Elizabeth Bullock: We Are Underway! December 11, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Bullock
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
December 11-15, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: December 11, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 2:30pm
Air Temperature: 24.5 degrees C (76 degrees F)
Wind Direction: 65.9 degrees east northeast
Wind Speed: 15.8 knots
Relative Humidity: 78%

Science and Technology Log

Today is the first day of the research cruise.  The R/V Walton Smith left its home port in Miami, FL this morning at about 7:30am.  After a delicious breakfast, the crew and scientific party received a safety briefing from Dave, the Marine Tech.  We learned about the importance of shipboard drills and we were shown the location of all the safety gear we might need in case of an emergency.  This ship works like a self-contained community.  The crew of the ship must also be the policemen and firemen (or policewomen and firewomen).

After our safety briefing, the science party went outside to our first station of the day.  The first piece of equipment we put into the water was a CTD.  The CTD is named after the three factors the equipment measures: conductivity, temperature, and depth.  The CTD will be deployed at precise locations along our route.  Since they conduct this research cruise twice a month, they can see if conditions are changing or staying the same over time.

Liz at computer
Here I am, reading the data that came up from the CTD.
CTD
This is the CTD, which measures conductivity, temperature, and depth.

Question for students: What is the relationship between salt and electrical conductivity?  If the salt content in the water increases, will it conduct electricity better or worse?

The next piece of equipment we deployed was the Neuston Net.  This net sits at the water line and skims organisms off the surface of the ocean.  The net is in the water for 30 minutes at a time.  After bringing the net onto the deck, the fun part starts – examining the contents!  Our Neuston Net had two main species: moon jelly (Aurelia) and sargassum.  The term sargassum actually describes many species, so the scientists on board will study it carefully in order to classify which kinds they caught in the net.  Sargassum is an amazing thing!  It is planktonic (which means that it floats with the current) and it serves as a habitat for bacteria and small organisms.  Since it is such a thriving habitat, it is also a great feeding ground for many different species of fish.

Once we emptied the contents of the Neuston Net, Lindsey and Rachel, two of the scientists on board, began to measure the quantity of each species they caught.  In order to measure the weight of the moon jellies, they used the displacement method.  This is because we can’t use regular scales onboard.  Here are the steps we took to measure the moon jellies:

1)      We poured water into a graduated cylinder and recorded the water level.  For example, let’s say that we poured in 100ml of water.

2)      We put a moon jelly into the graduated cylinder and recorded the new water level.  For example, let’s say that the new water level read 700ml.

3)      We subtracted the old water level from the new, and we could tell the volume of the moon jelly we had caught.  For example, based on the numbers above, we would have caught a 600ml moon jelly!

Neutson Net
Lindsey examines what we caught in the Neuston Net.

Both the CTD and the Neuston Net will be deployed many times over the course of the cruise.

 

Personal Log

Despite a bit of seasickness, I am having a wonderful time!  Everyone on board is very welcoming and happy to answer my questions.  Everyone is so busy!  It seems like they have all been working nonstop since we arrived on board yesterday.

Answers to your questions

First, let me just say that these are great questions!  Good job, Green Acres.  Here are some answers, below.

1)      How do the currents make a difference in the water temp?  The currents play a major role in water temperature.  In the Northern Hemisphere, currents on the east coast of a continent bring water up from the equator.  For example, the Gulf Stream (which is a very important current down here in Florida) brings warm water from the tropics up the east coast of the United States.  This not only keeps the water temperature warm, but it also affects the air temperature as well.

2)      How does the current affect the different algae populations?  Currents regulate the flow of nutrients (which phytoplankton needs to survive).  Strong currents can also create turbidity, which means that it stirs up the water and makes it harder for light to penetrate the water column.  As you know, phytoplankton rely on sunlight to grow, so if less light is available, the phytoplankton will suffer.  I’m told by Sharein (one of the phytoplankton researchers) that algae are hearty creatures.  This means that as long as the turbid conditions are temporary, algae should be able to thrive.

Stephen Bunker: Sargassum Experiments, 21 October 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: 21 October 2011

Weather Data from the bridge

Time: 11:30 AM
Wind direction: Northeast
Wind velocity: 8 m/s
Air Temperature: 23° C (73° F)
Clouds: cirro cumulus

Science and Technology Log

Net Tow
That's me tending the Neuston net as it's being towed aside the R/V Walton Smith.

One of the many experiments we are doing on board is to learn about a plant that grows in the ocean called Sargassum. This tan plant floats near the surface and along in the current. It grows throughout the world’s topical seas. It can grow into large mats the and can be as large as boats and ships. Sargassum provides an environment for distinctive and plants and animals that are not found other places. These ecosystem rafts harbor many different organisms.

On the third stop of the CTD cycle we drag a Neuston net along side of the boat. For 1/2 hour, night or day, the boat takes a slow turn as we drag the net along the surface as we collect samples.  Almost all of the animals below are what we have found in the Neuston net.

