He gets to play with fun tools.  He noted that automation has really changed the requirements and skills needed for the job.

I want to say a big thank you to Todd for answering all my questions and even playing some classic rock and roll during my mapping lessons that went till midnight.

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Bill Henske, Turns Out You Might Need That Skill, June 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Spawning Aggregation Survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Monday, June 22, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East winds 10-15 kts.  Seas 2-4 ft (1 ft inside reef) Isolated showers and thunderstorms)

Science and Technology Log

Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs)

We were talking on board today about the olden days, you know, when Jaques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins could reliably be found on a majority of American televisions.  Remember Generation X?

Jeff from FWC at the controls of the ROV searching for signs of spawning aggregations.

Jeff from FWC at the controls of the ROV searching for signs of spawning aggregations.

Yes- we are in our 40s now.  Kids my age had the spirit of scientific adventure to look forward to on Sunday nights.  The same generation of kids grew up with monitors and joysticks, interacting with worlds that were somewhere beyond the “real world” on our Ataris and Commodore computers.  Our 1980s parents might be incredulous to learn that we are now doing these same things to investigate critical habitat, monitor fish populations, and gather geographic data.  I know many futurists predicted it would happen but the grownups I knew were skeptical, to say the least.

NF3 Dive Boat loaded for ROV Mission

NF3 Dive Boat loaded for ROV Miss

The remotely operated vehicle has been a staple of marine research for many years now.  Called an ROV for short, these devices are human operated machines that can do many of the same things humans divers can do but in much more difficult circumstances, for much longer periods of time, and at greater depths.  ROVs are “employed” by resource managers, marine scientists, construction crews, engineering companies, and just about anyone else who has work to do under water.

Loading ROV gear into dive boat.

Loading ROV gear into dive boat.

We have been using an ROV on our current mission on the Nancy Foster to  collect fisheries data.  With the ROV we can investigate different areas identified on hydrographic maps and from previous studies without labor intensive dive operations.  The ROV does not need to stick to a dive schedule and as long as it has power and a willing operator, it can do its job.  The ROV has several components that must all be brought onto our dive boat in order to operate.

The primary need of the ROV is electricity.  Rather than running on combustion or cellular respiration, which both require oxygen, the ROV needs a steady supply of electrical current.  Because many variables can affect the power demands of an ROV such as speed, depth, wind, and current, the FWC team has chosen to operate a small generator to power their ROV.

ROV being set up for deployment.  Note the spool of tether cable and control panel.

ROV being set up for deployment. Note the spool of tether cable and control panel.

The ROV has a specialized cable that carries the electricity from the boat to the motors. This cable, called a tether, also carries the signal from the controller to the motors to tell the ROV where to go.  The video input the ROV gathers is relayed through this cable in order to allow the operator to see through the “eyes” of the ROV, and, of course, record what it sees.

Operating the ROV requires a good deal of coordination.  The craft is controlled much like a slow, unresponsive airplane.  It can move forward, reverse, side to side, up and down, and operate at a tilt.  This dizzying array of motions are necessary to track and study the reef fish as they travel through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Jeff from FWC records the coordinates before beginning ROV survey

Jeff from FWC records the coordinates before beginning ROV survey

Jeff Renchen of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is, among many other things, our ROV operator on this cruise.  He is using the small ROV to collect data on spawning aggregations of several important fish species.  Jeff explained that the ROV allows researchers to explore deeper than divers are able to easily go.  ROV camera operations can follow aggregations of fish and provide insights into the behaviors and conditions of spawning fish, as well as structures and locations that are important for spawning behavior.

With the ROV in the water Jeff takes it for a swim away from the boat. Once the ROV’s line has 50 feet of slack, the tether is attached to a drop line. In strong currents, it is possible for smaller ROVs, like the one here, to get carried off.  The drop line allows us to raise or lower the ROV in the water column faster, increasing our ability to focus in on fish of interest or specific depths.

ROV swimming away.

ROV swimming away.

 


Personal Log

There are some things that seem special no matter how many times you have seem them before.  I remember a long time student of Appalachian ecology saying that he could not remember what he had for lunch but he could describe every time he had seen a bear.   There are some things in our world that have that the ability to mesmerize us, silencing the combating thoughts that often clutter our minds and setting a reset button somewhere in our brain stem.

One of those things that stands out for me, and kindly keep it to yourself if you disagree, is seeing dolphins interact.  We came in from some drop camera operations on Wednesday evening and found this pod of dolphins playing in the wash of the Z-Drive motors of the Nancy Foster.  There would more footage but if you are taking video rather than living in this moment, you are probably doing it wrong.

