Lynn Kurth: It’s Shark Week! July 31, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynn M. Kurth
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 9, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic
Date:  July 31, 2014

Lat: 30 11.454 N
Long: 80 49.66 W

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind: 17 knots
Barometric Pressure:  1014.93 mb
Temperature:  29.9 Degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log:
It would be easy for me to focus only on the sharks that I’ve  encountered but there is so much more science and natural phenomena to share with you!  I have spent as much time on the bow of the boat as I can in between working on my blogs and my work shift.  There’s no denying it, I LOVE THE BOW OF THE BOAT!!!  When standing in the bow it feels as if you’re flying over the water and the view is splendid.

BOW
My Perch!

From my prized bird’s eye view from the bow I’ve noticed countless areas of water with yellowish clumps of seaweed.  This particular seaweed is called sargassum which is a type of macroalgae found in tropical waters.  Sargassum has tiny chambers which hold air and allow it to float on or near the water’s surface in order to gather light for photosynthesis.  Sargassum can be considered to be a nuisance because it frequently washes up on beaches and smells as it decomposes.  And, in some areas it can become so thick that it reduces the amount of light that other plant species need to grow and thrive. However, the floating clumps of sargassum provide a great habitat for young fish because it offers them food and shelter.

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Sargassum as seen from “my perch”

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Sargassum (notice the small air bladders that it uses to stay afloat)
We have hauled in a variety of sharks and fish over the past few days.  One of the more interesting species was the remora/sharksucker.  The sharksucker attaches itself to rays, sharks, ships, dolphins and sea turtles by latching on with its suction cup like dorsal fin.  When we brought a sharksucker on board the ship it continued to attach itself to the deck of the boat and would even latch on to our arm when we gave it the chance.

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The shark sucker attaches to my arm immediately!
The largest species of sharks that we have hauled in are Sandbar sharks which are one of the largest coastal sharks in the world.  Sandbar sharks have much larger fins compared to their body size which made them attractive to fisherman for sale in the shark fin trade.  Therefore, this species has more protection than some of the other coastal shark species because they have been over harvested in the past due to their large fins.

Thankfully finning is now banned in US waters, however despite the ban sandbar sharks have continued protection due to the fact that like many other species of sharks they are not able to quickly replace numbers lost to high fishing pressure.  Conservationists remain concerned about the future of the Sandbar shark because of this ongoing threat and the fact that they reproduce very few young.

IMG_2928[1]
The first Sandbar shark that I was able to tag
Did you Know?

Sargassum is used in/as:

  • fertilizer for crops
  • food for people
  • medicines
  • insect repellant

Personal Log:
I continue to learn a lot each day and can’t wait to see what the next day of this great adventure brings!  The folks who I’m working with have such interesting tales to share and have been very helpful as I learn the ropes here on the Oregon II.  One of the friendly folks who I’ve been working with is a second year student at the University of Tampa named Kevin Travis.  Kevin volunteered for the survey after a family friend working for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) recommended him as a volunteer.  Kevin enjoys his time on the boat because he values meeting new people and knows how beneficial it is to have a broad range of experiences.

 

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Kevin Travis

Carol Schnaiter, Our Second Day at Sea, June 8, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Schnaiter

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 6 – 21, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey Gulf of Mexico

June 8, 2014

Science and Technology Log

The Oregon II set sail on June 6th and will reach the first station sometime Monday, June 9th, in the evening.

While on the way there the scientists and crew are preparing the equipment and testing everything to make sure it is ready to use when we arrive. One item tested was the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) item. The white round frame protects the delicate, expensive piece of gear that you can see at the bottom of the frame. It allows the equipment to safely travel down without hitting the side of the ship nor the bottom of the ocean. Near the top you see the water sampling tubes.

 

Test run of equipment for titrations
Kim and Andre prepare the CTD.

These tubes are opened up and when they enter the water they are triggered to close and collect water from the depth that the science team has predetermined.

The deck crew uses a crane to help lift it over the side of the ship and then it drops down and collects water. This was a test to make sure everything was working and the CTD was dropped down and collected water in three tubes.

When it came back on deck, Kim Johnson, the Lead Scientist, took three containers of water from one tube. In the lab she used the Winkler Test, to determine the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water samples. This is called doing titrations and they will be conducted once a day or more often if something goes wrong.

Can you think of why scientists would need to test this? They are trying to determine the level of oxygen in the water to see if it is high or low. If it is low or not there at all, scientist call it a “Dead Zone” because everything needs oxygen to live.

Kim Johnson took the three samples to the lab and added chemicals to test the water. It took some time to conduct the test, but Kim explained everything to Robin Gropp (he is an intern on the ship) and to me.

The results that were done by hand were compared to the results collected by the computer and they matched! The oxygen level in the first test were good. This means the equipment will be ready to use!

Sargassum seaweed
Photo I took from the ship

In the Gulf of Mexico there is a lot of floating seaweed called Sargassum. To learn more about this, go to the attached url. In short, this seaweed is brown and floats on top of the water. It has been used as a herb in some areas. It is interesting to see the brown seaweed floating by the ship.  http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sargassosea.html

Do you notice how blue the water is? What makes the water look so blue? According to the NOAA Ocean Facts:

  • “The ocean is blue because water absorbs colors in the red part of the light spectrum. Like a filter, this leaves behind colors in the blue part of the light spectrum for us to see.
  • The ocean may also take on green, red, or other hues as light bounces off of floating sediments and particles in the water.
  • Most of the ocean, however, is completely dark. Hardly any light penetrates deeper than 200 meters (656 feet), and no light penetrates deeper than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet ).”

Pretty neat to see how light and color work together!

Personal Log

The water went from murky brown when we left Mississippi due to the boat activity and the rivers that drain down into the Gulf, to this blue that is hard to describe. I am trying to absorb everything that the scientist are discussing and hoping that when we start working everything will make more sense to me! There is so much to learn!

Today we had safety drills; a fire drill (yes, we practice fire drills even on the ship, you can’t call 911 at sea after all) and abandon ship drill. During the abandon ship drill everyone had to bring long pants, long-sleeve shirt, hat, life preserver and immersion suit. Here is a picture of me in my immersion suit. This suit will float and keep me warm if we need to leave the ship.

Wearing my immersion suit!
Wearing my immersion suit! Photo taken by Kim Johnson

Today the ships’ divers went into the water to check the hulll of the ship and the water temperature was 82 degrees. It would have been refreshing to be in the water, but this is a working ship and safety comes first!

The food onboard the ship is delicious and I am sure I will need to walk many steps after this trip. The cooks offer two or three choices at every meal and the snack area is open 24 hours…not a good thing for me!

While on deck I saw my first flying fish today. I thought it was a bird flying close to the water, but it was not! Amazing how far they can fly over the water.

When I look out from the front of the ship, I see water, water, and more water. There are a few oil rigs in the distance and once in a while a ship passes by, but mostly beautiful blue water!

Last night I saw my first sea sunset and since I will be working the midnight to noon shift starting soon, it maybe the last sunset…but I will get to see some AWESOME sunrises!

2014-06-07 Sunset!
Glad I had my camera with me!

Enjoy the sunset!

Mrs. Carol Schnaiter

Spencer Cody: A Floating City of Life, June 6, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico
Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Date:  June 6, 2014
 

Observational Data:

Latitude:  28˚ 18.164 N
Longitude:  92˚ 26.145 W
Air Temp: 27.7˚C (81.9˚F)
Water Temp: 25.5˚C (77.9˚F)
Ocean Depth:  86.1 m (282 ft.)
Relative Humidity:  76%
Wind Speed:  3.9 kts (4.5 mph)
Barometer:  1,011.5 hPa (1,011.5 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

Sargassum
The floating mats of Sargassum stay afloat due to a series of small air bladders. The floating brown algae provides habitat for a diverse assortment of sea life.

It has been the subject of many ocean myths and legends:  ships becoming trapped in mats of thick, unrelenting seaweed.  Of course, such stories are not true, but the giant mats of seaweed that inspired such fear in sailors hundreds of years ago are very real and are an important component of the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem.  The Carthaginians and later the Romans first described a portion of the Atlantic covered in seaweed.  By the 15th century, the Portuguese had named the area the Sargasso Sea after the sargaco rock rose that grew in their water wells back home, which appeared to be similar to the seaweed that grew on the surface of the water in stagnant parts of the Atlantic.  From this comes the genus name Sargassum or as it is commonly referred to along the Gulf coast as gulfweed.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Sargassum can form large mats acres in size.  These large mats of brown algae provide a floating micro-ecosystem in the Gulf.  Sargassum is a food source for many marine organisms.  The mats also serve as a nursery for fish and invertebrate eggs and developing young.  The thick mats provide structure and cover in an ocean environment that may be lacking in the necessary cover to support the development of their young and to keep them hid from potential predators.  Within the mats many types of marine herbivores can be found.  The presence of various herbivores draws in fish to feed on those organisms grazing on the Sargassum.  In fact, some organisms have evolved to look like Sargassum for protection.  One good example of this is a type of frogfish called the sargassum fish.  The sargassum fish can appear to be brown, yellow, or olive depending on whatever color they need to be in order to blend in with the mat of algae.

 

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Hardhat, life jacket, and work gloves are needed during operations on the weather deck. This is a picture of me placing a float on one of our bandit reel lines.  Credit Kevin Rademacher for the photo.

Personal Log: 

Safety is always a key concern when going on a survey aboard a research vessel such as the Pisces.  This is especially true when a ship is moving and lifting the sensors and equipment to facilitate the science the Pisces is carrying out.  Whenever we are launching or retrieving either the CTD or camera array, protective gear including a hardhat and a life jacket are required.  Whenever we are using a bandit reel, the same equipment is needed as well.  Losing someone overboard is a constant concern.  That is why these precautions are taken whenever operations are occurring on a weather deck and is why we have drills for a man overboard situation to recover someone as fast as possible.

fire hose
Water hoses along with other fire suppression equipment are tested during one of our mandatory fire drills.

As with any building, fire is a serious threat.  On a ship fire is a threat that endangers everyone onboard.  Everyone is given an assignment list on their bunk card.  Each bunk card lists the person’s individual emergency billet assignments for a fire, abandon ship, and a man overboard.  During a fire everyone may end up becoming a part of the fire suppression crew.  People need to report to there assigned stations.  During a drill a mock fire is assessed and contained, and fire suppression equipment is tested out.  The Pisces is designed to contain fire wherever possible by having heavy fireproof doors throughout the ship making it more difficult for fire to spread to other decks.

If an emergency requires the ship to be abandoned, people are required to report to specific life raft stations with life jackets, a survival suit, and other items in order to leave the ship behind.  Life jackets and survival suits are found in our staterooms and throughout the ship.  This is an act of last resort once every attempt to save the ship has been made.  The Pisces is specifically designed to prevent water from entering cabins and corridors by using water tight doors.  This is designed to either prevent taking on water or at least slow the process down enough to abandon ship.

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Survival suits are both water tight and thermally insulated keeping a person who needs to abandon ship dry and warm. A flotation device is wrapped around the neck, which inflates, keeping the floating person upright in the water.  Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

Other general precautions must be observed onboard.  Passengers and crew are not allowed to run while onboard for several reasons.  The watertight doors come up from the floor by nearly a foot in addition to many other obstacles.  Places like any of the weather decks or the wet lab where we process fish specimens are often wet and slippery.  Perhaps the most obvious reason one should be careful moving around onboard is the movement of the ship itself.  Large waves and swells can send the ship into an unpredictable motion.  This makes even walking or standing difficult at times and is certainly disorienting.  The Pisces has several features to accommodate this problem.  Handle bars and railings are found throughout the ship in order to stabilize yourself during swells.  Having a handle bar in the shower may seem rather over the top, but when your morning shower starts to resemble a theme park ride that you may have been on before, then you will start to understand why that feature is there.  Cabinet and drawers are self-locking; otherwise, they would constantly slide in and out, which is why we had to tape down many of the drawers in the dry lab that do not have this feature.  When you are on a moving ship, everything takes a little longer to do than on land.  It is just something you have to get used to.

Did You Know?

Even water temperatures as high as 80˚F can be a hypothermia risk if exposed to it for long periods of time.  Water conducts heat away from your body 25 times faster than air of the same temperature.

David Murk: Sun Sets on This Story, May 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Murk
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7 – 22, 2014.

 

Taken by LTJG Begun
Taken by LTJG Begun

 

Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping

Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, U.S. East Coast

Weather Data from the Bridge – Tuesday, May 20

We are at: 36⁰N, 074⁰W

Weather: Few clouds

Visibility: 10 miles

Wind : 12 Knots from 270⁰ (use your 360⁰ compass)

Temperature: Water is 15⁰ Celsius, as is the air.

Our present location can also be found at: (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/).

Science and Technology :

“We’ll start the first plankton tow around 1:30 or 2,” said Chris Taylor (NOAA Fisheries scientist). Note to selfmake sure I have sunscreen… Then Chris added – “a.m. not p.m.” – new note to self- forget sunscreen, instead buy travel mug at ship store.”   Ever since our plankton tow net was damaged in Florida, Chris has been on his computer and conferring w/ his office, the CO and Derek Sowers, the Expedition Coordinator on how to get another net. Thanks to a lot of people’s flexibility, a net was found. So, like taking an early morning run to 7-11 for a gallon of milk, we took a run into Cape Canaveral and met a charter boat with net and frame.

After searching for samples on the west side of the Gulf Stream, we are now crossing it and going fishing on the east side of this “river” that moves more water per second than all the world’s rivers combined.  (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/gulfstreamspeed.html )

There are many different ways to do plankton tows, each for a different purpose. An underwater sled is hauled behind the boat called a “Continuous Plankton Recorder” that is like a conveyor belt and does what the name implies. Our method was to use a frame about the size of a hockey net (GO BLACKHAWKS!)  attached to a fine screen net. The tapered net was about 18 feet (6 meters) long and was towed off the side of the ship. The trick is to have the net rise and fall at the surface and down to 60 feet below the surface. Tyler Sheff (Chief Boatswain) found every available weight to attach to the frame and cable that held the net. After a few trials and adding about 200 pounds to the net it worked like a charm.

Picture taken by LTJG Begun
Picture taken by LTJG Begun

By 4 a.m. we were pulling in our first haul. Amongst the Sargassum plants were FISH! Chris and I meticulously washed the net with salt water and then he separated out all the plankton (phytoplankton are the plants and zoo plankton are microscopic animals). He then put each tow’s sample in alcohol for preservation to send to the lab for genetic analysis to see if some of the many fish larvae and eggs were indeed Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.

Going Fishin'!
Going Fishin’!

 

Taken by LTJG Begun
Taken by LTJG Begun
ChrisTaylor washing sargassum

 

Juvenile (and very healthy) pufferfish amongst plankton.

Did you know?

First – find the differences in these two pictures :

George S. Blake - courtesy of Wikipedia
George S. Blake – courtesy of Wikipedia
Okeanos Explorer -photo courtesy of NOAA
Okeanos Explorer -photo courtesy of NOAA

 

We have spent a large amount of time on the Stetson Mesa on the Blake Plateau. Why the name “Blake Plateau”?  Short answer is that it is named after a ship that was named after a man.  The ships above both were ships designed to explore.  The urge to explore and answer questions brought about from those explorations is timeless. NOAA’s origins were during President Thomas Jefferson’s administration. This branch of the country’s uniformed service will continue to evolve. America’s 21st century premier exploration ship, the Okeanos Explorer, is following in the footsteps of the 19th century’s premier exploratory ship – the George S. Blake. That ship was named after the man who saved the Constitution. (and you thought it was Nicholas Cage)   But that’s a story for another time and can be found at:

http://www.history.noaa.gov/ships/blake.html

and :

George S. Blake’s claim to fame

And one loose end – speaking of finding the differences in photos- and kudos to TAS Denise Harrington & Kalina’s dad for finding the difference in my second blog’s mystery photo challenge of the fact that because of rough seas, the rails on the tables in the mess can be raised to prevent food from sliding to the floor.

 

Personal Log 

Everyone’s nose has turned toward home. Some of the crew have been out to sea since February and the missing and euphoria for terra firma and the lap of family is thick.   The same for me with Mollie, Sophie, Izzie and Owen, I miss them tremendously. I’m so anxious to see the best fifth graders ever and my other friends and family. We really don’t need a quote to send it home but Frank Herbert’s words hit the nail on the head.

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

The Okeanos Explorer will get a facelift in North Kingston and head out in August.

I’ll come back for 3 glorious days with my class, forever changed by the privilege of getting a view into other people’s lives.

Saying thank you for this experience is a must.