We’ll haul in the net and remove the contents. We’ll first try to get all of the animals out. The animals usually don’t survive but every once in a while we can save them (see below for some of the animals we captured with the net).

We’ll next sort the plant life that we collect in the net. Of course we are looking for Sargassum, so we will separate out all of the sargassum.

So, how do you measure what you get? We measure it by volume much like our mom’s measure shortening for cookies. We will fill up a graduated cylinder part way with water, put the samples from the net into the cylinder and then measure how much water they displace.

For example, if we put 2500 ml of water in the graduated cylinder, then put Sargassum in the cylinder, the water level now measures 5500 ml . We then know that there are 3000 ml  (5500 ml – 2500 ml = 3000 ml) of Sargassum by volume measure.

Everything we collect from the net, we measure and record.

Personal Log — Animals I’ve seen

  • Flying Fish— Yes, believe it or not, there are fish that fly. Last night as were preparing to lower the CTD, I noticed silvery-blue streaks in the water. One of the scientists with me explained that they are Flying Fish (Exocoetidae) and the lights of our vessel attracts them and many other types of fish to the surface at night. As soon as she explained this, one of them shot out of the water and glided about a meter and ducked back into the water. Read more about Flying Fish here.
  • Rock Fish
    This fish was found as we unloaded the Moch net.

    Rock Fish — Each time we drag the Moch Net for the Sargassum survey, we can expect interesting things. Last night we captured a type of Rock Fish.

  • Spotted Eel — We also found an eel that has white spots. I tried my best to see if I could more specifically identify it. We have saved it in an aquarium on board the R/V Walton Smith.
  • Mystery Fish
    Help identify this mystery fish. Make a comment below if you think you know what it is.

    Mystery Fish — This fish has many of us stumped. It has a long nose but when the fish opens its mouth, you can see that the pointy part is connected to its lower jaw. Put your investigative skills to use and help me identify the fish. Post a comment if you think you know what it is. For an enlarged view, click here.

  • Moon Jellies — Many people call them Jelly Fish but actually they don’t belong to the fish family at all. They don’t even have a backbone. When we carefully picked these animals up, with gloves on of course, it feels like picking up Jello with your hands; it just slips through your fingers. You can find more about Moon Jellies, Aurelia aurita, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can also find general information about Jellyfish at National Geographic Kids.
  • Sharptail eel
    This eel was found when we were collecting Sargassum.

    Sharptail eel — It’s about half a meter in length and squirms all over. The scientist studying the Sargassum, has saved it in an aquarium so we can observe it. Its scientific name is Myrichthys breviceps.

  • Honey Bee — Believe it or not a honey bee joined us. There was no land in view and a honey bee landed on me. The wind must have blown the bee to sea and it was probably very happy to find a place to land that was not wet.
  • Porpoise — We also call these dolphins. Sometimes a pod of porpoises will get curious and  investigate our boat. They will circle us, swim along side and even ride our bow wave.

Stephen Bunker: Science Experiments on the R/V Walton Smith, 20 October 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: 20 October 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 11:39 AM
Wind direction: North-northwest
Wind velocity: 4.5 m/s
Air Temperature: 23 °C (75° F)
Clouds: Alto cumulus

Science and Technology Log

We left port today at about 6:30 AM, before the sun had even come up. We are  headed out to the Florida Keys. The rain has stopped as well as the wind. We left Miami Harbor as the sun was coming up.

Our scientific research will take place along the Florida Keys, a chain of low-lying  Islands that arc around the southern tip of Florida. The R/V Walton Smith will stop at predetermined stops and take measurements.

There are many science experiments happening on board. In each post, I will try to highlight a different experiment. I’ll start off with the CTD  because it is the experiment that drives our schedule throughout our cruise.

The Conductivity, Temperature, & Depth Instrument. Everyone on board calls it the CTD for short. The CTD schedule is our game plan. At about every 3 -5 hours — night and day —  we’ll cycle through a series 3-4 CTD drops.

Lower CDT
These are the instruments on the lower part of the CTD.

On the bottom of the CTD are a number of instruments that give real-time data to a scientist on board the boat. The conductivity part of the instrument measures how much electricity passes through the sea water. Using a mathematical algorithm that takes in account temperature and how much current passes through the water, we can determine the density (salinity) of the water.

Full CDT
The CTD on deck. The grey tubes fill with water.

The top part of the CTD has 12 cylinders that can trap water. Those are the grey tubes you see in the picture to the left. There are lids on the top and bottom of each tube that can be closed with a remote control from inside the boat. In this way the scientists can take water samples from any depth of water.

So, when we arrive at one of these predetermined location we’ll lower the CTD.

Once the CTD is just below the surface of the water and everything checks out, the scientist will radio to the crane operator to lower the CTD to within a meter of the bottom of the ocean. That can be anywhere from 5 meters to over 100 down. As the CTD lowers, the scientist monitors the CTD instrument real-time readouts. Using a graph of the data, he or she will decide at which locations to close the cylinders on its return trip to the surface.

