NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 14, 2013 to May 30, 2013
Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Weather Data: Wind speed: 19.02 knots; Surface water temp.: 24.7 degrees C; Air temp: 25.7 degrees C: Relative humidity: 91%; Barometric pressure: 1007.4 mb.
Science and Technology Log:
A nice jar of plankton from an early morning tow.
Getting just one small jar of plankton back to the lab on shore requires a lot of work. First comes all of the net-dropping work I described in the last post, which is a team effort from everyone on board, just to bring the samples onto the ship. From there, we have to take several more steps in order to preserve the sample.
Step 1: After the nets are brought back onto the bow of the ship, we hose them down very thoroughly using a seawater hose, in order to wash any clinging plankton down into the cod end.
Here I am, hosing down the Bongo nets. Photo by Alonzo Hamilton
Then we detach the cod end and bring it to the stern of the ship, where a prep station is set up. The prep table is stocked with funnels, sieves, seawater hoses and jars, and the chemicals that we need to preserve the plankton that we collect – formalin and ethyl alcohol.
Step 2: We carefully pour the specimen through the fine-mesh sieve to catch the plankton and drain out the water. It’s amazing to see what’s in the sample. This, of course, includes lots of tiny plankton; all together, they look kind of like sludge, until you look very closely to see the individual creatures. Lots of the fish larvae have tiny, bright blue eyes. (On a funny note, my breakfast granola has started to look like plankton after a week of collecting!)
Plankton in a sieve
Getting to see what makes it into each sample is kind of like a treasure hunt. Sometimes bigger organisms like fish, sea jellies, eel larvae, pyrosomes and snails end up in the sample. Quite frequently there is sargassum, which is a type of floating seaweed that does a great job of hiding small creatures. Take a look at the pictures at the end of the post to see some of these!
Step 3: Next, the sample goes into a jar. We use seawater from a hose to push the sample to one side of the sieve, and let the water drain out. Then, we put a funnel in a clean, dry jar and use a squeeze bottle of ethyl alcohol to wash the sample into the jar through the funnel. We top the jar off with ethyl alcohol, which draws the moisture out of the bodies of the plankton so that they don’t decompose or rot in the jar. The sample from the left bongo – just this sample and no other – is preserved in a mixture of formalin and seawater because it goes through different testing than the other samples do once back on shore. We top all of the bottles with a lid and label them: R for Right Bongo, L for Left Bongo, RN for Regular Neuston, and SN for Subsurface Neuston.
Plankton Ready to go in the Jar
Step 4: After the jars are filled, Alonzo and I bring them back to the wet lab, where Glenn attaches labels to the tops of the jars, and puts a matching label inside of each jar as well. The label inside the jar is there in case the label on the lid falls off one day. These labels provide detailed information about where and when the sample was collected, and from which net.
A label on the jar gives detailed information about the plankton inside
Step 5: After 24 hours, it’s time to do transfers. Transfers involve emptying the samples from the jars through a sieve again, and putting them back into the jars with fresh ethyl alcohol. We do this because the alcohol draws water out of the bodies of the plankton, so the alcohol becomes watered-down in the first 24 hours and is not as effective. Adding fresh alcohol keeps the sample from going bad before it can be studied. Once the transfers are done, we draw a line through the label to show that the sample is well-preserved and ready to be boxed up and brought back to the lab!
Boxes full of plankton samples ready to be brought back to shore
I have the great fortune of working with some intelligent, knowledgeable and friendly scientists here on the Oregon II. Jana is my bunkmate and one of the scientists; she pointed out to me that just about every animal you can imagine that lives in the ocean started off as plankton. As a result, while the scientists who work with plankton do each have a specialty or specific type of plankton that they focus on, at the same time, they have to know a little bit about many types of organisms and the basics of all of their life cycle stages. In a way I can relate to this as a Naturalist; I need to have a bit of knowledge about many plants, animals, minerals and fossils from the Mojave Desert and beyond, because chances are, my smart and curious Nature Exchange traders will eventually bring them all in for me to see and identify!
The science team, from left to right: Andy, Alonzo, Glenn, me, Jana and Brittany. Photo by Brian Adornado
I want to take a few moments to introduce all of the members of the science team. I thought I’d have fun with it and use my own version of the Pivot questionnaire:
Meet Alonzo Hamilton
Alonzo Hamilton, scientist, testing water samples in the Wet Lab.
Alonzo is a Research Fisheries Biologist; he has been working with NOAA since 1984. Alonzo earned an Associate’s degree in Science, a Bachelor’s degree in biology, and a Master’s degree in Biology with an emphasis in Marine Science. Alonzo was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Mississippi.
What is your favorite word? Data
What is your least favorite word? No or can’t. There’s always a solution; you just have to keep trying until you find it.
What excites you about doing science? Discovery
What do you dislike about doing science? The financial side of it.
What is your favorite plankton? Tripod fish plankton
What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The main engines
What sound or noise do you hate? The alarm bells
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? An electrician. There are some neat jobs in that field.
What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer. There’s a risk of becoming too jaded.