  • I have to thank NOAA for selecting me for this opportunity. So many others more deserving, but I’m glad someone was asleep at the bridge last winter and allowed me to sneak in.
  • Expedition leader- Derek Sowers for his constant humor and patience at having to rewrite my drafts so as not to incur costly and lengthy litigation and Chris Taylor for not getting mad that I bungled the salinity #’s.
  • Commander Ramos and his Officers Pralgo, Rose, Begun, and Pawlenko for their tolerance with the interns and me constantly seeking permission to enter the bridge. They also shared with me a wealth of knowledge and career opportunities in NOAA for my students.  Gracias to the other crew- TR, Pedro, and James and Head and Second Engineers Vinnie and Nancy, and Chief Boatswain Tyler for their willingess to answer questions and give me time and not complain when i was standing in exactly the wrong spot.
  • The mapping interns, Danielle, Kalina, and Sam for their appetite for hilarity, work and meals.
  • To Vanessa and Jackie for always being quick to laugh or answer my questions.
  • To my mom and sister for taking care of business and Lil’ Sebastian.
  • To Mrs. Steinman, Mrs. York, Mrs. Helminski, Dr. Scarpino, Char, Diane and my students for allowing me this time away.
  • And most of all to Mollie, Sophie, Izzie , Owen and Jacqui for going full sail during the windiest month of the year.

I miss my class

 

Emilisa Saunders: Sargassum City, May 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emilisa Saunders
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 14 2013 – May 30, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday, May 25 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind speed 15.7 knots; Surface water temperature 25.40 degrees Celsius; Air temperature 26.3 degrees Celsius; Relative humidity 85%; Barometric pressure 1017.3 mb

Holding the line
Holding the line as the MOCNESS goes in.

Science and Technology Log:

For the last couple of days, as the ship moves toward Texas, we’ve encountered lots of sargassum.  Sargassum is a type of macroalgae, or seaweed.  Some types of sargassum are benthic; as you remember, this means they live and grow on the bottom of the ocean.  Out here on the Oregon II, we’re seeing  planktonic  sargassum – the drifting kind – and lots of it.  This sargassum drifts around the surface of the Gulf, thanks to the tiny, air-filled float pods all throughout its leaves.  When pieces of sargassum meet up, they become entangled and start to drift together.  Before long, vast blankets or mats of sargassum form.  We’ve seen some impressive mats in the past few days, some almost as long as the ship itself!

Sargassum
Blanket of sargassum
Sargassum
Sargassum City

These mats create a bit of a challenge when it comes to dropping the nets.  The Bongo Net and the Subsurface Neuston stay below the surface, so typically they don’t catch much sargassum, unless some slips in just as the nets enter or leave the water.  However, the regular Neuston net stays on the surface for the duration of the drop.  This is a perfect opportunity for sargassum to slide right in.  Ideally, we want this net submerged for 10 minutes, but when the sargassum is thick, we have to cut this down to five.  Even then, we’ve had as much as 30 gallons of sargassum show up in one drop.

Handful of sargassum
You can find so much life in one handful of sargassum

When we get sargassum, we have to spray it off with sea water and sort through it to collect any plankton that are tangled in the leaves.  This is quite a bit of work when we get a lot of sargassum, but I have come to really enjoy it because of the amazing little creatures that we find.  A piece of sargassum can be like a little city, teeming with life, with a large variety of species.  Many of these are big enough that you can easily see them with the naked eye.  These sargassum communities contain everything that their residents need to survive, including a food web and plenty of shelter.  It’s also a great lesson in adaptation.  The animals that live in sargassum blend in so well that we have to look very carefully to find them.  Most of them are either transparent, or they exactly match the color of the seaweed, and there are tons of nooks and crannies for hiding.

Here are just a few of the delightful little animals that we’ve found in the sargassum:

Sargassum fish:  These little guys are pretty amazing.  They look fairly harmless, but they are actually ambush predators.  They have two small foot-like fins on their undersides, which they use to move around and perch in one place in the seaweed.  When a smaller animal comes close, the sargassum fish open their mouths wide and suck the unsuspecting prey in, just like a vacuum cleaner.  They’ll even eat other, smaller sargassum fish!  Some of them even have a piece of flesh called an esca that dangles from their head, which they use as a lure to attract prey.

Sargassum fish
A large sargassum fish from a Neuston net. See the little pectoral fin “feet?”
Small sargassum fish
This is the typical size for the sargassum fish that we’ve found (about one inch).

Sargassum swimming crabs:  These tiny crabs are capable of walking on land, but they are also excellent swimmers, thanks to their paddle-shaped back legs.  They are also ambush predators; they stalk smaller sargassum dwellers and give their prey a nasty jab to catch and kill them.

Sargassum swimming crab
Sargassum swimming crab. See its paddle-shaped hind feet?

Sargassum nudibranch:  Nudibranchs are a type of mollusk that have a shell in their juvenile stage, but lose the shell as they mature.  Sargassum nudibranchs are so well camouflaged that we sometimes feel their soft bodies in the sargassum before we see them.  They stay mainly in the sargassum, but if they happen to get washed out, they can flex their bodies back and forth to swim back to the seaweed.  It’s really quite amazing to watch!

Sargassum nudibranch
A little sargassum nudibranch. Looks like a blob here, but they are very graceful swimmers!

Challenge Yourself:  Hey there, Nature Exchange traders!  Can you think of an animal that blends into its environment in the Mojave Desert?  What about a creature that is an ambush predator?  Draw a picture or write down some facts and bring it in to the Nature Exchange for bonus points.  Be sure to tell them that Emmi sent you!

Personal Log:

Yesterday, I saw some evidence of the impact that we have on our oceans.  While sorting through some sargassum, I found a plastic ribbon with a balloon fragment attached wrapped around a piece of sargassum.  We were hundreds of miles from shore when I found it.  It was sad for me to see a piece of human trash tangled around this little sargassum community.  I know it’s still pretty common for people to organize balloon releases to honor a special person or occasion, but I wonder if there might be another way to do so.  Maybe instead of a balloon release, we can plant some trees, release ladybugs in a garden, organize a clean-up day at a local trail or park, etc.  All of these things could impact the environment in a positive way.  Just something to think about.

Trash in the Sargassum
A piece of balloon and ribbon tangled up in the sargassum.

Now that I have adjusted to working the midnight to noon shift on the Oregon II, I am finding that I really enjoy it.  In the past few days as we’ve approached a full moon, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the moon reflect on the water, making it look like liquid mercury.  For the first several days of this cruise, the sky was so dark that we could only see as far as the ship’s lights would allow, and maybe the distant lights from an oil rig or two.  It was the darkest dark I’ve ever seen.  Now, the moon lights up the sky enough that we can actually see the horizon.  Then, a few hours into the shift, we get to watch the sun rise, which is spectacular every time.  I’ve taken so many pictures of the sunrise, I can’t choose a favorite!

Sunrise
Sunrise on the Gulf of Mexico

We’re in the last few days of the survey, and we’ve taken the turn back east now.  Until next time, be sure to track the Oregon II here: NOAA Ship Tracker

Emilisa Saunders: We Do Science Here! May 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emilisa Saunders
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:

Plankton jar
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
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.

Prep station
Prep Station

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
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
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.

Plankton jar label
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!

Jars of Plankton
Boxes full of plankton samples ready to be brought back to shore

Personal Log:

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!

Team Plankton
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
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?

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Meet Glenn Zapfe

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.

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Meet Jana Herrmann

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.

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Meet Brittany Palm

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!

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Meet Andy Millett

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.

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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
Bristletooth Conger Eel Larva.  See its tiny little face on the left?
Sargassum
Sargassum is a floating seaweed that often ends up in our Neuston nets. We record its volume and throw it back.
Sea Jelly
Sea jelly
Sargassum fish
Sargassum fish – they hide in the sargassum!
Porpita jelly
Porpita jelly
Myctophid
Myctophids are shiny silver and black, and quite pretty!
Flying fish
A juvenile flying fish. I’ve seen some adults gliding through the air as well!
Filefish
Alonzo holding a juvenile filefish

Bhavna Rawal: Net Tow, Dive, Buoy Maintenance and Data Collection, August 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at sea
Bhavna Rawal
On Board the R/V Walton Smith
Aug 6 – 10, 2012

Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey, South Florida
Geographic area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 8, 2012

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Weather Data from the Bridge:
Station: 21.5
Time: 1.43 GMT
Longitude: 21 23 933
Latitude: 24 29 057
Wind direction: East of South east
Wind speed: 18 knots
Sea wave height: 2-3 ft
Clouds: partial

Science and Technology Log:

Yesterday, I learned about the CTD and the vast ocean life. Today I learned about a new testing called net tow, and how it is necessary to do, and how it is done.

What is Net Tow? The scientist team in the ship uses a net to collect sargassum (a type of sea weed) which is towed alongside the ship at the surface of the predetermined station.

A net to collect sargassum (a type of sea weed)
A net to collect sargassum (a type of sea weed)

How did we perform the task? We dropped the net which is made of nylon mess, 335 microns which collects zooplanktons in the ocean. We left this net in the ocean for 30 minutes to float on the surface of the ocean and collects samples. During this time the ship drives in large circles. After 30 minutes, we (the science team) took the net out of the ocean. We separated sargassum species, sea weeds and other animals from the net. We washed them with water, then classified and measured the volume of it by water displacement. Once we measure the volume, we threw them back into the ocean.

Dropped the net which collects zooplanktons in the ocean
Dropped the net which collects zooplanktons in the ocean
Types of sargassum
Types of sargassum
Measured the volume of it by water displacement
Measured the volume of it by water displacement
Threw them back into the ocean
Threw them back into the ocean
Record data

Types of Sargassum and Plankton:  There are two types of sargassum; ones that float, and the other ones that attach themselves to the bottom of the ocean. There are two types of floating sargassum and many types attached to bottom of the ocean.

Also there are two types of plankton; Zooplankton and phytoplankton. As you all know phytoplankton are single celled organisms, or plants that make their own food (photosynthesis). They are the main pillar of the food chain. It can be collected in a coastal area where there is shallow and cloudy water along the coastal side. The phytoplankton net is small compared to the zooplankton and is about 64 microns (small mess).

Zooplanktons are more complex than phytoplankton, one level higher in their food chain. They are larva, fish, crabs etc. they eat the phytoplankton. The net that is made to catch zooplankton, is about 335 microns. Today, we used the net to collect zooplankton.

Why Net Tow is necessary: Net tow provides information about habitats because tons of animals live in the sargassum. It is a free floating ecosystem. Scientists are interested in the abundance of sargassum and the different kinds of animals, such as larva, fishes, crabs, etc. Many scientists are interested in the zooplankton community structures too.

Dive, Buoy and other data collection equipments: Two science team members prepared for diving; which means that they wore scuba masks, oxygen tanks and other equipment. They took a little boat out from the ship and went to the buoy station. They took the whole buoyancy and other data collection instruments with them. The two instruments were the Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) and the micro cat which was attached to the buoy. The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents, and the ADCP measures currents of the ocean. Both instruments collect many data over the period. The reason for bringing them back, is to recover data in a Miami lab and the maintenance of the buoy.

The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents
The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents
Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) measures currents of the ocean
Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) measures currents of the ocean

Personal Log:

My first day on the ship was very exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. I had to take medicine to prevent me from being seasick. This medicine made me drowsy, which helped me to go to sleep throughout the night. The small bunk bed and the noise from the moving ship did not matter to me. I woke up in the morning, and got ready with my favorite ‘I love science’ t-shirt on. I took breakfast and immediately went to meet with my science team to help them out for the CTD and net tow stations. Today, I felt  like a pro compared to yesterday. It was a bit confusing during the first day, but it was very easy today.

I started helping lowering the CTD in the ocean. Now I know when to use the lines for the CTD, water sampling for different kinds of testing, how to net tow and do the sargassum classification. I even know how to record the data.

When we have a station call from the bridge, then we work as a team and perform our daily CTD, water testing or net tow. But during the free time, we play card games and talk. Today was fun and definitely action packed. Two science team members dove into the ocean and brought the buoy back. I also saw a fire drill.

Nelson (the chief scientist) took me to see TGF or called the flow through station which is attached inside the bottom of the ship. This instrument measures temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM etc. Nelson explained the importance of this machine. I was very surprised by the precise measurements of this machine. Several hours later, I went to the captain’s chamber, also called the bridge. I learned how to steer the boat, and I was very excited and more than happy to sit on the captain’s chair and steer.

Excited to sit on the captain’s chair and steer the R/V Walton Smith

We have also seen groups of dolphins chasing our ship and making a show for us. We also saw flying fishes. In the evening, around 8 o’clock after dinner, I saw the beautiful colorful sunset from the ship. I took many videos and pictures and I can’t wait to process it and see my pictures.

Saw groups of dolphins ahead of ship

Around 10 o’clock in the night, it was net tow time again. We caught about 65 moon jelly fishes in the net and measured their volumes. Nelson also deployed a drifter in the ocean.

See moon jelly fish in my hand

Today was very fun and a great learning opportunity for me, and don’t forget the dolphins, they really made my day too!

Question of the Day:
How do you measure volume of solid (sea grass)?

New Word:
Sargassum

Something to Think About:
Why scientists use different instruments such as CTD as well as TFG to measuretemperature, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM etc?

Challenge Yourself:
Why abundance of sargassum, types of animals and data collection is important in ocean?

Did you Know?
The two instruments were the Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) and the micro cat which was attached to the buoy. The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents, which means it measures at surface of the ocean, middle of the ocean and bottom layer of the ocean too.

Animals Seen Today:
Five groups of dolphins
Seven flying fishes
Sixty five big moon jelly fishes
Two big crabs

Stacey Jambura: Sargassum, Sargassum, Sargassum! July 15, 2012

Stacey Jambura
July 6 – 17, 2012
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Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
(You can view the NOAA ShipTracker here: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html)
Date: July 15, 2012
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Weather Details from Bridge: (at 18:45 GMT)
Air Temperature:  28.6◦C
Water Temperature: 28.5◦C
Relative Humidity: 73%
Wind Speed: 9.28 kts
Barometric Pressure: 1,017.65 mb
 

Science and Technology Log

The Neuston Net

Nueston Net
Neuston Net

The Neuston net is the first net to be deployed at sampling stations. This net has a wide rectangular opening that skims the surface of the water to collect surface dwelling organisms. Before the net is deployed, a cylindrical cod end is attached to the bottom of the net. The cod end has many holes that are covered by a screen. The screen allows water to flow through, but the organisms to get caught. We usually deploy the neuston net for 10 minutes, but sometimes we only deploy it for 5 minutes, depending on the amount of sargassum that is collected inside the net.

Filefish
Filefish collected from sargassum.

Sargassum is a type of seaweed that floats at the surface of the water, almost like little islands. Sargassum provides an important habitat for many marine animals in the open ocean. We frequently find small filefish, jacks, and flying fish, as well as juvenile puffer fish, crabs, and shrimp. Young sea turtles also use the sargassum as a hiding place from larger predators, though we have not found any during this trip.

Sargassum
Sargassum
(image from www.bigelow.org)
Emptying the Neuston net
Emptying the Neuston net.

When sargassum makes its way into our Neuston net, we collect all of it into large buckets. We have to rinse all of the sargassum off into large buckets to make sure that we collect all of the creatures living inside of it. We do this because we want to get the most accurate sampling of the population of living organisms in the sampling area. Depending on how much sargassum is collected in the Neuston net, the collection process can anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour!

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Rinsing a sample into a sieve.
Rinsing a sample into a sieve.

Once the sample has been rinsed into buckets, the buckets are poured into sieves. The sieves have screens that allow the water to flow through, but not the organisms we want to save. Once the buckets have been poured into the sieves, rinsed, and poured out again (to make sure nothing stuck to the inside of the bucket), we use alcohol to rinse the sieves into funnels that channel the sample into quart-sized jars. Once the entire sample has been rinsed into a jar, we fill the jar with alcohol, place a label inside the jar to record the location the sample came from, stick a similar label on the lid, and place the jar in a box back in our chem lab. The samples are analyzed later at a lab once the survey is over.

 

The Bongo Nets

Bongo Nets
Bongo nets being deployed.

Bongo nets are similar to the neuston net, but there are some differences. The bongo nets have cod ends like the neuston, but they have two cod ends because there are two separate nets, where the neuston has only one. The holes of the bongo cod ends are covered by screens that have smaller openings than the neuston cod ends so that they can collect smaller organisms. The main purpose of the bongo nets is to collect plankton samples. We cannot collect plankton easily using the neuston net because the openings in the screen on the cod end are larger.

Bongo Nets and Cod Ends
Bongo Nets and Cod Ends
Relaying Flow Meter Numbers to the Lab
Relaying Flow Meter Numbers to the Lab

Before the bongo nets are deployed, we have to report the numbers on the flow meters from the left bongo net and the right bongo net. The numbers on the flow meters are used to determine the amount of water that passed through the nets during deployment. Depending on how deep the water is determines how much water passes through the nets. After the nets are deployed, a sensor sends a message back to the lab to determine their depth. The person back in the lab monitors the depth and makes sure that the nets go as far down as possible, but do not make contact with the ocean floor. If the nets were to make contact with the ocean floor there is a good possibility that they could be damaged, which is why it’s so important to closely monitor the depth of the bongo nets. After the nets are brought back up on deck, the numbers are reported back to the lab where they subtract the first number of each flow meter (left bongo net and right bongo net) from the final number from each bongo. The difference is then divided by the length of time the net was deployed in the water.