CDT Control Center
Nelson monitors the CTD data as it is collected.
Water sample processing
Cheryl is processing water samples from the CTD.

Once it surfaces, we’ll  assist in placing the CTD back on the deck and securing it. We’ll then take water samples from the grey tubes. Those water samples will be analyzed in one of the laboratories on the boat. The water samples will show us chemical properties of the water.

Personal Log

Teamwork works! It takes a lot of teamwork to make things happen on board. Guiding the boat to the precise locations is the easy part for the crew. They have a GPS to help them do it. After they get there they have to maintain the location. That’s hard when currents, wind and waves, move the boat which is the size of a house. Then they delicately raise and lower the CTD.

Dave Diving
Crew member Dave preparing to dive in order to remove ropes caught in the ship propeller.

If something happens, they also need to fix it. They can’t drive it to a repair shop. They have to fix things on the spot. During the night, some ropes from lobster traps got tangled into one of the propellers. One of the crew put on scuba gear, got in the water, and removed the ropes.

The group of scientists have been organized into a day shift from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM and the other half is on the night shift for 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM. This can be uncomfortable to have to stay awake all night, but it also means they have to sleep during the day. The day shift will also have a heavier work load because there are additional experiments that have to be done during the sunshine.

The bridge of the SV Walton Smith
Crew member Bill at the helm of the R/V Walton Smith

Stephen Bunker: Introduction, 11 October 2011

Photo of Stephen Bunker
NOAA Teacher at Sea Stephen Bunker

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

The time is quickly approaching for me to start on my NOAA Teacher at Sea voyage. Before I head off I should tell a little about myself. I’m a 3rd grade teacher at Northridge Elementary in Orem, Utah. In my previous 18 years of teaching, I’ve taught students ranging from kindergarten through 6th grade. Of all the subjects I teach, I think science is the most fun.

I’ve participated in many professional development opportunities, but I think this will be the most unique. Living at sea on a NOAA ship doing research with scientists and then sharing what I experience and learn with others will be  loads of fun.

In addition, I’ll be at sea when my students are in school. So, “Hello class!” I’m hoping they follow this blog. If you have a question for me, please post a comment below. I’ll make sure to respond either from ship or when I return.

RV Walton Smith
This will be my home for 5 days.

I’ll be aboard the R/V Walton Smith for a week. The RV Walton Smith is based in Miami, Florida and we will be doing a Hydrographic Survey. That’s science speak for measuring and collecting data about ocean features such as temperature, water clarity, microscopic plant and animal life and currents and tides. The scientists are interested in learning how the Deepwater Horizon oil platform accident is affecting the plant and animal life in the Florida Keys.

It takes a lot of planning to get ready for this type of voyage. Our lead scientist has made a map of the area where we will be.

A map showing where we will do our research.

Check back, because the next time you’ll hear from me will be from the Florida Keys.

Caitlin Fine: Endings and beginnings, August 9, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Aboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 7, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 9, 2011

Personal Log

The last days of the survey cruise followed a pattern similar to the first days. Everyone got into the schedule of working 12-hour shifts and everyone accepted their role and responsibilities as a member of the team.

We all (morning and night shifts) ate dinner together and often (if there were no stations to be sampled) sat together to play board games, such as Chinese checkers.

Maria and I in the "stateroom" we shared
The scientific team plays Chinese checkers

We also all watched the sunsets together — each one was spectacular!

Science team at sunset

On the night of August 6th, we were towing the Neuston net through an area that had so many jellyfish that we could not lift the net out of the water. We had to get another net to help lift the heavy load. We all took bets to see how many jellyfish we had caught. I bet 15 jellyfish, but I was way off — there were over 50 jellyfish in the net! There were so many, that as we were counting them, they began to slide off the deck and back into the water. I have a great video that I cannot wait to share with you in September!

Moon jellies sliding off the deck!
Science equipment in the truck

The ship arrived back in Miami on Sunday night around 7:30pm. It was amazing how quickly everyone unloaded the scientific equipment and started to go their separate ways. Because the NOAA building (Atlantic Oceanographic and Meterological Laboratory, AOML) is located right across the street from where the Walton Smith docks, we loaded all of the equipment into a truck and delivered it to the AOML building.

This was great because I got a quick tour of the labs where Lindsey, Nelson and others run the samples through elaborate tests and computer programs in order to better understand the composition of the ocean water.

Lindsey in one of the NOAA labs

In reflecting upon the entire experience, I feel extremely fortunate to have been granted the opportunity of a lifetime to participate in Teacher at Sea. I was able to help with all aspects of the scientific research from optics, to chemistry, to marine biology as well as help with equipment that is usually reserved for the ship’s crew, such as lowering the CTD or tow nets into the water.

