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.”

 

 

IMG_5999
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.

 

IMG_5977
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

 

IMG_5931
Sunrise at Mayport Naval Station, May 12th

IMG_5928
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

IMG_6028
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.

Sarah Raskin: Teacher at Sea Days 2 & 3, March 14-15, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sarah Raskin

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

March 13-18, 2015


Mission: Channel Islands Deep-Sea Coral Study

Geographic Area: Channel Islands, California

Date: March 14-15, 2015


Day 2:  Saturday 3/14/15 

Happy Pi Day everyone!  The second day on the ship was productive and incredible.  The weather was fantastic throughout the entire day, with hardly any wind and a sheet glass ocean.  The stillness of the water made it easy to spot wildlife, and during the day we saw multiple pods of dolphins, sea lions, and a variety of sea birds such as cormorants and brown pelicans.

view from Shimada
A beautiful day aboard the Bell M. Shimada in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
dolphins
Dolphins swimming alongside the Shimada

The beautiful weather also made for smooth conditions to launch the ROV.  The ROV took three dives today at different locations and depths each time.  Peter and his team picked the locations around the Islands, staying true to spots they had visited in previous years.  Part of their research involves looking at the same coral beds over the course of many years and recording what they observe and noting any changes that may have occurred.  They are observing how the coral, specifically the species Lophelia pertusa, reacts to changes in pH levels and temperature.  This information is important in finding indicators for how our ocean is being affected by warmer temperatures and ocean acidification.

Retrieving the Beagle ROV
Retrieving the Beagle ROV from its first dive of the day
Santa Cruz Island and the ROV
Santa Cruz Island and the ROV

So what exactly is ocean acidification?

As humans, we release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and have been doing so in large quantities since the Industrial Revolution.  Carbon dioxide is released during combustion, when we drive our cars, power our houses and factories, use electricity, burn things, cut down trees, etc. 

The ocean acts as a sponge and absorbs about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  However, as levels of COrise in the atmosphere, so do the levels of CO2 in the ocean.  This is not great news for our ocean or the organisms that make their home there.  When CO2 mixes with seawater, a chemical reaction occurs that causes the pH of the seawater to lower and become more acidic.  This process is called ocean acidification.

Even slight changes in pH levels can have large affects on marine organisms, such as fish and plankton.  Ocean acidification also reduces the amounts of calcium carbonate minerals that are needed by shell-building organisms to build their shells and skeletons.  The damage to these shell-building organisms, including many types of plankton, oysters, coral, and sea urchins, can have a negative ripple effect throughout the entire ocean food web.  An important part of the mission of this trip is to see how ocean acidification is affecting different types of deep-sea coral, such as Lophelia pertusa, that use calcium carbonate minerals to build their skeletons.

pH scale

The scientists and the MARE team conducted three ROV dives throughout the day.  The first dive brought up an outstanding Lophelia sample, and along with it a bizarre deep-sea creature called a basket star.  Basket stars are a type of invertebrate that are related to brittle stars.  Even though they feed mostly on zooplankton, they have long spindly arms that can reach to over a meter in length.   It was astonishing to be able to see this alien looking creature alive and moving!

Day 3: Sunday 3/15/15

After long hours and a late night, the MARE team was able to get the manipulator arm on the ROV up and running, after having technical difficulties with it during the first half of our trip.  This was perfect timing for the first ROV dive of the day in the waters between Santa Cruz and Anacapa Islands.  The goal of this dive was to find scientist Branwen Williams a type coral known as Acanthogorgia.  This coral is incredibly beautiful; tall, fan-like and golden in color.

coral and shark egg case
An Acanthogorgia with a cat shark egg case

Bombs Away:   Branwen hoped to collect samples of this coral to take back to her lab for testing.  She and her team of students and scientists will use these samples to ascertain how old the corals are, how fast they grow and what are they eating.  Branwen explained to me that coral, similar to trees, have growth rings that can be used to determine age as well as other factors.  She mentioned that when looking at age, she looks for the pattern of the “bomb curve” within the coral rings and that provides scientists with a relative date of how old the corals are.  The “bomb curve” is a concentration of radiocarbon (14C) that is found in corals in every ocean in the world.  The concentration of radiocarbon is a direct product of the bomb testing that took place starting in the 1950’s and produced large amounts of this radiocarbon into the atmosphere.  The ocean absorbed that particular type of carbon, and in turn it was absorbed by the corals, who are suspension feeders.  Suspension feeding means that corals eat by stretching their tentacles out to catch tiny particles that are floating by.  So scientists identify the start and peak of the bomb testing in the radiocarbon stored in the coral skeleton to determine growth rates and then the ages of the corals. This was very shocking to me that corals in every ocean have this radiocarbon in their bodies, and clear evidence of how much human actions impact the entire globe.

team looks at samples
The team looks to see what samples have been collected
The Chief Boatswain prepares to operate the winch that will help lift the ROV out of the water
crewmembers
MARE and NOAA crew work together to make sure the ROV makes it back on board safe and sound

Diving Deep:  The ROV was dispatched into the water and soon sunk to around 200 meters.  As it cruised along the ocean floor the team watched as a variety of rockfish scuttled by.  The ROV has two sets of lasers that shoot out in front of it, each spaced 10 centimeters apart.  This gives the scientists an idea of the size of objects or organisms that pass in front of the camera.