Flow Meter Numbers
Flow Meter Numbers
Bongo Net Sample
Bongo Net Sample

Personal Log

Day 8 – July 12th

Sunset
Calm waters as the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico.

Today was a VERY slow day. We only had four sampling stations, and of those only one was a trawl station. I was able to work a bit more on my blogs today, and start working on some cool lesson plans to bring back to school with me this fall. We also managed to watch a couple movies and raid the ice cream freezer during our down time. The seas were exceptionally calm tonight, almost as smooth as glass. It was very calming and serene, almost surreal! I made sure to take several pictures before the sun had set. The waters were smooth for the rest of the night which made for easy sleeping..

Day 9 – July 13th

Trawling was the focus of today. We had 4 trawls plus a couple neuston and bongo net sampling stations, so it was quite the busy day! We saw quite a number of new species that we hadn’t seen in previous trawls so I made sure to photograph those to share with my students later. At one of our sampling stations, we collected almost 6 5-gallon buckets worth of sargassum in our neuston net. It took us quite a bit of time to rinse it all down and collect the samples into preservation jars. It took three, quart-sized jars to hold all of the sample we collected!

Day 10 – July 14th

I found out this was our last day of sampling before we make our way back to Pascagoula. We mostly had trawls today, so we got to examine lots of critters. We had lots of down time because one of our runs to a sampling station was almost four and a half hours long! I spent that time working on my blog, and taking a much needed nap to catch up on my sleep! We had a really pretty sunset right before a thunderstorm that delayed one of our trawls. We worked right up until the next team came onto their shift and took over cleaning up from our trawl.

Day 11 – July 15th

All of our sampling was completed over the night, but I was able to work on the last neuston/bongo sampling when I went onto my shift. After all of the sampling was done, it was time to start scrubbing everything down to get it back into ship shape! The wet lab, dry lab, neuston net, bongo nets, and the stern were all hosed down, power-washed, scrubbed, bleached, and Windex-ed until everything smelled clean again. It took us most of the afternoon, but when it was done, we were done! The rest of our time on the Oregon II was left for unwinding and relaxing. After a lunch of king crab legs and a Thanksgiving-like dinner, my stomach was happy and satisfied (but not until after an ice cream sandwich of course!) Movies filled the remainder of the afternoon and evening, until I was ready for bed.

Andrea Schmuttermair: Tows Away! June 26, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 26, 2012 

Ship  Data from the Bridge:
Latitude:  2805.26N
Longitude: 9234.19W
Speed:  10mph
Wind Speed:  5.86 knots
Wind Direction:   E/SE
Surface Water Salinity:  35.867 PPT
Air Temperature:  28.8 C
Relative Humidity: 86%
Barometric Pressure:  1010.51 mb
Water Depth:  96.5 m

Science and Technology Log


Sunrise
Sunrise on the Oregon II

Opisthonema oglinum, Lagadon rhomboides, Chloroscombus chrysurus…..yes, I have officially started dreaming about taxonomic names of our fish. It’s day 4 and I now have a much better grasp at identifying the variety of critters we pull up in our trawls. I am always excited to be out on deck when they bring up the trawl to see what interesting critters we catch. Surprises are great!

Do you want to know where the Oregon II is headed?

Check out Ship Tracker at http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/

If you click on the link above, you can see the path that our ship is taking to hit all of our stations for the survey. We often have station after station to hit- meaning as soon as we are done sorting and measuring, we have to bring in the next catch. Because some stations are only 3-5 miles apart, we sometimes have to do “double dips”, where we put in the trawl for 30 minutes, pull it up, and put it right back in again.

It’s been interesting to note the variety of our catches. Croakers, bumperfish, and shrimp have been in high abundance the last 2 days as we were in shallower water. Before that we had a couple of catches that had a high abundance of pinfish. When we take our subsample, we typically enter data for up to 20 of that particular species. We take length measurements on each fish, and on every fifth fish. We will also weigh and sex it (if sexing is possible).

Shrimp in the Gulf
A comparison of the various sizes of shrimp we pull up from our trawls.
Shrimp waiting to be measures
A relatively small catch in comparison to the 200+ we’ve been pulling up recently.

When we were in shallower waters, we had a significant increase in the number of shrimp we brought up. Tuesday morning was the first catch that did not have well over 200 shrimp (this is because we’ve been moving into deeper waters).  For the 3 commercial shrimp, white (farfantepenaeus setiferus), pink (farfantepenaeus duorarum), and brown (farfantepenaeus aztecus), we take 200 samples, as opposed to our high-quantity fish, where we will only take 20 samples. For each of the commercial shrimp we catch, we measure, weigh and sex each shrimp. I’ve gotten very good at identifying the sex of shrimp- some of the fish are much more difficult to tell. The information we get from this survey will determine the amount of shrimp that boats can take during the shrimping season in Louisiana and Mississippi. During the first leg of the groundfish survey, the data collected determined the amount of shrimp that could be caught in Texas. The groundfish survey is crucial for the shrimping industry and for ensuring that shrimp are not overfished.

Students- think of the food chain. What would happen if we overfished and took out too many shrimp? (Hint: Think of predators and prey.)

Sunrise
The trawl net at sunrise

We’ve now started doing 2 different tows  in addition to our trawls. Some of the stations are trawl stations, whereas others are plankton stations.

The trawl on deck
Alex, Alonzo and Reggie unloading the trawl net.

At a trawl station, we lower the trawl from the stern down to the ocean floor. The trawl net is meant for catching larger critters that live at the bottom of the ocean. There is a chain, also known as a “tickler”, which moves lightly across the ocean floor to lure fish to leave their hiding spots and swim into our net. The trawl is down for 30 minutes, after which it is brought back on deck to weigh the total catch, and then brought back into the wet lab for sorting.

Another important mission of the groundfish survey is to collect plankton samples. To do this, we use a Neuston tow and a bongo tow.

neuston tow
The Neuston tow about to pick up a lot of Sargassum- oh no!

The Neuston tow has a large, rectangular frame with a fine mesh net attached to it. At the end of the net is a large cylindrical bucket, called a codend, with a mesh screen meant for catching the organisms. In comparison to the trawl net, which has openings of 41.4mm , the Neuston’s mesh is only 0.947mm. This means the mesh is significantly finer, meant for catching some of the smaller critters and plankton that would otherwise escape the trawl net. The Neuston tow is put on the surface of the water and towed for 10 minutes. Half the tow is in the water while half is out. We end up picking up a lot of Sargassum, or, seaweed, that is found floating at the water’s surface. When we gather a lot of Sargassum, we have to sift through it and spray it to get out any of the organisms that like to hide in their protective paradise.

Bongo tow
The bongo tow on deck waiting to be sent down to about 3m from the ocean floor.

After we’ve completed the Neuston tow, we do the bongo tow.  The bongo’s mesh is even finer than the Neuston tow’s mesh at only 0.333mm. The bongo has 2 parts- a left and a right bongo (and yes they do look a little like bongo drums- hence their name). The top part of the bongo is a large cylinder with an open bottom and top. The net is attached to this cylinder, and again at the bottom of each side is cylindrical tube  called codends meant to catch the plankton. The bongo tow is meant to take a sample from the entire water column. This means that instead of riding on the surface of the water, it gets sent down to about 3 meters from the ocean floor (there is a sensor at the top that is 2m from the bottom of the net)  and brought back up immediately.

Sifting through the sieve
The remnants from our Neuston tow. This is the sieve we use to weed out what we want and don’t want.
bongo leftover
Here are our 2 samples from the bongo tow. The left one is preserved in ethanol and the right is preserved in formaldehyde (10% formalin and sea water)
Neuston tow samples
Here is a sample from the Neuston tow. Carefully camouflaged are thousands of crab megalops, aka juvenille crabs.

For both tows, it is important to rinse the nets to get any lasting organisms we might not see with our own eyes into our sample. Once we’ve done this, we bring the tubes back into the wet lab where we continue to rinse them through a sieve so that only certain items are leftover. In the Neuston, we often find small fish (usually less than 3mm), baby shrimp, crabs and Jessica’s favorite, the Sargassum fish. Most recently a few flying fish got caught in our Neuston tow. Prior to pulling it up, I was enjoying watching them flit across the water- they were about all we could see in the water in the middle of the night. After being rinsed thoroughly through the sieve, we preserve them by placing the sample in a glass jar with either ethanol or formaldehyde solutions. They are preserved in ethanol for DNA work and in formaldehyde for long-term preservation. These samples are then saved to send to a lab in Poland, which is the sorting center for the SEAMAP samples.

Flying fish
Flying fish we pulled up in our Neuston tow at nighttime.

Personal Log

My stateroom
My sleeping quarters (top bunk), also known as a stateroom. My roommate is Kristin, one of the scientists on board.

Well, I think I am finally getting used to the schedule of working the night shift. I am thankful that my bunk is on the bottom floor of the ship- which means it is completely dark- so that I can sleep during the daytime. Yesterday was probably one of the least busy days we’ve had so far, and because we were in deeper waters, our trawls were much smaller. This means I had a little more time to work on my blogs, which at times can be hard to fit in. It amazes me that we have internet access on the ship, and it’s not even as slow as I expected. It goes down from time to time, especially when the waters are rough. We’ve been fortunate to have pretty calm waters, aside from the first day.

You may have heard about Hurricane Debby on the news as it prepared to hit the Gulf. On Sunday, we were heavily debating heading back to Galveston to “bunker down” and ride out the storm. However, the storm that was forming seemed to dissipate and head in a different direction, thank goodness.  I was not thrilled about the possibility of heading back to port!

We had our first drills the day after we set sail. The drills- fire and abandon ship are distinguished by different types of bells, similar to using Morse code. The abandon ship drill was fun. We got to put on our survival suit, which is like a big orange Gumby suit. It not only protects you in cold water, but also makes you highly visible. I remember reading some of the former TAS blogs, and this picture was always in. Of course, I’ve got to add mine as well.

Survival Suit
Here I am in my survival suit. Judd also decided to be in the picture. 🙂

I’ve been having fun exploring different areas of the ship, even though there is only so far you can go on the ship. Yesterday, I went up to the bridge, which is the front of the ship where the captain or the NOAA Corps officers steer the ship from. You can think of it like a control center of an airplane. There are navigation charts (both computerized and paper) and radars that help guide the ship so it knows what obstacles are out there. There is a great view from the bridge that you don’t get anywhere else on the ship. It’s also fun to watch the folks down on deck when they are deploying the CTD or either of the 2 tows.

We’ve caught such an abundance of critters, I thought I’d share some of my favorite catches thus far:

cownose ray
Here I am holding a cownose ray (Rhinoptera bonasus)- my favorite catch yet. He weighed about 25lbs! This one was the highlight of my day as rays are some of my favorite ocean critters!

Atlantic sharpnose shark
One of the 4 Atlantic sharpnose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) we’ve caught so far.

Sharksucker
A sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates)- these guys hang onto sharks to catch a ride- he’s still alive so is able to hang onto my arm!

Critter Query Time!

Critter Query #1: What is a fathom (in your own words please)?

Critter Query #2: What are the differences between skates and rays?

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 21, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Monday, June 21

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 0800 hours (8 am)
Position: Latitude: 28º 09.6 minutes N
Longitude: 094º 18.2 min. W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: variable
Water Temperature: 30.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius
Ship’s Speed: 5 knots

Science Technology Log

Atlantic Spotted dolphins are the graceful ballerinas of the sea. They are just incredible! The Gulf of Mexico is one of the habitats of the dolphin because they live in warm tropical waters. The body of a spotted dolphin is covered with spots and as they get older their spots become greater in number.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Here you can see the spots on an older Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. To read more about dolphins go to http://www.dolphindreamteam.com/dolphins/dolphins.html

Because Dolphins are mammals they breathe air through a single blowhole much like whales. Dolphins live together in pods and can grow to be 8 feet long and weigh 200-255 pounds. Like whales, dolphins swim by moving their tails (flukes) up and down. The dolphin’s beak is long and slim and its lips and the tip of its beak are white. They eat a variety of fish and squid found at the surface of the water. Since dolphins like to swim with yellow fin tuna, some dolphins die by getting tangled in the nets of tuna fishermen.

Newborn calves are grey with white bellies. They do not have spots. Calves mature around the age of 6-8 years or when the dolphin reaches a length of 6.5 feet. Calving takes place every two years. Gestation (or pregnancy) lasts for 11 1/2 months and babies are nursed for 11 months.

While watching the dolphins ride the bow wave, Nicolle and I wondered, “How do dolphins sleep and not drown?” Actually, we found that there are two basic methods of sleeping: they float and rest vertically or horizontally at the surface of the water. The other method is sleeping while swimming slowly next to another dolphin. Dolphins shut down half of their brains and close the opposite eye. That lets the other half of the brain stay “awake.” This way they can rest and also watch for predators. After two hours they reverse this process. This pattern of sleep is called “cat-napping.”

Dolphins maintain a deeper sleep at night and usually only sleep for two hours at a time. This method is called “logging” because in this state dolphins look like a log floating in the ocean.

The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the hunting, capturing, killing or collecting of marine mammals without a proper permit. Permits are granted for the Spotted Dolphins to be taken if it is for scientific research, public display, conservation, or in the case of a dolphin stranding. The maximum ffor violating the MMPA is $20,000 and one year in jail.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Personal Log

The best part of this trip is all the marine life I see in the Gulf. In the past few days, dolphins have been swimming up to the boat and riding the bow wave of the ship. They are so graceful and playful in the water. In addition to the Tiger Shark seen feasting on the dead Sperm Whale, I have seen quite a few sharks swimming in the water near our ship. One, called a Silky Shark, took the bait as some of the crew was fishing from the stern of the boat (shown to the left). It was hauled up so the hook could be taken out and released back into the water. The second was a baby shark swimming near the bow of the ship as I watched the dolphins in the distance. I also saw a shark swimming near the starboard side of our ship while the deckhands were hauling up one of the camera arrays.

The fourth shark was the most exciting. As the crew was working at the stern of the ship to release a line that was caught in the rudder, I looked over the stern to see a large shark very near the surface swimming toward the starboard (right) side of the ship. I hurried to look and to my surprise it was a giant Hammerhead! I never expected to see one of these in its natural habitat. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera out, the Hammerhead was too far away and too deep to get a clear shot, but what a sight to see!

Hammerhead shark
Hammerhead shark
The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==
The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

I often mistake the fish shown on the left for sharks. Actually they are Cobia, also known as Lemonfish. Once in a while thefish approach the boat as we are hauling fishup on the bandit reel. I have also seen bojellyfish in the water as we are working on the starboard side of the ship and I spotted a brief glimpse of an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) from the bridge of the ship as I was talking to our Commanding Officer (CO). I wish I could have seen this fish up close. They are the largest bony fish in the oceans and as someone on the ship described, they resemble a giant Chiclet swimming in the water.

The smallest living things I have seen while at sea are the tiny creatures that live in the Sargassum, a type of seaweed that floats freely within and on the surface of the Gulf waters. The Sargassum provides a habitat for tiny creatures that are the foundation of the food web, even providing food for some of the largest animals in the sea like whales. The picture below on the left shows a giant patch of Sargassum, while the picture on the right shows some of the creatures that live within it including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs.

Sargassum
Sargassum
Creatures that live within the sargassum including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs
Creatures that live within the sargassum including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs

Seeing all this life has been reassuring as the oil continues to gush into Gulf waters off the coast of Louisiana, however I can’t help but think what the overall impact of this spill will be for the future of the Gulf. Will we see the negative environmental impact spread to the Eastern Gulf? Are microscopic droplets of oil and chemical dispersants infecting the food chain beyond the area that we visibly see being impacted? These questions will be answered as NOAA scientists continue to collect and analyze the type of data that I am helping gather on this SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this scientific endeavor.

Animals Seen

Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)

Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran)

Cobia (Rachycentron canadum)

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)

Krill, Shrimp, Crab (species unidentified)

Dave Grant: The Straits of Florida, March 3, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: March 3, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position:30 deg 37 min North Latitude & 79 deg 29 min West Longitude
Windspeed: 30 knots
Wind Direction: North
Air Temperature: 14.1 deg C / 57.4 deg F
Water Temperature: 25.6 deg C / 78.4 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1007.2 mb
Water Depth:740 meters / 2428 feet
Cloud Cover: 85%
Cloud Type: Cumulonimbus and Stratus

Science/Technology Log:

Entering the  Gulf Stream and Straits of Florida

“There is in the world no other such majestic flow of waters.
Its current is more rapid than the Mississippi or the Amazon.
Its waters, as far out from the Gulf as the Carolina coasts, are of an indigo blue.
They are so distinctly marked that their line of junction with the common sea-water
may be traced by the eye.”

