Betsy Petrick: Core Sampling in the Lab, June 30, 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 30, 2019


Science Log

When the ROV returns to the ship, the scientists jump into action.  The sediment cores are brought into the lab for sampling.

Core samples
Core samples are loaded on the ROV in crates and with luck they all come back the same way.

Dr. Justyna Hampel, an aquatic biogeochemist and postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Southern Mississippi, is researching how microorganisms colonize on and around deep sea shipwrecks.  She is taking sediment samples for DNA testing, and identifying nutrients in sediment pore water, the water trapped inside the sediment. Her study will help us learn about the relationship between microbes and shipwreck biomes. It took many hands to process the core sediments for her research.

As assistant to graduate student Rachel Mugge, I felt a bit like a nurse in an operating room. Every sample was taken carefully to ensure it was not contaminated.

Here’s how it went: Carefully remove the plug from the bottom of the core sample tube.  Slide the core onto the extruder quickly so as not to lose any sediment.  (An extruder is a wheel on a threaded bolt. It is precisely calibrated to measure 2 cm increments as you turn the wheel 4 2/3 times.  )

Remove the lid and use a siphon hose to remove the sea water on the surface.  Rachel does this by placing one end of the hose in the core tube and the other end in her mouth and sucking gently to get the flow of water going.  Once it is moving she lets the water drain into a basin. Try this at home! You can get water to flow up and over an obstacle with this technique.  

siphon
It takes finesse to get the siphon working.

Next Rachel turns the extruder wheel until the mud is exposed at the top of the tube.  She describes the mud to lab manager Anirban Ray, who writes it down next to the sample number. (“S 54, brown, unconsolidated, black streaks, tube worm burrows.”)  I snap the paper wrapping off a wooden tongue depressor and hand it to her. She uses it to dig a sample out of the center of a sediment core. I hand her an open vial and she fills it.  I cap it. Next she puts some sediment into a petri dish and Anirban seals and labels it. Then I hand her an open sterile whirl-pak for a final blob of sediment. I whirl this little baggy and twist tie it closed.  Vials and whirl-paks go in the deep freezer. We do these three steps 40 times for 120 samples. The challenge I find in this kind of repetitive task is how quick and efficient can I be while still being careful and precise?  Let me tell you. Pretty fast and efficient. 

sediment sample
Putting a sediment sample into a vial. The core is on the extruder, which pushes the sediment upward when you turn the wheel.

At the same time this was going on, Justyna was extracting pore water (water that comes from inside the sediment) to analyze it for nutrients.

Extracting pore water
Justyna attaches syringes to the peepers to extract the pore water from the sediment.


Personal Log

While we worked, I had a porthole at my station to keep an eye on the ocean as we cruised out to our third and final shipwreck.  Dolphins raced with our ship this evening. Silvery flying fish skittered over the water reminding me of hummingbirds, the way their fins were a blur of movement.  The color of the ocean now can best be described in terms of watercolors. Ultramarine. That says it all.

Calm sea
Clouds are reflected in a calm sea.

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.  

Jill Bartolotta: ROV, CTD, OMG, June 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 10, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 29°04.9’ N

Longitude: 079°53.2’ W

Wave Height: 1-2 feet

Wind Speed: 11 knots

Wind Direction: 241

Visibility: 10

Air Temperature: 26.7° C

Barometric Pressure: 1017.9

Sky: Clear

Science and Technology Log

As part of this mapping mission we are identifying places that may be of interest for an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) dive. So far a few locations have shown promise. The first is most likely an area with a dense mass of deep sea mound building coral and the other an area where the temperature dropped very quickly over a short period of time. But before I talk about these two areas of interest I would like to introduce you to some more equipment aboard.

CTD

CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. A CTD is sent down into the water column to collect information on depth, temperature, salinity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen. Some CTDs have a sediment core on them so you can collect sediment sample. There is also a sonar on the bottom of the CTD on Okeanos Explorer that is used to detect how close the equipment is to the bottom of the ocean. You want to make sure you avoid hitting the bottom and damaging the equipment.

Sidney and CTD
General Vessel Assistant Sidney Dunn assisting with CTD launch. Photo Credit: Charlie Wilkins SST Okeanos Explorer

Yesterday we used a CTD because the XBTs launched overnight showed a water temperature change of about 4°C over a few meters change in depth. This is a HUGE change! So it required further exploration and this is why we sent a CTD down in the same area. The CTD confirmed what the XBTs were showing and also provided interesting data on the dissolved oxygen available in this much colder water. It sounds like this area may be one of the ROV sites on the next leg of the mission.

Deep water canyon-like feature
Deep water canyon-like feature with cold water and high oxygen levels. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

ROV

ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle. Okeanos Explorer has a dual-body system meaning there are two pieces of equipment that rely on each other when they dive. The duo is called Deep Discoverer (D2) and Seirios. They are designed, built, and operated by NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration (GFOE). Together they are able to dive to depths of 6,000 meters. D2 and Seirios are connected to the ship and controlled from the Mission Control room aboard the ship. Electricity from the ship is used to power the pair. A typical dive is 8-10 hours with 2 hours of prep time before and after the dive.

Seirios and D2 getting ready for a dive. Photo Credit: Art Howard, GFOE
Seirios and D2 getting ready for a dive. Photo Credit: Art Howard, GFOE

Seirios lights up D2, takes pictures, provides an aerial view of D2, and contains a CTD. D2 weighs 9,000 pounds and is equipped with all types of sampling equipment, including:

  • Lights to illuminate the dark deep
  • High definition cameras that all allow for video or still frame photos
  • An arm with a claw to grab samples, such as rock or coral
  • Suction tube to bring soft specimens to the surface
  • Rock box to hold rock specimens
  • Specimen box to hold living specimens (many organisms do not handle the pressure changes well as they are brought to the surface so this box is sealed so the water temperature stays cold which helps the specimens adjust as they come to the surface)
ROV D2 labeled
D2 with some of her specimen collection parts labeled.

My favorite fact about D2 is how her operators keep her from imploding at deep depths where pressure is very strong and crushes items from the surface. Mineral oil is used to fill air spaces in the tubing and electric panel systems. By removing the air and replacing it with oil, you are reducing the amount of pressure these items feel. Thus, preventing them from getting crushed.

ROV Brain
D2’s “brain” is shown behind the metal bars. The bars are there for extra protection. The panel boxes and tubes are filled with a yellow colored liquid. This liquid is the mineral oil that is used to reduce the pressure the boxes and tubes feel as D2 descends to the ocean floor.

D2 provides amazing imagery of what is happening below the surface. Like I said earlier, one of the areas of interest is mound-building coral. The mapping imagery below shows features that appear to be mound building coral and have shown to be true on previous dives in the area in 2018.

bathymetry features
Multibeam bathymetry collected on this cruise that shows features which are similar to mound building coral that are known to be in the area. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Mound-Building Coral

Mound-building coral (Lophelia pertusa) are a deep water coral occurring at depths of 200-1000 meters. They form large colonies and serve as habitat for many deep-water fish and other invertebrates. Unlike corals in tropical waters which are near the surface, Lophelia pertusa do not have the symbiotic relationship with algae. Therefore, they must actively feed to gain energy.

mound-building coral (Credit: NOAA OER)
Large amounts of Lophelia pertusa, stony coral, found at the top of the crest of Richardson Ridge during Dive 07 of the Windows to the Deep 2018 expedition. Rubble of this species also appeared to form the mounds found in this region.

Personal Log

We saw whales today!!!! They went right past the ship on our port side and then went on their way. We weren’t able to see them too well, but based on their coloring, low profile in the water, and dorsal fin we think them to be pilot whales, most likely short-finned pilot whales. Pilot whales are highly social and intelligent whales.

Dorsal fin of a pilot whale
Dorsal fin of a pilot whale

There was also the most amazing lightening show last night. The bolts were going vertically and horizontally through the sky. I think what I will miss most about being at sea is being able to see the storms far off in the distance.

Did You Know?

You can build your own ROV, maybe with your high school science or robotics club, and enter it in competitions.

ROV competition
High school ROV competition at The Ohio State University.

References

Mound Building Coral: NOAA, 2010, https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/10lophelia/background/biology/biology.html

Pilot Whales: American Cetacean Society, 2018, https://www.acsonline.org/pilot-whale

Jennifer Dean: Data Analysis and Downward Dog, May 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jennifer Dean

Aboard NOAA Ship 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 17th, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  23° 29.6290’ N
Longitude: 80° 09.6070’ W
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 feet
Wind Speed:  18.2 knots
Wind Direction: 199.3°
Visibility: 89 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 25.3°C
Sky: Scattered clouds

Science and Technology Log

Software: ArcGIS and Microsoft Access
Data processing may be seen by some to be a less glamorous role compared to ROV operators and their joysticks.  But data management is essential for communicating and validating findings of the ROV dives.  Huge data sets are created on each dive.  24,000 records were created on just 2 dives that needed to be inventoried and processed.

Processing Photos
Stephanie Farrington processing the photo grabs taken every 2 minutes from the dive

Stephanie Farrington, Biological Research Specialist with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, gave me a crash course on data management that may be better explained through some of the pictures and activities I was involved in below.  Two types of software seemed of particular significance, ArcGIS and Microsoft Access.

 

 

ArcGIS screen
ArcGIS (Geographic Information System) provides layers of information

ArcGIS (Geographic Information System) provides layers of information, anything from land use patterns, topography to local data for an area on water quality or hurricane patterns.  The software allows you to stack this information on top of each other geographically to look for patterns or to make graphic and visual displays of complex data sets.  On May 16th the dive gathered footage at two sites where barges were dropped to the ocean floor in 2014, one at approximately 80 meters and the other at 100 meters.  After seeing that the structure had undergone considerable changes in its integrity, a question arose about the potential impact a hurricane could have made with these barge structures.  The photo above is an example of a layer of information on hurricane travel patterns and how GIS might be used to make predictions on whether this sort of event could have impacted the barge wreck sites integrity.

Access is a Relational Database and is used as an information and storage management tool for larger data sets. It is less prone to errors compared to Excel and better for managing “big data”.  One skill Stephanie demonstrated to me was her code writing abilities that, once written, allow the keyboard and the database to communicate with each other.  As I typed in the key for “new note,” the image below with the heading on the right saying “Site Number” would pop up ready for me to enter information about the type of bottom substrate, the slope and other features of the sample site. Each of these button choices immediately populated the database and created a running record of the dive’s key features.  Microsoft Access is built using SQL and uses VBA script to create macros (repeated, automatic behaviors).

X-Keyboard
Keyboard programmed to automatically communicate information into a database for quick counts and standard methods of habitat classifications

The X-Keyboard was purchased from a company called P.I. Engineering and comes with its own GUI (Graphical User Interface) for programming the individual keys.

In the image below is an example of a portion of one of John Reed’s notes taken during the dive to record times, observations and coral reef communities observed.  Notice that Weather, Salinity, Wind Direction and Depth are all added into the notes as well as discrepancies or issues that arise.  Notes on this page demonstrate a point early in the dive when it became clear the map features between the ROV operator and Stephanie’s screen were off by many meters, this was because an incorrect Geographic Datum (the screen displaying in WGS 1984 but the ROV feed was being sent to the screen in NAD 1983 causing a false skew in the visualized data stream).

The bathymetric data collected by NOAA is available here for anyone to download;
https://maps.ngdc.noaa.gov/viewers/bathymetry/ 

The following links provides more information on the differences between Excel and Access and the advantages and disadvantages.  And additional information on the uses of GIS.
https://www.weather.gov/gis/
https://webgis.wr.usgs.gov/globalgis/tutorials/arcview.htm
https://www.opengatesw.net/ms-access-tutorials/What-Is-Microsoft-Access-Used-For.htm

Personal Log

How many people can say that one of their first yoga experiences happened on the flying bridge on a NOAA ship in an offshore location in the Atlantic?  LT Felicia Drummond, a newly certified yoga instructor, introduced us to Ashtanga yoga philosophy and techniques, and I finally know what the pose downward dog should look like.  Ashtanga yoga philosophy focuses on breathing and balanced movements to build the strength of your core and muscles.

yoga
Forward fold = Uttanansana

Classes held on the ship’s deck like this would certainly tone one’s body and improve your focus. There are standing, sitting and finishing poses.   I considered myself lucky if I didn’t fall on my face or crash into the pillars with anything but a sitting pose.  But it reminded me of the balance needed in life- both in the physical and mental demands we put on ourselves.  Even at sea there is a need to search for these moments of time to quiet our mind.

Today I am reminded of the different ways of knowing.  I have always been a bit of a bookworm, introverted and learning through textbook study.  But learning through experience on this ship is a whole different level in the depth of comprehension. I am immersed in both the history and story-telling of the original discovery of these reefs by watching 1970’s footage of Professor John Reed’s first “Lock-Out” dives within Florida’s Deep-Water Oculina Reefs.  At the same time I am witnessing and participating first-hand in the collection of new data in similar locations.  Although it is sad to see some of the trawling devastation of the past, the regrowth of these areas and the dedication to their protection brings a positive message for me to share with my students.  I am excited to share the video I watched today with them when I return and the story about a Warsaw grouper, Hyporthodus nigritus, that tried to steal calipers during Professor Reed’s coral measurements many years ago.  To read more about some of  Reed’s work click on the hyperlink.

Did You Know?

fireworm
Hermodice carunculate, Bearded Fireworm

Hermodice carunculate, the Bearded Fireworm, bristle out their setae upon touch and those setae act like hypodermic needles to inject a powerful neurotoxin into the offending predator or careless tourist.  The injury can give a sensation that feels like a fire burning for hours.  It reminded me of a fuzzy underwater centipede. This creature was spotted on an ROV dive near a sunken barge at around 100 meters.  Others were clustered along the walls of the barge that were encrusted with oysters and a few purple sea urchins.  Seen in this image next to the Fireworm are hermit crabs.
https://www.scienceandthesea.org/program/201701/fireworm

Fact or Fiction?

NOAA ships never leave port on Fridays.   Check the links below for more information  about marine operations and for Fisheries superstitions.
https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/marine-operations/ships
https://nmssanctuaries.blob.core.windows.net/sanctuaries-prod/media/archive/education/voicesofthebay/pdfs/superstitions.pdf

What’s My Story?     Jason White

Jason White at the ROV controls.
Jason White at the ROV controls.

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

What is your specific title and job description on this mission?  ROV Pilot/Technician.  He assists in keeping the ROV running efficiently and safely.   His job includes taking turns on this mission with Eric Glidden to pilot the ROV and deploy and recovery of the ROV from the ship.

How long have you worked for University of North Carolina? He has worked for University of North Carolina for almost 5 years.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job? Troubleshooting computer problems is his least favorite part of the job. His favorite part of the job is getting to work with different scientists from all around the United States and world on different types of scientific projects.

When did you first become interested in this career (oceanography) and why?  He grew up watching the weather channel and surfing in North Carolina.  Dr. Steve Lyons on weather channel and predicting surf inspired his original interest in the study of meteorology/oceanography.

What science classes or other opportunities would you recommend to high school students who are interested in preparing for this sort of career? He said if you are a student interested in the technical aspect of the study of oceanography you should look for a marine technology program at a university or community college.  He uses a lot of math and physics and recommends at the high school level to take a full course load in bothHe also recommends taking any available electronic classes and stay proficient in computers.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited?  His most interesting trip was in the Philippines where he ate white rice for 2 weeks straight and people were on the back deck of the ship fishing for the very same fish he was collecting video footage on.  He mentioned that the Philippines had the most beautiful coral he had ever seen.

Questions from my Environmental Science Students in Camas, WA 

How heavy is the ROV? With the skid on it, approximately 800 lbs

How tough is it? Moderately –you can run the ROV into things but don’t want to run into a steel ship or you break things.

How expensive is it? If it somehow broke, what would you have to do?  Try and repair it on the ship with spare parts?  A half-million dollars.  Yes.  They have spares for most everything except the high definition video camera and digital stills camera, which cost $27,000 and $32,000 respectively.

How many cameras are on the ROV and how easy is it to maneuver? 5. One main video camera to navigate the ROV, digital still camera, 3 lipstick cameras on the skid to collect samples and see with the manipulator.  If there is no current then the ROV is fairly easy to maneuver but when conditions decrease by, murkiness, current (more than ½ knot)  or terrain is in high relief it becomes more difficult.  Ship wrecks with steel debris are also especially difficult to maneuver around.

What is the ROV like to control, does it respond quickly or is there a lag time from when you control it to when it responds? It instantaneously responds. 

Do you have to have training to be able to operate it? It is on the job training however there are a few ROV specific training schools around the country.

Labelled image of ROV
A labeled diagram of an ROV

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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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Mary Cook: Final Day, March 30, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard R/V Norseman II
March 18-30, 2016

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Time: 8:33 am

Data from the Bridge
Temperature:
40.6°F
Pressure: 1031 millibars
Location: N 58°38.406’, W 136°07.990’

Science and Sea Stories Log

When I heard that this Deep Sea Exploration voyage was going to have a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) working in addition to scuba divers, I was so excited! To be able to watch the operations and meet the people who do the work has been a particular fascination for me on this voyage. I’ve always loved the exploration of the ocean using vessels that can go where humans have limitations.

Kraken2 for the 3-30 blog
The ROV Kraken 2 is owned and operated by the University of Connecticut (UConn)

Crew deploys ROV
Crew deploys the ROV

The big yellow Kraken 2 sits on the stern of the R/V Norseman II. It is a modified ROV that has been customized for special tasks in science research. Kraken 2 is owned and operated by the University of Connecticut. Kraken 2 is usually contracted to do science research for the U.S. government or University clients, but has also done a few jobs of surveying and archaeological work on shipwrecks. Kevin, Matt, Eric, Mike, and Jeff are the members of the ROV team for this voyage. These cool guys have an eclectic background of geography, marine ecology, and engineering coupled with a love of electronics and the computer side of things.

 

The main parts of the 2,400 lb. Kraken 2 are:

-The big yellow top made of syntactic foam that provides 900 lbs. of buoyancy, which helps maintain neutral buoyancy in water.

-Kraken 2 is tethered to the ship by the green umbilical, which provides power and communications between ship and ROV.

-Kraken 2 carries a number of cameras and lights. Big high intensity lights that provide warm light deep underwater.

-Kraken 2 uses a number of High Definition video and digital still cameras – similar to a camera you might have at home. The video camera has been deconstructed and put into a canister that can withstand high water pressure. These are positioned to get various angles and provide different views around the ROV.

-When the visibility is not good the operators rely on sonar. This allows them to “see with sound” what is in front of Kraken 2 up to 100 meters and helps them make maneuvering decisions.

-An altimeter, which measures height off the bottom and a pressure sensor that determines depth.

-The USBL (ultra short baseline) tracking system has a transducer that emits sound pulses and transponder that receives and sends a pulse back. It can track the vehicle in relation to the ship. All these sound devices are important in marine navigation for obstacle avoidance.