The team located the Acanthogorgia habitat and got to work collecting samples using the manipulator arm.  The manipulator arm reminds me of the claw game found in most arcades.  Andy remotely operated the arm, while Dirk worked simultaneously to control the ROV.  Together they were able to collect three exceptional samples, including two Acanthogorgia corals attached to hefty rocks. Each time the manipulator arm reached towards a coral, the whole crew of the Shimada held in their breath in suspense.  Would the arm be able to grasp its target?  The live footage from the ROV is now being streamed throughout the entire ship; in the lounges and staterooms too, so Andy and Dirk had a quite an audience cheering them on!

ROV watch party
Andy and Dirk work the controllers while Peter, Branwen and Leslie watch closely nearby

The samples made it back to the ship safely.  Branwen prepared the coral to take back to the Keck Science Department of the Claremont College where she and her students will conduct their research about this little known species of coral.

Thinking about the effort it takes to research deep-sea coral, involving ROVs and commissioning ships to reach their remote locations, it’s no wonder we know little about them and so much more about their shallow water relatives.

Branwen and coral
Branwen and one of the Acanthogorgia samples
Dirk and Andy coral
Dirk and Andy after a job well done
Chief Survey Tech and ROV
Our Chief Survey Tech waits patiently to assist with the next ROV dive.

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.

Susan Kaiser: Ready, Set, SCIENCE!! July 29, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday, July 29, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 36 min N
Longitude:  83 deg 20 min W
Wind Speed: 5.8 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 29.5 C
Air Temperature: 29.5 C
Relative Humidity: 67.0%

Science and Technology Log

Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.
Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.

Science is messy! Extracting DNA, observing animals in their native habitat or dissecting are just a few examples. On board NOAA Ship Nancy Foster it may even be stinky but only for a little while. That is because the divers are retrieving the Vemco Receivers also called VR2s for short. These devices have been sitting on the ocean floor quietly collecting data on several kinds of grouper and snapper fish. Now it is time to download the VR2s recorded information and give them new batteries before placing them at a new site. So, why are they stinky? Even though the VR2s are enclosed inside another pipe, sea organisms have begun to grow on the top of the VR2. They form a crust that is stinky but can be scraped away with a knife. Any object left in the ocean will soon be colonized by sea creatures such as oysters, algae, and sponges to name a few. These organisms will grow and completely cover the area if they are undisturbed. This crust smells like old seaweed drying on an ocean beach.

VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.
Clean VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.

Really, it isn’t too bad and after a while you don’t notice it so much. Besides this is the only way scientists can get the numbers out of the VR2. These numbers tell scientists which fish have been swimming by and how often. Some of the VR2s have collected over 21,000 data points but most have fewer. This information alone helps scientists understand which areas of the ocean floor each species of grouper and snapper prefer as their home or habitat. These data points can even paint a picture of how these fish use the habitat space over the period of an entire year.

Have you been wondering what the VR2s are listening for? You may be surprised to learn it is a signal called a ping from a tracking device that was surgically implanted while the fish is still underwater! The ping is unique for each individual fish. The surgeries were completed when the study began in 2008. First, the fish are caught in live traps. If the trap is in deep water (>80ft) divers descend to perform the surgery on the ocean floor. The fish’s eyes are covered and it is turned upside down. Then a small incision is made in their abdomen and the tag is inserted below the skin. Stitches that dissolve over time are used to close the incision. Once the fish has recovered a bit it is released. An external tag is also clipped into the dorsal fin so other people will know the fish is part of a scientific study. Fish caught in the upper part of the water column may be brought up to the surface slowly and kept in a holding tank while the surgery performed on the boat. Scientists have noted the fish are less stressed by being caught, handled and tagged using this method.  This is a factor for collecting enough data to gain a real understanding of these fishes behavior.

Scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are able to conduct this study with support from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant. They have also worked with other agencies on this research including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS)  the area where the VR2s are positioned. Since 2008 they have learned a great deal to better understand how grouper and snapper use habitat. Both fish are good for eating and are found on the menu in many restaurants around the world. They are commercially harvested and fished by recreational fishermen like you and me. Fishing is a big industry in all coastal locations and especially in Florida. In fact, commercial fishing alone accounts for  between 5-8% of total income or jobs in the local economy of the Florida Keys.  Knowledge gained from this study will help FWC and FKNMS guide decisions about fishing and recreation in the FKNMS and be aware of negative impacts to these fish populations in the future. Stinky air is small sacrifice to help preserve populations of groupers and snappers.

Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.
Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen
Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen

You can see that exploring marine habitats takes time, trained people and resources. Luckily a device has been developed to help scientists explore the ocean floor in an efficient and safe way. This little gem is called a Remotely Operated Vehicle or ROV. It is a cool science tool operated with a joy-stick controller.  The ROV can dive and maneuver at the same time it sends images back to the operator who is using a computer or wearing virtual reality glasses. Yes, I said virtual reality glasses! The operator can see what the ROV can “see” in the depths of the ocean. I had the opportunity see the ROV in the lab and then ride with the ROV team as they tested the equipment and built their skills manipulating this tool in dive situations. The beauty of the ROV is that it can dive deeper than is allowed for a human diver (>130 feet) and it can stay down for a longer period of time without stopping to adjust to depth changes like a human. If a dive site has a potential risk due to its location or other factors, the ROV can be sent down instead. Scientists can make decisions based on the ROV images to make a plan for a safe live dive and save time and resources. Science is messy, sometimes, but it is cool too!

Personal Log

The weather has been simply amazing with calm crystal clear seas and very smooth sailing. Still, spending the day in the sun saps your energy. However, that feeling doesn’t last too long after a nice shower and a trip to the mess to enjoy a delicious meal prepared in the galley. There Chief Steward Lito Llena and 2nd Cook Randy Covington work their magic to cook some terrific meals including a BBQ dinner one evening on the upper deck. They have thought of everything, especially dessert! I will be paying for it later by running extra laps when I get back home but it will be worth it.

Mrs. Kaiser's stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.
Mrs. Kaiser’s stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

My stateroom is a cozy spot with everything one would need and nothing more. A sink is in the room but showers and toilets are down the hall a few doors. One item that is missing is a window. It is so very dark when the lights are off you can’t see your hand in front of your face. It is easy to over sleep! Surprisingly noise has been minimal since the rooms are very well insulated. I share this space with three female scientists but we each have a curtain to turn our bunks into a tiny private space. I enjoy climbing up in my top bunk, closing my little curtain and reading my book Seabiscuit, An American Legend before being rocked to sleep by the ship.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers and crew have been wonderful hosts on this cruise. All have patiently answered my questions and helped me find my way around to do what I need to do. I am curious about their life at sea and the opportunities it affords them to see new places, meet new people and engage in new experiences too. I hope to learn more about their careers as mariners before this voyage ends. The ship truly is a welcome place to call home for these two weeks.

Marsha Skoczek: The Remotely Operated Vehicle, Our Eyes at the Bottom of the Ocean, July 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

 

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of North Carolina
Date:  July 13, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  33.26104N
Longitude:  76.54810W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  28.1C (82F)
Wind Speed:  4.5 knots (5.2mph)
Wind Direction:  From the SSE
Relative Humidity: 78 %
Barometric Pressure:  1021.1
Surface Water Temperature:  28.1C (82F)

Science and Technology Log

ROV with labels, photo credit UVP

Rather than fishing for multiple samples of each species from every Marine Protected Area (MPA) we stop at, the scientists opted to use a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to gather their data.  This also allows Stacey Harter and Andy David to get real time footage of the animals that inhabit each dive site as well as a more complete picture of the habitat itself.  Not only are we collecting data on the fish, but John Reed and Stephanie Farrington are taking data on all of the invertebrates we see such as sponges, corals, hydroids, crinoids, sea stars, urchins, and lobster. The ROV we are using for this expedition is called the Phantom S2.  It weighs about 300 pounds when out of the water with the dimensions of 24 inches in height, 55 inches in length and 33 inches in width.  The Phantom S2 uses the tether to power the two ½ horizontal horsepower electric motors and the two vertical 1/4 vertical horsepower motors and has a maximum speed of 2 knots (2.3mph) and because of the length of the tether, is limited to a depth of 1000 feet.  The ROV is equipped with a high resolution video camera with a 12x zoom as well as a digital still camera with strobe to collect high quality color images of anything the scientists need for their research.  On this cruise we are averaging about 450 still images and about seven hours of video daily.  Two lasers mounted at 10 cm wide help the scientists measure specimens without bringing them to the surface.

Setting up the ROV onboard the ship takes about a day.  This requires the ROV team of Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor from the Undersea Vehicles Program out of University of North Carolina Wilmington to arrive at least 24 hours in advance of departure so that they can have the ship’s crew load all of the ROV equipment with the crane.  From there they set up the components in the dry lab and begin running the tether cables from the ROV, which is located on the deck, to the computer, which is located in the dry lab.  We also have to run a line up to our GPS device  and our VHF radio that are both installed on the flying bridge, and yet another cable to transfer the digital images to the computer, and the power line for the ROV engines.  Once the research gets underway, it is not uncommon for Lance and Glenn to spend as many as 12 hours a day working on preparing for the dive, operating the equipment during the dive, and then processing all of the data after the dive.  It is hard work and takes great attention to detail.

The hydrophone gets lowered into the water while the ROV is on a dive.