Matthew Maury – The Physical Geography of the Sea

 While our cruise could hardly be called leisurely, most sampling has been spread out between sites, sometimes involving day-long periods on station while the CTD and moorings are recovered from great depths (5,000 meters). However, Chief Scientist Dr. Baringer regularly reminds us that west of the Bahamas in the Gulf Stream transect, our stations are in much shallower water (≤800 meters) and close together (The Florida Straits are only about 50 miles wide), so we should anticipate increased activity on deck and in the lab. In addition to the hydrology measurements, we will deploy a specialized net to sample those minute creatures that live at the surface film of the water – the neuston.

The Neuston net is deployed for a 10-minute tow.
The Neuston net is deployed for a 10-minute tow.

Now that we have crossed the Bahama Banks and are on-station, the routine is, as expected, very condensed, and there is little time to rest. What I did not anticipate was the great flow of the Gulf Stream and the challenge to the crew to keep the Brown on our East-West transect line as the current forces us north.  Additionally, as Wordsworth wrote, “with ships the sea was sprinkled far and wide”  and  we had to avoid many other craft, including another research ship sampling in the same area.

Ben Franklin is famous for having produced the first chart of this great Western Boundary Current, but naval officer Matthew Maury – America’s Scientist of the Sea – and author of what is recognized as the first oceanography text, best described it.  Remarkably, in The Physical Geography of the Sea, first published in 1855, he anticipates the significance of this major climate study project and summarizes it in a short and often-quoted paragraph:

“There is a river in the ocean. In the severest of droughts it never fails,
and in the mightiest floods it never overflows.
Its banks and its bottom are of cold water, while its current is of warm.
The Gulf of Mexico is its fountain, and its mouth is the Arctic seas.
It is the Gulf Stream.”

 

Gulf Stream water

CTD data from the Straits of Florida
1. Note that temperature (Red) decreases steadily with depth from about 26-degrees C at the surface,
to less than 10-degrees C at 700 meters. (Most of the ocean’s waters are cool where not warmed by sunlight).
2. Dissolved Oxygen (Green) varies considerably from a maximum at the surface, with a sharp decline at about 100 meters, and a more gradual decline to about 700 meters. (Phytoplankton in surface water produce excess oxygen through photosynthesis during daylight hours. At night and below about 100 meters, respiration predominates and organisms reduce the level of dissolved oxygen.)
3. Salinity (Blue) is related to atmospheric processes (Precipitation and Evaporation) and also varies according to depth, being saltiest at about 150 meters.

***************************
“Ron Brown: Phone Home!”

At Midnight, just within sight of the beam of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse (And to the relief of the home-sick sailors on board – “Finally –  after  more than two weeks, we are within the range of cell phone towers!”) we began our studies of the Straits of Florida and the Gulf Stream. Nine stations in rapid order – standing-by for a CTD cast, and then turning into the current to set the neuston net for a ten-minute tow.

The purpose of the net is to sample creatures that live on or visit the interface between air and water, so the mouth of the net is only half submerged. Neuston comes from the Greek for swimming and in warm waters a variety of invertebrates and even some young mesopelagic fishes rise within a few centimeters of the surface at night to filter phytoplankton and bacteria, and feed upon other zooplankton and even drowned terrestrial insects that have been blown out to sea.

On the upper side of this water/atmosphere interface, a smaller variety of floating invertebrates, notably Physalia  and Velella (Portuguese man-of-war and By-the-wind-sailor) use gas-filled buoyancy chambers or surface tension to ride the winds and currents. This much smaller group of seafarers is further classified by oceanographers as Pleuston.

Prior to this cruise, my experience with such a sampling device was limited – Years ago, spending miserable nights sailing in choppy seas off of Sandy Hook, NJ searching  for fishes eggs and larva rising to the surface after dark; and later, much more enjoyable times studying water striders – peculiar insects that spend their lives utilizing surface tension to skate along the surface of Cape Cod ponds.

Our CTD and net casts are complicated by rising winds and chop, but some great samples were retrieved. Once the net is recovered, we rinse it down with the seawater hose, collect everything from the bottle at the cod end, rinse off and separate the great mass of weed (Sargassum) and pickle the neuston in bottles of alcohol for analysis back at the lab.

Midnight shift: Recovering the net by moonlight.
Midnight shift: Recovering the net by moonlight.
Midnight shift: Recovering the net by moonlight.
Midnight shift: Recovering the net by moonlight.

Since much of the zooplankton community rises closer to the surface at night where phytoplankton is more concentrated and the chances of being preyed upon are slimmer, there are some noticeable differences in the samples taken then and during daylight hours. Unavoidably, both samples contain great quantities of Sargassum but the weed-colored carapaces of the different crustaceans are a clue to which specimens are from the Sargassum community and which are not.

Gulfweed Shrimp - Latreutes
Gulfweed Shrimp – Latreutes

We hit the jackpot early; snaring a variety of invertebrates and fishes, including the extraordinarily well-camouflaged Sargassum fish – a piscatorial phenomenon I’ve hoped to see ever since I was a kid reading William Beebe’s classic The Arcturus Adventure. What a tenuous existence for such a vulnerable and weak swimmer, hugging the Sargassum as it is dashed about in the waves. Even with its weed-like disguise and ability to blend in with the plants, it must lead a challenging life.

A unique member of the otherwise bottom-dwelling frogfishes, the Histrio histrio has smooth skin, and spends its life hitch-hiking along in the gulf-weed forest. Like other members of the family Antennariidae, it is an ambush predator, luring other creatures to their doom by angling with its fleshy fins.

The Sargassum fish (Histrio)
The Sargassum fish (Histrio)
Needlefish and Sargassum fish
Needlefish and Sargassum fish

Another highlight for me is the water striders we found in several samples. These “true bugs” (Hemiptera) are remarkable for several reasons. Most varieties of these “pond-skaters” (Or Jesus Bugs if you are from Texas) are found on calm freshwater lakes and streams, but a few members of this family (Gerridae) are the only true marine insects – representing a tentative Arthropod reinvasion of the sea after their splendid foray onto land hundreds of millions of years ago.

Two great finds: Sygnathus pelagicus– A Sargassum pipefish – a cousin of the sea horse. Halobates – the water strider. An example of the Pleuston community.
Two great finds:
Sygnathus pelagicus– A Sargassum pipefish – a cousin of the sea horse.
Halobates – the water strider. An example of the Pleuston community.

Using surface tension to their advantage, they “skate” along by flicking their middle and hind legs, and can even “communicate” with each other by vibrating the surface of the water with the hair-like setae on their feet. On lakes their prey is other insects like mosquito larvae, confined to the surface. How they manage to find food and communicate at the surface of the raging sea is a mystery, but whatever the means, they are adept at it, and we recovered them in half of the samples.

The ocean's insect: The  remarkable water stride
The ocean’s insect: The remarkable water stride

The scientists who provided the net are generally more interested in ichthyoplankton to monitor fish eggs and larvae to predict population trends, and monitor impacts like oil spills; so this is why samples are preserved to return to the lab in Miami.

Before packing up things after our marathon sampling spree I was able to examine our catch and observed a few things:
1. I am the “High-Hook” on the cruise – catching far more fishes (albeit tiny ones) than the rest of the crew with their fishing poles. (Needlefish, sargassum fish, pipe fish, filefish and several larval species)
2. Depending on the time of day the samples were taken, there is a marked difference in the quantity and composition of organisms that have separated from the Sargassum and settled in the sample jars – (Noticeably more at night than during daylight hours).
3. There appears to be a greater variety of sea grasses present (Turtle grass, etc.) on the eastern (Bahamas side) of the Straits. We observed one seabean – drift seeds and fruits (or disseminules) from terrestrial plants.
4. Plastic bits are present in all samples – particularly plastic ties (Table 1.)

Settled organisms in sample jars.
Settled organisms in sample jars.

Sargassum fauna: Portunid crab – with eggs on her belly.
(Portunus was a Roman god – Protector of harbors and gates,
who supposedly also invented navigation)

Belly view of a Caridean shrimp
Belly view of a Caridean shrimp
A tiny fish egg ready to hatch!
A tiny fish egg ready to hatch!
A larval fish begins its perilous journey in the Gulf Stream.
A larval fish begins its perilous journey in the Gulf Stream.
Site/Local time

Notable Contents*

Biomass Site Depth
8 Day 17:48 Weed, Grasses(3 spp) 3.0 mm 79˚12’ 485 m
7 Day 16:10 Grasses(4 spp) 2.0 mm 79˚17’ 616 m
6 Day 14:30 Grasses(2 spp) Fish eggs and larva Trace 79˚22’ 708 m
5 Day 12:45 Water striders, Grass (1 spp) Trace 79˚30’ 759 m
4 Day 10:13 Crustacean larva, shrimp (large), 7.0 mm 79˚36’ 646 m
3 Dawn 07:53 Crustacean larva, shrimp (large), water striders Trace 79˚41’ 543 m
2 Night 05:10 Crustacean larva, shrimp (small), Pipefish, water striders 7.0 mm 79˚46’ 388 m
1 Night 02:48 Crustacean larva, shrimp, needlefish, Sargassum fish, Herring(?), Portunid crabs, shrimp (large), Copepods 13 mm 79˚51’ 264 m
0 Night 00:37 Crustacean larva, shrimp, Copepods 25 mm 79˚56’ 148 m

*Plastic bits and Sargassum weed and its endemic epibionts are present in all samples.

Table 1.   Contents in sample jars.

There is a marked difference in the quantity and composition of organisms collected at night (Left).
There is a marked difference in the quantity and composition of organisms collected at night (Left).
There is a marked difference in the quantity and composition of organisms collected at night (Left) and during the day (Right).
There is a marked difference in the quantity and composition of organisms collected during the day (Right).

With sampling completed we steer north to ride the Gulf Stream towards the Brown’s home-port,  and turn away from the bright lights of Florida …

“Where the spent lights quiver and gleam;
Where the salt weed sways in the stream;
Where the sea-beasts rang’d all around
Feed in the ooze of their pasture ground:”

Matthew Arnold

"Red sky at morning...sailor take warning!"
“Red sky at morning…sailor take warning!”

Homeward bound:

A storm battering the Midwest will impede our progress back north to Charleston and threatens to bring us the only foul weather of the cruise. Note the location of the cold front over the Florida Straits.

“Now the great winds shoreward blow;
Now the salt tides seaward flow;
Now the wild white horses play,
Champ and chafe and toss the spray.”
Matthew Arnold

As the sailors say: "The sheep are grazing." A gale is brewing and kicking up whitecaps as we sail north to Charleston.
As the sailors say: “The sheep are grazing.”
A gale is brewing and kicking up whitecaps as we sail north to Charleston.

Dave Grant: The “River in the Ocean”, March 2, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: March 2, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26 degrees 19 minutes North Latitude & 79 degrees 55 minutes West Longitude
Windspeed: 14 knots
Wind Direction: South
Air Temperature: 25.4 deg C / 77.7 deg F
Water Temperature: 26.1 deg C / 79 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1014.7 mb
Water Depth: 242 m / 794 feet
Cloud Cover: none
Cloud Type: NA

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass,
it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

Henry Miller

My evenings looking through the microscope are a short course in invertebrate zoology. Every drop of water filtered through the plankton net reveals new and mystifying creatures. Perhaps 90% of marine invertebrates, like newly hatched mollusks and crustaceans, spend part of their life in a drifting stage – meroplankton; as opposed to holoplankton – organisms that are planktonic throughout their life cycle.

MOLLUSK LARVAE

Bivalve
Bivalve
 Univalve
Univalve

The lucky individuals that escape being eaten, and are near a suitable substrate at the right moment, settle out into a sedentary life far from their place of origin. For the long distance travelers swept up in the Gulf Stream, the most fortunate waifs of the sea that survive long enough might make it all the way to Bermuda. The only hope for the remainder is to attach to a piece of flotsam or jetsam, or an unnatural and unlikely refuge like the electronic picket fence of moorings the Ron Brown is servicing east of the Bahamas.

“The gaudy, babbling, and remorseful day,
Is crept into the bosom of the sea.”
Shakespeare

A league and a half* of cable, sensors and a ton of anchor chain are wrestled on deck during a day-long operation in the tropical heat. (*A mariner’s league equals three nautical miles or 3041 fathoms [18,246 feet])

It is easy to be humbled by the immensity of the sea and the scope of the mooring project while observing miles of cable and buoys stretched towards the horizon, about to be set in place with a ton of anchor chain gingerly swung off the stern for its half-hour trip to the bosom of the sea.

Thanks to the hard labor and alert eyes of our British and French (“And Irish”) colleagues retrieving and deploying the attached temperature and salinity sensors, I am regularly directed to investigate “something crawling out of the gear” or to photograph bite marks from deep sea denizens on very expensive, but sturdy equipment.

A retrieved sensor with bite marks.
A retrieved sensor with bite marks.

To my surprise, other than teeth marks, very little evidence of marine life is present on the miles of lines and devices strung deeper than about 200 meters. This may be due in part to the materials of which they are constructed and protective coatings to prevent bio-fouling, but sunlight or more precisely, the attenuation of it as one goes deeper, is probably the most important factor.

Fireworm (Drawings and images by Dave Grant - NOAA Ron Brown)
Fireworm
(Drawings and images by Dave Grant – NOAA Ron Brown)
Handle with care! Close-up of worm spines
Handle with care! Close-up of worm spines

The first discovery I was directed to was a striking red bristle worm wiggling out of the crevice in a buoy.  It appears to be one of the reef-dwelling Amphinomids – the aptly-named fireworms that SCUBA divers in the Caribbean avoid because of their venomous spines; so I was cautious when handling it.  This proved to be the deepest-dwelling organism we found, along with some minute growths of stony and soft corals.

Five o’clock shadow” on a buoy – A year’s growth of fouling organisms – only an inch tall.

On shallower buoys and equipment, there are sparse growths of brown and blue-green algae, small numbers of goose barnacles, tiny coiled limey tubes of Serpulid worms like the Spirobis found on the floating gulfweed, some non-descript bivalves (Anomia?) covered with other fouling growth, skeleton shrimp creeping like inch-worms, and of course the ubiquitous Bryozoans. Searching through this depauperate community not as challenging as the plankton samples, but not surprising since our distance from land, reefs or upwelling areas – and especially clear water and lack of seabirds and fishes; are all indicators that this is a nutrient-deficient, less productive part of the ocean.

   

Bio-fouling – “on the half-shell.”                       Skeleton shrimp (Caprellidae)

The Ron Brown is the largest workhorse in the NOAA fleet and its labs and decks are intentionally cleared of equipment between cruises so that visiting scientists can bring aboard their own gear that is best suited to their specific project needs. NOAA’s physical oceanographers from Miami arrived with a truckload of crates holding Niskin water sampling bottles for the CTD and their chemistry equipment for DO (Dissolved Oxygen) and salinity measurements; and in a large shipping container (“Ship-tainer”) from England, the British and French (“and Irish”) scientists transported their own remote sensing gear, buoys, and (quite literally) tons of massive chain and cables to anchor their moorings. (I am surprised to learn from the “Brits” that the heavy chain is shipped all the way from England because it is increasingly hard to acquire. )

In the lab: Scores of sensors serviced and ready for deployment
In the lab: Scores of sensors serviced and ready for deployment

This is how most science is facilitated on the Brown and it requires many months of planning and pre-positioning of materials. I am lucky and can travel light – and with little advanced preparation. I am using simple methods to obtain plankton samples and images via a small portable microscope, digital camera and plankton net which I can cram into my backpack for any trips that involve large bodies of water. The little Swift* scope has three lens (4x, 10x, 40x) with a 10x ocular, and I get great resolution at 40x, and can get decent resolution to 100x. Using tips from Dave Bulloch (Handbook for the Marine Naturalist) I am able to push that somewhat with a simple Nikon Coolpix* point-and-shoot camera – but lose some of the sharpness with digital zoom.  As you might suspect, the ship’s movement and engine vibration can be a challenge when peering through the scope, but is satisfactory for some preliminary identification. (*These are not commercial endorsements, but I can be bought if either company is willing to fund my next cruise!)

PHYTOPLANKTON

Centric diatom - Coscinodiscus
Centric diatom – Coscinodiscus

    

Dinoflagellates –  Different Ceratium species

ZOOPLANKTON

A Plankton précis

Collecting specimens would be much more difficult without the cooperation of the Brown’s crew and visiting scientists, and their assistance is always reliable and appreciated. The least effective method of collection has been by filtering the deep, cold bottom water brought up in the Niskin bottles. As mentioned earlier, no live specimens were recovered; only fragments of diatom and Silicoflagellate skeletons surviving the slow drift to the bottom, which I have been able to identify through deep sea core images posted at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership website.