Sample Quivers on ROV
Quivers to hold coral samples

-The manipulator arm is sometimes called the claw. It is very important for collecting samples such as pieces of Primnoa pacifica. An acrylic vacuum tube is also attached onto the arm for “sucking” up moving or delicate samples such as fish and jellyfish. The manipulator arm is used to put samples into quivers then drops a heavy rubber stopper on top to seal it until it is brought to the surface for scientific processing.

 

 

 

There are three people working to “drive” Kraken 2 during deployment. The winch driver gently lifts Kraken 2 from the ship’s stern into the water and also keeps the ROV from crashing into the bottom of the ocean. The pilot is working on the finesse of getting into delicate areas. The navigator operates the claw while maintaining a close dialog with the Bridge. The cameras, radar, and sonar monitors along with the remote controls are all house in a metal shipping container called the Van.

ROV Van Door
Door to the ROV “Van”

Matt and Mike drive the ROV from within the van. The Science Leader in the last picture is Cheryl.

 

Kraken 2 is a unique ROV for the niche it occupies. It is a science class ROV.

Most Science Class ROVs are large about the size of a small truck and require a dedicated ship and personnel. The advantages of Kraken 2 are that it doesn’t go as deep (up to 1 km) therefore, isn’t as expensive. Smaller ships can deploy it. It’s an excellent ROV for continental shelf and slope exploration.

One night Qanuk got to go down with Kraken 2! Mike attached him to the frame. He is probably the first bald eagle to ever attempt such a feat. Qanuk was videoed as he explored the depths and even had his photo taken with Primnoa pacifica in situ.

 

Personal Log

Today concludes my voyage as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. Wow! It has been amazing to be a part of the Deepwater Exploration of Glacier Bay. Getting to work alongside scientists, engineers and ship’s crew that are doing adventuresome and cutting-edge work is a dream come true for me. A special “Thank you” to Dr. Rhian Waller, as Lead Scientist for accepting a Teacher at Sea on board to work with her project. I am so thankful that they all welcomed me into their work space and were willing to teach me how to do some helpful things like processing coral for reproductive studies. These people are teachers in their own right. Their enthusiasm for their work and for learning new things is infectious and I plan to carry that attitude back to my students in Scammon Bay, infusing my classroom with awe and excitement to be brave, conscientious, problem-solving citizens of our magnificent Earth!

Mary Cook: Day 7, March 25, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard R/V Norseman II
March 18-30, 2016

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Friday, March 25, 2016
Time: 6:49 pm

Data from the Bridge
Temperature:
35.1°F
Pressure: 1012 millibars
Speed: 0.2 knots
Location: N 58°52.509’, W 137°04.299’

Science Log

Last night we headed out to open-sea and the waters got a bit rougher. I felt queasy so I took seasick meds and went to sleep. We steamed ahead to open sea and arrived to the site for our ROV dive. But the ROV dive didn’t occur due to a mechanical problem with the ship’s engine, so we headed back into the Bay on toward Johns Hopkins glacier for another round of sampling. Today was a very good day for many of the scientists to get a much-needed rest. The ship’s labs were quiet as we traveled back to the glacier. The ship’s crew on the other hand did not get a break. The ship must still be piloted. The galley work continued with meal preparation. The engine room and all of the ship’s operations were still in working mode.

Once we arrived at Johns Hopkins glacier, the ROV proceedings for the night began. It didn’t take long to find Primnoa pacifica! Samples were being carefully taken and put into quivers until resurfacing in the morning.

ROV Quivers for Samples
ROV samples stored in quivers overnight

 

There are all sorts of other important work that’s occurring in addition to coral collection. One of those is water sampling.

Amanda water sample
Amanda filters water samples

Scientist/Diver Amanda Kelley helps with filtering seawater collected in a Niskin bottle attached to the ROV Kraken. The Niskin bottle has plugs at both ends that are propped open to allow it to fill with water. When the plugs are tripped, the water at a certain depth is collected and sealed so that no other water will enter that sample.

Niskin bottle demo
Dann Blackwood demonstrates Niskin bottle mechanics

Filtering the water sample will help determine the concentration of particulate organic matter in a given amount of seawater at the same location of the Primnoa pacifica being collected. Scientists are trying to determine if the corals derive their food from the particulate organic matter or chemosynthetic sources. The filtered matter will be used to assess for the presence of nitrogen and carbon isotopes helping the scientists better understand the nutritional pathways of the coral ecosystem within Glacier Bay.

The scientists are measuring as many environmental variables as possible and hoping to link these to the health of the coral in Glacier Bay.

Accurate record keeping is of the utmost importance!
Oh my goodness! There are backups to the backups!

Kathy recording data
Kathy records data and checks the logbooks

Geologist Kathy Scanlon shares that she is putting geographic position data into a Geographic Information System (GIS), a digital mapping system, along with the other data collected such as diver comments and coral samples.

Kathy and GIS
Kathy records data in the Geographic Information System (GIS)

In a nutshell, it’s a way to organize data based on geographic location. In the process of gleaning this information, she says it’s also a great way of double-checking the record keeping for any inconsistencies. Another backup to the backups!
Some of the data points being recorded and re-recorded are date, time, site, depth, species, several reference numbers, and diver’s comments.

In addition to samples of Primnoa pacifica being collected, the divers are gathering samples of other organisms for documentation. These scientist divers are looking for something new—something they don’t recognize—possibly a new species or an extension of a known species location. When they surface with something unusual to them, the excitement is palpable! Everyone on the ship wants to see what’s new!

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Personal Blog

Today I’ve been a bit groggy because seasick meds make me sleepy, but I was glad to avoid the “5-star barfing” as one person described their seasick experience.

I’m so impressed with the enthusiasm for education amongst the people involved with this scientific cruise. Yesterday, I met several people at Bartlett Cove who were reading my blog and keeping up with this research cruise. All the scientists and crew onboard the Norseman II are willing and eager to answer any of my questions.

I got an email from a co-worker, Holly, one of Scammon Bay’s English teachers! She told me that she shared my blog with two of her classes and used it as a journaling prompt. Also, our principal Melissa Rivers, is sharing photos and facts with the entire school on a monitor in the Commons. I so appreciate the enthusiasm from my co-workers and their willingness to help our students learn about this cutting-edge research being done in Alaska. What a wonderful opportunity to learn and expand our horizons together!
Thanks again for your support and interest!

Where’s Qanuk?

Mary Cook: Day 4 at Sea, March 22, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard R/V Norseman II
March 18-30, 2016

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Time: 7:40pm

Data from the Bridge
Temperature:
37.6°F
Pressure: 1013 millibars
Speed: 0.0 knots
Location: N 58°51.902’: W 137°04.737’

Science Log

Happy Birthday to Cheryl!

Cheryl small
This is Cheryl!

Unbeknownst to Cheryl, Chief Scientist Rhian Waller, even though she was very busy preparing for the cruise, brought balloons, streamers, candles, and noisemakers to celebrate Cheryl’s birthday today.

Birthday Decor small
Surprise Birthday Decor

The ship’s chef is secretly making her a cake. The celebration is slated for tonight at dinner. Shhhhh……

This morning, Chief Scientist Rhian Waller announced that we are steaming toward the end of the west arm of Glacier Bay to Johns Hopkins Glacier. This is a place where cruise ships take tourists in the Fall. But the Park Service has it closed during the Spring and Summertime because it’s a harbor seal nursery. The nightshift workers are trying to catch a few winks of sleep before we get there. No one wants to miss it. We are hoping for clear skies. Johns Hopkins Glacier is one of the few glaciers that is advancing instead of receding. As it advances, it is joining the Gilliman Glacier.

Park Service Map small
Map showing John Hopkins Glacier. Credit: National Park Service

It’s 10:30 am and we’ve arrived sooner than I expected. Johns Hopkins Glacier is really something to see! So massive. Once again everyone is out on deck taking pictures and oohing and aahing.

The glacier has shades of blue and white with streaks of brown and gray. It has a covering of white snow that looks like cake icing. The glassy water is a blue-green color with a multitude of icebergs floating in it. Bob Stone uses a term we all like—“bergy bits”—meaning small pieces of floating ice. He even brought some “bergy bits” onto the ship for us to add to our water or soft drinks. So refreshing!

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While on deck taking pictures we hoped to see the glacier calve and fall into the sea. It sounds like thunder. We waited and we waited and finally a couple of small ones happened. Also, a couple of snow avalanches slid off the mountains into the water leaving dirty brown streaks along the slopes.

Avalanche medium
Occasional avalanches leave dirty streaks in the glacier’s white snow covering

Our scuba divers went down for another exploratory look and came up with a first! They found Primnoa pacifica in the West Arm! This is the first Primnoa pacifica ever found here. They described it as spindly and small in comparison to the others found in the East Arm.

The scuba divers continue their search for Red Tree Coral.

The significance of this Red Tree Coral being in the shallow water is that it has been considered a deep-water coral. There are two broad categories of coral: warm-water coral and cold-water coral. Generally, warm-water coral live in shallow, tropical waters. Cold-water coral live in deep water. The emergence of cold-water corals like Primnoa pacifica in the shallow waters of Glacier Bay has caused scientists to re-evaluate their understanding and descriptions of these organisms.

The third and last scuba dive for today was described as “mud, mud, and more mud”. A bit of a disappointment but they did bring up an interesting little critter.

Sea Peach small
Maybe a sea peach?

This sea squirt is a tan color here in the wet lab, but according to Bob, in its natural habitat it has a bright cherry red color.

Cheryl Birthday Party large
Birthday party for Cheryl!

Well, it’s finally suppertime! That means “Birthday Party Time!” The ship’s chef, Harry served up a delicious meal of salmon, barbeque chicken, steamed kale, baked summer squash, scalloped potatoes and a big salad. For dessert, he prepared a layered chocolate cake with freshly made whipped cream and strawberries. Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to Cheryl.

After she blew out the candles we went out on the deck and ate cake with new friends in the view of majestic mountains and glaciers.

Eating Cake on the Deck large

A birthday to remember, I’ll say.

Now it’s back to work and the ROV crew is getting ready to deploy Kraken 2 for another night of exploration!

 

Personal Log

Today has been a day of anticipation and inspiring wonder. I’ve tried to stay out on deck watching the glacier. Hoping for calving and avalanches. It’s really neat to me that no one else is here. We haven’t seen anyone else except four Park Service employees who boated out to meet us today. I found out that there are over 1,000 glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park! Some of them aren’t even named. I enjoyed watching a couple of bald eagles sitting on icebergs. And the absolute coolest thing has been the discovery of Primnoa pacifica in the West Arm of Glacier! I could feel the excitement in the air!

It’s so thrilling to be a part of this scientific exploration and to learn from these world-class researchers!

 

Mary Cook: Day 3 at Sea, March 21, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard R/V Norseman II
March 18-30, 2016

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Monday, March 21, 2016
Time: 7:54pm

Data from the Bridge
Temperature:
45.7°F
Pressure: 1007 millibars
Speed: 1.9 knots
Location: N 58°51.280’: W136°05.795’

Science Log

My Lab Work large
My lab work: a tray of Primnoa pacifica samples labeled and preserved for reproductive studies

Today, the coral processing continued for genetic, isotope, and reproductive studies, which has been very intensive for the last two days and nights. During the daylight hours, the divers collected samples of the coral in shallow water (30 meters) and during the nighttime hours ROV Kraken 2 collected the coral samples from the deep (210 meters).

Chief Scientist Rhian Waller tells me that the coral processing work will slow down for a few days because we are leaving the known sampling sites and heading into the unknown. Unknown territory for Primnoa pacifica, that is.

According to Rhian, the most important task today has been the completion of this collection series for Primnoa pacifica (Red Tree Coral). With both shallow and deep samples, geneticist Cheryl Morrison will be able to map the spreading patterns of the Red Tree Coral in Glacier Bay!

There were a total of four exploratory dives today. The divers are having a blast! They wore GoPro cameras on their helmets and used “underwater scooters” to go faster and farther during their dive time constraints. A scooter is a handheld engine with a propeller that pulls a diver behind it. Bob Stone describes it to be like sledding underwater!

In addition to the Red Tree Coral, they’ve brought up some really interesting specimens, which include sea stars, nudibranchs, shrimps-one very pregnant shrimp loaded with eggs, a polychaete worm, a bioluminescent ctenophore, sea pens, and sponges.

On one of the dive outings, they took Qanuk and sat him on an iceberg! It was a really beautiful blue iceberg. Blue icebergs have ice crystals that are more tightly packed therefore they reflect more blue light wavelengths than other colors of wavelengths.

Qanuk Sitting on Iceberg large

This evening, scientists are once again gathered around the monitor to see what the ROV Kraken 2 will discover. So far, we’ve seen crabs, goose barnacles feeding on plankton floating in the water, anemones, poacher sturgeon, sea cucumbers and moon snails. Sounds like a yummy salad, doesn’t it?

Personal Log

Today everyone settled into their jobs and it was a smooth operation. The scientists and crew are still brimming with excitement about the possibilities for this voyage. I was glad to get the intensive coral processing completed. Though it’s very important work, it’s tedious and repetitive. One very nice bi-product of working with the coral is the scent. Red Tree Coral smell like cucumbers! Also, we get to see all the other curious types of samples brought aboard such as glowing ctenophores and jumping shrimp! I’m getting to see so many things I’ve never seen before and it’s wonderful to have experts help explain everything. They are genuinely interested in sharing knowledge with me in hopes that I will take it back to the classroom for my students in Scammon Bay. Scammon Bay kids have become important to these world-class scientists! Another cool thing about these scientists, even though they are experts in their fields, they are also eager students for learning something new. Enthusiastic lifelong learners— what an inspiration!

All in all, it’s been a good day in Glacier Bay.

 

Mary Cook: Day 2 at Sea, March 20, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard R/V Norseman II
March 18-30, 2016

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Sunday, March 20, 2016
Time: 6:00pm

Data from the Bridge
Temperature:
38°F
Pressure: 1005 millibars
Speed: 0.3 knots
Location: N 59°02.491’ , W136°11.193’
Weather: Sunny with a few clouds

Science Log

Happy First Day of Spring!

Last night the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Kraken2 dove and collected many samples of Primnoa pacifica (Red Tree Coral). The science crew excitedly gathered around the monitor to see what Kraken2 was “seeing”-lots of rocks, a few fish, a few shrimp, a few crabs, a couple of sponges, an octopus and lots of beautiful Red Tree Coral attached to the rock faces.

The ROV Kraken2 is run by a crew of engineers from the University of Connecticut and makes nighttime dives to deeper depths between 130 and 170 meters.

Today we busily processed the coral for genetics, isotopes, and reproduction studies to be conducted later by a series of scientists in various labs scattered across several states.

 

For the genetic samples, polyps (one individual) of coral are smashed onto special paper folders that contain a preservative. For the isotope samples, polyps are put into tiny vials then frozen. For the reproductive samples, an intact piece of coral is placed in a 15-milliliter tube and then submerged into formalin preservative. Later the formalin will be poured out and ethanol will be poured into the tubes. Preparing the reproductive samples is my job!

Three divers went down four different times collecting samples, all near White Thunder Ridge and Riggs Glacier in the eastern arm of Glacier Bay.

Riggs Glacier is showing numerous crevasses, which are usually snow-covered at this time of year. A crevasse is a big crack on the topside of the glacier.

As the evening approached, the ship steamed to the northernmost end of the East Arm where Muir Glacier was waiting to greet us. Muir Glacier is named for Naturalist John Muir who explored in Glacier Bay during the late 1800’s.

Muir Glacier was once a tidewater glacier at the water’s edge but in the last ten years has melted and receded back up into the valley.

The sky was clear and the snow-capped mountains and waterfalls were beautifully reflected in the still waters of the Bay. A gibbous moon rose over the mountain peaks just as the Sun was setting.

Personal Log

Today I learned how to process the samples for genetics, isotopes, and reproduction. My responsibility was to put a small branch of coral into a tube of Formalin. Labeling the tubes with place, depth, and species is important so the scientists as they begin working in the laboratory weeks later will know the source of the coral sample.

The Norseman ll as seen from the RHIB leaving for a dive outing
R/V Norseman II as seen from the RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) leaving for a dive outing

As we worked, Chief Scientist Rhian Waller came into the wet lab asking if anyone wanted to ride in the skiff, my heart started beating faster! I didn’t want to be pushy so I kept quiet. Then she said, “Mary would you like to go out on the skiff?” “Yes! I loved to go!” was my reply. I donned the Mustang suit, hardhat, and rubber boots. I grabbed Qanuk and went outside to load into the little RHIB, which had been lowered from the deck on to the water beside the ship’s hull. When everyone was ready, we motored closer to White Thunder Ridge. The diver’s entered the water and explored the region at about 70 feet deep. Meanwhile we waited for them and kept a watch on their bubbles rising to the surface. We used binoculars and viewed five fluffy mountain goats moving along the Ridge! It was cool to see the mountain goats but they were creating a “falling rocks” hazard for those of us down below. Our boat driver decided to move the RHIB away from the Ridge in order to avoid the rocks tumbling down into the water.

Later in the day, when the Norseman II got closer to Muir Glacier, almost everyone was on deck getting that perfect photo of the mountains reflected in the mirror-like waters of Glacier Bay. It was a remarkable scene!

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So at the end a good day, I am feeling very thankful to be a witness to the scientific work in an effort to better understand this pristine wilderness.

Mary Cook: My First Day at Sea! March 19, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard R/V Norseman II
March 18-30, 2016

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Saturday, March 19, 2016
Time: 8:28pm

Weather Data from the Bridge
Temperature:
38°F
Pressure:
1013 millibars
Speed:
0.2 knots
Location:
N59° 01.607’, W136° 10.159’
Weather Conditions:
Intermittent light rain

Science Blog
Before the Norseman II left port, the Boatswain conducted all the required ship safety drills with us: fire drill, man overboard, and abandon ship. This is where we learned to don the emergency flotation suit, gathered at the Muster Station for roll call, and went over procedures in case of an emergency. These drills are taken very seriously.

Ranger Greg is a good sport

We left the port of Auke Bay just north of Juneau at around 10 pm Friday night and steamed into Glacier Bay to arrive at Bartlett Cove this morning at 9 am. We disembarked to attend a required safety orientation for Glacier Bay National Park. Ranger Greg informed us that he had recently seen 4 humpback whales headed into the Bay! Also, that orca live in the Bay year round. Many of the channels are ice-free now because it is warmer than usual for this time of year.

After the brief stop at Bartlett Cove, we steamed into the East Arm of Glacier Bay toward White Thunder Ridge. Many of us were on deck with binoculars looking for wildlife and enjoying the scenic snow-capped mountains. We saw birds, otters, moose and mountain goats!