In order to communicate with the ROV while it is underwater the operators deploy a Trackpoint hydrophone over the side of the ship which must be taller than the hull of the ship, which on the Pisces is over 28 feet tall.  This hydrophone picks up the X,Y,Z coordinates from the ROV then uses the data from antenna mounted on the fly bridge of the ship to create GPS coordinates for the ROV.

This information is plotted into the Hypack mapping system and is used by both the ROV driver as well as the bridge of the ship.  This helps the officer on deck know what heading the ship needs to be traveling so the ROV driver can maneuver the ROV to where the scientists want to go. Depth is calculated by the delay in time that it takes the hydrophone to get a signal from the ROV.

Lance Horn piloting the ROV

Driving the ROV takes great skill and concentration.  Not only do you have to watch the ROV display footage to make sure you don’t run into anything, but you also have to constantly be aware of your heading so you don’t get the ROV too far off course.  The tether keeping the ROV in communication with the ship also has to be monitored.  Getting the tether wrapped around a rock overhang or part of a mast on a shipwreck is of great concern.  If the tether is severed or becomes too entwined, the ROV could be lost.  The ROV driver is in constant contact with the crew on the back deck who are watching the tether line as well as the bridge so that any necessary course corrections can be made quickly and efficiently.  Having too much tether in the water can also lead to tangling, so the tether is marked in 50 foot increments, which allows the deck crew to know how much of the tether line to feed into the water.  On our cruise, the longest the ROV has been below the surface has been 3.5 hours. Because of the intense concentration it takes to drive the ROV, four consecutive hours is the limit that a driver can do in one sitting.  If the dive needs to be longer than four hours, Lance and Glenn would trade duties, so if Lance was driving, he would rotate out onto the deck to monitor the tether while Glenn takes over at the controls.

The ROV control console

The ROV requires three consoles of components to operate.  The first is the ROV control console.  This is where the driver controls the ROV itself.  On this panel are the two joysticks that control the movement of the ROV through the water.  The joystick on the left controls the up, down and side to side motion.  The joystick on the right controls the forward, reverse, as well as left and right.  There are also control switches to tilt the camera so that it is hanging vertically within the cage to take pictures of the ocean floor.

The scientists on this cruise want a “bottom” shot every two minutes.  This is their way of “collecting” random samples of the habitat while we are making our way along the transect line.  There are also controls switches to turn on and off the lights, turn on and off the laser, and to switch over from the video camera to the still camera so digital still pictures can be taken.  Directly above the control panel is a flat screen monitor showing the live footage from the ROV so the pilot can see where the ROV is below the surface.

A multibeam image with transect lines is loaded into the Hypack software so the ROV can be navigated to where the scientists need to collect their data.

The middle console has all of the navigation components.  There is a GPS unit displaying the coordinates of the ship at all times.   It also contains a Trackpoint acoustic tracking system that provides position data for the ROV.  This is not only helpful to the driver, but the scientists take waypoints throughout the operation to help them match up the data they recorded while watching the live video feed from the ROV with the still images, and the temperature and depth data taken by a small CTD attached to the ROV cage.

Also on this cabinet is a rackmount computer using Hypack software.  The scientists can load the multibeam sonar information and the transect coordinates into the navigation computer.  This software gathers and logs information from the ROV as well as other navigational electronics so the driver sees a real time image of where the ROV is in relation to the ship and features of interest on the sea floor.  This also gives both the driver and the scientists an idea of where we are in relation to the transect line.  If multibeam images were available and downloaded into the navigation computer, the chief scientist can use those to adjust our heading off the transect line if she feels the structures they need to study are on a different heading than originally plotted.

The ROV video console

The third console contains the controls for the digital still camera as well as the digital recording devices.  Steve Matthews, part of the science team, has been manning the still photography on this cruise.  When the scientists see something they want a close up picture of, they ask the driver to stop the ROV and position it so the still camera can be zoomed in for a close up shot.  This will help the scientists to make the proper identification of all of the different species we photographed while on this cruise.

For this research trip, video and still images are all the scientists need to assess the efficacy of the MPAs.  The Phantom S2 has other tools that can be used depending on how the scientist needs to collect their data.  The ROV can be fitted with a sonar device which can be used to located objects, such as ship wrecks or other lost items, at ranges farther away than the video can see.  Scientists can also elect to use the claw for sample collection, a plankton net to gather plankton, and a fish collection suction device.

Personal Log

Myself driving the ROV

We sent styrofoam cups to a depth of 250m. The cup on the right is the original size. As you can see my cup, at left, shrank by more than half.