Needless to say, the most indiscriminate method of collection and the most material collected is through the large neuston net. The greatest biomass observed on the trip is the millions of tons of Sargassum weed, which covers the surface in great slacks around us that are even visible in satellite images.

Although the continuous flow of ocean water pumped into the wet lab and through my plankton net is effective and the most convenient collection method, the most surprising finds are from the saltwater intake screens that the engineer directed me to. This includes bizarre crystal-clear, inch-long, and paper-thin Phylosoma – larvae of tropical lobsters – that I initially mistook for pieces of plastic.

Inch-long Phylosoma larvae on a glass slide. (One of the tropical lobsters.)
Inch-long Phylosoma larvae on a glass slide. (One of the tropical lobsters.)

“All the ingenious men, and all the scientific men, and all the fanciful men in the world …
…could never invent anything so curious and so ridiculous, as a lobster.”

Charles Kingsley -The Water-Babies

Plankton communities are noticeably different between the Gulf Stream, inshore, and offshore in the pelagic waters east of the Bahamas.  Near the coast, either the shallower Bahama Banks or the neritic waters over the continental shelf closer to Charleston, the plankton is larger, more familiar to me and less challenging to sort, including: copepods, mollusk larvae and diatoms. Steaming over the shelf waters at night, the ship’s wake is often phosphorescent, and dinoflagellates, including the “night-light” Noctiluca are common in those samples.

Dinoflagellate - Noctiluca
Dinoflagellate – Noctiluca

 The waters east of the Bahamas along the transect line are notable for their zooplankton, including great numbers and varieties of Foraminifera, and some striking amphipod shrimp. Compared to cooler waters I am familiar with, subtropical waters here have over a dozen species of Forams, and some astonishingly colorful shrimp that come up nightly from deeper water.

It’s not all work and no play on the Ron Brown, and there are entertaining moments like decorating foam cups with school logos to send down with the CTD to document the extreme pressure at the bottom. Brought back to class, these graphically illustrate to younger students the challenges of deep sea research.

Foam cup:  Before-and-after a trip to 5,000 meters
Foam cup: Before-and-after a trip to 5,000 meters

Navigating by Dead-reckoning

On calm days while we are being held on-station by the Brown’s powerful thrusters, I can measure current speeds using Sargassum clumps as Dutchman’s logs as they drift by. Long before modern navigation devices, sailors would have to use dead-reckoning techniques to estimate their progress.  One method used a float attached to a measured spool of knotted line (A log-line), trailing behind the moving vessel. The navigator counted the number of knots that passed through his hands as the line played out behind the ship to estimate the vessel’s speed (in knots). Since nothing is to be tossed off the Brown, I rely on a simpler method by following the progress of the Sargassum as it drifts by stem-to-stern while we are stationary at our sampling site. Since I know the length of the Brown at the waterline (~100-meters), I can estimate current speed by observing drifting Sargassum.

Watching sargassum, I wonder if a swimmer could keep pace with the currents in these waters. When in college
my brothers and would strive to cover a 100-meter race by swimming it in under a minute. Here is the data from east of the Bahamas. See if you can determine the current speed there and if a good swimmer could keep pace.

ESTIMATING CURRENT SPEED

Data on currents:
Average of three measurements of Sargassum drifting  the length of the Ron Brown = 245 seconds.
Length of the Ron Brown – 100-meters.

1. How many meters per second is the current east of the Bahamas?
2. As a swimmer in college – with my best time in the 100-meters freestyle of one minute – could I have kept up with the Ron Brown… or been swept away towards the Bahamas?

For more on currents, visit my site at the college:
http://ux.brookdalecc.edu/staff/sandyhook/Student%20Page%201/TUTS-2-09-1/Index.html

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Other navigational exercises I try to include determining Latitude and Longitude. Latitude is easy as long as you can shoot the sun at midday or find the altitude of Polaris in the night sky; and sailors have done that for centuries. The ship’s navigator will get out the sextant for this, or, since the width of one’s fist is about 10-degrees of sky, I can estimate the height of both of these navigational beacons by counting the number of fists between the star and the horizon.

ESTIMATING LATITUDE

Data:
Night observation (Shooting the North Star) – Number of Fists from the Northern horizon to Polaris = 3
Day observation (Shooting the Sun) – Number of Fists from the Southern horizon to the Sun = 5.5

If the width of a fist is equal to about 10-degrees of horizon, our estimate of Latitude using Polaris is 30-degrees (3 x 10).
Not too bad an estimate on a rocking ship at night, compared to our actual location (See Data from the Bridge at the top.).

Shooting the Sun at its Zenith at 12:30 that day gives us its altitude as 55-degrees – which seems too high unless we consider the earth’s tilt (23.5-degrees). So if we deduct that (55 – 23.5) we get 31.5, which is closer to our actual position. And if we consult an Almanac, we know that the sun is still about six degrees below the Equator on its seasonal trip North; so by deducting that (31.5 – 6) we end up with an estimate of 25.5-degrees. This is an even better estimate of our Latitude.

Here is the dreaded word problem:

By shooting the Sun, our best estimate of Latitude is 25.5 degrees (25 degrees/30 minutes)
The actual Latitude of the ship using GPS is 26-degrees/19 minutes.
If there are 60 minutes to a degree of Latitude – each of those minutes representing a Nautical Mile – how many Nautical Miles off course does our estimate place us on the featureless sea?

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Longitude is much harder to determine if you don’t have an accurate timepiece to compare local time with universal time (The time at Greenwich, England), and an accurate ship’s chronometer wasn’t in use until the mid-1700’s.
To understand the challenge of designing a precise timepiece that reliably will function at sea, I used two crucial clock mechanisms:  a pendulum and a spring. Finding a spring was easy, since “Doc” had a scale at Sick Bay. For the pendulum I fashioned a small weight swinging on a string)

Using the scale to observe the ship’s motion.
Using the scale to observe the ship’s motion.

Standing on the scale and swinging the pendulum even in calm weather quickly demonstrated three things:

First: I have developed my sea legs, and no longer notice the regular motion of the ship.
Second: Even when the sea feels calm, the scale’s spring mechanism swings back and forth under my weight; adding and deducting 20 pounds to my real weight and reflecting the ship’s rocking that I no longer notice.
Three: On rough days, even if I can hold still, the ship’s heaving, pitching and rolling alters my pendulum’s reliable swing – its movements reflecting the ship’s indicator in the lab. Experimenting helps me appreciate clock-maker John Harrison, and his massive, 65-pound No. 1 Ship’s Chronometer  he presented to the Royal Navy in 1728.

Ship movement as recorded by the computer
Ship movement as recorded by the computer
Doc: Always on duty -  Sick Bay on the Ron Brown
Doc: Always on duty – Sick Bay on the Ron Brown

Besides having very well-provisioned Sick Bays, NOAA ships have experienced and very competent medical officers.  Our “Doc” received his training at Yale, and served as a medic during the Gulf War.

Especially alert to anyone who exhibits even the mildest symptoms of sea-sickness, Christian is available 24-hours for emergencies – and in spite of the crew constantly wrestling with heavy equipment on a rocking deck, we’ve only experienced a few minor bumps and bruises. He has regular office hours every day, and is constantly on the move around the ship when not on duty there.

Besides keeping us healthy, he helps keep the ship humming by testing the drinking water supply (The Brown desalinates seawater when underway, but takes on local water while in port); surveys all departments for safety issues; and with the Captain, has the final word if-or-when a cruise is to be terminated if there is a medical emergency.

Since a storm pounding the Midwest will head out to sea and cross our path when we head north to Charleston, he is reminding everyone that remedies for sea sickness are always available at his office door, and thanks to NASA and the space program, if the motion sickness pills don’t work, he has available stronger medicine. So far we have been blessed with relatively calm weather and a resilient crew.

                          The warm  (Red) Gulf Stream waters viewed from a satellite iamge.
The warm (Red) Gulf Stream waters viewed from a satellite image.
 Contact: The edge of the Gulf Stream - Matthew Maury’s  River in the Ocean
Contact: The edge of the Gulf Stream – Matthew Maury’s River in the Ocean

Birdwatching on the Ron Brown

For the time being I take advantage of the calm seas to scrutinize what’s under the microscope, and when on break, look for seabirds. East of the Bahamas, as anticipated after consulting ornithologist Poul Jespersen’s map of Atlantic bird sightings, I only spotted two birds over a two-week stretch at sea (storm petrels). This is very much in contrast to the dozens of species and hundreds of seabirds spotted in the rich waters of the Humboldt Current off of Chile , where I joined the Brown in 2008.
(http://ux.brookdalecc.edu/staff/Web%2012-2-04/seabirds/Brown%20terns%202/Terns%20%20fixed/SEPacific.html)

Passing through Bahamian waters was no more rewarding, but now that we are west and in the Florida Straits there are several species of gulls during the day, and at night more storm petrels startled by the ship’s lights. One windy night a large disoriented bird (Shearwater?) suddenly fluttered out of the dark and brushed my head before bumping a deck light and careening back out into the darkness. Throughout the day a cohort of terns has taken up watch on the forward mast of the Brown and noisily, they juggle for the best positions at the bow – resting until the ship flushes a school of flying fishes, and then swooping down across the water trying and snatch one in mid-air.  Like most fishermen, they are successful only about 10% of the time.

Royal tern "on station" at the jack mast.
Caspian tern “on station” at the jack mast.
Royal tern "on station" at the jack mast.
Royal tern “on station” at the jack mast.

  

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Despite the dreary forecast from the Captain, Wes and I are enthusiastic about all we have done on the cruise and formulated a list of why NOAA’s Teacher At Sea program is so rewarding.

Top Ten Reasons:
Why be a Teacher At Sea?

10. Fun and excitement exploring the oceans!

9. Meeting dedicated and diligent scientists and crew from around the world!

8. Bragging rights in the Teachers’ Room – and endless anecdotes!

7. Cool NOAA t-shirts, pins and hats from the Ship’s Store!

6. Great meals, three times a day…and FREE laundry!

5. Amazing sunsets, sunrises and star-watches!

4. Reporting on BIG science to students…and in real-time!

3. Outstanding and relevant knowledge brought back to students and colleagues!

2. First-hand experience that relates to your students’ career objectives!

1. Rewarding hours in the lab and fieldremembering why you love science and sharing it with students!

Powerpoint:
Shots from the deck and under the microscope

(Drawings and images by Dave Grant – NOAA Ron Brown)

Dave Grant: Sea State, Sick Bay and Longitude, February 26, 2012

February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 26, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26.30N Latitude – 71. 55W Longitude
Windspeed:  15 knots
Wind Direction: South (bearing 189 deg)
Air Temperature: 23.2 C / 74 F
Atm Pressure: 1013.9 mb
Water Depth: 17433 feet
Cloud Cover: 30%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Sea State, Sick Bay and Longitude

“Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea
for an acre of barren ground.”
Shakespeare – The Tempest.

There is considerable excitement on board since the winds have come up; adding to the work load of the deck crew and scientists struggling to snag the mooring buoy and haul in the miles of cable and sensors that are arrayed below. With swells arriving from two directions and wind chop on top of that, the ship’s motion is unpredictable. So there is no room for error above or below the waterline and the heaving of the ship and spray mean everyone must be alert and ready to respond instantly if anything swings loose.

We are “line-sailing” on this cruise, steaming back-and-forth while maintaining a straight course on Latitude 26.30; deploying and servicing various sampling devices on the electronic “picket fence” dividing the Atlantic. Watching the deck crew cutting heavy wire and even heavier  chain, banging on metal,  wrestling with equipment and sweating under the sun all day as they back-track along the same line doing back-breaking work, I can almost hear them singing an old Mississippi Delta field holler – Line ‘em:

“All I hate ’bout linin’ track
These ol’ bars ’bout to break my back
Moses stood on the Red Sea shore
Smotin’ that water with a two-by-four
If I could I surely would
Stand on the rock where Moses stood”

Line-sailing is also an old technique used when mariners could only accurately determine their latitude North or South of the equator by means of the sun and stars. Simply stated, one would sail North or South to the known latitude of a destination, then sail East or West until it was found.

The Polynesians perfected this – line-sailing the latitude of specific stars that they knew had islands beneath them. On clear nights we go out on the shadowy deck, so far away from the glare of lights on land, and marvel at the great spectacle of stars. The two brightest above us are Arcturus and Sirius – known to the Polynesians as Hōkūleʻa (Star of Joy) and Ka’ulua (Queen of Heaven). Navigators steered under Arcturus to reach Hawaii, and returned to Tahiti by sailing under Sirius.

Tahiti lies under Sirius, and Hawaii under Arcturus, providing navigators with bright sign posts to guide them to those jewels in the vast Pacific. From the deck on the Ron Brown it looks like our zenith star could be Pollux, one of twins in Gemini. This seems appropriate  “By Jiminy”  for good luck,  since early sailors swore an oath to those Twins – the protectors of ships.

Still, Longitude remained a problem because its measure is the time East or West from a fixed point –Greenwich, England and the Prime Meridian. Until accurate ship’s chronometers were perfected, navigators had to rely on repeated estimates of their speed and direction – Dead Reckoning.

Since early clocks relied on a pendulum and inferior materials, and the challenge of perfecting an accurate timepiece became apparent to me while weighing-in at Sick Bay. The roll of the ship has that up-down effect you feel in an elevator, and your weight on the scale fluctuates accordingly. (Mine swings between 165 and 225 pounds, depending on the size of the swells; so I’ll have to wait until we reach port for more accuracy.) Navigators had to wait until 1764 when watchmakers finally perfected sturdy, spring-powered and rust-resistant chronometers accurate enough to satisfy the British Admiralty to guide ships across the featureless ocean waters. Incidentally, William Harrison’s chronometer was hardly portable. It weighed 85 pounds (!).

I am going to try two experiments later. One, fashion a simply pendulum and see how the ship’s rocking affects it, and two, try some dead reckoning to determine current speed.

(Interesting coincidences: My office at work is in the shadow of Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the entrance to NY Harbor. This important beacon is the oldest continuously lit lighthouse in America – and first lighted in 1764 (!). Also, with the perfection of wireless communication;  in 1904, the US Navy established the first radio station to continuously broadcast the time for navigators to set their ship’s chronometers – at Navesink, NJ,  across Sandy Hook bay and within the sight of my office window.)

A Biologist’s Bouillabaisse

With the help of Danny, one of the ship’s engineers, I have struck gold sampling marinelife. He alerted me to the intake screen for sea water that he was removing to clear and I was able to sort through it. It is a bonanza, as you can see in the image.

Although most of the material is Sargassum weed, and some bits of plastic, there is a great assortment of material here to keep me busy for the rest of the day. I will start from the bottom. Besides the sargassum, there is other plant material swept here from shallow water. Sea grasses from around the islands support turtles and a thriving subtidal community. One colleague in Puerto Rico thinks that these meadows are as productive as an ecosystem in the ocean. Not obvious is the Aufwuchs community covering the grass blades, but under the microscope, one piece is enough to keep a class busy for hours identifying the specimens in this “fouling community.”


Bryozoa, worm tubes and coralline algae cover a slender blade of grass.


A tiny drifting animal from the surface, the Cnidarian – By-the-wind Sailor.

Perched on my fingertips, a larval crustacean ready
to drop out of the planktonic community.

A tiny larval crab viewed under the microscope (20 x’s)

An amphipod shrimp.

A Polychaete worm. One of the many annelids in the sample.
Not everyone’s favorite, unless of course, you are a fish.

Dave Grant: Horse Latitudes, February 22, 2012


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 22, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position:26.30 N – 75.42 W
Windspeed: 0
Wind Direction: Calm
Air Temperature: 29 C
Water Temperature: 24 C
Atm Pressure: 1025
Water Depth: 4,410 meters
Cloud Cover: 0
Cloud Type: Slight haze

Science/Technology Log:

We are becalmed and even the veteran sailors onboard are remarking on how flat the sea has become. At about 30 degrees North and South Latitude, moist, low pressure air that was heated and lifted from the surface at the Equator has cooled and is now plunging back down to Earth, forming a line of light winds in a band across the sea. This dry, high pressure air becomes the Trade winds as it is drawn back towards the Equator along the sea surface in what is called a Hadley Cell (After its discoverer). We seem to be on the edge of this meteorological milepost, which was more than a nuisance in the days of sail. If stranded in its pattern too long, food and especially drinking water became an issue, and the first to suffer would be animals being transported from the Old World to the New. Legend has it that subsequent voyagers would come across their carcasses…hence the name Horse Latitudes.

While observing ships returning to port near his home, sixteen year-old future rock star Jim Morrison (The DOORS)  composed what is perhaps his most eerie ballot – Horse Latitudes.

“When the still sea conspires an armor
And her sullen and aborted
Currents breed tiny monsters
True sailing is dead
Awkward instant
And the first animal is jettisoned
Legs furiously pumping”

However, the stable ship makes deck work easier and I am catching up on samples under the microscope, including some of my own tiny “monsters” that the currents have bred.

