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!