Watching dolphins play and interact appeals to so many of us.  I think it reminds us of the pleasure of physicality and the joy that can be had as social creatures.

Then there is the thrill of hearing “There’s a shark” from the scientist monitoring the camera you have been steadily lowering below a 17 foot dive boat bobbing in the small but steady waves.

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The enormities of life at sea give us an awe inspiring sense of scale.  Every day at sea there is at least one endless horizon and yesterday they surrounded us on all sides.  Just past sunset I caught this small cumulonimbus that had previously drizzled on our afternoon drop camera trip.  I thought about the thermal energy required to make such a structure.  I wondered at the amount of fresh water it carried.  And then my brain quieted down and I just watched it.

Cumulonimbus with 2 layers of rain.

Cumulonimbus with 2 layers of rain.

Amy Orchard: Day 4, 5 & 6 – Tagging, Gumby suit, Lion Fish Dish and Fort Jefferson, September 19, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Fish Tagging
Geographical area of cruise: Tortugas Ecological Reserve North & South sections: Tortugas Bank
Date: September 17, 18, 19, 2014

Weather, September 19, 2014 20:00 hours
Latitude 24° 35’ 07’’N Longitude 83° 01’ 09’’W
Broken clouds, clear.
Humidity 10%.
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 29° Celsius (84° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 30.2° Celsius (86.7°Fahrenheit)

CLICKING ON THE SMALL PHOTOS WILL ENLARGE THEM & REVEAL HIDDEN TEXT.

WEDNESDAY:

Resetting Traps

We did not have great success with the shrimp bait.  Guess these fish prefer their shrimp au naturel where as we gave them cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp.  This morning we set out again in the small boats so the divers could re-bait the traps with squid instead.

Ariel the Scientist

Finally Ariel looks much more like a scientist now that she has a pen in her pocket!

Safety on the ship

Safety always comes first on the Nancy Foster.  We have had briefings on safety, we wear hard hats while the cranes are moving, we wear closed toe shoes (except when in the shower) and we have had fire drills & first aid emergency drills.  Today we had an abandon ship drill.  First we each arrived at our muster stations (our assigned place to meet), then we climbed into our Survival Suits (nicknamed the Gumby suit.)  This is made of very thick neoprene, probably 7-9 millimeters thick, and covers you from head to toe to fingertips.  It is meant to keep you safe from hypothermia if you were overboard for a long period of time.

After wriggling back out, we went to find our assigned life raft.  There are 6 rafts which each hold 25 people.  There is enough bunk space on the ship for 37 people, so there are plenty of life rafts for all.  Three rafts sit on each side of the ship so even if the ship was under water listing to one side, we could still access enough rafts for all.

In addition to the Survival Suit, Nick thought he would be safer being more visible so he wore a few extra items to ensure his safety!

Nick fuzzy hat w/ bow & cool googles

Nick has a horde of awesome hats. Keep your eyes peeled for more.

Dancing with the Remotely Operated Vehicle

Part of each day has been spent looking underwater with the Remotely Operated Vehicle piloted by Lance Horn and Jason White from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (yet another partner in this 14-day collaboration)

ROV pilots

Lance Horn and Jason White are geniuses with the Remotely Operated Vehicle. There are lots of very highly technical parts to this equipment and they do it all – and they do it well.

I will be sharing lots more information about the ROV in an upcoming post.  Today I wanted you to see who else besides scientists are curious about the ROV (the large instrument with the yellow top you see in the video here)

THURSDAY:

Fish Surgery

We checked traps again this morning and had success with the squid.  The dive teams will perform surgery today!  The surgery only takes about 10 minutes, which may seem quick, but since they are underwater at a depth of about 100 feet, they must work quickly so as to not run out of their air supply.  One scientist (usually Paul Barbera, FWC Associate Scientist – who they call the Fish Whisperer) will hold the fish steady while another will make the incision, insert the acoustic transmitter and then stitch up the incision. The stitches will dissolve in about a week or two.  The acoustic transmitter (fish tag) will last 2-5 years.  Life span of the tag is determined by it’s battery life.  The smaller tags (for smaller fish) can last 2 years and the larger tags (for larger fish) will work for about 5 years.  This allows the scientists to gather information on the same fish for multiple years, giving them a really good idea of their seasonality – or the fish’s movements between different areas, both protected an unprotected.

fish tags

Acoustic Transmitters – Fish Tags which will be surgically placed in the fish at a depth of about 100 feet. Here you can see the smaller ones are about 4 cm and the larger 6.5 cm

This footage was not shot during our cruise, but Ben Binder, FWC Biological Scientist, shared this video with me describing the surgery process.  Here you will see two scientists who are aboard the Nancy Foster with me.  Paul is securing the fish and Mike McCallister, FWC Biological Scientist, is performing the surgery.  They are working with a Lion Fish here.