It is the astonishing variety of life that makes the sea such a fascinating
hunting ground. Get a tow-net, dredge and simple microscope,
and a new world is yours – a world of endless surprises.”

(Sir Alister Hardy)

The chief survey technician set me up  with his  flow-through seawater system and I can leave a net under it to continuously gather plankton. I have noticed some patterns already.
One: Phytoplankton is scarce compared to temperate waters off of New Jersey, and this helps account for the clarity and
brilliant blue color of the water. The absence of large rivers here adding nutrients to the system, and little coastal
upwelling,  means that there is little to fertilize plantlife.
Two: More accumulates in the nets at night, confirming that Zooplankton rises to the surface at in the dark. This diurnal
pattern of the plankton community has been well documented ever since biologists and fishermen went to sea.
Three: Also, there is much more plankton at the surface than in deeper water. This is no surprise since sunlight is the
key ingredient at the surface of this ocean ecosystem.
Four: Creatures from offshore tend to have a more feathery look about them than inshore species. This added surface
area may use the turbulence to help support them near the surface  and increase their buoyancy.

It is said:  “Turn off the sun, and the oceans will starve to death in a week.”  It is assumed that among other stresses on the Biosphere that accompany disastrous impacts of large asteroids, dust and ash from these rare collisions block out enough sunlight to stifle photosynthesis, causing Phytoplankton (The “Pasture of the Sea”) to waste away, and setting the stage for the collapse of the Food Chain and mass extinction events. Fortunately we have plenty of brilliant sunshine here and no celestial catastrophes on the horizon.

Some of the most interesting Zooplankton are the Pteropods, the Sea Butterflies.

   
Empty shell and live pteropod specimen
(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

The renowned oceanographer Alister Hardy used them as indicators of different water masses flowing around the British Isles; and New England’s great oceanographer, Alfred Redfield correlated their drifting with the anti-clockwise circulation of water in the Gulf of Maine. Although most are small and less than an inch long, they feed on a variety of creatures and in turn become food for many others. In surface waters they gather phytoplankton, some utilizing cilia and mucus to sweep food to the mouth; but in deeper waters, others are carnivorous.

I am informed by our English colleagues that on Europe’s fishing grounds, they are sometimes fed upon by herring, cod and haddock; which is bad news for British fishermen, whose catch rapidly decays and is not marketable. Such fish are referred to as “black gut” or “stinkers.”

How concentrated are pteropods? Whales and seabirds that we hope to encounter later in the cruise are sustained by them, and in the warmer waters of the Atlantic, at relatively shallow depths and on the tops of submerged peaks at around 2,000 meters, R.S. Wimpenny reports considerable deposits of “pteropod ooze” from their descending shells, covering an estimated 1,500,000 square kilometers of the bottom of the Atlantic (An area the size of the Gulf of Mexico.). Like the Foraminifera, in deeper waters the aragonite in their shells (a more soluble form of calcium carbonate) dissolves, and other sediments like silicates from diatoms accumulate instead. Check out any oceanography text and you are likely to find a picture of this biogenic pteropod mud, as well as other types of deposits.

At least 90% of the animals in the ocean are meroplankton – spending time in this itinerant stage before becoming adults. This phase may vary from a few days to over a year, depending on the creature. (European eels larva are the long distance champions; for over a year, drifting from below us in their Sargasso Sea breeding grounds, all the way to rivers in Britain and France.)

Drifting larvae are cheap insurance for a species, filling the surrounding habitat with individuals of your own kind, settling in new areas and expanding ranges, and particularly, not lingering around their birthplace and competing with the parent stock. However, most individuals simply end up as food for other creatures that are higher on the food chain.

Not surprising, there are copepods, the “cattle of the sea” grazing on smaller organisms.

  
(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Calanus finmarchicus is sometimes called the most abundant animal in the world and is found throughout the oceans, sustaining many types of marinelife; even right whales and basking sharks off the coast of New England.

Other sea soup and children of the sea that author David Bulloch likes to call them, drift by me and swim circuits trapped by surface tension in the water drop under the microscope.

  
Radiolaria are single cell Protozoa that not only ensnare food with mucous, but harbor mutualistic algae
among their spines. (100 x’s)


More live pelagic snails. (Pteropod means winged foot.)

  
An empty shell with  copepod sheltered inside. Other skeletons filled with Paramecia, and a mixed sample of shells
and dust particles.  (Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Now that is calm, everyone seems to have their sea legs and are comfortable talking about their bouts of mal de mer.
Here is the worst story about sea sickness I have come across:

 From Dave Grant’s collection of sea stories:
The world’s worst tale of seasickness.
As told by Ulysses S. Grant in his Memoirs

One amusing circumstance occurred while we were lying at anchor in Panama Bay. In the regiment there was a Lieutenant Slaughter who was very liable to seasickness. It almost made him sick to see the wave of a table-cloth when the servants were spreading it. Soon after his graduation [from West Point] Slaughter was ordered to California and took passage by a sailing vessel going around Cape Horn. The vessel was seven months making the voyage, and Slaughter was sick every moment of the time, never more so than while lying at anchor after reaching his place of destination. On landing in California he found orders that had come by way of the Isthmus [Panama], notifying him of a mistake in his assignment; he should have been ordered to the northern lakes. He started back by the Isthmus route and was sick all the way. But when he arrived back East he was again ordered to California, this time definitely, and at this date was making his third trip. He was sick as ever, and had been so for more than a month while lying at anchor in the bay. I remember him well, seated with his elbows on the table in front of him, his chin between his hands, and looking the picture of despair. At last he broke out, “I wish I had taken my father’s advice; he wanted me to go into the navy; if I had done so, I should not have had to go to sea so much.”

Poor Slaughter! It was his last sea voyage. He was killed by Indians in Oregon.

Dave Grant: Going “Blue Water”
, February 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 17, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South/Southeast
Air Temperature: 23.9 deg C/75 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.5 deg C/76 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1016.23 mb
Water Depth: 4625 meters/15,174 feet
Cloud Cover: less than 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Science/Technology Log

Sailors used to describe their trips as short-haul or coastal,
or “long seas” which also was described as going “Blue Water”


We are off to a great start after passing the harbor lighthouse and breakwater, and the seas are calm and winds gentle. The Low Country and barrier islands of South Carolina disappear quickly over the horizon, and the most striking change for me is the color of the water. As we have transited from the sediment rich waters upriver, to the estuary, and out to the ocean, its color has gone from grayish, to green to blue.

Bay/Estuary water in Charleston
Gulf Stream water

As a rapid indicator of what’s going on within it biologically, oceanographers use the color of the water. To quantify their observations for other scientist to compare results, a white secchi disc is lowered just below the surface and the observer compares the ocean’s color with tinted water in a series of small vials – the Forel-Ule Scale. (Francois Forel was an oceanographer and his end of the scale is the bluest; and Willi Ule was a limnologist and his end of the scale is darker, reflecting the fresh waters he studied.) The 21 colors run the gambit of colors found in natural waters and modified by the plankton community and range from brownish-to-green-to-blue. This gives you a quick measure of productivity of the waters and the types of phytoplankton predominating. For example: Diatom blooms are brownish and Dinoflagellate blooms form the notorious red tides. Clear, less productive waters look blue, and we are sailing into waters that are a deeper blue with every league we sail.

I lack a secchi disk and we can’t stop the ship to lower one anyway, so I am using instead a scupper on the side as a photographic frame to document this well-studied and interesting phenomenon.

“Being on a boat that’s moving through the water, it’s so clear.
Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important, and what’s not.”
(James Taylor)

Before departing on the trip I came across Richard Pough’s bird map of the Atlantic. On it he divides the ocean into 10-degree quadrants and indicates the average water temperature and number of birds he sighted daily. The good news is we are heading southeast into warmer waters. The bad news is, he does not indicate a very productive hunting ground for bird watching. For example, Cape Hatteras, NC, where the Gulf Stream skirts North Carolina, shows 40 birds. Off the highly productive sub-polar regions like Iceland where there are great breeding colonies of seabirds like gannets, he indicates scores of birds. Regardless, I am hopeful we will find some true seabirds to photograph on our voyage; and perhaps have some migrating songbirds drop in for a rest.

Gulf Stream sunset

Today, as our colleague Wes Struble discusses on his blog, we retrieved our first samples with the CTD rosette. Water is retrieved from predetermined levels between the surface and 4,500 meters sealed in bottles for salinity and dissolved oxygen analysis. These two physical features, along with temperature, are the benchmarks physical oceanographers rely upon to track the ocean circulation.

For an understanding of this process and an overview of the project, I met with Molly Baringer in her office – a large bench that the ship’s carpenter built on deck. It seats three and is similar to a lifeguard stand, so it can give a view of the water and fit over the [dis]array of equipment constantly being shifted around the fantail by various scientists and deck hands. With the calm seas and sunny weather, it is the perfect spot on the ship to sit with a laptop to outline daily assignments for all of us, review the mass of data streaming in, and relax to watch the sunset.

“When I am playful,
I use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude for a seine,
and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales!”

Mark Twain

Scientists and crew prepare to retrieve a mooring before the next big wave!

Chief scientist Dr. Baringer is a physical oceanographer and so is interested less in the creatures moving around in the ocean and more about the water currents that are moving them around, and particularly the vast amount of heat that is transferred from the Equator to the Polar Regions by “rivers in the sea” like the Gulf Stream.

 Currents and storms in our atmosphere produce our daily weather patterns, which of course change seasonally too. Ocean currents work on a much longer time scale and the text book example of the turnover time of warm water moving Pole-ward, cooling and returning to the Tropics as “centuries.” This timeframe infers that dramatic fluctuations in climate do not occur.

However, by analyzing ice cores from Greenland, scientists recently have detected evidence of abrupt changes in climate – particularly a significant cooling event 8,200 years ago – that could be associated with vacillations in the Gulf Stream. Although lacking a blackboard at her impromptu lecture hall on deck, a patient Dr. Baringer was artful in walking me through a semester of climatology and modeling to highlight the implications of an oscillating Gulf Stream and its deepwater return waters – the Deep Western Boundary Current.

Surface water is driven from the southern latitudes towards the Poles along the western side of the Atlantic, constantly deflected in a clockwise pattern by the Earth’s rotation. Bathing Iceland with warm and saltier water and keeping it unusually mild for its sub-polar latitude, the Gulf Stream divides here with some water flowing into the Arctic Sea and the rest swirling down the Eastern Atlantic moderating the climate in Great Britain, France and Portugal. (This explains the presence of a rugged little palm tree that I once saw growing in a Scottish garden.)

Perturbations in the northward flow of heat by meanderings of the Gulf Stream or the smothering of it of it by lighter fresh waters from melting ice in Greenland and Canada appears play a significant role in occasionally upsetting Europe’s relatively mild and stable climate – which is bad enough. What is more alarming is new evidence that these changes don’t necessarily occur gradually over centuries as once assumed, but can take place rapidly, perhaps over decades.

There is more bad news. The surface of the sea is dynamic and even without wind and waves, there are gentle hills and valleys between areas. I remember my surprise when our physical oceanography teacher, Richard Hires, pointed out that because of warmer water and displacement by the Earth’s rotation, Gulf Stream waters are about a meter higher than the surrounding ocean…that to sail East into it from New Jersey, we are actually going uphill. If these giant boundary currents are suppressed in their movements, it will exasperate an ongoing coastal problem as those hills and valleys of water flatten, resulting in rising sea levels and erosion along northern coastlines.

This explains why we are “line sailing” at 26.5 North, sampling water and monitoring sensors arrayed on the parallel of latitude between Africa and the Bahamas. To measure change, it is necessary to have baseline data, and the stretch of the Atlantic is the best place to collect it.

Snap shots of the water column are taken using the CTD apparatus as we sail an East-West transect, but at $30-50,000. Per day for vessel time, this is not practical or affordable. Here is where moorings, data recorders and long-life Lithium batteries come into play. By anchoring a line of sensors in strategic locations and at critical depths to take hourly readings, year-long data sets can be recorded and retrieved periodically. Not only does this save time and money, it is the only way to generate the ocean of data for researchers to analyze and create a model of what is happening over such a vast region – and what may occur in the future.

For more specific details, check out the project overview.

Deep Western Boundary Current Transport Time Series to study:
-the dynamics and variability of ocean currents;
-the redistribution of heat, salt and momentum through the oceans;
-the interactions between oceans, climate, and coastal environments; and
-the influence of climate changes and of the ocean on extreme weather events.
Information at:  http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/phod/wbts/ies/index.php

We hear that “The package is on deck” and it is time to collect water samples from the 24 different depths the Niskin bottles were fired (Remotely closed). As any aquarist will assure you, as soon as seawater is contained it begins to change, so we always start with the bottom water and work around to the top water since dissolved oxygen levels can drop with rising temperatures and biological activity from planktonic creatures trapped along with the water samples.

Although as oceanography students we read that most ocean water is quite cold (~3.5C)  because only the top 100 meters soaks up the warmth from sunlight, it is still an awakening for me to fill the sample bottles with even colder bottom water. After a half hour of rinsing and filling bottles, my hands are reminded of the times I worked in an ice cream parlor restocking containers from the freezer and filling soft-serve cones. It is a delight to get to the last several bottles of warm (25C) surface water.

Once the DO and salinity bottles are filled, they are removed to the chemistry lab and the Niskins are all mine. By holding a small plankton net under them as they drain excess water, I try my luck at catching whatever has almost settled to the bottom. There is an extra bonus too. A patch of floating Sargassum weed that tangled in the rosette was retrieved by the technician and set aside for me to inspect.

Windrows of Sargassum weed drift past the Ron Brown

Here is what I found under the microscope so far:

From depth:

The bottom water is absolutely clear with no obvious life forms swimming around. However a magnification of 50x’s and the extra zoom of my handy digital camera set-up reveals a number of things of interest I am sorting into AB&C’s:
Abiotic: Specks of clear mineral crystals. Are these minute sediments washed from the mainland or nearby Caribbean islands? Or is it possible they are quartz grains carried from much greater distances, like the Saharan dust that satellite images have proven are swept up by desert winds and carried all the way across the Atlantic?

Biotic: Although I can not find anything living, the silica dioxide skeletons (frustules) of at least two species of diatoms are present. These fragile fragments of glass accumulate in deep sediments below highly productive zones in the sea and different species are useful to paleontologists for determining the age of those deposits. On land, fossil diatom deposits are mined for diatomaceous earth – used as an abrasive and cleaner, pool filter material, and even in nanotechnologyresearch applications. There is other detrital material in the samples, but nothing identifiable.

Celestial(?): One tiny round particle caught my attention under the microscope. It looks like the images I’ve seen of microtektites – glassy and metallic meteor particles that have been molded by the heat of entry into the atmosphere. The Draxler brothers, two science students in Massachusetts, collect them and I hope they will confirm my identification when I see them again.

Dust particle (Right) and foraminifera (Center)

From the surface:

The warm, sunlit surface water here is covered with Sargassum weed, a curious algae that sustains an entire ecosystem in the waters mariners named the Sargasso Sea. On board the Brown it is simply called “weed” in part because it can be a minor nuisance when entangled with equipment. The Sargassum’s air bladders that support it at the surface reminded Portuguese sailors of their sargazagrapes and they named the gulfweed after them.

Can you spot the two Sargassum shrimp next to the air bladder?

Floating Sargassum weed harbors a great variety of other creatures including baby sea turtles, crustaceans and especially bryozoan colonies. The film of life encrusting the weed is sometimes called aufwuchs by scientists and is a combined garden and zoo.

A quick rinse in a plastic bag revealed two species of bryozoan and numerous tiny crustaceans. The Phylum Bryozoa is the “moss animals” a puzzling colonial creature to early biologists. Bryozoans are an ancient group with a long fossil record and are used by paleontologists as an “index” species to date sediments.

Byozoan colony

To my delight there were also some foraminifera in the samples. “Forams” as they are called by researchers, are single celled protozoa with calcium carbonate skeletons. They are abundant and widespread in the sea; having had 330 million years to adjust to different habitats – drifting on the surface in the plankton community and on benthic habitats on the bottom.

It is not necessary for you to go to sea with a microscope to find them. I have seen their skeletons imbedded in the exterior walls of government buildings in Washington, DC; and our own lab building at Sandy Hook, NJ has window sills cut from Indiana limestone – formed at the bottom of the warm Mesozoic seas that once covered the Midwest. In the stone, a magnifying glass reveals pin-head sized forams cemented among a sea of Bryozoan fragments. Some living forams from tropical lagoons are large enough to be seen without a magnifier, and  are among the largest single-celled creatures on the planet. With a drop of acid (The acid test!) our Geology students confirm that our window sills are indeed made of limestone as the drops fizzing reaction releases carbon dioxide sequestered when the animal shell formed.

Living foraminifera eat algae, bacteria and detritus and are fed upon by fishes, crustaceans and mollusks. Dead forams make contributions to us by carrying the carbon in their skeletons to the bottom where it is sequestered for long geological periods.