The bottom of the ocean has such incredible diversity!  Before being invited to be a part of this research expedition, I had only read about all of the amazing things we have seen in text books.  The ROV has allowed us to travel to depths that are inaccessible to recreational scuba divers and to visit sites that not too many other people have been to.  Every day we see different species and habitats.  It is interesting to compare areas that are inside the MPAs with those that are outside of the MPAs.  Even though each day might seem like we are doing the same thing over and over again, I am anxiously awaiting a glimpse of something that I have never seen before.  For each depth we dive to, there is a new set of species and habitat to learn about.  The deepest dive we have been on so far this cruise was at the Snowy Wreck MPA at about 25 m (833 ft) below the surface.  This location was really cool because there is an old ship wreck here that is full of corals and anemones and all sorts of fish species.  We also had a little fun while at the depth and shrunk some styrofoam cups.  Stephanie Farrington is an amazing artist and designed these fabulous cups for us each to send down to shrink.

Ocean Careers Interview

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor, ROV operators from University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW).

Lance Horn

Mr. Horn, what is your job title?  I am the operations director of the Undersea Vehicles Program at University of North Carolina Wilmington.  I started at UNCW in 1985 as part of NOAA’s Underwater Research Center (NURC)  as a hard hat diver.  In 1987, I joined UNCW’s scuba and ROV program which has now become the Undersea Vehicles Program.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  As director, I am in charge of lining up jobs for us, maintaining the budget, and finalizing the contracts from each project.  I also pilot and maintain the ROV itself.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I graduated from the Florida Institute of Technology with an Associate’s Degree in Underwater Technologies.  In this program, we studied compressors, hydraulics, welding, scuba and underwater photography.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  This job has allowed me to travel all over the world and to see some really cool things under the ocean’s surface.  My favorite ROV dive so far was when I went to Antarctica to map the trash dumped at the bottom of Winter Quarters Bay.  Before people realized what kind of impact indiscriminately dumping their trash overboard was doing to the habitats on the ocean floor, ships used to come into port at Winter Quarters Bay and dispose of their trash in the ocean.  This includes very large items such as 55 gallon drums, fire hoses, conex boxes, and even a bulldozer that fell through the ice!  My job was to use the ROV to create a map showing the location of the large objects so that it could be determined if it would be possible to recover these items for proper disposal.  As part of this project, we also had to take the ROV outside of the bay to have an undamaged habitat to use as a control variable for comparison with the bay.  Outside of the bay was amazing.  We were diving under six feet of ice and got to see an environment that not many others have seen, including purple worms, white sponges, and anemone.  It was beautiful.

What advice do you have for students wanting a career with ROVs?  Not every job requires a four year degree.  You can still find a good job doing something you love. I have been successful doing what I do with a two year Associate’s Degree.  Florida Institute of Technology was not an easy school.  I worked hard to earn my degree.

Glen Taylor

Mr. Taylor, what is your job title?  I am an ROV pilot and technician with the Undersea Vehicles Program and UNCW.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  In addition to piloting the ROV, my primary responsibilities are to maintain the three console units that house all of the digital equipment we need to control the ROV.  This includes any rewiring that needs to be done or the replacement of equipment either for repairing broken parts or upgrading to newer electronics.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I earned my Bachelors Degree from Clarkson College of Technology.  I went to work for General Electric in New York.  I was transferred to GE in Florida after which I decided to retire from GE and become a scuba dive master.  I went to work for NURC in St. Croix but was transferred to UNCW when the St. Croix office was closed.  This is where I hooked up with Lance in 1993 and learned to operate the ROV.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  I have also been fortunate enough to travel the world with the ROV.  Diving at the Edisto MPA this week is probably the highlight of my career in ROV operation.  The reef features were fantastic, the water was clear, we had hardly any current, the ship was able to remain on course.  It was perfect conditions.

What advice do you have for students wanting a career with ROVs?  First and foremost, follow your passion.  What do you get excited about?  I have been driving ROVs for almost ten years and I still love coming to work each day.  To be successful in this field, you need a strong background in computers and technology.  You can be trained to drive the ROV, but strong technology skills are essential.  Another good skill to have is problem solving and trouble shooting.  Things might go wrong in the middle of a dive, you have to be able to figure out a solution right there on the spot to keep the dive going.

 

Marsha Skoczek: North Florida MPA, July 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Florida
Date:  July 7, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  30.262610N
Longitude:  80.12.403W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  29.2C (84.5F)
Wind Speed:  6.07 knots
Wind Direction:  from the SSW
Relative Humidity:  76%
Barometric Pressure:  1016.8
Surface Water Temperature:  30.82C (87F)

Science and Technology Log

North Florida MPA

Today we made our way about 50 nautical miles off shore to the North Florida Marine Protected Area (MPA) accompanied by dolphins and flying fish.  The North Florida MPAs were closed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to bottom fishing in order to sustain and repopulate the following species of fish:  snowy grouper, yellowedge grouper, Warsaw grouper, speckled hind grouper, misty grouper as well as golden and blueline tilefish.  A second part of our science team is looking at the benthic invertebrates such as corals and sponges as they provide a habitat for the grouper and tilefish to live in.  The types of corals and sponges we expect to see in this area include: black coral, whip coral, purple gorgonian, Tanacetipathes, and the stink sponge.