 

Chief Scientist Dr. Waller conducts science meeting

While en route, Chief Scientist Dr. Rhian Waller conducted a science meeting reviewing the purpose and plans for the cruise, which is to explore, collect samples and data on the presence and emergence of Primnoa pacifica in Glacier Bay. Primnoa pacifica is commonly called Red Tree Coral. NOAA’s Dr. Bob Stone, who first pursued collecting data on the Red Tree Coral in Glacier Bay back in 2004, is working on this expedition. Other than Bob’s documentation, the Primnoa pacifica of Glacier Bay, Alaska is a mystery.

Two dives were conducted below the steep incline of White Thunder Ridge. The divers got into their dry suits, reviewed their plans on how to communicate and collect samples underwater, and then boarded the little boat called a RHIB (rigid-hull inflatable boat). They returned to Bob’s old spot and dove about 72 feet down for sample collection. The dive took about 30 minutes and when they returned with samples, we began processing each one.

The Primnoa samples will be assessed for three different things: genetics, isotopes, and reproduction. The genetic fingerprints will be useful in determining the generational spreading pattern of the Red Tree Coral in Glacier Bay. The isotopes will aid in understanding what they eat and their place in the food web. The reproduction assessments will identify sex and level of maturity. An interesting observation is that Primnoa pacifica is one of the first corals to seed newly exposed rock faces when glaciers recede. Bob estimates that the tallest of these coral are about 40 years old because that is when the glacier receded past this point. Using that fact, he also calculates their growth rate to be about 2 centimeters per year.

 

Tonight, the ROV Kraken 2 will be deployed in order to explore deep depths for the presence of the Red Tree Coral. ROV means remotely operated vehicle. More on that tomorrow!

Kraken 2 Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)

Personal Blog
I must say it is a pleasure to be aboard the Norseman II with such enthusiastic scientists and crew. The atmosphere on the ship is one of anticipation and this is how I imagine the early explorers of Glacier Bay must have felt. Rhian, our Chief Scientist, described this expedition as exploratory in nature. I’ve always dreamed of being an explorer and now I get to watch some real explorers in action! These guys and gals have done so many cool things like study life in Antarctica, map uncharted territory, design and build new equipment, and travel to the deep ocean in the Alvin submersible. I am so thankful that they are excited to be a part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program and share with our students in Scammon Bay and beyond. I’ve enjoyed listening as they brainstorm ways to use our eagle mascot, Qanuk, to engage young people in real science and exploration.

So, as I call it a day, I’d like to congratulate our Scammon Bay Lady Eagles who become the Class 1A Alaska State Champions today! Go Eagles! I’m so proud of both our boys and girls teams and their coaches. They’ve worked hard, played smart and represented our community with dignity and respect.
Good night…..

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Andrea Schmuttermair, Anchors Away from Kodiak, July 7, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 5 – 25, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 7, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 56 36.1N
Longitude: 156 04.1W

Visibility: 10nm
Speed: 12 knots
Wind Speed: 4 knots
Wind Direction: 202 degrees
Surface Water Salinity:35.31
Air Temperature: 12.6 C
Barometric Pressure: 1004.6 mbar
Sky: SCT (scattered clouds)

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One of the signs from my walk along the docks in Kodiak. I learned a lot about Kodiak and the fishing industry by reading these signs.

Science and Technology Log:

The walleye pollock fishing industry is the largest commercial fishing industry in the country, and one of the largest fishing industries in the world. Have you eaten fish sticks? Filet-O-Fish from McDonald’s? Imitation crab? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then you have eaten walleye pollock. Since pollock supports such a large industry, scientists need to carefully monitor its abundance each year. Bring on the scientists and crew on board the Oscar Dyson to make this mission possible.

TIn summer, and in a few locations in winter, scientists head out to assess the walleye pollock population in both the Bering Sea and in the Gulf of Alaska. The summer survey alternates between the two areas, and this summer we are traveling in the Gulf of Alaska for our survey. This second leg (out of 3 legs total) will head counterclockwise around the island of Kodiak. This survey, conducted by the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering Program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, uses acoustic technology to gather data on the distribution and abundance of fish, which provides researchers with pertinent information about the walleye pollock population.

The Oscar Dyson at Pier 2 before departure from Kodiak.
The Oscar Dyson at Pier 2 before departure from Kodiak.

The Oscar Dyson is a relatively new ship, equipped with noise quieting technology in order to create as little acoustic disturbance as possible when out at sea. Another neat feature crucial to the work of the Dyson is the acoustic transducers located on the bottom of the ship. There are several of these transducers, which are composed of small ceramic disks, and they help scientists detect ocean life and map the seafloor. If you are like me, you are probably wondering what a transducer is, right? It took me a couple of explanations and analogies in order to understand what was happening in these tiny devices. Remember, sound waves are pressure waves that move through a medium, in this case water. The transducer converts electrical energy to mechanical energy, expanding and contracting with electrical signal it receives. This expansion and contraction creates sound waves that move through the water away from the transducers. After sending the pressure waves the transducer switches modes to “listen” to the incoming waves. When the sound waves hit something in the water they are reflected back to the transducer. These reflected waves that are received by the transducers indicate the presence of obstacles in the water. An analogy for this process is that the transducer first acts as a speaker and then as a microphone.

The transducers on the bottom of the ship sending out a signal to the ocean floor.
The transducers on the bottom of the ship sending out a signal to the ocean floor.

Five of these transducers are being used for the pollock survey in order to detect pollock and other ocean life. The information the transducer receives back is automatically graphed on the computer. Scientists and other crew members can view and analyze this graph, and will use this information to determine when it is appropriate to send out a trawl to collect fish. There are also several transducers located around the bottom of the ship that are gathering information about the ocean floor. Hydrographic surveys use this technology as they map the sea floor. I am amazed at where we have come with technology, especially out at sea. Stay tuned for my next post to learn about more amazing technology we are using on board!

Personal Log:

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Ready to fly on this little plane from Anchorage to Kodiak.

Lucky. That is how I would describe myself when I landed at the Kodiak airport on my flight from Anchorage. First, I was lucky that the flight I was scheduled on made it to Kodiak on its first attempt, as flights are often cancelled for poor weather or low visibility. Planes have been known to turn around and fly back to Anchorage if they can’t make a safe landing in Kodiak. I am also feeling very lucky to have the opportunity to partake in yet another assignment as a NOAA Teacher at Sea, in another area of the country I haven’t yet explored.

I arrived in Kodiak on the 4th of July, and was swept up from the airport by one of the NOAA Corps officers, ENS Justin Boeck. We weren’t scheduled to depart on the Oscar Dyson until Monday, July 6th, so Justin gave me a quick tour of the ship. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the Oscar Dyson, but when my first thoughts climbing on board were that it would take me a week to find my way around! It is much larger than the last ship I was on, the Oregon II, down in the Gulf of Mexico.

Trying to take advantage of the nice weather, I decided to explore the area before we left. The town of Kodiak is quaint, and in walking through the downtown area, it is clear that fishing has been and will continue to be integral to the way of life here.

The science crew came in on the 4th as well from Seattle. I met them all when we went out to dinner Saturday evening. Even though we are going to be sleeping on the ship for next 2 nights before we depart, meals won’t be served until we are underway. I did manage to track down some good sushi and seafood places here in town, and am quite satisfied!

This sculpture was made entirely of trash found in the ocean.
This sculpture was made entirely of trash found in the ocean.

On Sunday, the weather turned for the worse, which made the walk into town for coffee a wet one. If you think weather changes quickly in Colorado, try coming to Alaska. My favorite image of the weather status was at a little shop in Homer, Alaska, which outlined a box with a marker on the window and wrote, “If you want to know the weather, look here.”

That afternoon, I was given a little orientation on what some of my tasks would be on the ship, as there is quite a bit going on in addition to the pollock survey. I will be spending most of my time in the acoustics lab analyzing data, the wet lab processing our catches, and chem lab for some of the special projects.

In the evening, the weather cleared just long enough for me to convince ENS Gilman (ok, he didn’t really need any convincing- he was just as excited as I was) to head down to the pier to test out the Waverunner, the ROV made by the students in my class. While the visibility was not the best, we were able to see plenty of moon jellies, sea anemones and some kelp beds. The ROV handled pretty well in the ocean, although we did have some difficulties bringing it back up when it went down too deep. Students, do you have any suggestions for how we could account for this? Any suggestions or modifications we need to make?

We were supposed to be leaving early afternoon on Monday, however due to the bad weather, several of our crew members had not yet made it in to Kodiak. They finally made it over later that afternoon and we left port at 11pm. I stayed up to watch the sun set as we were leaving port (yes, it does actually set in parts of Alaska), and pushed myself to stay awake for a few more hours. I’ll be working the night shift for the next few weeks, which means I’m on duty from 4pm-4am. The faster I can get myself used to this schedule, the better off I’ll be. The first days in Kodiak have been a blast, and I am excited to begin conducting our survey!

Checking out the ship before we set sail.
Checking out the ship before we set sail.

Did you know? Acoustic transducer technology has been in use since World War II.

Where on the ship is Wilson?

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Wilson, our ring tail camo shark (so aptly named by our awesome science crew) , has been enjoying his time on the ship as much as I have. He has traveled all over the place, and is having fun with the crew on board. Can you guess where he is in the picture above?

Andrea Schmuttermair, Wander-lusting for Alaska, June 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 6 – 24, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak, AK
Date: June 24, 2015

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Ms. Schmuttermair on the Oregon II, 2012

Wanderlust (n): a strong desire or urge to wander or travel and explore the world.

As I sit writing this initial blog post on the beach here in San Diego, California, I find myself reminiscent of the summer of 2012, the “summer of ships”, as I referred to it. In June of 2012, I was preparing for adventures of a lifetime, for I would be on board not one but two ships throughout that summer. The first, the mighty Oregon II, one of NOAA’s fishery vessels, conducting research in the Gulf of Mexico. The second, a luxurious cruise ship, sailing the waters of Alaska. Little did I know I would be sitting here, 3 years later, eagerly anticipating my voyage back to Alaska yet again on board one of NOAA’s fishery vessels, again as a Teacher at Sea.

Andrea and Wesson
Ms. Schmuttermair and Wesson

My name is Andrea Schmuttermair, and I am currently an elementary teacher at the Colorado STEM Academy just north of Denver, Colorado. I just finished my 11th year teaching, and I have had the privilege to teach some amazing students in Germany, California, and Colorado. I have a lot of fun with my students (like 3D printing sharks and coding our own reaction timer), and strive to give them as many engaging science experiences as I can. Outside of the classroom, you can find me creating opportunities for new adventures and experiences through travel and the outdoors. I love to hike and backpack the trails in Colorado with my faithful companion, Wesson. Traveling to new, uncharted territory is also a frequent occurrence.

I first learned about the Teacher at Sea program back in 2008, and it immediately went on my bucket list. After a couple years of applying, I was accepted as a TAS in 2012 and helped scientists conduct the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey in the Gulf of Mexico. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement. It was by far one of the best experiences I have had, so much so, that when given the option to reapply, I knew I just had to. I am thrilled to be heading back to Alaska, this time wearing a different hat, to help scientists conduct the walleye pollock survey. The Walleye pollock is a key species in one of the largest fishing industries in the world. I am looking forward to helping scientists with this important research.

My students spent the last several months of school immersed in the fascinating world of the ocean. Being in a landlocked state, the ocean was still relatively undiscovered for them, yet it drew my students in with a desire and passion I couldn’t feed quick enough. From engaging in problem/project based learning to studying ocean animals and their adaptations to skyping with our favorite shark scientist, Dr. Mikki, to creating 3D printed models of new ocean discoveries, I knew my students had found a niche and a passion for learning. They weren’t done yet though. After some brainstorming, we decided to spend the last month of school on an in-depth project learning about and building our very own underwater ROVs. Inspired by NOAA and James Cameron’s recent film, our class learned about how ROVs are built and how they are used in research in the ocean. Very fascinating! We ended our year building 5 ROVs, which culminated in a competition running them through various challenges. The winning ROV, the Waverunner, is coming with me on this trip to swim through the Alaskan waters off the shore in Kodiak. How cool is that?!

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 I am counting down the days until I head out to sea. Stay tuned for my next entry on board the mighty Oscar Dyson!

Did you know…that the scientific name for the Walleye Pollock was recently changed? After extensive genetic studies, researchers decided to change the scientific name from Theragra chalcogramma to Gadus chalcogrammus. Read more about it here.

Do you…have any questions about the research being done on Walleye pollock? Leave your questions in the comments below!

*Photos courtesy of Caine Delacey and Andrea Schmuttermair

Sarah Raskin: Teacher at Sea Day 6, March 18, 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 18, 2015


Day 6: 3/18/15

7th and 8th grade students from Haydock Academy of Arts and Sciences in Oxnard, California, along with elementary students from South Carolina, decorated Styrofoam cups that Peter and I took with us on the Shimada. We brought these cups to show our students the amazing power of underwater pressure.  The depths at which the ROV and CTD Niskin Rosette traveled during the voyage were much further than a human body could physically handle without being in some sort of pressurized submersible.   Human bodies currently experience air pressure when we are at sea level, though we don’t feel the pressure because the fluids in our bodies are pressing outwards with the equal amount of force.  However, once you start traveling underwater, the greater the pressure of the water pushing down on your being.  As one NOAA website states: “For every 33 feet (10.06 meters) you go down, the pressure increases by 14.5 psi. In the deepest ocean, the pressure is equivalent to the weight of an elephant balanced on a postage stamp, or the equivalent of one person trying to support 50 jumbo jets!” (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/pressure.html)

cups on CTD rosette
Peter and I with the students’ cups tied to the CTD Niskin Rosette

To illustrate how powerful the water pressure is in the deep ocean, Peter and I used Styrofoam cups to demonstrate this concept.  First, we stuffed paper towels into the cups so that they would retain their shapes during a dive down to the bottom of the ocean floor.  Next, we attached the cups to the CTD Niskin rosette. The crew launched the CTD into the ocean and it plunged downwards to a depth of 550 meters. As the cups descended deeper and deeper, the increasing water pressure compressed the air out from between the Styrofoam beads that make up the cup.  What was left was a significantly shrunken version of our cups. Here are the before and after pictures:

cups before dive
The cups before the dive

The CTD Niskin rosette also collected data as it traveled downwards. Water filtered through the machine and sensors gathered information about temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, and dissolved oxygen levels. The tubes on the CTD could also be programmed to collect water samples at certain depths, which they did on the return trip to the surface. This allowed the scientists to collect the water to test for different water quality factors at a later date.

rosette and cups ready to go
The cups and CTD Niskin Rosette prepare to go overboard
reviewing the data
Peter and ST Gunter review the data that is being uploaded from CTD Niskin Rosette during its dive.

Media Day

Today, the scientists and Shimada team were joined by media crews from the LA times and the Santa Barbara Independent, along with some of NOAA’s education outreach specialists. The reporters took a tour around the Shimada and they interviewed the scientists about their important work.  From Peter Etnoyer, and his team’s work on Lophelia and ocean acidification, Branwen Williams’ research on deep-sea coral, Laura Kracker and team’s mapping of uncharted Sanctuary regions, to the MARE team’s innovative ROV technology, the media had quite a bit to report about! 

The reporters were even able to watch the ROV take its final dive of the trip to collect one last acanthogoria sample. One of Branwen’s and Peter’s goals is to be able to determine the ages of these beautiful organisms through the work they do. If they are able to create baseline data for how old an acanthogoria is, based on size and height, then there will be less of a need to collect these specimens in the future. Instead, they will be able to determine age based on looking at the footage during an ROV dive and using the laser measurements on the ROV camera to decide how old the coral is.

Chris Caldow
Chris Caldow, NOAA research coordinator and organizer of our expedition, speaks with the media.
media watching dive
The media crew watches the ROV’s final dive of the trip
Acanthagoria sample
Gathering around the Acanthogoria sample

Until next time….

My journey on the Shimada finally came to a close today. NOAA sent out their local research vessel, the Shearwater, to meet us in the waters off Santa Cruz Island. Many of the scientists, along with the MARE team and myself boarded the Shearwater and watched as the Shimada became smaller and smaller in the distance. It was very sad to say goodbye, but Chris Caldow and the sonar team will continue on the Shimada with their important mapping of the Sanctuary for the next several days.

Shearwater approach
The Shearwater makes its approach to bring us back to shore
Bell M. Shimada
Saying goodbye to the Bell M. Shimada

Our Backyard

Being able to explore the seldom-visited parts of our sanctuary with the scientists and NOAA crew was a once in a lifetime experience. The research these scientists are doing to uncover the hidden depths of the sanctuary is also helping to illustrate how our actions on land have a direct impact on our oceans.

When we learn more about these rarely seen regions of our Sanctuary and about the deep-sea organisms that make their home there, these places and creatures become something that we grow to love and care about. This exploratory research is so important, because as someone on the trip said; “we cannot protect what we don’t know is there.” This is especially relevant for myself and the students from Haydock, because the Channel Islands truly are our backyard; we can see the Islands and Sanctuary from the shores of our city of Oxnard.  When we feel a greater connection to a place such as the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, we are more likely to take part in the stewardship and protection of it for our future generations.

“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children” (unknown)

To learn more about the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, click on the following link:

http://channelislands.noaa.gov/welcome.html

To learn more about MARE and the ROVs check out their website: http://www.maregroup.org/

For more information about Peter Etnoyer’s work, click the following link:

http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/edu/oceanage/03etnoyer/welcome.html

For more information about Branwen Williams work, use the following link:

https://sites.google.com/site/branwenw/home

sunset in Channel Islands NMS
Sunset in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Amy Orchard: Day 7 & 8 – ROV, Multibeam, New Scientists, More Dolphins, September 22, 2014

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

Mission: Deep Habitat Classification
Geographical area of cruise: Tortugas Ecological Reserve and surrounding non-reserve area
Date: September 21 & 22, 2014

Weather: September 22, 2014 20:00 hours
Latitude 24° 25.90 N Longitude 83° 80.0 W
Few clouds, clear
Wind speed 10 knots
Air Temperature: 28.5° Celsius (83.3° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 29.9° Celsius (86° Fahrenheit)

CLICK ON THE SMALL PHOTOS TO MAKE THEM LARGER

SATURDAY:

The ROV

All week we have had the privilege of using the Remotely Operated Vehicle.  This model is the Mohawk 18.  It has two cameras, one that provides still photographs and the other takes high-definition video.  Both are geo-referenced so we know exactly which latitude and longitude we are working.

It has an amazing maneuverability and gets around, over and under things quite quickly.  The footage is sent back up aboard in real time via a long fiber optic umbilical cord.

This amazing piece of equipment has allowed us to see down to depths that the divers would not have been able to reach.  It has also allowed us lengthy bottom times that the divers would not have been able to sustain.  Most of the divers have been trained to dive with double air supply tanks, which affords them more bottom time, but the ROV can stay down for hours and hours at a time.  The only limitation is the stress it puts on the pilots. Jason and Lance, our pilots, said that a four hour dive is about all they can run at a time without getting extremely crossed-eyed and need a break!  However, they are troopers and we have been doing multiple ROV dives each day, some lasting up to 4 hours.