There were many moments when I felt like some of my students who are struggling to learn either English or Spanish. There are a lot of scientific terms, terms used to describe the equipment (CTD and tow net parts), and basic boat terminology that I had not been exposed to previously. I am thankful that all of the members of the cruise were patient with my constant questions (even when I would ask the same thing 3 or 4 times!) and who tried to explain complex concepts to me at a level that I would understand and be able to take back to my students.

I am using the GER 1500 spectroradiometer

It makes me reflect again on everything I learned during my MEd classes in Multicultural/Multilingual Education — a good educator empowers students to ask questions, take risks, ask more questions, helps students access information at their level, is forever patient with students who are learning language at the same time that they are learning new concepts, provides plenty of hands-on experiments and experiences so students put into practice what they are learning about instead of just reading or writing about it.

A porthole on the R/V Walton Smith

As we sailed into Miami, a bottlenose dolphin greeted us – sailing between the two hulls of the catamaran and coming up often for air. It was so close, that I could almost touch it! Even though I was sad that the survey cruise was over, it was as though the dolphin was welcoming me home and on to the next phase of my Teacher at Sea adventure: I return to the classroom in September loaded with great memories, anecdotes, first hand-experiences, and a more complete knowledge of oceanography and related marine science careers to help empower my students so that they consider becoming future scientists and engineers. Thank you Teacher at Sea!

Survey cruise complete, returning to Miami

Caitlin Fine: Flexibility! August 6, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Aboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 7, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 6, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 4:24pm
Air Temperature: 31.6°C
Water Temperature: 32.6°C
Wind Direction: Southwest
Wind Speed:  4 knots
Seawave Height: calm
Visibility: good/unlimited
Clouds: partially cloudy (cumulous and cirrus clouds)
Barometer: 1013nb
Relative Humidity: 62%

Science and Technology Log

Many of you have written comments asking about the marine biology (animals and plants) that I have seen while on this cruise. Thank you for your posts – I love your questions! In today’s log, I will talk about the biology component of the research and about the animals that we have been finding and documenting.

We have another graduate student aboard, Lorin, who is collecting samples of sargassum (a type of seaweed).

Sargassum sample from Neuston net tow

There are two types of sargassum. One of those types usually floats at the top of the water and the other has root-like structures that help it attach to the bottom of the ocean.

Lorin is filtering a sample from the Neuston net in the web lab

We are using a net, called a Neuston net, to collect samples of sargassum that float. The Neuston net is towed alongside the ship at the surface at specific stations. This means that the ship drives in large circles for 30 minutes which can make for a rocky/dizzy ride – some of the chairs in the dry lab have wheels and they roll around the floor during the tow!

Towing the Neuston net along the side of the ship

Lorin and other researchers are interested in studying sargassum because it provides a rich habitat for zooplankton, small fish, crabs, worms, baby sea turtles, and marine birds. It is also a feeding ground for larger fish that many of you may have eaten, such as billfish, tuna, and mahi mahi.

Small crab that was living in the sargassum

The net not only collects sargassum, but also small fish, small crabs, jellyfish, other types of seaweed, and small plankton.

Small fish from the Neuston net

Plankton can be divided into two main categories: zooplankton and phytoplankton. As I  said in my last post, phytoplankton are mostly very small plants or single-celled organisms that photosynthesize (they make their own food) and are the base of the food chain. Zooplankton are one level up on the food chain from phytoplankton and most of them eat phytoplankton. Zooplankton include larva (babies) of starfish, lobster, crabs, and fish.

Small zooplankton viewed through the dissecting microscope

We also use a Plankton net to collect samples of plankton. This has a smaller mesh, so it collects organisms that are so small they would fall through the Neuston net. Scientists are interested in studying the zooplankton that we catch in the Plankton net to understand what larger organisms might one day grow-up and live in the habitats we are surveying. They study the phytoplankton from the Plankton net to see what types of phytoplankton are present in the water and in what quantities.

Washing off the Plankton net

Today we collected so many diatoms (which are a type of phytoplankton) in the Neuston net that we could not lift it out of the water! This tells us that there are a lot of nutrients in the water (a diatom bloom) – maybe even harmful levels. I am bringing some samples of the diatoms and zooplankton home with me so we can look at them under the microscopes at school!

Evidence of a diatom (phytoplankton) bloom in the Gulf of Mexico

The marine biologists on this cruise are mainly interested in looking at phytoplankton and zooplankton, but we also have seen some larger animals. I have seen many flying fish skim across the surface of the water as the boat moves along. I have also seen seagulls, dolphins, sea turtles, cormorants (skinny black seabirds with long necks), and lots of small fish.

Small flying fish from the Newston net

Personal Log

Working as an oceanographer definitely demands flexibility. I have already mentioned that we chased the Mississippi River water during our second day. After collecting samples, we had to find blue water (open ocean water) to have a control to compare our samples against.  We traveled south through the night until we were about 15 miles away from Cuba before finding blue water. All of this travel was in the opposite direction from our initial cruise plan, so we have had to extend our cruise by one day in order to visit all of the stations that we need to visit inside the Gulf of Mexico. This has meant waking-up the night shift so we can all change their airplane tickets and looking at maps to edit our cruise plan!