Geologists also use different species of forams as “index” species to fix the date of strata in sediment cores and rocks. The appearance and demise of their different fossil assemblages leave a systematic record of stability and change in the environment; and paleoclimatologists use the ratios of Carbon and Oxygen isotopes in their skeletons document past temperature ranges.

Our first plankton samples extracted from the deepest samples retrieved from the Niskin bottles at 4,000 meters (2.5C) did not produce any forams. This may be because in deep, cold water, calcium carbonate is more soluble and the skeletons dissolve. Presumably why we identified only the glassy tests of diatoms.

Foraminifera shell at 100x’s

Tiny Paramecia swarm over the detritus in my slide and taking a closer look at that and the growth associated with the weed I am reminded of Jonathon Swifts jingle:

Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite ’em
And little fleas have lesser fleas

And so, ad infinitum 


Sunset over the Sargassum Sea

The Chief Scientist:

A day in the life of our chief scientist involves: checking with her staff to evaluate the previous day’s collections, consulting with visiting scientists on their needs and any problems that might arise, checking with the deck hands and technicians about equipment needs and repairs, advising the ship’s officers of any issues, and making certain we are on course and schedule for the next station.

And then rest? Hardly!

Even when off duty there are inquiries to field from staff, scientists and crew; equipment repairs to be made; and software that needs to be tweaked to keep the data flowing.

How does one prepare for a career like this?
Physically: the capacity to function on little sleep so you can work 12-hour shifts and be on-call the other twelve. (And there is little escape at mealtimes either, where the conversation never stays far from the progress of the cruise.)Mentally: the capability to multi-task with a variety of very different chores.
Emotionally: the flexibility to accommodate people with many different personalities and  needs, while staying focused on your own work.
Also, excellent organizational skills, since months of planning and preparation are crucial.
And perhaps most importantly, a sense of humor!

 

 “Lock-and-Load!
Midnight shift.
Chief Scientist Dr. Molly Baringer prepares to fire the XBT
off the stern for an 800 meter profile of temperature and pressure.

Wes Struble: Arrival and Departure, February 19, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 19, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26 deg 30 min MN Latitiude & 71 deg 55 min Longitude
Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South (bearing 189 deg)
Air Temperature: 23.2 deg C / 74 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1013.9 mb
Water Depth: 17433 feet
Cloud Cover: 30%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

With some minor travel changes in Seattle and a redeye flight into Charleston, South Carolina I arrived at NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown at about 10:30 am Tuesday morning – tired but grateful. We left port mid-morning the next day and headed south/southeast. On the way out of port we were treated to a dolphin escort – five or six dolphins surfed our bow wave for half an hour or more. I share a stateroom with another teacher, David Grant. My stateroom  is comfortable and I will be sleeping on the upper bunk – a somewhat tight fit and something I haven’t done since my brother and I were sharing a room while we were in junior high school.

The Ronald H. Brown docked at the pier before our departure

David Grant, my fellow teacher-at-sea, working in our stateroom
A Dolphin escort off the bow of the Ron Brown as we head out of Charleston

The Ron Brown is the largest ship in the NOAA fleet. She was commissioned in 1997 and is named in honor of Ronald H. Brown, Secretary of Commerce under the Clinton Administration who died in a plane crash on a trip to Bosnia. With a length of just under 280 feet the Ron Brown has ample deck space for hauling all the various amounts of materials and equipment needed for a research cruise.  The ship’s captain is Captain Mark Pickett, the Executive Officer is Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Jones, the operations officer is Lieutenant James Brinkley, the medical officer is Lieutenant Christian Rathke, with Ensign Aaron Colohan, and Ensign Jesse Milton making up the remaining officers. The entire ship’s complement is divided up between the NOAA Corps crew members, the merchant marines, and the science staff. For this trip we have approximately 50 people on board including the crew and the scientists.  From the science group there are four of us that will be dividing up the CTD watch: David Grant, Shane Elipot, Aurélie Duchez, and myself. As I mentioned earlier, David Grant is my Teacher at Sea colleague for this cruise. He hails from Sandy Hook, New Jersey which is considered the most northern sandy beach in the state. David teaches a variety of science courses at a community college. Shane & Aurélie are from France (although they both currently work in the UK for the Natural Environment Research Council).

A Coast Guard Ship shared the pier with the Ron Brown
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge over the Cooper River, Charleston SC - a fine example of a graceful Cable Stay Bridge
A view of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from below as the Ron Brown passes under the bridge
A view of Fort Sumter - one of the icons of the War between the States
A mass of sargassum (floating seaweed) - from which we derive the name of this part of the Atlantic Ocean - the Sargasso Sea

After the Brown got underway we had the first of many drills. All of the science crew met in the main lab where one of the NOAA Corps officers, ENS Jesse Milton, reviewed the proper use of the rescue breathing apparatus, the Gumby suit, and the PFD (personal flotation device). When the meeting was over we had three practice drills: Fire/Emergency, Abandon ship, and Man Overboard. Each of these emergency situations has their own alarm bell pattern and all those aboard have particular responsibilities and particular muster stations to which they are to report.

A Fire/Emergency is identified by a long (10 seconds or more) continuous alarm bell. When the bell sounds everyone is to move to their assigned stations. The science crew is to go to the main lab and await instructions. If the main lab is actually where the fire or emergency is located our second muster point is the mess.

A series of short blasts (at least 6) followed by a long continuous blast indicates Abandon ship. When this alarm sounds you are to drop whatever you are doing return to your stateroom and retrieve your PFD and Gumby suit and report to your muster station. In addition to the life saving articles, you should be wearing long pants, a long sleeve shirt, and a hat (to protect you from exposure while drifting at sea in the life boat). For this emergency situation I am to report to fire station 15 with a number of other members of the crew and be ready to load into a lifeboat.

Three long alarm bells announce a man overboard. During this emergency different groups of people are assigned different positions around the ship to look for and point to the person who has gone overboard. When the floating person is spotted, all those on deck are to indicate the overboard person’s position by pointing with their outstretched arm. A person floating in the water produces a very low profile and can be very difficult to see from a small boat bouncing in the waves. If the rescue team has trouble locating the floating person they can look up at the ship and see where all the spotters are pointing. This can direct them toward the overboard person’s location.

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.

Jennifer Goldner: Still Learning! August 22, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Goldner
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
(NOAA Ship Tracker)
August 11 — August 24, 2011

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 22, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 27.56 N
Longitude: 83.73 W
Wind Speed: 5.95 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 30.50 C
Air Temperature: 31.60 C
Relative Humidity: 66.00%

Science and Technology Log

Okay, so I admit, I can’t learn enough.  I just THOUGHT I was doing my last post, but I have to share with you some more information I learned toward the end of our journey.  So if you want to learn some “cool facts,” today’s post is for you!

Cool Fact #1:  Sargassum This is a type of seaweed we saw in the ocean today alongside the ship.  It mats together in large clumps and serves as a refuge for larval fish.  It also is a type of “floating community” with lots of fish, such as mahi mahi, congregating around it.  Newly hatched sea turtles find refuge in sargassum.

Sargassum off the starboard side of NOAA Ship Oregon II
Sargassum off the starboard side of NOAA Ship Oregon II
Sargassum- courtesy of bing images
Sargassum- courtesy of bing images
sargassum fish
Sargassum fish

Cool Fact #2:  Shark skin samples and fin clips — All week long I have seen shark skin samples and fin clips taken, but today I found out from two of the scientists on our survey, Dr. Trey Driggers and Adam Pollack, what is done with these.  The skin sample is done so the shark can be identified down to the species.  For example, there are 3 species of smooth dogfish in the Gulf of Mexico.  They all look the same externally.  Keep in mind, the smooth dogfish shares the same genus (Mustelus), but the species differs.  One of the ways to tell them apart is to look at their skin sample under a microscope.  For this reason, every shark that is caught has a small sample of skin taken that is placed in alcohol for preservation.

Fin clip
Fin clip

When it gets to the lab, the scientist looks at the dermal denticles (scales) under a microscope.  If the denticle has 1 point, its species is either canis (common name– smooth dogfish) or norrisi (common name–Florida smooth dogfish).  If it has 3 points, its species is sinusmexicanus (common name- Gulf smooth dogfish).

The fin clip is collected and archived and later a DNA analysis is performed.  They are compared to fish of the Gulf of Mexico to tell if they are genetically different or similar.  This information is used for stock management.

Cool Fact #3: Otoliths– I have been assisting the scientists this week in getting the otoliths from various fish, such as red grouper, yellowedge grouper, and blueline tilefish.  Today I got to take the otoliths out myself.  By “myself,” I mean with the help of skilled scientist, Adam!    It was neat!  So what are otoliths?  They are the ear bones of fish.  They tell the age of the fish, much like the annual rings of a tree trunk do.   These are collected and put in an envelope with the identification number in order to be observed under a microscope in the lab.

Removing the otoliths-  Thanks to Adam, Scientist, for teaching me how to do this!
Removing the otoliths- Thanks to Adam, Scientist, for teaching me how to do this!
Otoliths, courtesy of Google images
Otoliths, courtesy of Google images
Otoliths removed
Otoliths removed

Personal Log

Last night after our shift ended at midnight, by the light of the moon we watched a pod of about 25 dolphins chase flying fish and play in the wake of the boat.  I sure will miss all the sights the sea has to offer.  I will especially miss the people.

I mentioned in an earlier post that NOAA Ship Oregon II is like a city.  It has everything needed on board to run smoothly.  There are people with numerous kinds of backgrounds. Each and every one of these individuals is needed in order to successfully complete a NOAA mission, whatever it may be.

So now I’m talking to you kids.  Have you ever thought about what you want to be or do when you grow up?  How about starting now?  How about you adults, have you ever thought about trying to do something new and exciting?   I have a question for you (and I would like for you to put your answer in the poll):  If you could choose any job on this ship, what would it be?

If you will notice from my posts, I did not just cover the science end of this ship.  There are so many other careers going on to make these surveys work.  It’s a team effort.  Under the leadership of Cap Nelson, that’s exactly what you have here on NOAA Ship, Oregon II: a team effort.  And that’s what makes this ship a model for any team to follow.

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

Steven Wilkie: June 29, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
STEVEN WILKIE
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OREGON II
JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 29, 2011

Ship Data

Latitude 28.06
Longitude -96.43
Speed 8.40 kts
Course 89.00
Wind Speed 13.90 kts
Wind Dir. 71.56 º
Surf. Water Temp. 27.80 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 24.88 PSU
Air Temperature 29.30 ºC
Relative Humidity 76.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1013.73 mb
Water Depth 26.00 m

Science and Technology Log

A preserved plankton sample from one of the Oregon II's bongo nets.

So now that we have an understanding of abiotic factors, let’s talk biotic factors, and for the most part, those biotic factors are going to be fish and plankton.  The majority of our plankton (plankton are organisms–plants or animals–that are too small to fight against the current and thus drift along with it) samples come from the neuston and bongo nets.  After we have our bongo or neuston nets back on board, the science crew goes to work preserving the specimens.

Something common in the neuston net, is Sargassum a type of brown algae belonging to the Kingdom Protista and the Phlyum phaeophyta (kingdoms and phylums are associated with the science of taxonomy or classification).    If you are familiar with kelp, then you are familiar with brown algae.  Kelp is a long algae that fastens itself to the bottom of the seafloor with a root of sorts called a holdfast.  Sargassum, however, does not hold fast, but rather drifts out in the open ocean.  It can stay afloat because Sargassum has little tiny gas-filled floats called pneumatocysts.  These clumps of algae can provide much needed hiding places for small marine organisms out in the open ocean.  Because so many organism might live in, on or around the mats of Sargassum whenever we capture Sargassumin our nets we have to be sure to wash them down thoroughly in order to ensure that we get as many of the creatures off of the blades as possible.

Sargassum, a brown algae, provides important habitat for many marine organisms including juvenile fish. Clearly visible are the pneumatocysts, gas-filled floats, that help keep the algae at the surface of the ocean.

The currents of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic actually concentrate the Sargassum into a giant mass in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean, commonly referred to as the Sargasso Sea.  So significant is the Sargassum, that Christopher Columbus feared for the safe passage of his ships because of the thick mass of algae.

The adventures of Captain Nemo as penned by Jules Verne in the late 19th century even commented on the nature of this floating mass of algae:  “This second arm–it is rather a collar than an arm–surrounds with its circles of warm water that portion of the cold, quiet, immovable ocean called the Sargasso Sea, a perfect lake in the open Atlantic: it takes no less than three years for the great current to pass round it. Such was the region the Nautilus was now visiting, a perfect meadow, a close carpet of seaweed, fucus, and tropical berries, so thick and so compact that the stem of a vessel could hardly tear its way through it. And Captain Nemo, not wishing to entangle his screw in this herbaceous mass, kept some yards beneath the surface of the waves.  The name Sargasso comes from the Spanish word “sargazzo” which signifies kelp.”

As interesting and important as Sargassum is to the ocean environment, it is not our targeted organism, which is, for the most part fish!  Although not a fish, crustaceans are still an important fishery, and few are more significant than Panaeus aztecus (brown shrimp), Panaeus setiferus (white shrimp)  and Panaeus duorarum (pink shrimp).  Chances are if you are dining on shrimp cocktail you are eating one of these three species.

One of many (so many) brown shrimp to be measured. We measure from the length of the rostrum (the point part by their eyes) to the tip of their (tail).
Lutjanus campiechanus (or the red snapper) is another commercially important species that scientists are particularly interested in.  Species like the red snapper are of particular concern because, according to NOAA’s Fish Watch website, the population is currently at low levels prompting NOAA to establish temporary restrictions on fishing this species in past years.
It is the work of the crew aboard the Oregon II to collect the data that helps scientists predict population trends in species such as these which allows government regulations to be based on sound science.  Although sometimes unpopular with the local fishing industry the temporary ban on fishing for some species is aimed at providing a long-term sustainable population for future generations.
Prized by the fishing industry and restauranteurs, red snapper are a species of particular concern because of the pressures local fisheries have placed on the species.
 Although not a primary target of this fish survey,  cartilaginous fish (Class Chondricthyes…there’s that taxonomy again) like sharks, rays and skates are also organisms of particular concern.  Unlike the majority of the fish we bring on board, which are bony fish belonging to the Class Osteicthyes, the majority of cartilaginous fish reproduce internally.  This means that a female shark, ray or skate, might have much fewer offspring in a given year, but those offspring might be more mature once they are born.  Bony fish on the other hand often lay eggs externally by the thousands, but only a small percentage survive.
The watch leader of my watch, Brittany Palm, realizes the significance of the reproductive habits of these organisms (follow this link to review Brittany and her fellow authors extensive work)  and has used much of her expertise gained through NOAA cruises like this one to publish scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals.
If you recall, one of the steps of the “scientific method” is to share your results, and there is no better way than to publish your findings in journals for other scientists to read.  Although writing a paper may sound simple, this is not your average high school term paper–there is considerably more effort required.  Brittany and her fellow authors labored for close to four years to finally draft and submit the paper for publishing.
An example of a cartilaginous fish, the Atlantic angelshark (Squatina dumeril) was brought on board as part of one of our trawls.
Although we may not write anything as extensive at the high school level, good sound scientific investigations will always end up with you sharing your results, and as a result, well-researched background information is always essential.  To all my past and future students out there, feel free to take note of the reference section of the paper and remember how important references and good research is in backing up your work!
 
Personal Log
It has not taken long to get into the rhythm of things aboard ship.  Although I thought that the waves might lead to a little sea sickness, I now find them quite soothing, and am curious as to how I might feel once back on shore as I struggle to get my land legs back.  Sleeping with the waves is a slightly different story. At times they can lull you off to sleep (or it might simply be the twelve hours of sorting, measuring and weighing the catch that does that); other times they can roll you right into your bunk wall and snap you awake.  My bunk is on the top, so the wall is better than the floor I suppose!
Although the waves have been soothing up to this point, we are possibly facing some inclement weather as the first tropical storm of the season, Arlene, is to our southwest heading towards the Mexican coast.  If the weather picks up too much we  may have to head in shore to work up some of the shallower stations while the Gulf settles back down.  Either way we will be kept busy, measuring fish or measuring the waves!
Tropical Storm Arlene, the first tropical storm of the Atlantic season is headed for the Mexico coast in the next few days.

Sue Zupko: 4 Winning Answer #1

The first creature I saw when I boarded the Pisces was the Laughing Gull.  Almost everyone who answered this survey said Sea Gull would be the first creature I would see.  Good job!  The gulls were flying all over the harbor.  Ironically, this is the picture I chose to use in my first entry to this blog.  Later that day I saw Dolphins, Mullet, a Brown Pelican, Sargassum, a Loggerhead Sea TurtleFlying Fish, and Moon Jellies.  Still waiting on a whale and the Lophelia.  We have only been out a short time.

Gull silhouette landing on a ship stair in the evening
Gull landing at dusk

New survey.  What do you think these are?

pink and yellow rods lying side by side
What is this #2?

Nathan Pierantoni, Log, Friday, 4.8.11

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Nathan Pierantoni

University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith

South Florida Bimonthly Hydrographic Survey

Florida Keys, south of Key Largo

Friday, April 8 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

1440 hrs Local Time

Barometric pressure = 1018 Millibars

79 F

74% Humidity

Visibility = good

Wind E 12 knots

Science and Technology Log

In this log I want to talk about the two marine biology graduate students whom I have been working with this week, Chelsea Bennice and Lorin West. They are both 2nd year students at the University of South Florida, and they have been conducting biological sampling all week long. They have been a lot of fun to get to know, and in discussing their research I have really been struck by the similarities between graduate level scientific research and the science projects that many of my students have worked so hard on for this year’s science fair.

***This is cool– as I sit on the deck of the boat writing this, a pod of bottlenose dolphins has joined us! We are cruising at about 7 knots and they are leaping out of the water at the edge of our wake.

Both Chelsea and Lorin are working with a genus of macro algae known as Sargassum. There are two pelagic (floating) species of Sargassum: Sargassum fluitans and Sargassum natans. These species form clumps/patches on the surface of the ocean and serve as habitat for small organisms like crustaceans (and other invertebrates) and juvenile fishes. Throughout the Florida Keys and the Florida Bay, we have seen Sargassum nearly everywhere.

At different stations along the cruise, Chelsea and Lorin have conducted net tows, in which a 2 m^2 fine mesh, windsock-shaped net is pulled along side of the boat for 30 minutes. At the end of this tube is a selectively permeable collection bucket (cod end) that traps Sargassum and the organisms that it hosts, but it allows the water to pass through. These net tows have been pretty cool, because every time we bring one in, there are always interesting creatures waiting to be discovered. Crabs, shrimp, nudibranchs, eels, fishes (including puffers, filefish, frogfish, jacks, flying fish, juvenile billfish, pipefish), copepods, amphipods, cnidarians (“by the wind sailor”), and a sea horse are just a few of the organisms that live in the uppermost meter of the ocean and make the Sargassum their home. And here I thought we had been floating past little chunks of lifeless seaweed! In fact, each patch of Sargassum is its own little ecosystem. Here is where Chelsea and Lorin’s work begins.

Chelsea is conducting a study in which she intends to describe the habitat architecure of pelagic Sargassum species. I had her describe her work: She intends to answer the question of how habitat selection among fishes and shrimp in the pelagic Sargassum community are influenced by the habitat architecture (interstitial spaces and depth) of a Sargassum patch. She will be manipulating the patches by changing their interstitial spaces (spacing the pieces of Sargassum differently among the surface of the patch). Sargassum pieces that are spaced tightly together are thought to create “microhabitats or niches” in the Sargassum for the fishes or shrimp to hide in. She will also be varying depth of the patches of Sargassum. Patches of Sargassum can range from 2cm to 12 cm (sometimes deeper!) in the water column. Having a deep depth patch may make it easier for a fish or shrimp to find its “home” in the open blue water.

Lorin is also working with Sargassum, but her work focuses on the mechanisms (visual and chemical cues) by which organisms are attracted to Sargassum in the open ocean. Her master’s thesis is titled “The role of chemical and visual cues used by the the sargassum crab Portunus sayi in selecting and locating habitats.” Sargassum is highly variable and broken up by waves and even washes up on shore. So, she has created controlled experiments in her lab where she can test whether the sargassum crab can detect chemicals from sargassum when they are dripped into the aquarium. She will also test to see if the crabs can visually detect sargassum without chemical cues and if they can distinguish between the two species of sargassum

As I spoke with Chelsea and Lorin, I couldn’t help but hope that some of my students go to college and graduate school in order to study ocean science. These women love their work and it shows. They describe their studies with enthusiasm and excitement. Chelsea and Lorin both teach introductory biology labs (they were grading punnett squares after hours during the cruise!), attend classes, and take research field trips to the ocean. They are each about to finish a thesis, graduate, and head into a promising career in marine biology!

Personal Log

It is Friday now, and we have north back toward Miami. We had a few CTD stops along the way and couple of other samples to collect, but overall there is a general feeling on board the R/V Walton Smith that we are headed home! Everyone seems ready to head home to be with their family, including me. This ship will begin a 49 day cruise to ground zero of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill next week, and therefore everyone is anxious to get as much shore time as possible. This week went by very quickly, and I enjoyed all of the experiences I had on board, I wish I could stay longer, but I’m excited to get back to work at Heights!

Here are Chelsea, Lorin, Josh (a University of Miami student of Marine Policy), and Matt (the ship’s chef) hanging out on deck after a long day.
Chelsea, Lorin, Josh (a University of Miami student of Marine Policy), and Matt (the ship's chef)
Chelsea, Lorin, Josh (a University of Miami student of Marine Policy), and Matt (the ship's chef)
Nelson, Dennis, Lorin, and Chelsea watching a net tow in progress.
Nelson, Dennis, Lorin, and Chelsea
Nelson, Dennis, Lorin, and Chelsea

Here is the net in action! Lorin keeps her hands on the cable so that it doesn’t come too far out of the water.

Net in action
Net in action

In this shot, Chelsea is gathering the sargasum she collected in a bucket.

Chelsea gathering sargassum
Chelsea gathering sargassum

Once all of the organisms had been rinsed off the seaweed, this is what she got! A ‘soup’ of fish and small organisms. These blue ones were unsuspected!

organisms

In the wet lab, everything gets rinsed again with sea water and filtered through a mesh.

Wet Lab
Wet Lab

Here are the fish they collected in a net tow. Sometimes fish use sargasum like a nursery to raise their juveniles. In this case, a small school of fish were found all at once.

Fish in an aquarium
Fish in an aquarium

Like all field science, they have plenty of work to do in the lab once their collection is done! Here they are writing their results. Nelson is also at his computer working on graphs from his experiments.

Lab work
Lab work

Here is a group shot we took at sunset off of Key West on Thursday night. From left to right, Josh, Lorin, Erik, Cheryl, Nate, Chelsea and Nelson.

The crew near Key West
The crew near Key West

A nice sunset cruise passes by off of Key West (in the background). As we worked a CTD offshore, about 10 of these ships came out of the harbor and did circles around us. It was a really nice sunset, too!

Sunset cruise
Sunset cruise

Bruce Taterka, July 7, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Trawling in Deeper Waters

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2015 (8:15pm)
Position: Latitude = 27.20.39 N; Longitude = 096.35.21 W
Present Weather: Could cover 90%
Visibility: 4-6 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.6 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 28.5 C; Wet bulb = 26.7 C
Barometric Pressure: 1008.27 mb

Science and Technology Log

Since setting out on Friday we’ve headed south along the Gulf coast of Texas almost to the Mexican border, and now we’re heading back north but farther offshore, in deeper water. As a result our trawls are pulling up a deep-water assemblage of species different from those we saw in shallower waters a few days ago. There is still no sign of oil in this part of the Gulf, but we’re still taking samples of fish and shrimp for analysis to make sure there’s no contamination here from the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Ten-foot seas are predicted for tonight so we’re heading north along the Texas coast, away from the storm, and we’ve put away the fishing gear until it gets calmer.

Last log we talked about FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System). So what is it, how is it used, and what is so great about it?

FSCS, pronounced ‘fiscus’, is an automated system for recording the massive amount of biological and oceanographic data generated 24 hours a day by NOAA scientists during fisheries surveys. During a trawl survey, fish and invertebrates from each haul are sorted, counted and weighed by species. Scientists record data from individual fish, such as sex, weight, length and even stomach contents, resulting in tens of thousands of new data points every day. Before NOAA rolled out FSCS in 2001 aboard the ship Albatross IV, scientists recorded all data by hand, an incredibly tedious process. With FSCS, however, data are recorded digitally which is much faster, allows integration of biological and oceanographic data. It also enables NOAA to obtain critical real-time information to assess and manage the health of the marine ecosystem and individual fish stocks.

FSCS uses a Limnoterra FMB4 (fish measuring board) which has a magnetic pen to upload the length of an organism within a millimeter, and software that annotates all of the data on length, mass, sex, etc. The software has an index of species scientific names and can print labels for specimen samples that are to be shipped to other scientists and to the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory in Pascagoula, MS.

We use FSCS 24 hours a day, and I can’t imagine how NOAA scientists did this work without it.


Personal Log

I’m enjoying my 12-hour shifts processing fish, shrimp and invertebrates on theOregon II. Our noon-to-midnight watch is working well together and starting to bond.

My watch-mates in the Oregon II wet lab.

I’m seeing lots of very cool marine life that we’re hauling up from the bottom of the Gulf with our trawling net. Here are just a few of the things I’ve seen in the past two days:

Singlespot frogfish – Antennarius radiosus.

Note the lure on its snout.

Examining the stomach contents of a catfish.
Red snapper – Lutjanus campechanus.
Camouflage in the Sargassum. Can you spot the crabs?
Sunset
Sunset


Mechelle Shoemake, June 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mechelle Shoemake
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 19 – 30, 2010

Mission:  SEAMAP Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Sunday, June 27, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0700 hours (07:00am)
Position: Latitude = 28.80.02 N; Longitude = 090.20.40 W
Present Weather: partly cloudy
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 8 knots
Wave Height:  3 foot swells
Sea Water Temp:  29.8 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 27.9 degrees Celsius; Wet bulb = 25.5 degrees Celsius

Here I am measuring and weighing the fish.

Science and Technology Log
We are on twelve hour shifts while on the Oregon II. That means that we have two crews of scientists that work around the clock taking fish, plankton, and water samples.  My shift begins at 12:00 noon and ends at midnight.  Our first shift began on Sunday. We had finally reached our first station for study, so we took over for the first set of scientists.  They had just finished a trawl and had separated the fish.

Here I am measuring and weighing the fish

We finished weighing and measuring the fish. Next on the agenda was a fire and abandon ship drill.  We had to “muster” to our stations for a head count  during the fire drill.  Next, the alarm sounded for the abandon ship drill.  We all had to get our survival suits and meet on the top deck.

As soon as the drill was over, we were able to get back to work. we first did a CTD test, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and density. This fancy machine tests these variables of ocean water at different depths. We took water samples from the bottom of the ocean, in the middle, and on the surface of the water column.  This is a very important sampling because it will help to determine if the shrimping and fishing waters can be opened back up since the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill.

During the safety drill, I donned my survival aute, also called a Gumby suit!
I’m assisting in getting the CTD ready for deployment

We then had to take a plankton samples. This is done buy using a plankton net called a Neuston net. it is very fine woven net that catches all of the small fish and other animals that we label as plankton. This was amazing to see. The net caught “floating nursery,” a plant called  sargassum. Many fish lay their eggs in this floating grass. Sea turtles also use it as a resting ground. We gathered all the plankton and preserved it for further testing. Sad to say, we also picked up some tarballs in our plankton net. This is not a good sign.

We soon did a trawl with the shrimping nets. This was very interesting to see what we caught. You never know what you might catch when you drag the ocean floor with a net. I never realized how many different species of fish there are. We caught some very nice sized brown shrimp. We had to count, weigh, and preserve all the fish and other critters.

This is a close up of the Neuston net.
I’m helping sort the catch. Those are squid I’m holding up.

Personal Log

I really admire the NOAA employees. They all work very hard for us. Our ship is performing a very important job by determining whether areas of the Gulf will be safe for fishing again. These men and women are gone from their families for extended periods of time and stay at sea for long voyages. I am enjoying my stay on the Oregon II, but I have to admit that I am still trying to grow my “sea legs”.

Jacob Tanenbaum, October 11, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacob Tanenbaum
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow
October 5 – 16, 2009

Mission: Survey
Geographic Region: Northeast U.S.
Date: October 11, 2008

Science Log

Greetings from Canada, my son Nicky’s favorite place! We are now in Canadian waters. We have crossed the international boarder. More amazing things keep coming up in our nets. Today we had some interesting sea-stars. Take a look. The larger ones are called Sun-Stars. Do they look like the sun to you? Sea stars are scavengers. They will move around the bottom looking for whatever food is laying around. The legs of the sea star have small tentacles that push food towards the mouth in the center.

Can you find the mouth?
Can you find the mouth?

Did you know that squid can change color? Often male squid change color to attract a mate or to scare off other males who are competing with them. If there are two males near one female, they able to turn one color on the side facing the female, and then turn another color on the other side facing the male.

Squid
Squid

We had more dolphins circling the ship last night. We think our lights may be attracting certain fish or squid, then the dolphins come to eat that. They are not with us during the day at all. One of the benefits, I guess, of being on the night watch. I cannot shoot still photos due to the low light, but have wonderful video. The sounds that you hear on the video were recorded with the ship’s hydrophone. This is a special microphone that can record sounds underwater. The sounds were recorded as the dolphins swam around the ship. You can hear the sound of them swimming by as well as the sound of their sonar as they locate fish to eat. Click here to watch and listen. Thanks to survey technician Pete Gamache for recording this for us. Click here to see the video. Don’t miss it!

Floating Sargassum mat
Floating Sargassum mat
Close up Sargassum
Close up Sargassum

We drove past some seaweed called sargasum weed. It normally grows in an area towards the middle of the Atlantic called the Sargasso Sea. We are well west of the Sargasso, but this seems to have drifted our way. Sargasum Weed grows on the surface of the water. These huge mats of seaweed support an entire ecosystem of sea creatures. Many come to seek shelter in the weeds. Many more come to feed on smaller creatures hiding there.

Snuggy and Zee paid a visit to the fantail of the ship.
Snuggy and Zee paid a visit to the fantail of the ship.

The fantail is an area by the stern of the vessel where the nets are deployed. The photos show the area where the work gets done. Our ship works all night long, of course, and trawls are done at night as well as during the day. Take a look at this video which explains how trawls are done.

NOAA Ship Albatross
NOAA Ship Albatross

Our ship is shadowing another NOAA ship, the Albatross. Why? The Albatross is an old ship and will be replaced by the Bigelow in the years to come. At this point, the ships are trawling in exactly the same place to see if they get similar results in their surveys. Making sure the vessels measure the same thing the same way is called calibration. Right now we are doing calibration with the Albatross.

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IMG_6425-724011Now some answers to your questions:

RM – No we did not see Nantucket yet. We were too far out to sea. We may see it on the way back. Thanks for writing.

T – I love Block Island too. Thanks for the warning about rough seas. I am glad you and your mom are both enjoying the blog as much as I enjoy writing it for you. I’m used to the 12 AM shift now. I that I finally got 8 hours of sleep.

AR – There were TONS of skates in the water.

Hello to Mrs Eubank’s Class. Its great to hear from you. Great questions. Now for answers:

— Amanda, I think fish can get smaller pieces of plastic confused with tiny plankton, but our buoy is too large for that. I don’t think it will hurt fish. I think they will stay away from it.

–Tiffany, this is a tough question and a very good question. I guess over time, our buoy will stop working and will become floating trash. The truth is all science effects the environment you study. The trick is to do more good with your work than harm. Our buoy will help us understand our environment better so that all of us will do less harm in the future. Our ship also burns fuel as we study the ocean. That pollutes a little, but hopefully through our work, we do more good than harm to what we study.

Weston, It felt like the drifter weighs about 35 pounds or so.

Bryce, we use a large net to scoop along the bottom. The opening is about 4 meters wide.

Luke, we have not, nor do I expect to find new species. Our purpose is to learn more about the species that we already know about.

Bryce, we were about 140 miles from the nearest land the last time I looked.

RJ, some scientists made our drifter.

Weston, there are about 1000 drifters right now in the open sea.

I enjoyed your questions. Thanks for writing.

Mr. Moretti’s class, I’m not sure what killed the whale, but remember, all things the live also die. We cannot assume that something human beings did killed that whale. With all the pollution we create, we cannot assume, however, that we did not hurt it. We should stop polluting just to be sure we do not hurt other living things.

Many of you have are working hard to figure out our math question from the other day. Here is how it works. If we are going 8 knots for 24 hours, we multiply 8 times 24 and get 192 knots in a day. If we want to convert that to miles, we multiply again by 1.15 because each knot is 1.15 miles. We get 220.8 Congratulations to all who got this correct. It was a tough question.

Several of you have asked how long I would be on the ship. I will be here until the end of next week. I leave the ship on Friday October 17th.

LP – I enjoy the show Deadliest Catch very much. I think it is cool that scientists sometimes do that same kind of exciting work.

SD, there is no way for me to videotape under that water, but tomorrow I will show you how our sonars (we call them echosounders) work. That is one way to see under the water.

DT from SOMS dont’ worry, there is no light pollution out here. I am on the back deck of a working ship, so right where I am there are lights. I need them to do my job. I just have to go to the upper decks to get away from it or ask the bridge to shut them down for a bit.