Here are some fun things we have seen.

The last ROV dive of our day (& this cruise) was to a 56’ shrimp boat wreck which was down 47 meters (154 ft) just along the boundary of the North Reserve.  We saw nine Goliath Groupers (Epinephelus itajara) all at once.  Groups of these fish are often seen on wrecks, but the scientists were a bit surprised about the high density on such a small boat.  Due to over fishing of the Goliath Grouper, about twenty years ago, a moratorium was placed on fishing them and they were being considered for Endangered Status.  After just 10 years, a significant increase in population size was observed.  It’s still illegal to bring them over board but they are not on the Endangered Species list.  Juveniles live in the mangroves but adults live in deeper waters where our scientists were able to observe them with the ROV.

During the last 6 days we spent 14 hours and 20 minutes underwater with the ROV.  The entire time was recorded in SD and the scientists recorded the most significant events in HD.  They also sat at the monitors the entire time snapping still shots as often as they saw things they wanted photos of.  957 digital stills were taken.  The longest dive was 4 hours and 10 minutes.  Our deepest dive was 128 meters (420 feet!)

The screen on the left shows the map of the area the ROV is surveying.

These maps were created by the Multibeam Echo Sounder (MBES) The ROV depends on the MBES as do the fish scientists.  Without these maps, the ROV would not know where to dive and the fish scientists would not know where to conduct their research.  The MBES gives the fish scientists a wider view of the terrain than they can get on their own by SCUBA diving in smaller areas.

Multibeam Sonar

The Multibeam Echo Sounder (MBES) uses SOund NAvigation and Ranging (Sonar) to create high-definition maps of the sea floor and it’s contours (as well as other objects such as shipwrecks) by shooting sound waves (from 512 sonic beams) down to the seabed and then listening as they reflect back up to the ship.

cartoon of MBES
On the Nancy Foster, the Multibeam Echo Sounder sends down 512 sonic beams and listens as they return. Image courtesy of NOAA

This is very similar to the way a topographic (topo) map represents the three-dimensional features (mountain and valleys) of the land above water.  Instead of using contour lines to show variations in relief, MBS uses color to depict the bathymetry (submarine topography)  Red shows the shallowest areas, purple the deepest.

Another important element of the MBES for the fish researchers is called backscatter.  This byproduct of the sonar action wasn’t always collected.  Not until advances in technology allowed for an understanding of how to gather useful information from the backscatter did technicians realized how valuable it can be.  Backscatter is the amount of acoustic energy being received by the sonar after it is done interacting with the seafloor.  It is now recognized that the information from backscatter can determine substrate type.  Different types of substrate will “scatter” the sound energy differently. For example, a softer bottom such as mud will return a weaker signal than a harder bottom, like rock.

Layering together the multibeam data (which provides seafloor depth information and is computed by measuring the time that it takes for the signal to return to the sonar) with the backscatter, provides information which is especially helpful to fish researchers as it can assist them in classifying habitat type.  This allows them to know where they might find the species of fish they are looking to study.

Engine Room

Tim Olsen, Chief Engineer, toured Camy and I through the engine room.  It was overwhelming how many wires, cranks, moving parts and metal pieces there were.  Tim and the other engineers are brilliant.  I can not fathom what it takes to keep this 187 foot ship going with it’s multiple cranes, winches, engines, thrusters, small boats, air conditioners, toilets, kitchen appliances, etc.

I was most interested in the water systems.  The ship makes all its own drinking water since salt water is non-potable and it would take a lot of storage space to carry fresh water (space its tight on a ship!)  They have two systems.  One is a reverse osmosis system which, using lots of pressure, moves sea water through a membrane to remove the salts.  This system produces 1500 gallons of potable water a day. The second one is a flash distiller.  In this system, seawater is heated by the engine and then pumped into a vacuum chamber where it is “flashes” into water vapor which is condensed and collected.  The distilling system makes 1800 gallons a day aboard the Nancy Foster.  Distillers, in some form, have been used on ships since the 1770s.

The other thing that caught my attention was the sewage treatment system.  Earth Campers, this one is a bit smaller than the one we toured!

 

sewage treatment "plant"
sewage treatment “plant”

Of course, I also took a ride out in one of the small boats to assist the divers.  Sometimes all I do is fill out the dive log and pull the buoys back into the boat but I really enjoy being out in the open ocean, feeling the sea spray in my face and watching the light move across the top of the water.

Amy on boat
I always am happy to get out on the little boats!

Mexican Train

This week Tim has been coming around every now and then wearing his Domino King’s crown and cape, reminding us all to come challenge him to a game of Mexican Train (a fun dominos game).

Mexican Train
Mexican Train is played by building runs on each others dominoes. There has been some fun and some definite sassy times.

 

Tim has won every tournament game on the Nancy Foster in the last three months and has the bling to show for it! Then tonight, to the surprise of all, one of the scientists, Mike, dethroned the king!  This was the first time ever that a member of the science team has won the championship game.

SUNDAY:

Today was a fairly quiet day.  Not too much science was done except setting out a few more fish traps.

The big news was that we steamed back to Key West and made a science crew change.  We said goodbye to Jason, Lance & the ROV as well as Sean, Brett, Linh, Alejandro, Ariel, Ben and Camy.  They will all be missed.  Be sure you see Camy’s Miami Herald news articles–the first: (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/florida-keys/article2113805.html); and second: (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/florida-keys/article2500074.html)

New Scientists

We welcomed aboard NOAA’s Mary Tagilareni, Deputy Superintendent for Operations & Education and Beth Dieveney, Deputy Superintendent for Science & Policy as well as Lonny Anderson, our new dive master.  From the FWC, Bill Sympson, Biological Scientist, as well as our conch biologists Bob Glazer, Associate Research Scientist and Einat Sandbank, Biological Scientist.

Ship Propeller 

Also while in port, a few of the crew dived under the ship to check for any calcium carbonate secreting critters that may be growing on the transducer.  While down there, they found some lobster pot line that had caught on the propeller.

Sam dives under ship
Samantha Martin, Senior Survey Technician, is seen here diving to remove the lobster pot line. Again and again I was incredibly impressed with the NOAA crew. Their skill set was so vast. Sam not only runs the multibeam system but also dives, loads the small boats on & off the ship, drives the small boats and just about anything that needs done. This was the same for all the crew members. Photo taken by Sam’s diving buddy, the Commanding Officer, LCDR Jeff Shoup.

More Dolphins

To end the evening, a pod of dolphins can by again and Ensign Conor Maginn caught this video.

WORD OF THE DAY:  Extirpated

BONUS QUESTION:  Tell me about any Sonoran Desert species which were once being listed as Threatened or Endangered (or were being considered to be listed) and then had their populations recover.

Answer to the quiz from the last blog:  Lion Fish are INVASIVE.

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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.

John Bilotta, More Colors than a box of Crayola Crayons: Coral, Fish, Sunsets, and the Color of my TAS Experience.  My final blog. Days 10 &11, June 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 27, 2014

 

Weather: Hazy sun.  27 degree Celsius.  8.0 knot wind from the southwest.

Locations:  North Florida MPA.        LAT 30°45’N, LON 80.4.9’W

These have been my finals days aboard the Nancy Foster.  We have explored so much, seen so much, yet we didn’t even scratch the surface (or should I say the bottom) of the vastness of the MPAs, the Atlantic, or any of the oceans.  It has been said that the entire science community has explored less than 5% of the world’s oceans.  I can relate much better to this fact after my TAS experience.  In all, we completed 29 separate dives with the ROV.

The ROV on the deck of the Nancy Foster shortly before launch.
The ROV on the deck of the Nancy Foster shortly before launch.

John and the little ROV that could, that would, and did explore 29 dives with us.
John and the little ROV that could, that would, and did explore 29 dives with us.

After our last dive, we were gathered in lab and someone said “I call it a success if the number of launches matches the number of recoveries.”  While that certainly is a good measure, my measure of success is the amount of new knowledge I have acquired, the re-kindling of science knowledge I once used more readily, and the many ideas I have acquired to incorporate and advance the earth and water science classes and workshops I design and teach.

Science and Technology Log

Science Part I.  Let there be color

Hint:  See the pictures LARGER.  If you click on any of the pictures in any of my blogs, they should open up full screen so you can see the detail better

I won’t begin to identify everything in these pictures in part because I can’t without the expertise of the researchers and marine biologists I had the honor to be with.  So they are here for their sheer beauty and awesomeness.  Here are two good websites to checkout for more information:  The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council has a good EcoSpecies database to explore and www.marinespecies.org

 

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Science Part II.  The ocean floor changes and the habitat moves

Our last three dives with the ROV were in the North Florida MPA – about 100 miles east of Jacksonville.  Stacey and the team had explored these reefs and habitats a year ago.  We returned to the same areas using the MB maps where they expected to find good to excellent grouper habitat with high rugosity they observed the year before.  During the first portions of the ROV dive we just could not find that habitat; it was in fact buried in sand in many places.  The Gulf Stream and currents are strong here and they move the sand on the ocean floor.  In addition, hurricanes and tropical storm activity probably also lead to shifts in sand and sediment on the ocean floor, exposing and covering areas all the time. This seemingly paled in comparison to erosion and sedimentation I am more familiar with in Minnesota and in places in the Midwest.  Another example of how the Earth is always changing the way it appears.  In 5-8th grade Earth Adventure programs we often discuss processes that form and shape the planet; plate tectonics, erosion, and weathering are the highlights.  Now with my new knowledge, we will add the ideas of the oceans and currents that shape the planet.

Science Part III.  What will the scientists do with all the research and information we have collected?  

Over the next year, Stacey Harter, Andy David, Heather Moe, John Reed, and Stephanie Farrington will examine the hundreds of digital pictures, hours of HD video, and study the fish, invertebrate, and habitat logs we wrote during each ROV dive.  A summary report about the fisheries and health of the MPAs will be written that will help the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council with management decisions for both commercial and recreational fishing in the areas.

The Nancy Foster – a NOAA ship on the seas – what makes her go?

Most of my blog has been devoted to the science of the mission, but to make that happen, the Nancy Foster has to make its way through the ocean.  Here is a little about the people and the technology that make that happen.

The crew of the NF and a career with NOAA:  The NF has a compliment of 22 crew members including the Commanding Officer (CO), the Executive Officer (XO), and three Junior Officers (JO’s).  How does one get the privilege and honor to pilot a 187 foot ship?  One career entry point is the NOAA Corps. Here is a great video link about the NOAA Corps.  I had a chance to visit with all the officers and spent time with them on the bridge and can’t say enough good things about them. Wish I could include a picture of me with all of them.

John and Junior Officer Felicia Drummond on the bridge of the Nancy Foster for a morning of navigation.
John and Junior Officer Felicia Drummond on the bridge of the Nancy Foster for a morning of navigation.

Ship Technology and Engineering:  There is a team of ~15 engineers, technicians, and crew that make this virtual self-sustaining ship the ability to sail the ocean for up to 14 days at a time without going into port.  While at sea, each has their unique and important role.  During my last full day onboard, I spent ½ of it up on the bridge and ½ down in the engine room.  Here are a few technology tidbits:

  • Electronics and computers have a significant role to make the Nancy Foster plow through the ocean’s waters, in addition to its skilled captains and large propellers.  I cannot begin to list and describe all the computers and the high technology aboard the NF and all it does.  I would consider myself to have a high level of computer literacy, but this was daunting.
  • D.P. – Dynamic Positioning.  A computer system calculates and performs many of the navigational moves the NF makes.  The DP also uses wind and motion sensors to predict how the propulsion systems should respond in order to hold position or make precise movements. The DP can literally put the ship within meters of where the science team requests her to go (of course under the direction of the crew).  Simply amazing!
  • The D.P. drives the main engine, two Z-drives off the stern that turn 360 degrees and a bow thruster.
  • Multiple engines and generators churn away in the depths of her not only providing propulsion, but electricity, compressed air, air conditioning, etc.
  • The NF can make 1700 of fresh water daily either through an evaporative process connected to the main engine or through a reverse osmosis system.

 NEW – two short videos of the launch and recovery of the ROV 

 

A view off the Nancy Foster as we sail for port on the last day.
A view off the Nancy Foster as we sail for port on the last day.

What is next for me –what am I am hoping to do with my experience?

The NOAA TAS experience is a privilege that also comes with some requirements that I am excited to fulfill.  Over the course of the next few months I will be developing a classroom lesson plan (K12, grade to be determined) based on my experience.  I have at least seven new ideas to work into existing Earth Adventure programs.  I will also be preparing a presentation to my peers about the TAS, the MPAs, the research, and my involvement.  I will also be highlighting careers in NOAA for young adults.  Some of these materials will be posted to this blog – so don’t delete the link just because I am done sailing!

Personal Log:

Yes, we were able to watch the USA vs Germans play in the FIFA World Cup.  The Nancy Foster does have Direct TV and it so happens we timed our ROV dives to allow us to watch either of the two large screen TV’s aboard the ship.

I finished the The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman.  The last quote I will end my blog with

“Water is unpredictable.  Water is fickle.   But that is water’s nature. The fickleness, the variability, is itself predictable.”  (p775)

I watched a number of sunsets (when not playing Mexican Train – a game with Dominos) and I forced myself up a couple of mornings for sunrise, including this one on our last morning sailing back to Mayport.

One of the many colorful sunsets and sunrises I saw from the Nancy Foster.
One of the many colorful sunsets and sunrises I saw from the Nancy Foster.

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.  In the meantime, some might have links to further information. 

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at

http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/education/workshop/docs/workbook_definitions.pdf

  • D.P.  dynamic positioning
  • CPA – closest point of approach
  • BCR – Bow crossing range

John Bilotta, Totally Awesome Turtle, An Ocean of Stars, and Fancy Fish – Days 7-9 in the South Atlantic MPAs, June 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 25, 2014

 

Weather: Partly cloudy to sunshine.  27 degree Celsius.  8.0 knot wind from the southwest.

Locations:  North Cape Lookout 3 Proposed MPA, South Cape Lookout Proposed MPA (both off the coast of North Carolina) and the Edisto MPA (off the coast of South Carolina.)

LAT 32°24’N, 79°6’W  LON 32°24’N, 79°6’W

 

Hint:  See the pictures LARGER.

If you click on any of the pictures in any of my blogs, they should open up full screen so you can see the detail better.

 

Science and Technology Log  with more than 20 ROV dives completed, here are five new items to share

Science Part I.  Totally Awesome Turtle!

On Tuesday, June 24th during our first of four dives of the day a Loggerhead sea turtle came for a visit in front of the ROV.  Loggerheads are common for the MidAtlantic and other oceans in the mid-latitude regions. Loggerheads grow up to 250lbs and are named for their relatively large heads.

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.
Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

This was a dream come true for me.  I have always had this fascination with turtles stemming from catching them on Keller Lake in my early childhood to the snappers that have been visiting and nesting in our gardens the past few years at Goose Lake.  Every turtle is entitled to a name, this one I am calling “TJ.” (Hi Taylor!)   I hope we will see more.

Science Part II.  Discoveries of Dives in the Deep – the fish

Scamp Grouper

Scamp Grouper & Cubbya Dive067054 12 04 27
Scamp Grouper & Cubbyu. This grouper is probably 16-22 inches. Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014

Scamp Grouper. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.
Scamp Grouper. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

Speckled Hind

Speckled Hind.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014.
Speckled Hind. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014

Cornetfish

Cornetfish.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.
Cornetfish. Can grow to be 2-4 feet in length, 6 feet maximum. Although not possible to fully detect, when we photographed these it appears two males were courting a female. They almost danced together in the water. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

Science Part III.  An Ocean of Stars – Echinoderms and other Invertebrates

A brief bit of science, then you can see the pictures.  Echinoderms have three main characteristics:

1.  A body plan with 5-part radial symmetry
2.  A calcite skeleton
3.  A water-vascular system

Here are a few we have found on the ocean floor the past few days with the ROV.  By the way, it’s also a sky of stars at night from the ‘iron beach’ on the top deck aft of the bridge of the Nancy Foster.

Asterporpa Star wrapped around the backside of a diodiordia photographed during ROV dive.  Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW. June 2014.
Asteroporpa Star wrapped around the backside of a diodogorgia photographed during ROV dive. Look hard past the purple and you can see it. Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW. June 2014.

Seastar photographed during ROV dive.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW June 2014
Sea star photographed during ROV dive. Photo by NOAA / UNCW June 2014

Brittlestars photographed  during ROV dive.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW.  June 2014
Brittlestars photographed during ROV dive. I magnified this photo so you could see two close up, but in one of the photos we took with the ROV there were more than five visible. Photo by NOAA / UNCW. June 2014

Longspine Erchin.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014.
Longspine Urchin. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014.

One of the mollusks we found. 

Thorny Oysters.  There are three in this picture.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV 2014.
Thorny Oysters. There are three in this picture; the middle one is slightly open. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV 2014.

Science Part IV.  Iceberg Scours dead ahead!

Many of the ridges and valleys Stacey Harter our chief scientist choose for us to investigate with the ROV are actually scours along the Atlantic Ocean seafloor created by icebergs that moved in a southwesternly direction towards the Carolina’s. Yes, I said icebergs!  These scours I learned were probably created during the last deglaciation period, (~29,000-15,000 BP (before people)). I found this great blog post that summarizes some research on these and has a good graphic too.   The scours are revealed through the multibeam mapping (MB) that the science mapping team conducts overnight. The image below is a MB map that shows the ridges and valleys (iceberg scours) and the red dots that form the line our ROV took exploring it on Sunday.

Multibeam (MB) Map showing iceberg scours and ROV dive track.  Image courtesy of NOAA and Harbor Creek.  June 2014.

Multibeam (MB) Map showing iceberg scours. The red dotted line near the middle of the image is our ROV track from the dive, going east to west. Image courtesy of NOAA and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute . June 2014.

The earth science education I teach with the Earth Balloon and Earth Walk programs cover processes that shape and form the planet and I can’t wait to incorporate iceberg scours and the habitat they now provide into these programs!

A call out to Jennifer Petro and her class at Everitt Middle School in Panama City, Florida. Jennifer participated as a TAS in 2013 on this same research project. Her class sent a collection of decorated styrofoam cups with Andy David from the Panama City NOAA lab for us to bring to the bottom during one of our dives.  This is what happens when Styrofoam is subject to increasing pressure.

Styrofoam cups predive

Styrofoam cups postdive

Science Part V.  I think we placed it here…I think it is here…It is here!

Earlier this spring, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources in cooperation with the Army Corp of Engineers sank two barges to create artificial reef systems and habitat for groupers, tilefish, and countless other species.

Artificial reef barge sank spring 2014 by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources with cooperation from the Corp of Engineers.
Artificial reef barge sank spring 2014 by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources with cooperation from the Corps of Engineers. Its difficult to say for sure, but to give you a sense of scale, typical shipping containers like the green on one on top are are 40-50 feet in length.