If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A coelacanth. What is your life history? What’s a typical day of feeding like? Is there a hierarchy of fish, and what is it? What determines who gets to eat first?
Meet Glenn Zapfe
Glenn Zapfe, scientist, contemplating the plankton samples.
Glenn is a Research Fisheries Biologist; he worked with NOAA as a contractor for 8 years before being hired on as a Federal employee three years ago. Glenn earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Life, and a Master’s degree in Coastal Science. He grew up in the Chicago area.
What is your favorite word? Quirky
What is your least favorite word? Nostalgia
What excites you about doing science? Going to sea and seeing organisms in their natural environment.
What do you dislike about doing science? Statistics. They can sometimes be manipulated to fit individual needs.
What is your favorite plankton? Amphipods
What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The hum of the engine
What sound or noise do you hate? The emergency alarm bells
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Glenn grew up wanting to be a cartoonist – but he can’t draw.
What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer
If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A cuttlefish, to ask about how they are able to change the color of their skin.
Meet Jana Herrmann
Jana Hermann, scientist and volunteer, aboard the Oregon II
Jana is a Fisheries Technician with the Gulf Coast Research Lab, and is on this cruise as a volunteer. She has worked with the Gulf Coast Research Lab since February 2013, but worked within the local Marine Sciences field for 8 years before that. Jana earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and Environmental biology, and will be starting graduate school in the fall of 2013. Jana grew up in Tennessee.
What is your favorite word? Pandemonium
What is your least favorite word? Anything derogatory
What excites you about doing science? Just when you think you have it all figured out, something new comes up.
What do you dislike about doing science? Dealing with bureaucracy and having to jump through hoops to get the work done.
What is your favorite plankton? Janthina
What sound or noise on the ship do you love? This is Jana’s first cruise on the Oregon II, so she doesn’t have a favorite noise yet.
What sound or noise do you hate? Any noises that keep her from sleeping.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? A baker or pastry chef.
What profession would you not like to do? Any mundane office job with no creative outlet.
If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? She would ask a blue whale if it is sad about the state of the environment, and she would ask it if mermaids are real.
Meet Brittany Palm
Brittany Palm, scientist, aboard the Oregon II
Brittany is a Research Fisheries Biologist; she has worked with NOAA for 4 years. Brittany earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology, and is currently working on her Master’s degree in Marine Science. Brittany grew up on Long Island.
What is your favorite word? Midnattsol – the Norwegian word for “midnight sun”
What is your least favorite word? Editing. That’s not a fun word to hear when you hand in drafts of your thesis!
What excites you about doing science? Constantly learning. All of the fields of science, from chemistry to physics to biology, are interwoven. You have to know a little bit about all of them.
What do you dislike about doing science? Also, constantly learning! Every time you think you know something, a new paper comes out.
What is your favorite plankton? Glaucus
What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The ship’s sound signal, which is a deep, booming horn that ships use to communicate with each other.
What sound or noise do you hate? When she’s trying to sleep in rough seas and something in one of the drawers is rolling back and forth. She has to get up and go through all of the drawers and cabinets to try to find it and make it stop!
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Opening a dance studio. Brittany competed on dance teams throughout high school and college.
What profession would you not like to do? Anything in the health field, because she empathizes more with animals than people.
If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? The Croaker fish. Brittany is studying Croaker diets and has dissected over a thousand stomachs. She would like to be able to just ask them what they eat!
Meet Andy Millett
Andy Millett, scientist, in the Dry Lab of the Oregon II.
Andy is a Research Fisheries Biologist, and is the Field Party Chief for this cruise. He has worked with NOAA for 3 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and a Master’s degree in Marine Science. Andy grew up in Massachusetts.
What is your favorite word? Parallel
What is your least favorite word? Silly
What excites you about doing science? When all of the data comes together and tells you a story.
What do you dislike about doing science? Having to be so organized and meticulous, since he is typically pretty disorganized.
What is your favorite plankton? Pelagia
What sound or noise on the ship do you love? Spinning the flowmeters on the nets. It sounds like a card in the spokes of a bicycle.
What sound or noise do you hate? Alarms of any kind, whether they are emergency alarms or alarm clocks.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Video game designer
What profession would you not like to do? Anything in retail or customer service
If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A giant squid, because we don’t know much about them. Andy would ask what it eats, where it lives, and other basic questions about its life.
Challenge Yourself: Hey, Nature Exchange traders! The scientists shared their favorite plankton types; all of them are truly fascinating in their own way. Research one of these animals and write down a few facts. Or, pick your favorite Mojave Desert animal and write about that. Bring your research into the Nature Exchange for bonus points. Tell them Emmi sent you!
Don’t forget to track the Oregon II here: NOAA Ship Tracker
Animals We’ve Seen (and one plant):
Bristletooth Conger Eel Larva. See its tiny little face on the left?
Sargassum is a floating seaweed that often ends up in our Neuston nets. We record its volume and throw it back.
Sargassum fish – they hide in the sargassum!
Myctophids are shiny silver and black, and quite pretty!
A juvenile flying fish. I’ve seen some adults gliding through the air as well!
Alonzo holding a juvenile filefish