Placing the fish tag is just one part of the process of collecting the data the scientists are hoping to gather.  The second part is to place an instrument which can read the acoustic transmitter as it swims past (within the fish of course!)  Danielle Morley, FWC Assistant Research Scientist, and I worked to prepare some previously used acoustic receivers.  Each of the 90 receivers the FWC have placed in the waters off the Florida Keys costs about $2500.  Therefore, used receivers are reprogrammed, repainted with anti-fouling paint and used again.  Anti-fouling paint makes it very difficult for animals like barnacles to build their calcium carbonate skeletons on the receiver’s exposed top.  The receivers are made up of a hydrophone, a circuit board and a battery.  I replaced the batteries and cleaned up the O rings.  The O rings are extremely important as they ensure the capsule is completely water-proof and can be submerged in ocean water for a year at a time.

After a year, the batteries need replaced and the data needs retrieved.  Today, the divers will retrieve 6 acoustic receivers on Riley’s Hump and replace them with those we reprogrammed.  This is footage of our divers (Jeff, Sean and Colin) making the swap.  Thanks to Cammy Clark, the Miami Herald reporter, who dived down about 100 feet to capture the action.

FRIDAY:

Trap Retrieval

Over the last 5 days, there have been 65 dives and 3 surgeries performed.  The scientists deem this as very successful trip.  Additionally, all divers returned safely to the ship after each dive!  This morning the divers are retrieving the traps, which like the receiver stands are allowed by a special permit from the FKNMS.  Even if conditions did not allow us to get the traps and they needed to stay at the bottom, no fish would be caught for very long.  Each trap is closed with a zinc clip that will dissolve after a week or two.

Zinc Clips

Zinc clips keep the traps closed, but only temporarily. They dissolve after a week or two allowing any fish to escape if a trap has to be abandoned due to weather or other conditions.

The large fish we are trapping can easily stay down in a trap that long.  But today, the weather allowed us to retrieve the traps.

Along with the traps, Ben and Ariel brought five Lion Fish Pterois volitans back up.

 

Lion Fish are not naturally found here.  They are native to the Indo-Pacific.  It has not been determined exactly how they got to the area but they are very popular for home aquariums.  However, since they are voracious predators, after eating all their other aquarium fish, people have been dumping them in the Atlantic Ocean for decades.  It was decided that efforts to eradicate the species would be futile since they are prolific breeders, have no natural predators and have been found in extremely deep waters where it would be unfeasible to reach them.  Instead, there are large efforts to manage their populations in certain areas.

One does need to be extremely careful as they have venomous spines – 13 along the top (dorsal spines) and 3 along the bottom (anal spines)  The pain they inflict & the reaction people can have when stung sounds very similar to the bark scorpion.

 

I found out they are SUPER tasty!  Especially since Bob Burroughs, 2nd Cook and Lito LLena, Chief Steward prepared them as ceviche – my favorite.

 

Fort Jefferson

In the afternoon we got a special treat.  We left the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and ferried over to Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas National Park for a tour and some snorkeling.  One can only reach the fort by boat or sea plane.  It was built between the years 1846 and 1875 as a way to claim the main shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean.  It never saw battle, mostly because it’s fire power was so massive that no one wanted to go up against it!

 

Even though I have been able to travel out into the open ocean on the small boats each day, it was SO GOOD to actually get into the water and snorkel around.  So many amazing things to see and take photos of.

 

There were many jelly fish (mostly Moon Jellies) and we all got stung a lot, but the underwater scenery was well worth it.

 

Bonus Points – make a COMMENT and tell me how the LION FISH and the GILA MONSTER are similar!

Answer to my last post:  It was a DOLPHIN.  The Common Bottlenose Tursiops truncatus

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/bottlenosedolphin.htm

Also, the definition of RECIPROCITY is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.

I have been so impressed with the seamless collaboration between the crew & science team as well as the different agencies within the science team.  Everyone gives of themselves so freely for the main goal of the scientific mission.