During the overnight hours of June 24th & 25th the mapping science team (see below) set out to find these two barges somewhere within a 2 square mile box using the MB aboard the Nancy Foster; that’s a lot of ocean to cover!    I stayed up late with them and at about 10:00pm images began to emerge that resembled the barges.  By 10:30pm, the mapping team had combed through the data and generated 3D maps that were strong evidence they had found them.

MB barge1
3D multibeam image of one of the sunken barges near the Edisto MPA. The barge is the rectangle, however there appears to be a mass of objects off one of its corners – keep reading.

However, a hypothesis emerged; one of the barges may have flipped upside-down during its initial sinking and that some of the cargo containers had actually fallen off and came to rest on the ocean floor separate from the barge.  During this discussion with the mapping team, I had this huge smile and was in awe with what they could do with sound waves!

So on Wednesday afternoon, June 25th the ROV team went to work to explore the sunken barges.  I watched as Lance Horn slowly guided the ROV down below 100 meters.  Eventually we could make out the barge.  Lance had to use his many years of ROV piloting to carefully maneuver.   We could not let the umbilical fiber optic and power cord get caught on any of the metal debris and towers that projected outward.  What did we discover?  Unfortunately I am unable to show you the pictures.  At 90 meters in depth it was so dark, the digital camera could not capture quality images – even with two LED lights.  However, the HD video gave us clear visual and conclusions.  The barge settled upright on the sea floor (it wasn’t upside down).  However, we speculate that it came down with such force that the shipping containers and structures collapsed and broke away.  Indeed four of them are lying on the ocean floor off the northwest corner of the barge. It’s only been a few months so habitat and few fish have yet to call it home, but schools of Amberjack were all around.

 

Career highlight: 

Kayla Johnson and Freidrich Knuth are our mapping scientists we brought on board as part of the science team and Samantha Martin and Nick Mitchell are fulltime NOAA mapping scientists assigned to the Nancy Foster.  All four of them have very interesting stories about how they use their education and expertise to be eyes through the water column deep into the ocean.  Freidrich and Kayla accompanied the science team as graduates from the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences at Charleston College.

Mapping science crew aboard the Nancy Foster.  From left to right:  Freidrich Knuth, Nick Mitchell,Kayla Johnson.  Not pictured - Samantha Martin.
Mapping science crew aboard the Nancy Foster. From left to right: Freidrich Knuth, Nick Mitchell,Kayla Johnson. Not pictured – Samantha Martin.

It is really inspiring to hear about their experiences in MB mapping in many of the oceans worldwide.  They are experts of combing through data we receive through a number of ship-mounted devices, applying complex GIS software (geographic information systems), and creating 2D & 3D maps that the science team can use to direct the ROV to the next day – which means this team works through the overnight hours and sleeps during the day.

Personal Log:

I have been running on the treadmill which is located in a small fitness center low in the ship.  It’s a very awkward feeling when there are large waves and the treadmill and I are going up and down and swaying side to side.  The way I look at it I am running on water so it has to be easier on my knees.

I have lost track of the number of birthdays we have celebrated while offshore.  From somewhere, seemingly daily, birthday cards and cakes emerge.

And for another quote from The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman that I am reading while aboard the Nancy Foster.

“Water is a pleasure.  It is fun.  Our sense of water, our connection to water, is primal.  Anyone who has ever given a bath to a nine-month-old baby – and received a soaking in return – knows that the sheer exuberance of creating splashing cascades of water is born with us.  We don’t have to be taught to enjoy water.”  (p760)

We are sailing for the Florida MPA overnight tonight (10-12 hours) and will be ready to launch the ROV again tomorrow.

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.  In the meantime, some might have links to further information. 

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at

http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/education/workshop/docs/workbook_definitions.pdf

  • Ehinoderms
  • Radial symmetry
  • A ‘clip’
  • Latitude/Longitude
  • Heading
  • Hypothesis
  • GIS
  • TED – turtle exclusion device (Andy and I had a conversation about other work NOAA is doing in the Gulf related to turtles, TEDs and their work on trawlers.   Perhaps another NOAA at sea adventure for me in the future.)

John Bilotta, Super Highways of Currents and Super Specimens from the Deep: Days 5 & 6 in the South Atlantic MPAs, June 23, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 23, 2014

Weather:

Saturday: Sunny, some clouds,  27 degrees Celsius.  6.0 knot wind from the southwest.  1-2m seas.

Sunday:  Cloudy with morning rain clearing to mostly sunny in the afternoon.  27 degrees Celsius. 13 knot wind from the west. 2-4m seas.

 ** Note: Upon request, note that if you click on any picture it should open full screen so you can the detail much better!

Science and Technology Log

Science Part I.  The superhighway under the surface: sea currents

Until today, most everything including the weather and sea conditions were in our favor.  On the surface it just looks like waves (ok well big waves) but underneath is a superhighway.  On Sunday morning the currents throughout the water column were very strong.  The result was the ROV and its power and fiber optic umbilical cord never reached a true vertical axis.  Even with a 300lbs down-weight and five thrusters the ROV could not get to our desired depth of about 60m.  The current grabbed its hold onto the thin cable and stretched it diagonally far under the ship – a dangerous situation with the propellers.  The skill of ROV pilots Lance and Jason and the crew on the bridge navigated the challenging situation and we eventually retrieved the ROV back to the deck.  I presume if I were back home on Goose Lake in Minnesota, I certainly would have ended up with the anchor rope wrapped around the props in a similar situation.  So, where is the current coming from and how do we measure it aboard the Nancy Foster?

The Gulf Stream.  Note the direction of the current and consider that on Sunday morning we were due east of North Carolina.
The Gulf Stream. Note the direction of the current and consider that on Sunday morning we were due east of North Carolina.

Answer: The Gulf Stream is an intense, warm ocean current in the western North Atlantic Ocean and it moves up the coast from Florida to North Carolina where it then heads east.  You don’t have to be directly in the Gulf Stream to be affected by its force; eddies spin off of it and at times, water will return in the opposite direction on either side of it.  Visit NOAA Education for more on ocean currents.

Answer: Aboard the Nancy Foster, we have a Teledyne ADCP – Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler.  The ADCP measures direction, speed, and depths of the currents between the ship and the ocean floor.  It’s not just one measurement of each; currents may be moving in different directions, at different depths, at different speeds.  This can make a ROV dive challenging.

For example, at 4pm on Sunday near the Snowy Grouper MPA site off the coast of North Carolina, from 0-70 meters in depth the current was coming from the north and at about 2 knots. At 70 meters to the sea floor bottom it was coming from the south at over 2 knots.  Almost completely opposite.

Hydrphone
Hydrophone

Another indication of the strong currents today was the force against the hydrophone. Hydrophones detect acoustic signals in the ocean.  We are using a hydrophone mounted on the side of the Nancy Foster to communicate the location of the ROV to the ship.  The hydrophone has to be lowered and secured to the ship before each dive.  It ended up in my blog today because the current was so strong, three of us could not swing and pull the hydrophone to a vertical position in the water column.  It was a good indicator the currents were much stronger than the past few days.

 

Science Part II.  Discoveries of Dives in the Deep

Snowy Grouper – one primary species we are on the hunt for this mission

Snowy Grouper are one of the species requiring management due to low and threatened stock levels within the federal 200-mile limit of the Atlantic off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida to Key West.  The MPAs help conserve and manage these species.  We were excited to have a few visit the camera lens the past two days.

Pair of Snowy Groupers photographed during one of our dives on Friday, June 20.  Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Pair of Snowy Groupers photographed during one of our dives on Friday, June 20. Sizes are approximately 30-50cm (12-20″).Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Snowy Grouper photographed during one of our dives on Friday, June 20.   Size is approximately 40-50cm (16-20").  Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Snowy Grouper photographed during one of our dives on Friday, June 20. Size is approximately 40-50cm (16-20″). Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Snowy Grouper and a Roughtongue Bass photographed during one of our dives on Friday, June 20.   Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Snowy Grouper and a Roughtongue Bass photographed during one of our dives on Friday, June 20. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

 

Scorpianfish (scorpaenidea)

Scorpianfish (scorpaenidea) photographed during one of dives on Saturday, June 21.  Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Scorpionfish (Scorpaenidea) photographed during one of dives on Saturday, June 21. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Eel

Eel photographed during one of our dives on Saturday, June 21.  Saw many of these peeking out of their homes in crevices.  We  were lucky to capture this one in its entirety. Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Eel photographed during one of our dives on Saturday, June 21. Saw many of these peeking out of their homes in crevices. We were lucky to capture this one in its entirety. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Invertebrates – (with much thanks to my education from Stephanie Farrington)

Stichopathes, Diodogordia, & Ircinia Campana.  Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Stichopathes, Diodogordia, & Ircinia Campana. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Leiodermatium, Nicella, feather duster crinoids, and a Red Porgy in the far background.  Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Leiodermatium, Nicella, feather duster crinoids, and a Red Porgy in the far background. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Science Part III.  Rugosity- 

Rugosity is sea- bottom roughness.  Probably one of the terms and skills I will remember most about this experience.  In oceanography, rugosity is determined in addition to the other characteristics I am more accustomed to:  slope, composition, and the cover type (plants, animals, invertebrates.)  It was a little challenging for me to incorporate this into my observations the first few days so thought I would share two of the stark differences.   This compliments my strong knowledge and passion for teaching earth science with Earth AdventureI cannot wait to use this content in future Earth Balloon & Earth Walk Programs!

Rugosity Comparison. Low rogosity on the left; high rogosity on the right.  The low has a flat plain where as the high has rocks, deep crevasses, slopes, and texture.  Snowy Grouper desire high rogosity.  Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.
Rugosity Comparison. Low rugosity on the left; high rugosity on the right. The low has a flat plain where as the high has rocks, deep crevasses, slopes, and texture. Snowy Grouper desire high rugosity. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Science Part III.  Day Shapes

When a ship has restricted ability to move, the ship displays vertically (up to down) from the mast a black ball, diamond, and black ball.  This informs other ships and vessels in the area not to approach the Nancy Foster as we can’t move; the ROV is in the water.  While radio communication is an option, this is a marine standard that signals others to stay away.  If we were deploying the ROV at night, a series of lights communicate the same message.  On Sunday morning, we observed three recreational fishing boats probably a 1.5 kilometers from the ship.  It seemed one was moving towards us likely interested in what was happening aboard the giant Nancy Foster.

Day shapes displayed on the Nancy Foster ship mast;  black ball, diamond, and black ball.  The NF has restricted ability to move; the ROV is in the water.
Day shapes displayed on the Nancy Foster ship mast; black ball, diamond, and black ball. The NF has restricted ability to move; the ROV is in the water.

 

Career highlight:  

Lance Horn and Jason White are the two ROV pilots on board from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

ROV pilots Lance Horn and Jason White.  On the left, Lance surveys the ocean 'shall we launch the ROV or not?' - or perhaps we is just thinking deep thoughts.  On right, Lance and Jason preparing the cable prior to dive.
ROV pilots Lance Horn and Jason White. On the left, Lance surveys the ocean ‘shall we launch the ROV or not?’ – or perhaps he is just thinking deep thoughts. On right, Lance and Jason preparing the cable prior to dive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
John & Jason White at the ROV pilot control center.

Personal Log:

A week without television.  While I brought movies on my iPad and there is a lounge equipped with more than nine leather recliners, a widescreen, and amazing surround sound, I haven’t yet sat down long enough to watch anything.  I spend 12 hours a day being a shadow to the researches trying to absorb as much as I can and lending a hand in anything that can help the mission. Most of my evenings have been consumed by researching species we saw during the dives using taxonomy keys and well, just asking a lot of questions.  I go through hundreds of digital pictures from the ROV and try to make sense of the many pages of notes I make as the researchers discuss species, habitats, and characteristics during the dives. While I am using a trust book version as well as the multiple poster versions scattered on the walls in the lab, here is a great online key.

Sunday evening, crew members of the Nancy Foster invited me to join them in a game of Mexican Train – a game using Dominos.  Thanks Tim for including me!  I am going to have to purchase this for cabin weekends up north in Minnesota (when the mosquitoes get so large they will carry you away and we can no longer go out in the evenings).

When the Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler wasn’t working, we just called on King Neptune and his kite to help us gauge the wind speed, direction and the currents.  Wait, I thought he carried a scepter?

King Neptune collage
Tim Olsen, Chief Engineer – 11 years on the Nancy Foster and 30 years as Chief Engineer.

Espresso!  I really was worried about the coffee when coming aboard the Nancy Foster for 12+ days.  What would I do without my Caribou Coffee or Starbucks?  Chief Steward Lito and Second Cook Bob to the rescue with an espresso machine in the mess.  John has been very happy – and very awake.

I made it a little more progress reading The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman.

In 2009, we spent $21 billion on bottled water, more on Poland Spring, FIJI Water, Evian, Aquafina, and Dasani than we spent buying iPhones, iPods, and all the  music and apps we load on them.”  (p337)

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at

http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/education/workshop/docs/workbook_definitions.pdf

  • Hydrophone
  • ADCP
  • Rugosity
  • Nautical knot

John Bilotta: A World of Wonder under the Waves, Days 1-4 in the South Atlantic MPAs, June 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 20, 2014

Weather: Sunny with clouds.  26.6 Celsius.  Wind 13 knots from 251 degrees (west).  1-2m seas from the north.

 ** Note: Upon request, note that if you click on any picture it should open full screen so you can the detail much better!

 

Science and Technology Log

Research mission objectives – what am I doing out here?

Gathering data on habitat and fish assemblages of seven species of grouper and tilefish in the South Atlantic MPAs . These species are considered to be at risk due to current stock levels and life history characteristics which make them vulnerable to overfishing.   Information gathered will help assess the health of the MPAs, the impact management is having, and the effectiveness of ROV exploratoration to make these health assessments.

Science Part I:  Multibeam sea floor mapping  Multibeam sonar sensors — sometimes called multibeam acoustic sensors echo-sounders (MB for short)  are a type of sound transmitting and receiving system that couple with GPS to produce high-resolution maps of the sea floor bottom. See how it works by checking out this cool NOAA animation. MB mapping is occurring all night long on the Nancy Foster by a team of expert mappers including Kayla Johnson, Freidrich Knuth, Samantha Martin, and Nick Mitchell (more on them and their work and NOAA careers in a future blog).  Our Chief Scientist Stacey Harter has identified areas to map.

OK, so we aren't exactly MB mapping in this photo but I wanted to introduce everyone to my host Chief Scientist in one of my first pictures.
OK, so we aren’t exactly MB mapping in this photo but I wanted to introduce everyone to my host Chief Scientist Stacey Harter in one of my first pictures.

By morning, after the mappers have worked their magic on the data, Stacey is able to see a visual representation of the sea floor.  She is looking for specific characteristics including a hard sea floor bottom, relief, and ridge lines – important characteristics for the groupers, tilefish, hinds, and other fish species under protection and management.   Stacey uses these maps to determine transects for ROV exploration.  Those transect lines are used by both the scientists driving the ROV and the navigation crew aboard the Nancy Foster.  Once down on the ocean floor, the ROV pilot follows this transect and so must the ship high above it in the waves driven by the crew.  Although 3 floors apart – it’s amazing to hear the necessary communication between them.  (Watch for one of my future posts that will highlight a MB map and a sample transect line.)

Science Part II:  ROV exploration – Completion of 8 dives

By the time this posts, we will have made 8 dives with the SubAtlantic Mohawk 18 ROV from University of North Carolina. (perhaps we will have made more dives because internet via satellites is slow and I am uncertain when this will really get posted.)

JB and ROVs first date aboard the aft deck on the Nancy Foster
JB and ROVs first date aboard the aft deck on the Nancy Foster

The ROV joined the mission with its two pilots, Lance Horn and Jason White.  Pilots extraordinaire but I otherwise see them as the ROV’s parents guiding and caring for its every move.  The technology aboard the ROV is incredible including a full spectrum video camera, a digital camera, sensors to measure depth and temperature, and 4 horizontal thrusters and one vertical thruster with twin propellers.   The ROV has donned a pair of lasers which when projected on the sea floor allow the scientists to measure items.

JB attaching the CTD probe to the ROV with instructions from Steve Matthews.
JB attaching the CTD probe to the ROV with instructions from Steve Matthews.

John receiving launch instructions from Andy David; including about how the cable attaches to the ROV and the fiber optic line.
John receiving ROV deployment instructions from Andy David; including about how the cable attaches to the ROV and the fiber optic line.

 

ROV deployment
ROV deployment

 

The ROV control station is daunting!  As one may imagine, it does include three joysticks accompanied by multiple switches, buttons, lights and alarms – all just a fingertip away from the ROV pilot.   Five monitors surround the pilot – some of them are touch screen activated adding more to the selection of options at their fingertips.  Is a Play Station a part of your daily routine?  Perhaps you should consider a career at NOAA as a ROV pilot!

ROV operations station. 1. Power supply, 2. Joystick controllers, 3. Multiple switches, 4. Four monitors for the ROV pilot alone, 5. Two monitors for the video and digital pictures, 6.  Laptop controlling digital pictures, and 7.  Multiple DVD recorders.
ROV operations station. 1. Power supply, 2. Joystick controllers, 3. Multiple switches, 4. Four monitors for the ROV pilot alone, 5. Two monitors for the video and digital picture technician, 6. Laptop controlling digital pictures, and 7. Multiple DVD recorders.

 

While the ROV drives and explores a set transect line, six additional scientists and assistants identify and record habitat, fish species, invertebrates, and other items that come into vision on any one of the monitors scattered around the lab located inside the ship.  Two scientists are recording fish species and a scientist accompanied by me the past two days are identifying habitat and invertebrates.

JB Invertebrate Logging
John assisting Stephanie Farrington (not pictured) with habitat and invertebrate identification and logging.

Of course, the ROV is on the move constantly, so fish and items of interest are flying by – you don’t have time to type or write so the scientists use short cut keyboards pre-coded with species and habitat descriptors.   Meanwhile another scientist is narrating the entire dive as everything is being recorded and yet another is controlling DVD video recording and centering and zooming the digital camera capturing hundreds of pictures during a dive.  You would be surprised by the number of computers running for this operation!  What is amazing is that everything will be linked together through a georeferrenced database using latitude and longitude coordinates.

Science Part III.  What have we seen and discovered?

On June 19th & 20th we completed 8 dives.  Some of the first species we saw included the shortbigeye, triggerfish, reef butterflyfish, and hogfish (Here is a good link of fish species on the reefs located here.)   We also observed a few stingrays and speckled hind.  For invertebrates, we saw a lot of Stichopathes (tagged as dominate during the dives) and fields of Pennatulacea (long white feathers).  We also saw echinoderms and solitary cap coral (a singular, white tube coral) and discovered a Demospongiae that Stephanie, one of the Research Biologists (see below) hadn’t seen yet; we called it a bubble-wrap sponge in my hand-written notes.

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Dive053061 15 28 29 Cubya Dive052019 12 23 13 ???????????????????????????????