Pisces deck hands launch the ROV

We did three Remotely Operated Vehicle  (ROV) dives with the Phantom S II.  Each dive was between one and two hours long depending on the bottom conditions.  The winch from the Pisces would lower the ROV to the bottom of the ocean approximately 50-60 meters deep (164 to 196 feet).  The area in the MPA we were looking at had been mapped the night before using the ship’s Multibeam Sonar to give the scientists a better idea of where to look and what type of bottom features they will see.   The current at the bottom for a couple of the dives was about 1.5 knots.  This made it pretty difficult to spend quality time looking at the species.  The Scientists will take this data back to the lab where they can spend more time with each video to fully catalog each species we saw today.

Stephanie Farrington and myself are logging data.

Once the ROV’s cameras were rolling, the science team was able to begin logging all of the different species that they saw.  Each part of the transect line is carefully documented with a date and time stamp as well as a latitude, longitude and depth.  Also mounted on the ROV is a small CTD to collect the temperature and depth every 15 seconds.  This will help the scientists match up all of the details for each habitat that we saw with the video on the ROV.  While the ROV is at the bottom collecting data, there are several different stations going on in the lab at the time.

John Reed and Stephanie Farrington are looking mostly at the benthic invertebrates, Stacey Harter and Andy David are cataloging all of the fish they are able to see and identify, and Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor are manning the ROV.  There is also a fourth station where one of the scientists uses a microphone to annotate the video as it is being recorded onto a DVD.  Today John, Stacey and Andy all took turns at the video annotation station.  Basically they are verbally describing the bottom features and habitat they see as well as all the different species of fish and corals.  This will make it easier for the scientists when they get back into their home labs as they process their data.  For each one hour of video taken it will take Stacey between four and eight hours to catalog each fish found as the ROV passed by.  This information is compiled into a report that will be shared with the South Atlantic Council to show if the targeted species are actually making a comeback in these MPAs.

The snowy grouper is one of the targeted species. We found this one using the ROV swimming back into his burrow.

Today some of the species we saw include reef butterflyfish, vermillion snapper, filogena coral, blue angelfish, purple gorgonian,yellowtail reef fish, black corals, bigeye fish, squirrelfish, wire corals, scamp grouper, hogfish, ircinia sponges as well as a couple of lobsters and a loggerback sea turtle.

Tomorrow we will make several more dives at another site outside the North Florida MPA so we can compare this data with the data taken today inside the MPA.

Personal Log

As part of the abandon ship drill, we had to be able to don our immersion suit in less than three minutes.

Life on the ship is really different in some ways compared to life on land.  There is the constant rocking of the ship, which my inner ears are not very fond of. The bedrooms are not the biggest and we each share with one other person.  I am rooming with Stephanie Farrington and she is very easy to get along with.  The food has been great — it would be very easy to gain weight while working on the Pisces.  The stewards do a fantastic job preparing meals for everyone on the ship.  Meal times are the same each day, breakfast is from 7-8 am, lunch is from 11am to noon, and dinner is from 5-6pm.  If someone is working the night shift, they can request that a meal be set aside for them so they can eat later.

Ocean Careers Interview

Stacey Harter

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed Stacey Harter, the Chief  Scientist for this mission.

What is your job title?  I am a Research Ecologist at NOAA Fisheries Panama City Lab.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  My responsibilities are to acquire funding for my research, as well as plan the trips, go on the cruise to gather the data, and analyze the data when I get back.  I am also collaborating on other projects with NOAA Beaufort in North Carolina and St. Andrew Bay studying the juvenile snapper and grouper populations in the sea grass found at this location.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I got my Bachelors degree in Biology from Florida State University and my Masters degree in Marine Biology from University of Alabama.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  My best experience I’ve had was getting to go down in a manned submersible to a depth of 2,500 feet to study deep water corals and the fish that live there.

What is your best advice for a student wanting to become a marine biologist?  Do internships!  This is the best way to get your name out there and to make connections with people who might be able to get you a job after college.  I had an internship at the NOAA Panama City Lab while I was in graduate school which helped me to get my job with NOAA when I graduated.

Scott Dickison, September 30-October 11, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Dickinson
Onboard Research Vessel Shearwater
September 30 – October 11, 2006

Mission: Quantitative Finfish Abundance
Geographical Area: Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas
Date: September 30 – October 11, 2006

Santa Barbara, seen from the ship
Santa Barbara, seen from the ship

Prologue 

The cruise that I participated on was a multi-part project that spanned several weeks. I came on board for the final, and most interesting part of the project. Those parts you can read about in my log entries, however some background and technical information may be useful to better understand the operation.