Changes to our cruise plan on the survey map

Many of you are writing comments about sharks – I have not seen any sharks and I will probably not see any. The chief scientist, Nelson, has worked on the ocean for about 33 years and he has sailed for more than 1,500 hours and he has only seen 3 sharks. They mostly live in the open ocean, not on the continental shelf where we are doing our survey. If there were a shark nearby, our ship is so big and loud that it would be scared away.

Playing with syringodium

Today I saw a group of about 4 dolphins off the side of the ship. They were pretty far away, so I could not take pictures. Their dorsal fins all seemed to exit the water at the same time – it was very beautiful. A member of the crew spotted a sea turtle off the bow (front) of the ship and I saw several different types of sea birds, especially seagulls.

Yesterday afternoon we passed through the Gulf of Mexico near the Everglades and there were storm clouds covering the coastline. The crew says that it rains a lot in this part of the Florida coast and that Florida receives more thunderstorms than any other state. It is strange to me because I always think of Florida as “the sunshine state.”

Grey sky and green water in the Gulf of Mexico

The color of the ocean has changed quite a lot during the cruise. The water is clear and light blue near Miami, clear and dark blue farther away from the coast in the Atlantic Ocean, cloudy and yellow-green in coastal Gulf of Mexico, and cloudy and turquoise in the Florida Bay. Scientists say that the cloudiness in coastal Gulf of Mexico is caused by chlorophyll and the cloudiness in the Florida Bay is caused by sediment.

It has been hot and sunny every day, but the wet lab (where we process the water samples and marine samples), the dry lab (where we work on our computers), the galley and the staterooms are nice and cool thanks to air conditioning! I can tell that I am getting used to being at sea because now when we are moving, I feel as though we are stopped. And when we do stop to take measurements, it feels strange.

Did you know?

NOAA does not own the R/V Walton Smith. It is University of Miami ship that costs NOAA from $12,000 to $15,000 a day to use!

Organisms seen today…

–       Many sea birds (especially seagulls)

–       2 cormorants (an elegant black sea bird)

–       10-12 dolphins

–       1 sea turtle

–       Lots of small fish

–       Lots of zooplankton and phytoplankton (especially diatoms)

–       Sargassum and sea grass

Caitlin Fine: Chemistry Is All Around Us, August 4, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Aboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 6, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 10:32pm
Air Temperature: 30°C
Water Temperature: 30.8°C
Wind Direction: Southeast
Wind Speed:  7.7knots
Seawave Height: calm
Visibility: good/unlimited
Clouds: clear
Barometer: 1012 nb
Relative Humidity: 65%

Science and Technology Log

As I said yesterday, the oceanographic work on the boat basically falls into three categories: physical, chemical and biological. Today I will talk a bit more about the chemistry component of the work on the R/V Walton Smith. The information that the scientists are gathering from the ocean water is related to everything that we learn in science at Key – water, weather, ecosystems, habitats, the age of the water on Earth, erosion, pollution, etc.

First of all, we are using a CTD (a special oceanographic instrument) to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll, and depth of the water. The instrument on this boat is very large (it weights about 1,000 lbs!) so we use a hydraulic system to raise it, place it in the water, and lower it down into the water.

CTD
Lindsey takes a CO2 sample from the CTD

The CTD is surrounded by special niskin bottles that we can close at different depths in the water in order to get a pure sample of water from different specific depths. Nelson usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean and at the surface and sometimes he closes others in the middle of the ocean if he is interested in getting specific information. For each layer, he closes at least 2 bottles in case one of them does not work properly. The Capitan lowers the CTD from a control booth on 01deck (the top deck of the boat), and two people wearing a hard hat and a life vest have to help guide the CTD into and out of the water. Safety first!

Once the CTD is back on the boat, the chemistry team (on the day shift, Lindsey and I are the chemistry team!) fills plastic bottles with water from each depth and takes them to the wet lab for processing. Throughout the entire process, it is very important to keep good records of the longitude and latitude, station #, depth of each sample, time, etc, and most importantly, which sample corresponds to which depth and station.

We are taking samples for 6 different types of analyses on this cruise: nutrient analysis, chlorophyll analysis, carbon analysis, microbiology analysis, water mass tracers analysis and CDOM analysis.

The nutrient analysis is to understand how much of each nutrient is in the water. This tells us about the availability of nutrients for phytoplankton. Phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients in order to live. The more nutrients there are in the water, the more phytoplankton can live in the water. This is important, because as I wrote yesterday – phytoplankton are the base of the food chain – they turn the sun’s energy into food.