 

Things that we saw today that we wished we hadn’t seen: 

Pollution  So with much of my teaching centered around clean water and pollution prevention and mitigation, I was saddened to discover the following items on the ocean floor during the first five dives: Plastic bags, cans, a barrel, a clearly visible rubber surgical glove, and an artillery shell. Interesting – from the ROV you can easily spot what the scientists call ‘human debris’ as it often has straight lines and corners, distinctly human crafted shapes – not like mother nature engineers.

Plastic balloon found during dive #2 at about 60 meters.
Plastic balloon found during dive #2 at about 60 meters. Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Black plastic garbage bag found at about 60 meters.  NOAA UNCW. Mowak ROV June 2014.
Black plastic garbage bag found at about 60 meters. NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

 Invasive species – Lionfish are everywhere!  Why are Lionfish undesirablehttp://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish.html 

Lionfish - multiple sitings today.  Photo credit:  NOAA UNCW
Lionfish – multiple sitings today. Photo credit: NOAA UNCW Mohawk ROV. June 2014.

 

Career highlight:  Stephanie Farrington, Biological Research Specialist

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution at Florida Atlantic University

Masters of Science in Marine Biology.  Bachelors of Science in Marine Science and Biology.

Stephanie’s expertise is in collecting, classifying, and mapping marine biology with emphasis in habitats and invertebrates.  She is also proficient in ArcGIS for mapping and maintaining a database of everything she sees, discovers, and observes.  During this research trip, she is the scientist charged with identifying the habitat with an emphasis on the invertebrate species that speckle the sea floor.  For the past two days I have shadowed her side – watching the video feed from the ROV and logging.  She is a wealth of information and I really appreciate sitting next to her the past two days.  She is a master in biology and a master in buttons – and a fun spirit too.

 

Personal Log

Day 2 was spent almost entirely in transit – getting north from Mayport to Georgia, almost 9 hours.  Part of that time was spent getting to know the research team and participating in safety drills.  Sorry everyone; I did not get a picture of me in my red gumby suit (aka the life saving immersion suit).  Upon recommendation from a colleague (you know who you are) I also spent two hours on a bench on the bow reading The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman

“If Earth were the size of a Honda Odyssey minivan, the amount of water on the planet would be in a single half-liter bottle of Poland Spring in one of the van’s thirteen cup holders.” 

Although I have been out on the ocean before as well as the Great Lakes, on this day I simply felt tiny in a vast sea of blue.

For those who know me during my off-work hours, I also hit the ship’s gym -yes, that’s right, I am keeping up my routine with one exception.  My Paleo diet is now nearly broken – too much great food here from the ship’s chef’s, including ice cream.

Last night, at the end of Day 3 (Thursday) I spent the evening on the beach!  Well actually, what they call steal beach – a platform aft (behind) the ship’s bridge equipped with lounge recliners to watch the sunsets.  I sat up for seemingly hours trying to write all my excitements and discoveries in a log I am keeping.  Don’t worry though, I won’t make you read it all; my blog readers will only see a small snapshot of all I have been seeing and discovering!

 

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.  NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions HERE.  

  • Immersion suit
  • Transect
  • MPA
  • Invertebrates
  • Rugosity
  • Multibeam mapping
  • Bathymetry
  • Dominate species
  • Habitat
  • Echinoderms
  • CTD probe

John Bilotta, Preparing to set sail for the South Atlantic aboard the Nancy Foster, June 9, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

18 June – 29 June, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: Monday, June 9

About me – an introduction

Hello from the Land of 10,000 Lakes and more than 69,200 miles of streams and rivers that all eventually lead to Earth’s oceans where I am headed next as we prepare to depart from Mayport, Florida aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.  My name is John Bilotta (“JB” as many people call me) and I am an educator in water resources and earth sciences for a variety of K12 student, classroom, and adult-citizen leader programs.  I have been teaching now for over 20 years. I am honored to be a part of NOAA’s TAS program for 2014.   I am very excited to join a group of oceanic researchers and experts for an extended period of time and make a stronger connection to the multiple concepts I teach about Earth’s oceans and landforms.  One of my teaching philosophies is to see, touch, smell and be out on the water for effective, interdisplinary education.  I spend so much time talking and teaching about the oceans that I am just excited to apply that philosophy to my own learning.

About my teaching

I am the Education Director and an Instructor with Earth Adventure, a nonprofit that provides K12-adult education programs across the country

John teaching inside the Earth Balloon.
John teaching inside the Earth Balloon.

in earth science, geography, water, and environmental sciences. The Earth Balloon brings the entire Earth into a classroom and is an exciting and effective platform (that thrills students and adults alike) to learn about the Earth, its oceans, continents and the forces at work.

I am also an Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota’s Sea Grant and Land Grant Extension programs where I concentrate on developing and teaching watershed management programs with a strong focus on stormwater and general pollution prevention strategies.

John teaching the Watershed Game as part of a NEMO workshop-on-the-water delivered though Minnesota Sea Grant and Extension.
John teaching the Watershed Game as part of a NEMO workshop-on-the-water delivered though Minnesota Sea Grant and Extension.

It’s up on the land where we as humans often have the greatest impact that ultimately impact oceans, lakes, and rivers.  The aspiration of my teaching is that we can minimize those impacts through increased knowledge and awareness.

About my NOAA Adventure – the work I will do

The SubAtlantic Mohawk 18 from the University of North Carolina that we will be using.
The SubAtlantic Mohawk 18 from the University of North Carolina that we will be using.

I am joining a team of scientists and crew that will conduct ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside five marine protected areas (MPAs) in the south Atlantic to assess the usefulness of this management tool to protect and help manage fisheries on the continental shelf edge. The work will include conducting ROV transect surveys of habitat and fish assemblages, conducting total water column profiles, and conducting multibeam sonar mapping.   I am excited to make connections to how we use bathymetry here in Minnesota to assess lakes, how they function, and our impacts to them.

Did you know?

Ocean Facts – some topics I teach with the Earth Balloon

The ocean covers more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface, driving weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms including us as humans.  Yet 95 percent of this vastness remains unexplored, unseen by human eyes.  I am looking forward to exploring just a little bit of it for myself.  Have some fun and test your knowledge…Play the Ocean Challenge Puzzle

 A Great Sea in Minnesota – Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and the third largest by volume.  Lake Superior is one of Minnesota’s conduits to the open ocean.

Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge and Canal.  From here its just a travel through five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Atlantic Ocean.
Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge and Canal. From here its just a short travel through five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Atlantic Ocean. I took this picture as I returned from a excursion out on Lake Superior.

The Mighty Mississippi –it begins here!  Minnesota is the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River and is our conduit to the Gulf of Mexico.  Oh and by the way, I live not far off this majestic river in Minneapolis and I have to say, there is hardly a day that passes that I don’t get to see it and appreciate it.

The Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis; I have almost a daily encounter with this majestic river.
The Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis; I have almost a daily encounter with this majestic river.

And so my adventure and learning begins! I am nearly packed and ready to go, I am just trying to figure out how to get Lucille, my bulldog, into my duffle bag and past the ship’s XO (Executive Officer) as I board the ship.  I will miss her much while out at sea.

Lucille, the simply just too amazing bulldog.
Lucille, the simply just too amazing bulldog.

Jennifer Petro: Diving into the Deep, July 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Petro
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 1 — 14, 2013 

Mission: Marine Protected Area Surveys
Geographic area of cruise: Southern Atlantic
Date: July 10, 2013

Weather Data
Air temperature: 28.4°C (81.5°F)
Barometer: 1010.20 mb
Humidity: 76%
Wind direction: 103°
Wind speed: 1.5 knots
Water temp: 27.5° C (81.5°F)
Latitude: 32 81.67 N
Longitude: 78 12.95 W

Science and Technology Log

The most integral piece of equipment on board is the ROV.  A Super Phantom S2 to be precise.  The ROV is operated by the team of Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington (UNCW).  Dubbed by me as the “ROV Guys”, Lance and Glenn have almost 50 years of combined experience working on and operating ROVs. The Super Phantom S2 is part of UNCW’s Undersea Vehicle Program which currently consists of 2 ROVs and 1 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle or (AUV).  In the fall they will be adding a third ROV to their fleet.  The ROV set-up is quite impressive and centers around one key component….communication.  The ROV is tethered to the ship by an umbilical.  During each and every dive the ROV operator is in constant contact with the ROV deck.  The umbilical is either payed out over the side or brought back in according to the dive depth and that needs to also be communicated to the wench operator.  The ROV deck is constantly watching the direction and tautness of the umbilical so that it does not get overstretched or goes into the boat’s prop.  All the time the ROV driver is in contact with the bridge.  So, there is a lot of communication and it is integral in every aspect of ROV operations.

Not only are all of the people involved in ROV ops communicating but the ROV and boat are communicating

as well.  The ROV uses an integrated navigation system to provide real-time tracking of the ROV and ship to the ROV operator and the Pisces bridge for navigation.  Ship and ROV positions with ROV depth, heading and altimeter reading are logged for each dive and provided to the scientist in an Excel file. Geo-referenced .tif files can be used as background files to aid in ROV and support vessel navigation.

The vessel has a machine shop which allowed the ROV guys to fox the transducer early in the cruise.
The vessel has a machine shop which allowed the ROV guys to fix the transducer early in the cruise.

The front of the ROV showing spot lights and camera arrays.
The front of the ROV showing spotlights and camera arrays.

The ROV can go to a depth of approximately 305 meters (1000 ft).  Our deepest dive on this cruise is 200 meters (650 ft) which is 20 atm of pressure! What does that mean? At sea level, the weight of all the air above you creates one “atmosphere” (atm) of pressure equivalent to 14.7 pounds pressing on each square inch.  In the ocean, the pressure increases very rapidly with depth because water is much denser than air. For every 33 feet  (10 meters) of depth, the pressure increases by 1 atmosphere.  So at 20 atmospheres there is a lot of pressure pushing down on all sides. It is the increase in pressure that makes it difficult to do manned deep water dives and one of the reasons why the use of ROVs is so important.

As an experiment we sent styrofoam cups that we had decorated in a bag along with the ROV down to a depth of 170 meters 550 ft.  The cups shrink due to the increased pressure of the water.  The deeper you go the more they will shrink.

Styrofoams cups.  Before and after being sent down with the ROV.
Styrofoams cups. Before and after being sent down with the ROV.

Data collection:  Data is collected during each dive by the means of video recording and still camera photos.  Each camera is in a special pressure rated, water proof housing.  There is special attention given to the 7 target species (5 of which we have recorded this cruise) as well as any new or interesting species that we have seen.  This data is analyzed back in the lab.  So far we have approximately 64 hours of video and 2400 still photos.  Needless to say reviewing the data is time-consuming but a very important aspect in confirming what we see during the actual cruise.

Still photos taken with the ROVs Nikon CoolPics camera.

Photos taken by the still camera of the UNCW Super Phatom ROV.
Photos taken by the still camera of the UNCW Super Phantom ROV.

Dive 2246 064 08 56 40
Hogfish

Dive 2246 046 08 41 58

Driving the ROV is much like playing a video game, only you have many more screens you have to monitor.  I did get an opportunity to drive it over sand!  According to Lance it takes about 20 hours of training to learn to drive effectively drive the ROV.  There are no simulations, all of the drive time is hands-on and in the water.

Lance Horn giving me pointers on how to keep the ROV level and on course.
Lance Horn giving me pointers on how to keep the ROV level and on course.

IMG_9043

Personal Log

While I was in the Acoustics Lab speaking with the folks that do the multibeam mapping, I looked down at the probes that they use and a single word jumped out at me: “Sippican”.  I know this word from my childhood.  We used to visit my Aunt Carol and Uncle Al in Marion, Massachusetts which sits on Sippican Harbor off of Buzzards Bay.  Sure enough the probes are made by Lockheed Martin Sippican, Inc. located in Marion, MA.  This struck me as so apropos.  My Uncle Al was a marine biologist and started a research lab in Falmouth, MA.  I would go to the lab with him and count flounder larvae for hours on end.  He was very instrumental in developing my love for marine science and I was overjoyed to have a connection, albeit small, to a man whose work I admired very much.

Jennifer Petro: Oh the Places We Will Go… July 4, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Petro
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 1 — 14, 2013 

Mission: Marine Protected Area Surveys
Geographic area of cruise: Southern Atlantic
Date: July, 4, 2013

Weather Data
Air temperature: 27.5°C (81.5°F)
Barometer: 1021.30 mb
Humidity: 83%
Wind direction: 141°
Wind speed: 17 knots
Water temp: 26.3° C (79.3°F)
Latitude: 32.38537 N
Longitude: 79.044 W

Science and Technology Log

Happy Independence Day!  In this log we find ourselves off the coast of South Carolina.  We have traveled quite a few miles since we left Mayport and have conducted 10 dives so far.  Several of these sites are return trips and data has been collected since 2004.  During this cruise we will also survey several proposed sites which will be voted on inclusion to the MPA program at a later date.  There is quite a lot of science going on here on the Pisces!  In this post I am going to focus on the benthic invertebrate study and I will highlight the other science in following posts.

I have had the pleasure to work along side John Reed and Stephanie Farrington from Harbor Branch Oceanograhic Institute at Florida Atlantic University in Fort Pierce, Florida.  During this cruise they are focusing on gathering data on benthic marine invertebrates.  They are particularly interested in deep water coral species.

“Our coral reefs are a barometer of the Earth’s health, and nowhere else on earth is biodiversity greater than in our coral reefs and rain forests. Coral reefs provide food, tourism revenue, coastal protection, and the potential for new medicines for increasingly resistant diseases. Both our shallow and deep water coral reefs face a time of crisis, not only in the Caribbean, Florida, and the Bahamas, but worldwide. Threats to shallow and deep coral reefs are many, including pollution, elevated temperatures resulting in coral bleaching and mortality, coral disease, and destructive fishing practices.”  HBOI

There are two words that you are going to see a lot during these blog posts:  (1) Communication and (2) Technology.  Fortunately due to the advancement in technology the only thing getting wet during the dives is the ROV.  When the ROV descends, we are transported to a world that few folks get to see.  The average depth of our dives has been 60 m (196 ft) so SCUBA diving would be difficult.  Additionally, in the Florida MPA and Proposed MPA sites, the current was very fast and without the ROV the survey would be almost impossible to conduct.  So we are surrounded by technology…computers, monitors, and programmed key pads.  While the ROV driver maneuvers the vehicle through the water (all the while communicating with the bridge and deck) we are all glued to one of several monitors identifying species.  It is very quick paced and often it feels like you are on a roller coaster ride.  After several dives I was able to better focus on what I was looking for and have become pretty good at my invertebrate identification.

Stephanie Farrington and I recording benthic marine invertebrates species inside the proposed Fernadina MPA.
Stephanie Farrington and I recording benthic marine invertebrates species inside the proposed Fernandina MPA.

The purpose of this research is to characterize the species diversity of the hard bottom both inside and outside the proposed Marine Protected Areas and to compare the health of the hard bottom communities as it relates to the number of fish species present.  Of particular interest are hard coral species, such as Oculina, soft coral gorgonians and sponges.  During there trips is when the data is collected and then it is quantified back at the lab.  These are wonderful people and they are great teachers as well!

John Reed, Stephanie Farrington and I in the dry lab aboard the NOAA vessel "Pisces".
John Reed, Stephanie Farrington and I in the dry lab aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces.

Bushy Black Coral seen in the St Augustine MPA
Bushy Black Coral seen in the St Augustine MPA

Vase sponge and black coral (the cork screw) seen in the St. Augustine MPA
Vase sponge and black coral (the cork screw) seen in the St. Augustine MPA

Deep water "Occulina" coral as seen in the proposed Fernandina MPA.
Deep water “Oculina” coral as seen in the proposed Fernandina MPA.

Personal Log

Well so far so good.  We have been at sea for 5 days and we have a pretty steady routine going.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner so I quite literally am at the mercy of my stomach.  The food is wonderful!  Eggs cooked to order, grilled cheese, salmon, scallops, steak and dessert twice a day.  I have been told that the food would be good and I have yet to be disappointed.  We are in the lab from about 08:00 to 17:00.  Afterwards I have been so tired I have climbed into my bunk and have read.  The ship has a very comfortable lounge where you can read, watch a movie or use the computer.  I managed to get through an entire movie last night!  I have been doing okay seasickness wise.  Last night was pretty rough but I managed okay.  I ventured up to the bridge yesterday and I am hoping that the calmer seas will allow me to spend some time with the captain today.

Fair weather and calm seas.

Jennifer

Did You Know?

A coral is a type of animal called a polyp.

Rita Salisbury: Winding Down, April 29, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Salisbury
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013

Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: April 29, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Temperature: 79°F / 26°C
Dewpoint: 68°F / 20°C
Humidity: 70%
Pressure: 29.98 in (1015 mb)
Winds: S 10.4 mph (S 17 kph)

Science and Technology Log:
This has been an amazing voyage for me; I have learned about science process and technology in a real world application that I can take back to my classroom and incorporate throughout my curriculum. Real science on this cruise involved using multiple survey methods to determine the population and of Bottomfish species in a prescribed area. Acoustics, video recording by BotCam, AUV, and ROV, fishing by professional fishermen, and fishing from the side of the research vessel were all techniques employed in this study. These different methods will be compared and, eventually, a process will be formulated that will probably combine several of the methods in order to compile data to help regulate the bottom fisheries.

Some of the methodologies, such as the BotCams, have been compiling data for five or more years, so there is a sizable amount of information upon which to base decisions. Adding to the general knowledge base is an important part of scientific research; without data it is impossible to make informed decisions.
After the last deployments of the AUV and ROV yesterday, we all pitched in to help pack equipment to get ready for today’s end of the cruise.  We cleaned floor mats, vacuumed, mopped, wiped down counters, and also cleaned our staterooms, heads, and common rooms. Even though this is a scientific research cruise, the scientists are considered guests on the ship and it only makes sense to help clean up. You never know when you’ll be back on the ship for more research and you sure want to be welcomed back!

Personal Log:
My mind is racing like a runaway train, thinking of ways to integrate what I’ve seen and learned on this cruise into my curriculum when I get back to Delaware. I cannot wait to sit down with my co-teachers, Dara Laws and Kenny Cummings, and brainstorm ways to make the science standards I am required to cover more meaningful and engaging to our students. We teach in a project-based, technology-rich environment and the possibilities to “amp up” the lessons and make them more rigorous, as well as captivating, are enormous. In addition to a fresh insight into science process, environments, populations, communities, and the overarching ecosystem, I now have real people I can contact to act as experts and representatives of their fields of study. I cannot thank NOAA, the Teacher at Sea program, Dr. Donald Kobayashi, Chief Scientist, or the Officers and Crew of the Oscar Elton Sette enough. Their openness and willingness to host another Teacher at Sea will make a difference to countless students in the years to come.

Not only did I make new contacts, I made new friends. I’m looking forward to making Clementine’s Chicken Curry for my family and friends and staying in touch with my new friends. I only wish every teacher I know could take advantage of such an amazing opportunity.

Rita Salisbury: More on the Mission, April 23, 2013

CDTs record conductivity, depth,  and temperature
CDTs record conductivity, depth, and temperature

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Salisbury
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013

Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date:
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Science and Technology Log

CDT being lowered over the starboard side
CDT being lowered over the starboard side

A few days ago we dropped the CDT, an apparatus that collects data on the conductivity, the depth, and the temperature of the sea water in which the acoustic survey is taking place. All of these three things impact how quickly sound travels underwater. The scientists collect the information and then use it to figure out an accurate rate of speed for the sound waves. Once they have that information, they can determine how far a target is from the ship.I was able to ride along in a small boat to Maui to pick up parts for the AUV. While in the Maui harbor, I had the opportunity to visit the Huki Pono, a small boat working on this survey that is using BotCams to survey the fish population. The palu, or bait, that I help make every day is frozen and then transferred to the fishing boats. It is frozen in a shape that fits into a cage on the BotCam located near the camera. As the bait breaks up, fish are attracted to it and come close enough to the BotCam to be visually recorded. There is a lot of video to go through so Dr. Kobayashi says they won’t have the data from the BotCams for a while.  But the other three fishing boats assigned to this project turn their survey information in every evening and I get to add it to a spreadsheet to help keep track of what section the boats were in and what they found while they were there.

BotCam on the deck of the Huki Pono
BotCam on the deck of the Huki Pono

Chris Demarke, Jamie Barlow, and Bo Alexander retrieving a BotCam aboard the Huki Pono with Maui in the background
Work continues with the ROV and AUV. The scientists are always working on them, trying to make them run as smoothly as possible. We worked on calibrating the acoustics again this morning for the same reason. The better the information you have when you start a project, the better chance you have of having a successful outcome.

As I mentioned before though, not everything we are doing is high tech. We fish off the side of the ship in the evenings, dropping our lines all the way to the bottom so they are on the sea floor. The scientists running the acoustics tell us if they see fish and then we do our best to catch a representative sample.  Here are two of the fish I caught off the bottom: an opakapaka and a taape. The observers that ride in the small boats every day spend the night on the Sette. That way, they can turn their logs in and I can record the data. As a bonus, a few of them are expert fishermen and are a huge help to us as we fish from the ship.

Opakapaka and ta'ape
Opakapaka and ta’ape

Personal Log
I’m really enjoying my time on the Sette. In addition to learning new things that I can apply in my classroom, I’m making new friends. Everyone is exceptionally friendly and they go out of their way to explain things to me. Most of them call me “Teach” or “Taz” and almost all of them have sailed with a Teacher at Sea before.

Did You Know?
You can tell the age of a fish by their otoliths? The picture has the otoliths from an opakapaka, an ehu, and a hogo. Otoliths are a fish’s “ear bones” and they have growth lines in them much like a tree has growth rings.

Otoliths
Otoliths

Additional Section

Why are these bottom-dwelling fish red?

Red fish?
Red fish?

Rita Salisbury: Underwater Navigation, April 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Salisbury
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013

Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date:
April 24, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Humidity 71%
  • Wind SpeedS 8 mph
  • Barometer30.07 in (1016.2 mb)
  • Dewpoint65°F (18°C)
  • Visibility

Science and Technology Log

I wish everyone could see how hard the scientists work on solving problems as they crop up. Their collaboration skills are top-notch. Everyone has something to contribute and their ideas are listened to respectfully. Solutions belong to everyone on the team. It also seems to me that there is a lot of “cross-training” going on, too. Everyone has a specialty, but others are capable of taking over or filling in for that person. That goes for the deck crew as well as the scientists. Every event has a planning meeting in which roles are defined and strategy determined.

Every large event gets a planning meeting to go over the details.
Every large event gets a planning meeting to go over the details.

One of the thrusters on the AUV had to be replaced and the new one is considerably heavier than the original one. That means that the whole buoyancy of the AUV is impacted. It needs to be a little light so its natural course is to float to the surface. The new thruster changed the weight of the AUV so the scientists had to calculate and design a remedy for the issue. They decided to add high density foam to the AUV to increase the buoyancy. They used high density foam because regular foam would compress at the depths to which the AUV submerges. This AUV is designed to go down 2000 meters, but others go as deep as 6000 meters.

High-density foam used for bouyancy
High-density foam used for bouyancy

In order to confirm that their calculations for the amount and placement of the new foam were correct, the AUV was put over the side of the ship and tests were run. It was always attached to the crane, as a precaution, but the cables were slack and the AUV had the opportunity to be tested. Once the tests were run, the scientists reviewed the results and decided to send the AUV out on a mission.

I asked Jeremy Taylor, one of the scientists, about how the AUV navigates underwater to the various coordinates pre-programmed into it. If it starts at Point 0, 0, how does it get to Point X,Y? Global Positioning Satellites are not any help since GPS doesn’t reach underwater.  Jeremy explained to me that the AUV actually navigates by altitude, not depth. It has 4 beams positioned on the frame in various locations that combine their information to tell the AUV how far above the sea bed it is. This kicks in when the AUV is about 35 meters above the bottom. From that information, the AUV keeps a certain distance above the sea floor and can then navigate over formations on the floor that stand between the AUV and its’ destination, the Point X,Y location. Using the altitude navigation system means the AUV’s navigation is fairly simple and the person who programs it doesn’t have to worry about going around or over obstacles.

Personal Log
As one of the scientists, Erica Fruh, explained the reasoning behind the high-density foam being used for buoyancy, it made me think of a video on the Galapagos Islands that I have shared with my students. In the video, an ROV is deployed in the depths off the coast of one of the islands in the Galapagos chain. Someone put a Styrofoam head (the type used to hold wigs) in a basket on the outside of the ROV. After the dive, which went to considerable depths, the head was retrieved and measured. The weight of the water had compressed the head to about 1/4 of its original size. It was a very graphic demonstration of the compression that occurs in the depths of the sea.

Did You Know?
The pressure at 3000 feet deep in the ocean is 100 times more that of air at sea level. Check out this link for a visual of wig heads and styrofoam cups: http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/04etta/logs/aug27/aug27.html

Rita Salisbury: Robots and Sound Waves, April 19, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Salisbury
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013

Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: April 19 2013 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Partly cloudy, winds ENE 10-15 knots, sunrise 603, sunset 1846
77 degrees F (25 degrees C)
Humidity 85%
Barometer 30.09” (1019.5 mb)
Dewpoint 72 degrees F (22 degrees C)
Heat Indes 78 degrees F (26 degrees C)
Visibility 10 miles

Science and Technology Log

We have been calibrating the acoustic equipment for a few days in order to be ready for our survey of bottomfish. It was a long process, but necessary. Four of us worked on moving a small titanium sphere under the boat by maneuvering it to different positions. A scientist working in the e-lab (electronics lab) used different frequencies from the transducers to locate the sphere and record the results. Graduate students and NOAA scientists worked until 1:00 in the morning to get the job done.

The ROV on it's first deployment
The ROV on it’s first deployment

While we were working on the acoustics, other scientists were working on a test run of the ROV. The currents were very strong when they deployed the ROV but it performed well and was successfully retrieved. Operating it is a lot like the controls to a video game, only the stakes are much higher. 

The AUV was deployed on Wednesday. The first step was to do a rehearsal of the procedures for deploying and retrieving the AUV. Everyone had a job to do and it was made clear who would be doing what and when. While it was obvious that certain people were in charge, they asked that if anyone thought they had a better idea of how to do something, or had a question, to speak up.  At one point, the captain, CO Koes, asked everyone who was not actually part of the procedure to move to one of the side of the deck so she could see who was  actually supposed to be working.

After the walk-through rehearsal, the AUV was lifted off the deck by a large crane and placed into the water off the fantail of the ship. At first it was tethered to the ship, but after awhile it was released and became independent of the ship. The scientists want to be as sure as they can be that the AUV will operate properly before letting it go so they run through a checklist. If everything is working correctly, they release the AUV.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The AUV being deployed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The AUV going solo!

The AUV is pre-programmed for the mission so it is important to know about the underwater geography of an area. The AUV needs to be within 30 to 35 meters of the ocean floor in order to know where it is. Other than that, it follows the pattern that the scientists created. If the AUV doesn’t return to the ship, it’s a big deal. It’s very expensive and difficult to replace. The scientists designed it with that thought in mind.

In addition to the high-tech solutions programmed into the AUV, the scientists also included low-tech ideas into the equipment to retrieve the AUV in case something goes wrong and the AUV is submerged and unretrievable. There is a “drop weight” attached to a strand of zinc. Zinc corrodes quickly in salt water. Through testing the scientists have already determined how thick the zinc strand should be in order to corrode through in a given amount of time at a particular water temperature. The strand that they are using on this cruise is constructed to corrode through in 5 1/2 hours. Once it corrodes, the weight drops off and the AUV rises to the top of the water where it can be seen and picked up. The zinc strand is replaced and another weight is attached. All the weights are the same size and weight so they are interchangeable. Otherwise, the scientists would have to recalibrate the AUV every time they changed weights. I was really impressed to see that the scientists use a combination of high and low tech to make their AUV successful.

Heat-sealing the ground up squid and sardines for bait.
Heat-sealing the ground up squid and sardines for bait.

The scientists on the Oscar Elton Sette use some smaller boats to assist with their research. One thing that I do to help out is make bait for the small boats to use to attract fish. We take frozen squid and sardines out of the freezer a few hours before we need them and put them on a protected place on the deck. After they thaw, we put them in a commercial quality food processor and grind them up into marble-sized chunk. Then we put the chunky bait into plastic bags, seal them, and put them back in the freezer until they can be delivered to the boats that need them.

Personal Log

This ship is amazing! It’s big and packed with the scientific equipment. The “wet lab” has become the acoustics lab for this trip and the e-lab is above that. The mess is open 24 hours for snacks, (as long as you clean up after yourself), and serves three meals a day. The cooks are really talented and are always providing fresh new ways of serving something. Fortunately, there’s a gym a couple of decks beneath mine!

There’s a movie room, a laundry, a tv room with books and computers, and a ship’s store. There’s even a full-time medical officer on board. My stateroom is set up well. There are 6 spacious bunks, drawers under the bottom ones and lockers for everyone, built-in desks with ethernet access, and a large bathroom. Since everyone is on a slightly different schedule we do our best to be quiet and to keep the lights low.

Uli Uli Manu taking a break on my bunk.
Uli Uli Manu taking a break on my bunk.

 On Tuesday, we had emergency drills. Everyone has a specific place that have to go to when the alarms sound. If it’s a fire alarm or a man-overboard drill, I have to go to the Texas Deck. If it’s an abandon ship drill, I go to the boat deck and put on my orange gumby suit. That was a little tricky and very hot, but I’m glad they let us practice it.

One thing I’ve noticed on the ship is how everyone has a job to do, but they are always ready to pitch in and help someone else. Meals are really interesting. The mess is small and has several tables set up with 4 chairs at each table. People sit with different people all the time. It doesn’t seem to matter who is an officer, a crew member, or a scientist. Everyone sits with everyone else.

 The captain gave me a tour of the bridge on Tuesday. It was late and we ran out of time, so she has invited me to come back up and finish the tour

The Oscar Elton Sette as seen from a small boat off the coast of Maui.
The Oscar Elton Sette as seen from a small boat off the coast of Maui.

soon. I was impressed by the number of back-up plans in place. There didn’t seem to be one piece of equipment that didn’t have another piece doing the same job in a slightly different way. This allows the ship to continue working properly on the chance that something stops working. The bridge is the control center of the ship and has alarms and notifications for anything that might crop up–low fresh water levels, smoke, fire, and anything else you can think of.

Did You Know?

Sound is vibration transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas. The speed of the vibrations, or how quickly they cycle, determines the frequency. Frequency is measured in cycles per second, or hertz (Hz). Humans can hear certain frequencies, while bats and dogs can hear others. Whales and dolphins hear even more frequencies.

The sound waves we are using on the Oscar Elton Sette will bounce off the fish and reflect back to the ship, allowing the scientists to locate the fish and determine their shape, size, and movement.

 

Animals I Have Seen

Whale fluke off Maui
Whale fluke off Maui

Seen off the coasts of Maui, Molokai, and Lanai:

Needlefish
I thought they were barracuda at first, but someone explained the difference to me
Humpback Whales
Dolphins–too far away to identify the species

Rita Salisbury: First Day at Sea, April 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Salisbury
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013
 

Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: April 15 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
77°F/25°C
Humidity 74%
Wind Speed Calm
Barometer 30.00 in (1015.7 mb)
Dewpoint 68°F (20°C)
Visibility 10.00 mi
Heat Index 79°F (26°C)

Science and Technology Log

NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette, known as Sette,  is a large ship, by my standards. It’s 224 feet long, which is more than ⅔ of the length of a football field. It is one of the ships in NOAA’s fleet of oceanographic vessels and like their other vessels, it supports NOAA’s mission to protect and manage the use of ocean resources through ecosystem-based management.

On this cruise, we will be surveying fish populations by deploying a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) to gather information. The ROV is a small, unmanned submersible that is controlled from the Sette and attached by a cable. The AUV is also an unmanned submersible but its path is pre-programmed before it is deployed. Additionally, we will be using acoustics, or sound, to locate, identify, and estimate populations of fish. I met some of the scientists last night who are working with the submersibles and the acoustics. I think this might be one of those times that being good at video games could pay off!

The goal of the Hawaii Bottomfish Survey is to gain more information about the fish populations in the ocean around Hawaii. The survey will help scientists determine the effects of fishing and other factors on the overall health of different fish populations. By gathering information by non-lethal methods NOAA scientists are adding to their knowledge base without further reducing the fish population.

Personal Log

Yesterday, I met the Chief Scientist, Donald Kobayashi, PhD,  for the first time. Dr. Kobayashi is the man in charge of the scientific portion of our Hawaii Bottomfish Survey aboard the  Sette. Dr. Kobayashi took me to Ford Island so I could board the Sette prior to today’s workday getting ready for the survey.

I boarded the Sette and met the boatswain (pronounced bosun) and some of the science party. I also moved into my berth, or stateroom. It’s called the bunkhouse and has six bunks in it. I’ll be sharing it with four other scientists while we are out to sea. It’s important to be able to get along with other people and to be flexible when you are on a ship, just like it is in other situations. But on a ship, where you are in a confined space, it’s even more important to understand the hierarchy of the ship–the officers, the crew, and the science party–and the protocol (the proper way of doing things) so you don’t get in  someone’s way or make someone’s job more difficult. Knowing who is in charge, what the roles are, and the expectations for everyone will help make my adventure a success.

 

Did You Know?

The scientists can tell what type of fish they are tracking and how many of them there are by using sound waves? The scientist sends out a sound signal, or ping, from a transducer, an underwater device that emits sound waves. The Sette has several transducers to accomplish this. The density of the fish’s swim bladder is different than the rest of the fish so the sound, or echo, that bounces back from the fish to the ship can be recorded and interpreted by the scientists. They can tell what type of fish they are tracking, and how many of them there are. Dr. Kobayashi says the scientists can back up their interpretation by photography.

 

Teacher at Sea Rita Salisbury in front of the Oscar Elton Sette
Teacher at Sea Rita Salisbury in front of the Oscar Elton Sette

 

 

Susan Kaiser: Technology, Tool of the Marine Scientist, August 1, 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: August 1, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 29 min N
Longitude:  83 deg 07 min W
Wind Speed:   1.4 kts
Surface Water Temperature:  28.38 C
Air Temperature:  29.3 C
Relative Humidity: 76%

Science and Technology Log

Cycles are patterns that repeat over and over again and science is full of examples of them: rock cycle, carbon cycle and life cycle just for starters. I am sure you can probably even name a few more. Tonight will be the last night of a full moon, another cycle, and with it Mutton Snapper  spawning will end for the time. When the Mutton Snapper, scientific name  (Lutjanus analis), gather in a large group marine scientists call an aggregation.

Mutton Snapper aggregation
Mutton Snapper aggregation

This means that the male and female fish swim to a particular location in the ocean increasing their numbers and the chance that many more eggs will be fertilized to produce the next generation of fish. The trick for the scientists is finding where on the ocean floor these aggregations will occur. Using the Remotely Controlled Vehicle (ROV), diver sightings of good habitat and even knowledge of where fishermen have made great catches, scientists can zero in on where to observe an aggregation.

However, there is one more technology tool that can help locate fish AND map the ocean floor at the same time. This is multibeam charting technology create the colorful maps of the hidden world below the water.

Bathymetry image showing depth of Lake Tahoe
Bathymetry image showing depth of Lake Tahoe made using multibeam charting technology.

You may have seen one of these beautiful images which use different colors to indicate changes in depth. I have always wondered how these charts were made. In fact, NOAA Ship Nancy Foster has crew members charting the ocean floor 24 hours a day while we are underway even when we are sleeping! Multiple sonar signals are directed from the ship toward  the ocean floor  when they bounce back the ship receives the signal on the computers. This signal shows on the computer screen as a small dot. When enough dots are arranged together at the depth they represent a picture of the ocean floor begins to emerge.  The trained eyes of the survey technicians are needed to create an accurate two dimensional image of what lies beneath the water. The charts they create allow ships to remain safe and avoid running aground. When ships and boats stay in the proper depth of water they do not harm fragile coral reef areas which are easily damaged by these destructive collisions. In addition to recording safe passageways and creating depth charts that mariners use as they navigate, this technology can also spot fish within the water column locating the fish aggregations the marine scientists are studying. Many NOAA ships are equipped with this same technology and explore other parts of the ocean gathering similar data.

Technology helps the research team compensate for changing conditions such as visibility, currents, and ocean depth. Each tool has strength and weakness. For example, this morning our boat deployed a Seaviewer drop camera which is tethered by the cord and carried down by a weight. We were at a location called Riley’s Hump where the current is fast!

ROV  technology would not work in this situation because it would be too difficult to maneuver in this current. It takes teamwork to handle the positioning of the boat while one scientist observes the computer screen for video and another pair manage the descent of the camera and weighted rope. However, the drop camera can only “look” one direction so once the fish swim past, the camera cannot follow them unlike the ROV in calm water. When used together, these technology tools allow scientists to develop an understanding of the habitat and the organisms that live on the ocean floor but they also have limitations.

Ben Binder deploys the Seaviewer drop camera over Riley's Hump location.
Ben Binder deploys the Seaviewer drop camera over Riley’s Hump location.

The marine scientists plan their data gathering with these variables in mind. On this trip they returned to the VR2 sites where they have been collecting data since 2008 but they are always looking for other areas of the habitat to study. While they dive to retrieve VR2s or use the ROV and drop camera they are identifying future research sites wondering which fish might prefer that spot.

Computer screen image as we pass over an aggregation site.
Computer screen image as we pass over an aggregation site. The baseline shows the ocean floor in profile. The mass of dots represent fish!

Their path is determined by questions: Do the Mutton Snapper live near their aggregation site or do they swim to this location from elsewhere? Do different groups of Mutton Snapper aggregate each full moon or is it the same group returning to Riley’s Hump? How often do these aggregations happen? All the technology available cannot answer these questions so when the time is right the scientists dive to make a direct observation of what organisms are living in the study area. On this cruise we learned that some areas did not have many fish on the day we visited yet other sites were rich with organisms.

The VR2 data will tell more of the story.  The scientists will revise their plan and add more data in the fall. In time they will learn the answer to these questions and then perhaps identify related or new questions to pursue. This is a cycle of research. You may have heard it called scientific method. It is a process of asking questions and trying to answer them through investigation and observations. It is a process I watched unfold for this marine science team. It was unforgettable!

Personal Log:

Every discipline has its own specialized vocabulary. Tackling new science words with my students breaking down their meaning to understand and remember them is something I do regularly. Living aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster for the last week has put me in role of learner again. My teachers are the marine scientists and mariners.  I am learning the names of organisms that we encounter and details about their behaviors. Some of this information I remember from my college classes but much of it is new. The mariners even have their own vocabulary! In fact, the Executive Officer, Donn Pratt, provided me with a list of seafarer vocabulary. I thought it was interesting and that you might enjoy reading it too:

Safety sign marking the spot to report or "muster"
Safety sign marking the spot to report or “muster”

Seafarers Nomenclature!!
Showers and toilets referred to on ships as “heads!”
Hallways are called “passageways.”
Windows are called “portholes.”
Bunk is called a “rack.”
Floors are called “decks.”
Ceilings are “overheads.”
Lastly…to report to a designated location is to “muster!”

More of a challenge for me is living at sea. I am still adjusting to the rocking motion of the ship. Thank goodness the water has been calm and my plan to prevent seasickness is effective. Today tested this hypothesis by performing a little science experiment. I skipped the seasickness medicine and took off the wrist bands. Within two hours my stomach was  feeling queasy so I popped the wrist bands back on and now feel fine. One of the scientists pointed out that it is effective because you believe it will work. That may be the case but I got the result I hoped for so I am a believer in sea bands.

Mrs. Kaiser on the bridge deck at the last full moon.
Mrs. Kaiser on the bridge deck at the last full moon

My former students know that I love the dictionary and we refer to it often in my classroom.  As I see it, the dictionary is a critical tool to both understand another person’s thinking as well as to communicate our meaning clearly. Unfortunately, I didn’t pack a dictionary and early in the cruise it became clear I needed one. I had worn out “Cool!” “Amazing” and  “Interesting” to comment on what I was seeing and living each day on this adventure.  I looked up the definition of “superlative” when our course pointed away from the “Dead Zone” but the list of synonyms didn’t help much. Perhaps the best way to describe my experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea on NOAA Ship Nancy Foster is just this: I am in AWE!

Superlative: adjective. 1) of the highest quality or degree. 2) expressing the highest or a very high degree of a quality (e.g. bravest, most fiercely).

Awe:noun. a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

Marine science team with Mrs. Kaiser after deploying the ROV.
Marine science team with Mrs. Kaiser after deploying the ROV

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster compass.
NOAA Ship Nancy Foster compass.

Marsha Skoczek: There’s No Place Like Home, July 17, 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 17, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  30.4587N
Longitude:  80.1243W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  26.8C (80.24 F)
Wind Speed:  10.8 knots (12.43 mph)
Wind Direction:  From the SE
Relative Humidity: 79 %
Barometric Pressure:  1017
Surface Water Temperature:  28.9C (84 F)

Science and Technology Log

South Atlantic MPAs

During the thirteen days we have been out to sea doing research, we have sent the ROV down both inside and outside of five different MPAs  from Florida to North Carolina and back again.  This allows the scientists to compare fish populations and densities both inside and outside of the MPAs.  Since we left Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Florida, we have been averaging a distance from shore of between 50 and 70 nautical miles.  It will be fourteen days until we see land once again.  From this distance, the ocean seems to stretch on forever.  Gazing at the beautiful blue water, it is easy to forget an entire other world lies beneath us.  Not all of the ocean floor is flat, there is a small percentage that does have some elevation and structure.  The type of structures on the ocean floor determine what types of species will live there.

For this mission, we have mainly been studying areas within the mesophotic zone of the ocean ranging from 40 to 150 meters (130 – 500 feet) below the surface.  Temperatures here range from 12 – 23 degrees Celsius (50-70 F). Very little sunlight reaches the mesophotic zone, but zooxanthallae are still able to photosynthesize at this depth.  Corals and sponges will also filter feed using the abundant particulate organic matter drifting in the water column they will filter out and eat the plankton.

Tomtates hide in crevices.

The multibeam images help the scientists determine where to launch the ROV.  Areas with a change in elevation tend to indicate that there are rock structures below the surface.  It is around these rocks that the majority of fish prefer to live, so these are often the areas at which the scientists chose to collect data.

The ridges we have seen range in height from 1 meter to 5 meters.  The fish really like areas in the rock that have cracks, crevices and overhangs for them to hide.  Many times as the ROV approached the fish, they would scurry into a nearby hiding place.  I can’t help but imagine that the ROV with its bright lights and unnatural features must seem like an alien spacecraft to these fish that have never had contact with humans before.  But ROVs aren’t the only thing that these fish need to hide from.  I noticed that the larger fish that are toward the top of the food chain were not as skittish as the smaller reef fish.  Sometimes amberjacks and scamp would even follow the ROV as if curious about we were doing.  And lionfish never budged as the ROV passed unless it happened to be sitting in the ROV’s path.

Lobster hiding in rock. Notice how his coloring resembles the reef behind him.

Eel hiding under sponge

Scorpionfish against Diodogorgia

The fish are not the only living things that like these rocky habitats.  Usually when there are rocky surfaces, we find sponges, corals, hydroids and algae growing on top.  These creatures not only give the reef its beautiful appearance, but they also help to provide habitat as well.

Notice how the flounder blends in with the sand?

Sand tilefish make their burrows in the rubble under the sand.

Spider crabs on sandy bottom

Species that live in the sandy bottom habitat have their own set of adaptations. Animals such as the flounder and sea cucumbers have skin colorations that match the speckled appearance of the sand itself.  Sand tilefish carve out burrows from the rubble beneath the sand.  The spider crabs have a carapace that mimics the texture of the rocks it lives near.  The stingrays, with their low profile, sit on the sandy bottom and use their mouth to scour the sand in search of crabs and clams to eat.

Lophelia at artificial reef

Anemone at artificial reef

artificial reef

Artificial habitats are also full of life.  At the shipwreck we visited, not only did we see fish living here, we also saw anemone, tube worms, Venus flytrap anemone, hermit crabs, eels, Lophelia coral to name a few.  Other man-made habitats can help rebuild coral reefs.  John Reed has placed reef balls on the Occulina Reef in an effort to rebuild the original reef damaged by bottom trawling. These reef balls provide a structure for the corals to anchor themselves to and give the fish places to hide. Even oil platforms can be considered as an artificial reef structure giving a wide variety of species a sturdy structure to call home.

 

Personal Log

The Science Party

While aboard the Pisces I have learned to identify well over 100 different species of fish and invertebrates.   Andy and Stacey quiz me as we are watching the live footage, and I think I finally can tell the difference between a reef butterfly and a bank butterfly.  John frequently hands me a text book and challenges me to look up the species we see on the ROV live feed.  I am extremely appreciative of everyone being so helpful and sharing their knowledge with me.  Each of the scientists have taken the time to answer all of the question that I have.  The crew of the Pisces has also been wonderful to work with.  Everyone has done their best to make me feel at home. This has been such an amazing experience, I am excited to bring it all back to the classroom this fall!  I will never forget my time on the Pisces.

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 John Reed and Stephanie Farrington.

John Reed

Mr. Reed, What is your job title?  I am the Research Professor in the Robertson Coral Reef and Research Program at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) at Florida Atlantic University (FAU).

Why did you decide to become a marine biologist?  I always knew that I wanted a career where I could do my work outside.  My biggest influence came when I was around 13 – 14 years old, I remember watching “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” every Sunday night with my family and thinking that’s what I want to do!

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  Currently I am studying deep coral reefs as part of the Robertson Coral Reef and Research Program and several NOAA grants. My focus is primarily off the Florida coast and up through the Carolinas.  My objective is to protect and conserve deep sea coral ecosystems.  Around Florida alone, our group has discovered over 400 individual deep coral mounds some over 300 ft tall.  We have calculated that the area of these deep water reefs may exceed that of all the shallow water reefs in the United States combined.  These reefs habitats are incredibly diverse with hundreds of different species of bivalves, crustaceans and fish just to name a few.  Deep water hard corals grow very slowly, only about half an inch per year, core sampling has dated deep coral mounds at over 1,000,000 years old.  It is vital that we protect these deep reefs from destructive fishing methods such as bottom trawling or energy projects.

I also manage the archives for the biomedical marine division at Harbor Branch where we have over 35,000 deep and shallow marine specimens from around the world.  Each specimen has video footage of it in its natural habitat (in situ from the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible), still photos, museum samples as well as several smaller samples for our biomedical research.  We have discovered novel compounds from some of these marine organisms which may be future cures for cancer or other diseases.  Currently our chemists and biologists are working on the chemical compounds that we discovered in a deep water sponge that grows off Florida.  In the lab it is potent against pancreatic cancer which is a very deadly disease.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I earned my Bachelors Degree in chemistry and biology from University of Miami and my Masters Degree in marine ecology from Florida Atlantic University.  My Masters Thesis was on The Animal-Sediment Relationship s of Shallow Water Lagoons and took me four years to study and wrote.  While working on my thesis, the Smithsonian had a branch at HBOI, so I would ask the scientists there for help in identifying the animals in my study.  Working with these scientists helped me make the connections that eventually get my job with HBOI.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  I have been fortunate enough to travel the world visiting over 60 countries and collecting thousands of marine samples for biomedical research at HBOI.  I have been able to dive in the Johns0n-Sea-Link submersible to depths of 3000 ft and scuba dive to 300 ft.  My research on the deep water Oculina coral reefs off the east coast of Florida allowed me to use our submersibles as well as lock-out diving to study the growth rate and fauna associated with these deep water coral.  It is very humbling that my research on these reefs helped to establish the Oculina Marine Protected Area which was the first marine protected area in the world to protect deep sea corals, and more recently the 24,000 sq. mile deep sea coral habitat area of particular concern off the southeastern U.S.

What advice do you have for students wanting a career in marine biology?  Even if people tell you there are no jobs in marine biology, find a way to do it!  Follow what you are passionate about.  Get experiences as an undergrad, do internships, build your resume.  Make the effort!  Do things that are going to set you above everyone else.

When looking at graduate school, compare the course offerings of several universities.  Research the Principal Investigators (PIs) at those same schools and make contact with them.  Get a position as a Teaching Assistant or Lab Aide to build on your resume.  All of these things will help you to get the job you want once you graduate.

 

Stephanie Farrington

Ms. Farrington, What is your job title?  I am a biological scientist for John Reed at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  I accompany John on his research expeditions and help collect data.  When we return to HBOI, I analyze the data and program everything into GIS maps to give us a visual layout of the different habitats we saw and the species that live there.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I earned my Bachelors Degree in biology and marine science from the University of Tampa.  My Masters Degree is in marine biology from the NOVA Southeastern University Oceanographic Center.  My thesis was on the Biogeography of the Straights of Florida which gave me a solid background in the marine invertebrates of our region.  This is one of the reasons John hired me to work with him.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  I have been fortunate to travel in our Johnson-Sea-Link submersible six times, twice sitting up front in the bubble, one dive went down to 1700 feet below the surface.  I have also been on 8 research cruises since I started at HBOI two years ago.  I also had the opportunity to sail on the Okeanos Explorer for three weeks.

What advice do you have for students wanting a career in marine biology?  Marine biology is about collecting and analyzing data and doing research and there is so much cooler stuff in the ocean than just dolphins!

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.

Marsha Skoczek: Preparing to Set Sail Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces! June 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Soon to be 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:  June 5, 2012

Personal Log

touch tank picture
Me at our saltwater touch tank.

Greetings from Olathe, Kansas!  My name is Marsha Skoczek and I am an instructor in the Geoscience Program at Olathe North High School.  High school students from all over Olathe apply to be a part of the Geoscience Program because they have a passion for the earth sciences.  Many of my students want to become a marine biologist or some type of ocean research scientist.  I teach Marine Biology and Oceanography, yes from the middle of the country, so in order to have a better understanding of the material I teach I applied to and was accepted for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.  I am fortunate enough to be preparing to set sail aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces as part of a research team investigating the Marine Protected Areas (MPA) off the Southeastern Atlantic states.

In 2009 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) established eight Marine Protected Areas to protect the spawning grounds for several species of Grouper, Snapper, and Tilefish.  These reef dwelling species are slow growing fish often not spawning until they are four or five years old.  Some species such as the Yellowedge Grouper can live to be as much as 80 years old!  Several other species such as the Snowy Grouper and the Speckled Hind Grouper are all born as females and do not change into males until they are older, making it a high priority that we protect their habitat so these species can live long enough to reproduce.

As fish are being harvested from the water beyond many of the species’ maximum sustainable yield, it is imperative that the natural habitats of these species are protected, not only so the fish populations can continue to thrive, but also so that scientists can have the time to research the life cycles of these fish in order to establish yearly limits based on scientific data before they are fished to extinction.

I am fortunate enough to be a part of a research expedition doing just that, we will be studying the habitat and fish population of five Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to see if closing these areas to bottom fishing is a beneficial step in preventing the extinction of these species.

NOAA Ship Pisces

The team I will be working with is made up of scientists from the Panama City NOAA Fisheries Lab, the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, University of North Carolina Wilmington, and the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.  Preparations for this research expedition began over a year ago when the scientists had to begin writing their proposal to fund this trip.  As you can imagine, working with scientists from multiple institutions takes time and careful planning.  Conference calls were made with the crew of the Pisces so details could be discussed about the operations needed to be performed, as well as other long distance communications with the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) pilots and the mapping scientist from Charleston, South Carolina.

Data on our expedition will be collected by ROV to capture on video the fish and invertebrate populations in each MPA; water column data on temperature, pressure and conductivity will be collected by CTD profiling; and night time sonar mapping will be used to determine the most beneficial areas to launch the ROV on the following day.

As you can see, there is a lot of work to do during our two weeks at sea.  I am anxiously awaiting our departure next month so that I can witness first hand real ocean research.  This information will be invaluable as I prepare my students for their future careers as marine biologist and oceanographers!  Please follow along as we set sail on this most important adventure!

Sue Zupko: 13 Who Ya Gonna Call? Mud Busters!

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Mayport, FL to Biscayne Bay, FL
Date: June 9, 2011
Time: 1900

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 25.4°N  79.5°W
Present weather: overcast
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind Direction: 075°true
Wind Speed:  20 kts
Surface Wave Height:  4 ft
Swell Wave Direction: 100° true
Swell Wave Height:  4 ft
Surface Water Temperature:28.5 °C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.8 mb
Water Depth:  308 m
Salinity: 36.5 PSU
Wet/Dry Bulb: 28°/24.8°

This blog runs in chronological order.  If you haven’t been following, scroll down to “1 Introduction to my Voyage on the Pisces” and work your way back.

Take this quiz before reading this post.

 

James and Jeff wait for the winch to lift the pyramind-shaped grey grab
Waiting to lift the grab

When I started my journey as a Teacher at Sea, I wondered what scientific research the ship I would be placed on would be doing.  Would it be marine mammals in Alaska or Hawaii, hydrography (bottom mapping), a fishery study, buoy placement, or something I’d never heard of.  When I was told I was placed on the Pisces and we’d be using an ROV (remotely operated vehicle), I only knew we’d be using the vehicle to go to the bottom and look at corals since it is too deep to scuba dive.  I had no real concept of what else would be going on.  I did know my students liked the idea of the ROV since I am the Robotics Club advisor at Weatherly Heights Elementary.

Pyramid shaped grey grabber hanging over the ocean
Benthic Van Veer Grab

We have three missions on the Pisces.  One is to look at the bottom through the eyes of the camera lens to see what is actually happening with the coral and its habitat.  Another purpose was to update existing maps.  The third mission was the most difficult for me to get a grasp of just because it sounds so strange.  Benthic grabbing.  Benthos means bottom in Greek.  Like the soil on land, sediment lying on the bottom of the sea is full of creatures and information needed to fully understand the health of the corals and their habitat.  You don’t see the most of the animals living in soil usually either.  In soil on land and in the sea sediment, the animals living inside are called infauna, and provide food and nutrients to the epifauna (those living above the surface).  What effect has man had on this foundation of the coral reef?  What diversity of life is there and how plentiful are they?  What size are the lithogenic (of rock origin) particles?  It all means something and needs to be studied.

Sand on bottom of ocean
Sandy bottom for grab

According to Dr. Jeff Hyland, NOAA NCCOS (National Centers for Coastal Ocean Sciences), “People may wonder why scientists want to study the seemingly ‘barren’ sand (or muddy sand) layer that covers vast stretches of the ocean floor.  One good reason is because this important habitat is not barren at all!  The unconsolidated (loose) bottom that occupies the majority of the sea floor can be teaming with life.  The types of animals found can include polycheate worms, mollusks, crustaceans, and fish.  Some are large enough to see with the naked eye, but many are so small that you would need to use a microscope to see them. “

Three men in safety gear standing behind the pyramid shaped grey grab
James, Steve, and Jeff harvest their grab

The crew of scientists using the Van Veen grab equipment include: Dr. Jeff Hyland, James Daugomah, and Steve Roth (Grab Guys) of NOAA’s NCCOS Laboratory in Charleston, SC.  Ocean floor mapping is done prior to an ROV dive to help pinpoint the choicest spots for investigation.  After the ROV records the video from its dive, the “Grab Guys” go to work.  The science team confers and selects the best spots for study.  The beginning spot is relayed to the bridge, which then “makes it so” by taking the ship to those coordinates.

So, now what?  Every group on deck must wear hard hats and PFDs (life jackets—Personal Floatation Devices) since the winch will be used and they will be working near the side rail of the ship.   The fishermen (deck hands), scientists (both observers and the Grab Guys), and anyone who happens to be nearby must wear this equipment.  Safety first.

The fishermen and Grab Guys prepare for the sampling by dragging the 300 pound Van Veen grab close to the side.  It sits on a specially constructed table made of 2×4 wood and is painted grey.

Sink with water and plug plus two buckets on the left
Benthic cleaning equipment

Nearby, Steve sets up a smaller table with a sink in it, plus several buckets, a large spoon, and two rectangular plastic tubs nearby.  I really wondered what that was all about.

The winch hook is attached to the Van Veer grab and everyone stands ready.  When the bridge radios to the fishermen that the ship is over the drop site, they spring into action.  The winch operator waits for the signal from the lead fisherman that all is ready and is told by hand signals to raise i