The cruise took place onboard the NOAA R/V Shearwater. The project was called a Quantitative Finfish Abundance and Exploration of the Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas. A cooperative Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) study with the California Department of Fish and Game, Marine Applied Research and Exploration, and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

When I arrived, the bulk of the work had been completed and it was time for the experimental portions of the project to take place. These experiments were designed to ensure the reliability, precision, and accuracy of the quantitative data collected by ROV survey. The basic operations involved live boating the ROV along predetermined track lines. That is, the RV Shearwater would proceed along a predetermined line on the surface that the ROV was also independently operating on at the ocean floor. The ROV had a range of 50 meters from the stern of the RV Shearwater. The ROV pilot had on-screen-display (OSD) from the video cameras mounted on the ROV, as well as an OSD that displayed the ROV position relative to the mother ship. This display is generated with the use of a sonar beacon mounted on the ROV and a sonar receiver lowered over the side of the mother ship.

On to the logs…

Deploying the ROV
Deploying the ROV

Saturday 9/30

Arrive at the R/V Shearwater. Got the lay of the land.

Sunday 10/1

Head out of the Santa Barbara Harbor in transit to Santa Cruz Island to pick up the research crew. With the team of scientists on board, we head out for our destination of East Point on Santa Rosa Island for the first deployment of the ROV.

The weather turned on us, with the winds blowing and the rain pounding. The seas got rough and the going was slow. This being the first day out, the sea legs had yet to be adjusted. This was the cause for a quick retreat to the head…

Finally made it to our testing location. Weather was dismal as the ROV was launched. Today’s mission was to “paint” fish with lasers mounted along side the ROV camera.  This was a very interesting procedure designed to measure fish length. Essentially capturing a fish on video and “painting” it with two laser dots at the known distance of 11 cm. Total fish length can then be calculated either by determining fish camera fish length and laser dot space, or by using the screen width and the fish length in comparison.

This day I became umbilical tender and hydraulic operator for launching and retrieving the ROV. I also observed the underwater video and fish painting process. This was a very interesting day becoming part of the crew and assisting in the work. Due to a couple of technical issues, we returned to Santa Barbara for the night.

Watching and operating the launch
Watching and operating the launch

Monday 10/2 

While crewmembers were working on correcting the technical issues, I assisted others with setting up lines for the next set of experiments. This required setting up vinyl covered steel cables at a length of 110 meters and marking them with colored flags every 10 meters that would be easy to view through the ROV cameras. These cables were also set up with loops on each end for linking together, or for securing weights. The cables were then spooled for ease of deployment and stowed for later use.

The technical issues as well were repaired and again we set out to sea. This day’s destination was Anacapa Island. With some sonar scanning, a sight was selected for the next sets of experiments, to determine accuracy of transect distance precision across the spatial dimension.

For this experiment, the 110 meter cables were laid across the bottom with high relief profiles.  This distance of cable would provide a length of 100 meters to run with the ROV. Divers also swam the line and took depth readings along the cable. The cable ran up and down over rocks and various substrates that are considered fish habitat. The concept being that there were more lineal feet of fish habitat in this relief than straight line distance.  The ROV recorded this distance, but this was a means to determine if those recordings were an accurate measurement.

The sight we were working was spectacular. We were on the southern tip of Anacapa Island. The shoreline of the island was shear rocky cliffs. The cliffs are a major nesting and roosting sight for the endangered California Brown Pelicans, they were everywhere both on the cliffs and circling in the sky. The area was also populated with sea lions. They were very amusing swimming around the boat and with their barks echoing off the cliffs of the island.  After the work here was done, we headed north for a protected cove to drop anchor for the night.

Brown pelican nesting area on the high cliffs
Brown pelican nesting area on the high cliffs

Tuesday 10/3

This day we headed back toward Anacapa to continue the track line experiments. Another shallow depth sight was selected toward the North end of the island. The same procedures were used here laying out the cable lengths that were then checked by divers and then run with the ROV.

The water was thick with small baitfish that was being fed on by schools of Bonita. This was a sight to see, and was particularly amusing to see the pelicans dive-bombing into the water also feeding on the baitfish.  This went on for most of the day.  Operations went well today and when complete the gear was collected and stowed. We headed off to another protected cove for the nights anchorage.

Wednesday 10/4 

We continued the track line experiments today. Work was going well so we started preparations for the next upcoming experiment. The preparations consisted of setting up fish models of various sizes and securing weights to then to enable deployment of them floating various heights off the bottom.  The fish models were constructed of a flat piece of neoprene with color copied pictures of the local significant fish species laminated and attached to the sides.

The sight of the day was a pod of dolphins leaping out of the water and splashing around in some sort of frenzy. We assumed the must have been feeding, but were not really close enough to tell exactly what was going on. Today’s tasks went well and I went out on the Avon to retrieve the cables and the divers. With all back onboard, we headed off to the nights anchorage.

On the zodiak
On the zodiac

Thursday 10/5 

Today we set out for a deep water site to continue the track line experiment. The previous sites had been in the 10 to 20 meter depth zones. Today we would run the track line experiment in a 50 meter depth zone.  This posed a different set of circumstances.  The tracking cable was spooled into a basket for deployment. It was then deployed skillfully and precisely by the well experienced deck officer. With the cable in place, the ROV was launched to run the line. This depth was to deep to send divers down, so the ROV did all the work.  Tracking went well and the ROV was brought back on board.