Carbon
Sampling dissolved inorganic carbon

That said, too many nutrients can cause a sudden rise in phytoplankton. If this occurs, two things can happen: one is called a harmful algal bloom.  Too much phytoplankton (algae) can release toxins into the water, harming fish and shellfish, and sometimes humans who are swimming when this occurs.  Another consequence is that this large amount of plankton die and fall to the seafloor where bacteria decompose the dead phytoplankton.  Bacteria need oxygen to survive so they use up all of the available oxygen in the water. Lack of oxygen causes the fish and other animals to either die or move to a different area. The zone then becomes a “dead zone” that cannot support life. There is a very large dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River. So we want to find a good balance of nutrients – not too many and not too few.

The chlorophyll analysis serves a similar purpose. In the wet lab, we filter the phytoplankton onto a filter.

chlorophyll
I am running a chlorophyll analysis of one of the water samples

Each phytoplankton has chloroplasts that contain chlorophyll. Do you remember from 4th grade science that plants use chlorophyll in order to undergo photosynthesis to make their own food? If scientists know the amount of chlorophyll in the ocean, they can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in the ocean.

Carbon can be found in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) or in the cells of organisms. Do you remember from 2nd and 4th grade science that plants use CO2 in order to grow? Phytoplankton also need CO2 in order to grow. The carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it tells us the amount of CO2 in the ocean so we can understand if there is enough CO2 to support phytoplankton, algae and other plant life. The carbon analysis can tell us about the carbon cycle – the circulation of CO2 between the ocean and the air and this has an impact on climate change.

The microbiology analysis looks for DNA (the building-blocks of all living organisms – kind of like a recipe or a blueprint). All living things are created with different patterns or codes of DNA. This analysis tells us whose DNA is present in the ocean water – which specific types of fish, bacteria, zooplankton, etc.

The water mass tracers analysis (on this boat we are testing N15 – an isotope of Nitrogen, and also Tritium – a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen) helps scientists understand where the water here came from. These analyses will help us verify if the Mississippi River water is running through the Florida Coast right now. From a global viewpoint, this type of test is important because it helps us understand about the circulation of ocean water around the world. If the ocean water drastically changes its current “conveyor belt” circulation patterns, there could be real impact on the global climate. (Remember from 2nd and 3rd grade that the water cycle and oceans control the climate of Earth.) For example, Europe could become a lot colder and parts of the United States could become much hotter.

This is an image of the conveyor belt movement of ocean currents

The last type of analysis we prepared for was the CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter) analysis. This is important because like the water mass tracers, it tells us where this water came from. For example, did the water come from the Caribbean Sea, or did it come from freshwater rivers?

I am coming to understand that the main mission of this NOAA bimonthly survey cruise on the R/V Walton Smith is to monitor the waters of the Florida Coast and Florida Bay for changes in water chemistry. The Florida Bay has been receiving less fresh water runoff from the Everglades because many new housing developments have been built and fresh water is being sent along pipes to peoples’ houses. Because of this, the salinity of the Bay is getting higher and sea grass, fish, and other organisms are dying or leaving because they cannot live in such salty water. The Bay is very important for the marine ecosystem here because it provides a safe place for small fish and sea turtles to have babies and grow-up before heading out to the open ocean.

Personal Log

This cruise has provided me great opportunities to see real science in action. It really reinforces everything I tell my students about being a scientist: teamwork, flexibility, patience, listening and critical thinking skills are all very important. It is also important to always keep your lab space clean and organized. It is important to keep accurate records of everything that you do on the correct data sheet. It can be easy to get excited about a fish or algae discovery and forget to keep a record of it, but that is not practicing good science.

It is important to keep organized records

It is also important to stay safe – every time we are outside on the deck with the safety lines down, we must wear a life vest and if we are working with something that is overhead, we must wear a helmet.

I have been interviewing the scientists and crew aboard the ship and I cannot wait to return to Arlington and begin to edit the video clips. I really want to help my students understand the variety of science/engineering and technology jobs and skills that are related to marine science, oceanography, and ships. I have also been capturing videos of the ship and scientists in action so students can take a virtual fieldtrip on the R/V Walton Smith. I have been taking so many photos and videos, that the scientists and crew almost run away from me when they see me pick up my cameras!

Captain Shawn Lake mans the winch

The food continues to be wonderful, the sunsets spectacular, and my fellow shipmates entertaining. Tomorrow I hope to see dolphins swimming alongside the ship at sunrise! I will keep you posted!!

Did you know?

The scientists and crew are working 12-hour shifts. I am lucky to have the “day shift” which is from 8am to 8pm. But some unlucky people are working the “night shift” from 8pm to 8am. They wake-up just as the sun is setting and go to sleep right when it rises again.