Recovery of the gear was a bit more difficult.  We had to haul back the cable and weights with a power winch as opposed to winding it back by hand in shallow water. After we got about half of the length back, it got jammed and snapped so fast my head spun. At least the experiment was completed.

After gathering and comparing the ROV data with the diver collected data it was apparent that the ROV collected nearly identical data to the diver collected data. This experiment seemed to be a success. ROV use and procedures seemed to be a reliable means to determine transect distance across the spatial dimension by my observations. Naturally the collected data would be reviewed later by the scientists on board to accurately determine the results.

Full moon rising
Full moon rising

During the day we continued to prepare the fish models for deployment tonight. With the track line experiments complete, we headed for a location suitable for the fish model experiment. This experiment was conducted in the evening to simulate the light conditions in the typical habitat depth of 50 meters.  The point of the experiment was to determine the accuracy of fish length as determined by ROV survey. The ROV survey used both paired lasers and distance sonar to determine fish length. When these procedures are utilized on fish models of known length, the scientists could determine if the process could be accurate when video capturing wild fish in the test zone.

As we arrived at the experiment location, the sun was setting and a most beautiful full moon was rising over a distant horizon. Divers were used to strategically deploy the models to simulate populations of wild fish.  The ROV was deployed and ran the line of fish models while video capturing the images. Tonight I had an opportunity to pilot the ROV. I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity and spent some time observing some flat fish scurrying about the bottom as I waited for the divers to collect the fish models. Soon all was complete, the divers came back on board, and we recovered the ROV safely.  We remained at this location for the night, it was quite beautiful.

Friday 10/6…the final day.  

Today was a public relations day. We returned to Anacapa and met up with the California Dept. of Fish and Game boat, the R/V Garibaldi. They had brought some local writers and reporters out to cover the project. We still went on with the normal operations of surveying fish populations. It was another great day on board the NOAA  R/V Shearwater as a participant in the Teacher at Sea Program! Back to Santa Barbara we cruised.

dickison_logsf

Noah Doughty, September 21, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Noah Doughty
Onboard Research Vessel Western Flyer
September 18 – 22, 2006

Mission: USS Macon Wreck Archeological Expedition
Geographical Area: California Coast
Date: September 21, 2006

Weather Report from the Bridge
Visibility: Good
Wind direction and speed:  NWxW 24kts
Swell direction and height: NW 6’-8’
Seawater temperature: 55.7oF
Sea level pressure: 1019 millibars
Cloud cover: 2/8

Science and Technology Log 

Work at the USS MACON wreck site continues, alternating between mosaic work and survey work depending on water conditions at the bottom.  Today’s log will profile two members of the expedition whose jobs provide a context for the information being gathered.

Erica Burton works for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and is responsible for operating VARS, which stands for Video Annotation and Reference System.  VARS is a database that allows screen images to be captured, logged, and georeferenced with annotated notes. For the MACON expedition these notes list the possible identity of the artifacts. In addition to the captured image, VARS also records the time stamp in the video and a geographical location. All the images and video captured are archived at MBARI (the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute), and later, in conjunction with the National Marine Sanctuary Program, staff will process and interpret to produce a final photo-mosaic poster that will be made available to the public. Burton, who has a background in marine biology, also notes that the USS MACON wreckage provides an artificial hard-bottom habitat in an otherwise soft-bottom habitat, and the organisms observed are primarily soft-bottom fishes with occasional encrusting organisms on the wreckage.

Erica Burton, on the left, operates VARS (Video Annotation and Reference System), and works for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Lee Murai, on the right, is the expedition’s GIS (Geographical Information System) analyst, and comes from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.
Erica Burton, on the left, operates VARS (Video Annotation and Reference System), and works for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Lee Murai, on the right, is the expedition’s GIS (Geographical Information System) analyst, and comes from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

Lee Murai is a Geological Oceanography student at the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and is the GIS (Geographical Information System) analyst.  Through GIS software he is able to spatially organize the data collected on this expedition and compare it to the 1990 and 1991 expeditions. Types of data collected in the past include side-scan sonar, multi-beam bathymetry, and waypoints collected by Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and manned submersibles.  For this expedition he is working closely with the Stanford University team to assist with the photomosaic collection procedure. The GIS map posted on day 1 was provided by Murai. Compare that to the low-resolution image tiles posted today.  While the use of GIS is relatively new to the field of marine archeology, it is generally used in marine environments to provide geologic and biologic habitat characterization maps.

This image, created with low-resolution copies of the image files, shows a Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk (plane #4 in the GIS map on the Day 1 log).  High-resolution tiles will be fused into the final photo-mosaic.  The nose of the plane is in the lower left.
This image, created with low-resolution copies of the image files, shows a Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk (plane #4 in the GIS map on the Day 1 log). High-resolution tiles will be fused into the final photo-mosaic. The nose of the plane is in the lower left.