Animals seen today…

zooplankton under the dissecting microscope

–       Many jellyfish

–       Two small crabs

–       Lots of plankton

A sampling of zooplankton

–       Flying fish flying across the ocean at sunset

–       A very small larval sportfish (some sort of bluerunner or jack fish)

Some moon jellyfish that we collected in the tow net

Caitlin Fine: Mississippi River Chasers! August 3, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Onboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 6, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 3, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 10:18pm
Air Temperature: 29.5°C
Water Temperature: 31.59°C
Wind Direction: North
Wind Speed: 3 knots
Seawave Height: calm
Visibility: good/unlimited
Clouds: Partially cloudy (cumulos and cirrus)
Barometer: 1011.0mb
Relative Humidity: 72%

Science and Technology Log

The oceanographic work on the boat can be divided into three categories: physical, chemical, and biological. In this log, I will explain a little bit about the part of the research related to the physics of light. Upcoming 5th graders – pay attention! We will be learning a lot about light in January/February and it all relates to this research project.

Brian and Maria are two PhD students who are working with the physical components. They are using several optical instruments: the SPECTRIX, the GER 1500, the Profiling Reflectance Radiometer (PRR), and the Profiling Ultraviolet Radiometer (PUV).

Bryan and Maria
Brian and Maria take optic measurements with the SPECTRIX and GER 1500

The SPECTRIX is a type of spectroradiometer that measures the light coming out of the water in order to understand what is in the water. For example, we can measure the amount of green light that is reflected and red and blue light that is absorbed in order to get an idea about the amount of chlorophyll in the water. This is important because chlorophyll is the biggest part of phytoplankton and phytoplankton are tiny plant-like algae that form the base of the food chain on Earth.

PUV
Brian lowers PRR into the water

The PRR and the PUV measure light at different depths to also understand what is in the water and at what depth you will find each thing in the water. The light becomes less bright the further down you go in the water. Most of light is between 0-200 meters of depth. The light that hits the water also becomes less bright based upon what is in the water. For example, you might find that chlorophyll live at 10 meters below the surface. It is important to understand at what depth each thing is in the water because that tells you where the life is within the ocean. Most of the ocean is pitch-black because it is so deep that light cannot penetrate it. Anything that lives below the light level has to be able to either swim up to get food, or survive on “extras” that fall below to them.

Personal Log

These few days have been very fun and action-packed! I arrived on the ship on Sunday afternoon and helped Nelson and the crew get organized and set-up the stations for the cruise. Several other people had also arrived early – two graduate students who are studying the optics of the water as part of their PhD program, one college student and one observer from the Dominican Republic who are like me – trying to learn about what NOAA does and how scientists conduct experiments related to oceanography.

On Monday morning, we gathered for a team meeting to discuss the mission of the cruise, introduce ourselves, and get an updated report on the status of the Mississippi River water. It turns out that the water is going in a bit of a different direction than previously projected, so we will be changing the cruise path of the ship in order to try to intersect it and collect water samples.

CTD
I am helping lower the CTD into the water

Monday we all learned how to use the CTD (a machine that we use to collect samples of water from different depths of the ocean) and other stations at the first several stops. It was a bit confusing at the beginning because there is so much to learn and so many things to keep in mind in order to stay safe! We then ate lunch (delicious!) and had a long 4-hour ride to the next section of stops. When we arrived, it was low tide (only 2 ft. of water in some places) so we could not do the sampling that we wanted to do. We continued on to the next section of stops (another 3 hour ride away!), watched a safety presentation and ate another delicious meal. By this time, it was time for the night shift to start working and for the day shift to go to bed. Since I am in the day shift, I was able to sleep while the night shift worked all night long.

Today I woke up, took a shower in the very small shower and ate breakfast just as we arrived at another section of stops. I immediately started working with the CTD and on the water chemistry sampling. We drove through some sea grass and the optics team was excited to take optical measurements of the sea grass because it has a very similar optical profile to oil. The satellites from space see either oil or sea grass and report it as being the same thing. So scientists are working to better differentiate between the two so that we can tell sea grass from oil on the satellite images. The images that Maria and Brian took today are maybe some of the first images to be recorded! Everyone on the ship is very excited!

Several hours later, we came to a part of the open ocean within the Florida Current near Key West where we believe water from the Mississippi River has reached. Nelson and the scientific team believe this because the salinity (the amount of dissolved salt) of the surface water is much lower than it normally is at this time of year in these waters. Normally the salinity is about 36-36.5 PSUs in the first 20 meters and today we found it at 35.7 PSUs in the first 20 meters. This may not seem like a big difference, but it is.

The water from the Mississippi River is fresh water and the water in the Florida Keys is salt water. There is always a bit of fresh water mixing with the salt water, but usually it is not enough to really cause a change in the salinity. This time, there is enough fresh water entering the ocean to really change the salinity. This change can have an impact on the animals and other organisms that live in the Florida Keys.

Additionally, the water from the Mississippi River contains a lot of nutrients – for example, fertilizers that run off from farms and lawns into gutters and streams and rivers – and those nutrients also impact the sea life and the water in the area. Nelson says that this type of activity (fresh water from the Mississippi River entering the Florida Current) occurs so infrequently (only about ever 6 years), scientists are interested in documenting it so they can be prepared for any changes in the marine biology of the area.

For all of these reasons and more, we took a lot of extra samples at this station. And it took almost 2 hours to process them!

In the evening, we stopped outside of Key West and the director of this program for NOAA, Michelle Wood, took a small boat into the harbor because she cannot be with us for the entire cruise.

Key West
Sunset over Key West - a beautiful way to end the day

She asked me if I’d like to go along with the small boat to see Key West, since I have never been there before, and of course I agreed! I got some great pictures of the R/V Walton Smith from the water and we saw a great sunset on the way back to the ship after dropping her off with Jimmy Buffet blasting from the tourist boats on their own sunset cruises.

We will be in the Mississippi River plume for most of tonight. Everyone is very excited and things are pretty crazy with the CTD sampling because we are doing extra special tests while we are in the Mississippi River plume. We might not get much sleep tonight. I will explain in my next blog all about the chemistry sampling that we are doing with the CTD instrument and why it is so important.

Did you know?

On a ship, they call the kitchen the “galley,” the bathroom is the “head,” and the bedrooms are called “staterooms.”

One interesting thing about the ship is that it does not have regular toilets. The ship has a special marine toilet system that functions with a vacuum and very thin pipes. If one of the vacuums on one of the toilets is not closed, none of the toilets work!

Animals seen today…

  • Zooplankton that live in the sargassum (a type of seaweed that usually floats on the water) –baby crab, baby shrimp, and other zooplankton. The sargassum is a great habitat for baby crab, baby shrimp, and baby sea turtles.
  • Baby flying fish
  • Two juvenile Triggerfish

    Triggerfish
    We caught a young triggerfish in our tow net

Caitlin Fine: Introduction, July 26, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Onboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 6, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida
Date: July 26, 2011

Personal Log

Hola! My name is Caitlin Fine and I teach science at Escuela Key (Francis Scott Key School), a dual-language immersion elementary school in Arlington, VA. I am a Virginia native and my heart is constantly torn between the lively activities of the Washington, D.C. area and the peaceful beauty of the Shenandoah Valley. I left Virginia for college and graduate school, but returned 4 years ago to begin my teaching career for Arlington County Public Schools.

Caitlin Fine
On top of Aspen Mountain during a recent trip to Colorado

Although I majored in Political Science and Spanish Literature and I have graduate degrees in Spanish Literature and Multicultural Education, I have always been interested in science. During college, I worked on an organic farm in Andalucia, Spain that practiced permaculture (this is a way of using the land that is sustainable so that the soil does not use-up all of its nutrients). I also traveled around the Southern Cone of South America (Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil) studying the geology of the region. As you can see, I have some experience with farming and the mountains. But I have never really spent an extended time at sea — I have never slept on a boat or studied the marine ecosystems up close and personal over a period of time. I hope that I am not seasick!

My interest in science mixed with my love of cooking has created a current obsession — the health of our national and global food and water supplies. Did you know that every time we take medicine or use pesticides on our plants, a small amount of it enters the water supply and some of it ends up in the rivers and oceans nearby where fish and water plants are trying to live?

The science program at Key is a bit different from traditional elementary schools in that there are three science teachers who teach all 630 students. For the past two years, I have taught the Kindergarteners, the 2nd graders and half of the 5th graders. Key kids are amazing scientists — they are full of questions about how the world works and they are not afraid to get busy trying to figure things out on their own through hands-on inquiry and cooperative learning. I cannot wait to return to Key with new knowledge of oceanography, ocean-related careers and ways to monitor the health of the ocean to share with my students and colleagues!

I am so excited to be a Teacher at Sea for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s 2011 Field Season! Teacher at Sea is a program that provides allows Kindergarten through college-level teachers to live and work alongside scientists on research and survey ships. The goal of the program is to help teachers understand our ocean planet, environmental literacy, and maritime work so that they can return to the classroom and share information with their students about what it is like to be a real scientist who studies the ocean.

I will be on a 5-day cruise on the R/V Walton Smith in south Florida.

R/V Walton Smith
This is the R/V Walton Smith

From what I understand, we will be taking measurements across the south Florida coastal marine ecosystem (the southwest Florida shelf, Biscayne and Florida Bays, and the Florida Keys reef tract). The program is important because the research has helped scientists keep an eye on the sensitive marine habitats, especially when the ecosystem has had to deal with extreme events, such as hurricanes, harmful algal blooms or potential oil spill contaminants. We will test the circulation, salinity, water quality and biology of the ecosystem.

Drainage Basin
The currents might move some of the Mississippi River water toward south Florida

During this cruise, I have been told that we might be able to measure Mississippi River water because it might enter our survey track.

Scientists are also going to be trying out new optical measurement tools! It sounds as though I will have a lot to report back to you about!

Please leave me a comment or any questions you have about the cruise.

Please take a moment to take my poll: