Terry Maxwell: Time is Not On Our Side, June 14, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Terry Maxwell

Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp

June 6–21, 2017

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 14, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 41 31.54 N
Longitude: 70 40.49 W
Wind Speed 10 Knots (11.5 mph)
Air Temp 20.2 C (68.4 Fahrenheit)

Science and Technology Log

Contrary to the popular Rolling Stones song “Time is on my Side,” time is not on our side while we are taking survey of the scallop population in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean. This survey has been meticulously planned for months leading up to the actually event. There is no time budgeted to sit at a dredge station longer than you have to.

track

The Nobeltec Cruise Track for the 2nd and 3rd legs of the 2017 Scallop Survey.  You can see this survey has covered 1000’s of nautical miles, and stopped at over 100 dredge stations.

For seven days our noon to midnight science crew has been working at a blistering pace to dredge the ocean floor or take pictures with the underwater camera, HabCam.  We are on a tight schedule, and in a twelve hour period we are able to work through 10 dredge stations.  There has been little down time, and because some of the dredge stations are so close together, there is no time to be unproductive while we are at a station.  Because of this, there are often stations where we simply are not able to individually count all the organisms we collect.  There are many situations where our crew must use the method of subsampling.

For you in the Midwest, imagine you wanted to know how many dandelions were in your yard.  Now if you are anything like me, you have way too many to count.  If you went to count them all individually, it would literally take you all day if not more.  It is just not time efficient to do such a thing.  But if we took a population sample of some random areas in the yard, we could come up with an answer of how many dandelions were in the yard, and get a very close answer to actually counting them individually.

A similar example I can give you is with a recent dredge catch that was full of sand dollars.  In one of our massive dredge catches composed of about 99.5% sand dollars, I completed an estimate sand dollars in a similar manner.  I filled 2 liter pail full of sand dollars.  My count for that pail was 188 sand dollars per 2 liters.  In this catch we had 46 baskets each with a volume of 46 liters.  So at 94 sand dollars per liter with there being 2,116 liters total, you can estimate there are about 198,904 sand dollars in that dredge catch.

sand dollars

A dredge catch that was almost 100% sand dollars.  These sand dollars are dripping with a green algae and cover our buckets and wet gear in a green coating.

We are faced with similar tasks while sorting through the dredge.  When we face those situations, we turn to the method of sampling, and we take a representative sample of our catch.  At most stations we are taking count of sea stars, crabs, waved whelks, all fish, and scallops.  When we collect the dredge, most of the time it would not be time efficient to totally count up all the sea stars, so we turn to subsampling.

Here’s how subsampling works.  Once we have sorted our dredge catch into various pails, we count up our specimens.  For sea stars however we always take a subsample.  To do that our watch-chief takes a scoop full of whatever is in our discard pails, and she does this randomly.  She puts the random sample in a 4.5 liter pail.  From here, she can begin to estimate the number of sea stars in our dredge catch.  For example, if she goes through the 4.5 liter pail and finds six sea stars, and she knows there are four 46 liter pails of discard from the dredge, with a little math work she can figure out how many stars are in the dredge.  If there are four 46 liter pails of discard, then there is a total of 186 liters of discard.  She knows from her random sample that there are 6 sea stars per 4.5 liters which would come out to 1.3 sea stars per liter.  By multiplying that number by 186, you can determine that an expanded estimate for the sea stars in the dredge collection would be 242 sea stars.

Bucket

An example of our discard baskets from our dredge catches.  This catch was sea star heavy, and this shows it would have taken too much time to count each sea star individually.  Since many sea stars are predators of scallops, a count needs to be recorded.

We also use this method when we have a large catch of scallops.  When we have an overly large scallop catch on the dredge, we are not able to count and measure every single scallop from the catch.  In these cases we use a representative amount.  In one case we caught 24 baskets of scallops, each basket able to hold 46 liters.  If we were to measure all of those scallops we would be at that station far too long to move onto the next dredge.  When we caught enough scallops to fill 24 baskets, we used 3 baskets of scallops as a representative amount.  All of the scallops in the 3 baskets were measured for their shell height.  We would then take a mean average from these scallops to represent the 21 other baskets.  We are also able to estimate the number of scallops in the 24 baskets the same way I estimated the number of sand dollars in a dredge catch.

scallop baskets

A large catch of scallops from one of our dredge stations.  In this case a representative sample of shell heights was taken.

 

Representative samples and population estimations through sampling are valuable tools that scientists use to collect a lot of data in a more efficient amount of time.  From this data, mathematical models and predictions are developed.  By implementing these methods, we are able to get more data from more locations.

Personal Log

It has been 9 days since I arrived in Woods Hole, Massachusetts to be a part of this journey.  As I shared in my last blog, it is hard to be away from home, but many of the people here are gone more than 100 days per year.  There is one thing that makes that time away easier….eating!  Here on the Hugh R. Sharp, I would imagine I’ve put on some extra pounds.  Most days I feel like a cow grazing.  There are so many snacks on board, that it is so easy just to walk by the galley and grab a mini candy bar, chips, pop, or ice cream.  I have discovered there is no better candy bar than a Baby Ruth.  On top of the snacks and sweets, the cook, Paul, cooks up some mean dinners.   Though I miss my wife’s home cooking, Paul’s cooking is a good substitute.

paul and candy

Lots of candy and snacks and some good dinners is probably leading to some extra poundage!  There are two drawers always full of candy, and a freezer always full of ice cream.  Pictured on the left is the ship’s cook, Paul.

Outside of eating, there is not much recreational time on the ship.  I do try to get up a couple hours before our shift begins to just enjoy being out on the ocean.  I haven’t been able to make myself get up yet for sunrise at 5:05 AM.  After working a twelve hour shift sorting dredge catches, there’s not much you want to do but sleep.  Sleeping on the boat has been good.  Probably some of the deepest sleep I’ve had since our kids were born.  I’ve gotten used to the motion of the boat, the sound of waves hitting the bow, and the boat stabilizers which sound like a giant snoring.  I’m a sleep walker, so that was a concern coming in that I would find myself on deck, sleep walking.  But I’m sleeping so sound, I don’t think it’s possible.  However I did warn my roommates to stop me if they saw me up in the middle of the night.
Part B of the survey has started, and with that most of my crew got off the ship, and I will have a new crew starting today.  It was a great group of people to work with.

crew

Part A of the survey the day crew from left to right: Crew chief Nicole, myself, Dylan, Sue, and Nancy.  Then the night crew of Lauren, John, Jill, Han, and crew chief Mike.

 

Did You Know?

Living in Illinois, there are not many times where knowing your parts of a ship come in handy.  However, as I have been living on the Hugh R. Sharp for over a week now I have picked up some terms.  I did not know many of these coming on, so this is a “Did you know?” moment for me.

Front of the ship: bow
Back of the ship: stern
Moving to the front of the ship: forward
Moving to the back of the ship: aft

bow

The left of this picture is port, and the right is starboard.  It took me awhile to figure out what our turn would be like if we were making a turn to starboard.

If you were on the bow, your left would be the: port
If you were on the bow, your right would be the: starboard
Fathom: 6 feet
A heading of zero: North, a heading of 90: East, a heading of 180: South, a heading of 270: West
Heading to a location quickly: steam
Kitchen (where I constantly graze in between dredge stations): galley
Location of the ship’s navigational equipment is: bridge
Bathrooms: the head

Not much use for these terms in the Midwest!

 

Terry Maxwell: An Incomparable Experience Approaches, May 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Terry Maxwell

Preparing to board R/V Hugh R. Sharp

June 5 – June 21, 2017

Mission: Sea Scallop/Integrated Benthic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northeastern U.S. Atlantic Coast
Date: May 30, 2017

Personal Log

How do you prepare yourself mentally for something to which you have no comparison? I, Terry Maxwell, have wrestled with this question since I was notified on February 1st, 2017 that I would be a part of a research cruise in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.  Do not get me wrong, the people at NOAA have been awesome in answering my questions and providing resources to interact with to prepare for this mission.  However, I have lived my whole life in the flat land of Illinois.  I am used to seeing for miles in all directions, but cannot imagine the views out on the ocean.  I have taught science now for 13 years, but have never had an opportunity to work with scientists doing actual fieldwork and research.  My mind is trying to process this upcoming incomparable experience right now.

field

My flat land views will soon be exchanged for a view from the Hugh R Sharp.

About Me

I am a science teacher at Seneca High School in Seneca, Illinois.  I will be starting my 6th year at Seneca High School next year, and going into my 14th as an educator.  I mainly teach freshman physical science, but occasionally get the opportunity to teach a junior/senior environmental science class.  Along with teaching I also am an assistant

football

Teaching and coaching leads to a full year.

football coach, assistant track coach, science club sponsor, and FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) huddle leader.  I wear many different hats throughout the year, and have the support of an awesome family at home.  It will be difficult to be away from my family for a couple weeks after a busy school year, but this is an amazing opportunity I had to apply for.

fishing

It will be hard to leave my wife and kids for a couple weeks, but they have been supportive.  In the background, you can see the type of “vessels” I am used to!

Why did I apply for Teacher At Sea?

I attended a NOAA workshop at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois titled “Why and How We Explore the Deep Ocean.”  I went to the workshop to see if there was any ocean content I could work into my Integrated Physical Science class.  At the workshop, I discovered the amount of ocean content that fits in with the physics and chemistry content I currently teach is numerous.  The workshop was fantastic (if you are a teacher reading this I highly recommend you attend this workshop if it is available at a nearby location).  Towards the end of the workshop, the presenter discussed the Teacher at Sea opportunity.  I instantly knew I wanted to apply.  I came home from the workshop and told my family, “I’m going to apply to go on a research vessel with NOAA this summer.”  To which my wife (who has heard so many crazy ideas come out of my mouth) said, “Uh huh…okay.”  My oldest daughter responded, “Only if I can go with you.”  My son responds, “As long as it’s not over my birthday.”  My youngest just put the free NOAA bag from the workshop on her head like a helmet, and ran around the room.  So, with the obvious support of my family, I applied.

I had never felt so strongly about something.  I wanted to be a part of this experience for many reasons.  A) I wanted an experience working on an actually research mission.  I consider this extremely valuable for my classroom moving forward.  I envision taking research methods I learn from this trip and emulating them in my classroom.  B) I seek to strengthen my weaknesses.  My knowledge of ocean ecosystems is weak.  Part of this is being land locked in Illinois.  What better way to gain knowledge and appreciation for ocean ecosystems than to be a part of a team researching them?  I think when you lack understanding about something it is much easier to disregard it.  Ocean ecosystems are far too important to give little attention to them.  C) Being about a 1/3rd of the way into my teaching career I am looking for an experience that can ignite new ideas, and help me grow as an educator.  I am motivated and inspired by all kinds of simple things; I cannot imagine what this opportunity could do for me.  D) I like fish.  Simple I know, but its true.  The science club I run is called Conservation in Action (yes the CIA), and one of the projects we currently have running is keeping cichlids that are endangered or threatened in the wild, in our classroom.

IMG_0768

A male Lipochromis melanopterus that is housed in an aquarium in my classroom and cared for by members of our science club.

We currently have about 15 aquariums that some of our club members maintain with the goal of informing people of the plight of the Lake Victorian cichlids and other endangered fish, and keeping their population numbers in captivity healthy.

 

 

 

How can you prepare with me?

I would like to leave you with some resources that you can prepare for this trip with me.  There have been several sources given to me by NOAA, and some others I have found to be valuable as well.

A) What ship will you be on?  I will be on the Hugh R Sharp.  You can find out more about this vessel here.  This site from the University of Delaware even includes a video tour of the ship.  This will answer a lot of questions about what day to day life may be like for me on the trip, though I will be posting more about that in the coming weeks.

B) What is a scallop survey?  From what I understand, we will be collecting large amounts of samples from the ocean floor through dredging.  The samples would be brought on board and counted.  A record of overall population and populations at different life cycle stages is taken.  A report from a past survey is found on the NOAA website, and that is linked here.  This report by Dvora Hart is a great look at some of the technology and methods that may be used on this upcoming mission.

Did you know?

NOAA is predicting a more active than normal hurricane season in the Atlantic in 2017.

FINAL 0523 Hurricane Graphic_pie chart-700x400
Always a good article to read right before heading out for a couple weeks into the Atlantic Ocean!  However, I am not worried by this because I am in the hands of experts.  It is always good to be prepared and aware though.  The article is a good read with lots of links about NOAA’s weather predicting capabilities.
Above-normal Atlantic Hurricane Season is Most Likely This Year

 

 

 

Donna Knutson: Last Leg of Leg III Atlantic Sea Scallop Survey 2016, June 24, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
Aboard the Research Vessel Sharp
June 8 – June 24, 2016

2016 Mission: Atlantic Scallop/Benthic Habitat Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northeastern U.S. Atlantic Coast
Date: June 24, 2016

Last Leg of Leg III Atlantic Sea Scallop Survey 2016

Mission and Geographical Area: 

The University of Delaware’s ship, R/V Sharp, is on a NOAA mission to assess the abundance and age distribution of the Atlantic Sea Scallop along the Eastern U.S. coast from Mid Atlantic Bight to Georges Bank.  NOAA does this survey in accordance with Magnuson Stevens Act requirements.

Science and Technology:DSCN7770 (2)me best

Latitude:  41 29.84 N

Longitude:  070 38.54 W

Clouds:  partly cloudy

Visibility: 5-6 nautical miles

Wind: 3.58 knots

Wave Height: 6 in.

Water Temperature:  53  F

Air Temperature:  67 F

Sea Level Pressure:  30.0 in of Hg

Water Depth: 26 m

 

It has been an action packed two weeks.  The men and women who dedicate themselves to the scallop survey are extremely hard working scientists.  It is not an easy job.  The sorting of the dredged material is fast and furious, and it needs to be in order to document everything within the catch before the next one comes in.  The baskets are heavy and it takes a strong person to move them around so quickly.

DSCN8159 (2) dredge team

Han, Jill, Mike, Vic, Me and Ango

In small catches every scallop is measured.  In dredges with many baskets of scallops, a percentage is measured.  It is a random sampling system, taking some scallops from each of the baskets to get a general random sample of the whole.  Mike led an efficient team, he told us what to look for and oversaw the measuring.

DSCN7780 (2)mike and nicki

Mike and Nikki

He often set samples aside to show me later, when we were not as busy. A few examples were how to tell the difference between the red and silver hake or the difference between the Icelandic and Atlantic sea scallop.  He showed me how the little longhorn sculpin fish, “buzz bombs” known to fisherman, vibrate when you told it in your hand.

DSCN8008 (2)buzz

Longhorn sculpin

Mike even took the time to dissect some hake and to show me the differences in gonads, what they were feeding on by opening their stomach, and the otolith within the upper skull.  The otolith is a small bone in the inner ear that can be used to identify and age the fish when in a lab looking through a microscope.  Mike answered my many questions and was always eager to teach me more.

Another helpful team member was Vic.  Vic taught me how to run the HabCam.  He has been involved in the HabCam setup since it started being used four years ago.  There is a lot of work to do to set up the multiple monitors and computers with servers to store all the images collected by the HabCam.  Vic overlooks it all from the initial set-up to the take down.  I admire Vic’s work-ethic, he is always going 100% until the job is completed.  Sometimes I just needed to get out of his way, because I knew he was on a mission, and I didn’t want to slow him down.

DSCN8132 (2) monitors

Control center for Habcam and Dredging

When we weren’t dredging, but rather using the HabCam, there was a pilot and copilot watching the monitors.  The HabCam, when towed behind the ship, needs to be approximately 1.7 m off the ocean floor for good resolution of the pictures, and keeping it at that elevation can be a challenge with the sloping bottom or debris.  There is also sand waves to watch out for, which are like sand bars in a river, but not exposed to the surface.

When not driving HabCam there are millions of pictures taken by the HabCam to oversee.  When you view a picture of a scallop you annotate it by using a measuring bar.  Fish, skates and crabs are also annotated, but not measured.  It takes a person a while to adjust to the rolling seas and be able to look at monitors for a long period of time.  It is actually harder than anticipated.

DSCN7768 (2)skate

HabCam Picture of a skate.

Han was making sure the data was collected from the correct sites.  She works for the Population Dynamics branch of NOAA and was often checking the routes for the right dredges or the right time to use the HabCam.  Between the chief scientist Tasha and Han, they made sure the survey covered the entire area of the study as efficiently as possible.

DSCN7839 (2)tash han mike

Tasha, Han and Mike discussing the next move.

Dr. Scott Gallager was with us for the first week and taught me so much about his research which I mentioned in the previous blogs.  Kat was with us initially, but she left after the first week.  She was a bubbly, happy student who volunteered to be on the ship, just to learn more in hopes of joining the crew someday.  Both vacancies were replaced by “Ango” whose real name in Tien Chen, a grad student from Maine who is working on his doctoral thesis, and Jill who works in Age and Growth, part of the Population Biology branch of NOAA.  Both were fun to have around because of their interesting personalities.  They were always smiling and happy, with a quick laugh and easy conversation.

DSCN8131 (2)the three

Jill, Ango and Han after dredging.

The Chief Scientist, Tasha, was extremely helpful to me.  Not only does she need to take care of her crew and manage all the logistics of the trip, plus make the last minute decisions, because of weather or dredges etc, but she made me feel welcome and encouraged me to chat with those she felt would be a good resource for me.  On top of it all, she helped me make sure all my blogs were factual.  She was very professional and dedicated to her work, as expected from a lead scientist leading a scientific survey.

DSCN8146 (2)tash and jim

Evan, Tasha and Jimmy discussing route.

I spent as much time as possible getting to know the rest of the crew as well.  The Master, Captain James Warrington “Jimmy” always welcomed me on the bridge.  I enjoyed sitting up there with him and his mates.  He is quick witted and we passed the time with stories and many laughs.  He tolerated me using his binoculars and searching for whales and dolphins.  There were a few times we saw both.

He showed me how he can be leader, responsible for a ship, which is no small feat, but do so with a great sense of humor, which he credits he inherited from his grandmother.  The other captains, Chris and Evan, were just as friendly.  I am sure all who have been lucky enough to travel with them would agree that the RV Sharp is a good ship to on because of the friendly, helpful crew and staff.

DSCN7785 (2)KG

KG, oceanic specialist, helped with dredges.

Because this was my second experience on a survey, the first was a mammal survey, I have really come to appreciate the science behind the study.  It is called a survey, but in order to do a survey correctly, it takes months of planning and preparation before anyone actually gets on a ship.

There is always the studying of previous surveys to rely on to set the parameters for the new survey.  Looking for what is expected and finding, just that, or surprising results not predicted but no less valued, is all in a scientist’s daily job.  I admire the work of the scientist. It is not an easy one, and maybe that is why it is so much fun.  You never know exactly what will happen, and therein lies the mystery or maybe a discovery to acquire more information.

DSCN8127 (2)big goose

I had to hold the largest goose fish we caught!

It was a challenging two weeks, but a time I’m so glad I had the opportunity to have with the members of Leg III of the 2016 Atlantic Sea Scallop Survey.

Donna Knutson: The Absolutely Amazing Atlantic Sea Scallop, June 12, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 8 – June 24, 2016

 

2016 Mission: Atlantic Scallop/Benthic Habitat Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northeastern U.S. Atlantic Coast
Date: June 12, 2016

Mission and Geographical Area: 

The University of Delaware’s ship, R/V Sharp, is on a NOAA mission to assess the abundance and age distribution of the Atlantic Sea Scallop along the Eastern U.S. coast from Mid Atlantic Bight to Georges Bank.  NOAA does this survey in accordance with Magnuson Stevens Act requirements.

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:  40 26.375 N
Longitude:  68 19.266 W
Clouds: overcast
Visibility: 5-6 nautical miles
Wind: 21 knots at cruise speed of 4 knots
Wave Height: 4-6 occasional 8 ft.
Water Temperature:  56 °F
Air Temperature:  70 °F
Sea Level Pressure:  29.7 in of Hg
Water Depth: 100 m

Science and Technology Log

! TAS 010There are four types of scallops that are found around the United States.  The Sea Scallop is the largest and found primarily along the Eastern coast.  Therefore, it is called the Atlantic Sea Scallop.  Bay scallops are smaller, found closer to shore and are not usually harvested.  The Calico mollusk is the smallest and rare, and is primarily located around the coast of Florida.  The Icelandic scallop is also occasionally sighted around the United States.

The Atlantic Sea Scallop Placopecten magellanicus  is a deep sea bivalve mollusk.  It has a smooth shell and edges.  Young scallops have a pink/red color with darker stripes radiating outward form the hinge. The older sea scallop is more orange in coloration and may fade into white.  Photoreceptive eyes along their pale pink mantle, allow the scallop to sense changes in light allowing it to protect itself from possible dangers such as incoming predators.

Alantic sea scallop

Atlantic sea scallop

Some mollusks are hermaphroditic meaning they have both sex organs in the same animal, but the Atlantic sea scallop has two distinct sexes.  It is impossible to tell what the sex of a scallop is from its outward appearance.  When looking inside at the gonads it is easy to detect.  The male gonads are creamy white and the female gonads are pink/red in color.

The female can reproduce after they are one-year-old, but four year olds release many more eggs.  The older scallop may emit one to two hundred seventy million eggs at one time.  Spawning occurs twice a year, once in the spring and another in the fall.  Males will release their sperm into the water where the eggs have been released, and then the fertilized egg sinks to the bottom of the ocean to develop in groupings called beds.

Adult scallops will filter feed on phytoplankton and microscopic zooplankton.  The immature larva are filter feeders as well, but can also absorb nutrients though their tissues.

Atlantic sea scallops play an important role in the ecosystem as they become food for other animals such as starfish, crabs, lobsters, snails, and fish such as cod, American plaice, wolfish, and winter flounder.

Sources:

Wikipedia, May 30, 2016

US Atlantic Sea Scallop, March 31, 2013

 

Personal Log

Leg III of the Atlantic Scallop/Benthic Habitat Survey started out a bit rough, bad weather came in from Hurricane Collin and caused a few delays.  The lead scientist Tasha O’Hara decided to push back the departure times in hope of gentler seas.

We set sail on Thursday June 12, 2016 around 7 p.m. from NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole.  The Sharp started the third leg of four on the scallop survey.  The last leg will end on June 24, 2016.  The survey team will use a camera to take pictures of the bottom called a HabCam, which stands for Habitat Mapping Camera, and also dredge the ocean bottom periodically for physically counting and measuring specimens.

I have been allowed to participate in the driving of the HabCam and also the sorting, measuring and recording of animals brought up from the dredges.  My blogging got a bit behind as I was trying to immerse myself in the new experiences when the sea sickness hit.

Goosefish

Donna holds a Goosefish

I did not get sick once on the last month long experience, but conditions here are a bit different.  The captain of the Sharp, James Warrington, explained the gyre (oceanic current pattern) is unique here.  We are in a cruising within circular gyre and with weather conditions forcing high waves into the flat bottomed boat, we are getting a lot of motion.  So, yes, I now know what sea sickness is like.  Today the wind has died down a bit so the waves are not as high, and I feel much better.  I have been placed on the midnight to noon crew so that has been an adjustment as well.  I’m sure you morning classes will agree I’m more active in the afternoon.  Not really a morning person. J

Snake eel

Snake eel

Everyone is so great to me here.  They were very considerate during my seasick time.  I actually have been sitting up on the bridge with Captain Jimmy.  I can see the horizon and feel more stable.  Otherwise we are below decks looking at computer screens for the HabCam or working on the back deck looking at the dredged creatures.

Today we are doing some back tracking to get a start on more dredging and that has allowed me to get this blog in.  I really wanted it to be sooner, but that’s the story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trevor Hance: Day 4 Aboard The Beagle, June 14, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Trevor Hance
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 12 – 24, 2015

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank
Date: June 14, 2015

Deck selfie

Yours truly (note:  quite fun to break out the overalls!)

Science and Technology Log

It’s Day 4 aboard the Beagle, and the crew has full confidence in Captain Fitz Roy… Okay, I’m not Charles Darwin, but, I am reading two very inspiring books while on this cruise.  First, as this is my first scientific voyage, I am revisiting Darwin’s trip aboard the Beagle to channel some of the wonder and “magic” of that extended journey.  The other book I’m reading is the sequel to my favorite book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  If you teach G4-G8, I highly recommend you get to know “Callie Vee.” The book is a wonderful bit of historical fiction that details the life of a young woman/girl in central Texas in 1899 who wrestles with her interest in science and the conventions of “proper” society.

Life Aboard Ship and the Science Behind the Voyage

Thus far aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp we have enjoyed favorable seas, good food and very welcoming company.  Shifts for the science-crew last 12 hours and run 12-to-12, and there are about six people assigned to each shift (note:  the captain and ship’s operational crew keep a different schedule.)  I am on the day shift, so I work from noon to midnight — which I imagine would fit quite nicely with the schedule many of my students are currently keeping now that they are on their summer break!  Our mission is primarily to perform a scallop survey, moving from point to point while making observations related to population densities and spatial distribution.  Late in the cruise we will be doing some exploratory work in an effort to better understand the lobster populations in this area of the Atlantic Ocean.  Our work centers on two primary observation methods:  habitat camera (aka – “HabCam”) and dredge.

Scallop shell

An Atlantic Sea Scallop shell. They have different patterns, and are beautiful shells

Atlantic sea scallops are a bivalve, along with clams, mussels, oysters, etc. that can get up to about 200 mm (about 8 inches) across, and most three year olds are in the 80-90 mm range.  Commercially, they are targeted between 4 ½ – 5 years old.  Scallops feed by filter-feeding through their mantle, which is housed inside the beautiful orange and white outer shell.  Scallops move using a form of jet propulsion that makes it look like they are swimming (they “bite” at the water as they propel themselves up from the seafloor, pushing the water out of the openings near the umbo at the back of the scallop shell).  The physics changes as they get bigger, so it gets more difficult to push themselves off of the sea floor, but the little ones can get up to about 10 feet off the bottom of the sea floor.

Natural predators of scallops include various species of starfish, such as Astropecten and Asterias.  These starfish use distinct predatory tools.  The larger starfish, the Asterias, has a hydrologic musculature that allows it to essentially pull apart the shell of the scallop, inject digestive enzymes (aka – “putting its stomach inside the scallop”) and enjoy! The Astropecten is quite different because they completely engulf the scallop and digest it internally.  The two types of starfish target different-aged scallops: Astropecten eat them when they are small enough to be fully engulfed, and Asterias when the scallops are older and the shells are larger and harder, making it too difficult for digestive fluids to assist with the process.  Other predators of the scallop include humans and Cancer crabs.

Starfish Comparison

Astropecten vs Sclerasterias (same family as Asterias, different genus):  the size makes the feeding distinction pretty obvious

 

NOAA has been conducting these surveys for approximately 40 years.  Before the mid-1990s, scallop fishing was largely unregulated, meaning that commercial and private fishers could operate anywhere at any time.  In the 90’s, the government started to use various management tools to support population sustainability through efforts such as limiting the number of people allowed aboard a commercial vessel, limiting the number of days available in a season, changing the ring-size used on the dredges to catch the scallops and closing fishing areas on a rotational basis.  The commercial fisheries have also set aside funds that are used to support research that will help keep the scallop populations healthy.

After the regulations went into place, scientists observed a strong, positive development in size and overall population of scallops.  With strong data that covers a forty year period, policy makers are sufficiently informed to manage scallops on finer and finer spatial scales, including things like small scale, temporary closures and altering the timing for re-opening temporary closures.  (note:  Over the next few blogs, I will show how this science and these relationship relate to our state learning standards, but for now, let’s just set the table.)

Operations

The first day of the cruise was spent steaming out to the first observation point while getting the HabCam system running on all cylinders.  The HabCam (pictured below) is a 3,400 pound, steel-framed “camera cage” that is towed behind the vessel as it moves (we’ve been traveling at about 6 knots) through a determined course in areas that have been observed using the camera for the past four years (note:  dredge surveys in this area have been conducted for the entire 40ish year period).  We moved towards the south for the first two days along the Great South Channel and are now heading east along the southern edge of Georges Bank.

HabCam is towed and controlled from the ship by a winch with fiber-optic wire connected to the dry lab where all pictures are received and can be assessed while in motion

HabCam is towed and controlled from the ship by a winch with fiber-optic wire connected to the dry lab where all pictures are received and can be assessed while in motion

The science crew uses three primary areas aboard the vessel:  the back deck, where all dredge-related operations are conducted; the wet lab, where samples are weighed and measured; and a dry lab, which houses about 25 computers that run various programs relating to everything from weather to analyzing the positioning of the dredge underwater.

A dredge in action.  Fish, scallops, crabs, starfish and "trash" are sorted into baskets and buckets, then taken into the wet lab where they are measured and weighed

A dredge in action. Fish, scallops, crabs, starfish and “trash” are sorted into baskets and buckets, then taken into the wet lab where they are measured and weighed

Dr. Scott Gallager and me taking measurements of scallops we caught on a dredge

Dr. Scott Gallager and me taking measurements of scallops we caught on a dredge

NORAD… I mean, the scientific dry lab

NORAD… I mean, the scientific dry lab

Over the first two days, I (tried to!) learn how to drive the HabCam, keeping it about 2 meters off the bottom of the seafloor.  The seafloor in this area has been a relatively smooth mix of sand and shell hash, but, there are naturally occurring topographical changes that require the HabCam driver to remain constantly vigilant and adjust as appropriate.

Katie, seated next to me, is a PhD candidate at Cornell.  I’ll share her research in a future blog

Katie, seated next to me, is a PhD candidate at Cornell.  I’ll share her research in a future blog

There are two cameras on the HabCam and they are set to take 6 photographs per second (standard sample rate).  The two cameras give a scientist the chance to view images in 3-D.  This point is important when you remember that scallops swim, which means scientists can use the 3-D imagery to tell whether the scallops are in motion or stationary when photographed (as well as how far up in the water column those scallops are swimming).  At 6 shots per second, there can be millions of photos taken over the course of a season (likely 8,000,000 pairs of photos over 4,000 km of track this year!), and NOAA scientists are recruiting YOU, dear Citizen Scientists, to help filter through the photographs through websites like projectfishhunter.org (set to launch this fall) or seafloorexplorer.org, which is a project started by one of the scientists on this mission, who is a researcher and professor at MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

My students will find a parallel between the HabCam and the six game cameras we have set up in our Preserve that take 3 shots in succession when triggered.  We monitor those cameras weekly and depending on traffic and false hits due to wind-noise, we could have as many as 2,000-3,000 photos on a camera in a given week.

Can you loan me five (sand) dollars?

Can you loan me five (sand) dollars?

Belly-side of a yellow-tail flounder

Belly-side of a yellow-tail flounder

Dr. Gallagher using a 3-D handheld camera (wow!) to take pictures of male and female scallop.  The ones with the bright pink are the females and the white and grey are males.

Dr. Gallagher using a 3-D handheld camera (wow!) to take pictures of male and female scallop.  The ones with the bright pink are the females and the white and grey are males.

Big mouth monkfish

Big mouth monkfish

At Mother’s Café in New Orleans, they’d call this the makings of a debris sandwich.

At Mother’s Café in New Orleans, they’d call this the makings of a debris sandwich.

We caught this little seahorse and I know my daughters will have a million questions about it!

We caught this little seahorse and I know my daughters will have a million questions about it!

Fair winds, my friend

Fair winds, my friend

Lagniappe

In Cajun parlance, “lagniappe” means a little something extra.  In my classroom blog I include a “lagniappe” section at the end to help extend lessons, give folks a chance to plug in to what we’re studying from a different perspective, or just include a “little something” that I find interesting.  Because I can’t really do additional research while aboard this vessel due to limited internet availability, I’ve decided that my Lagniappe section will be more like a “People In Your Neighborhood,” which we all remember from watching Sesame Street as kids.

One of the challenges we face as teachers is capacity building, meaning we have to work to inspire and encourage all students to pursue any areas of learning that interest them, paying particular attention to defeating stereotypes regarding barriers to entry in certain industries.  Our cruise has a pretty broad group of people aboard, so I’ll use my blog to introduce you to “the people behind the science” in this section.  The first “person in my neighborhood” you’ll meet is our Chief Scientist, Nicole Charriere.

Nicole’s early interests in marine studies stemmed from her experiences scuba diving and snorkeling while visiting her mother’s family in Belize.  Her love for the ocean did not waiver as she grew, and she received her undergraduate degree in Marine Biology from the University of Rhode Island.  Prior to graduation, she did an internship at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography and one of her advisors invited her to crew aboard a 29-day scientific mission to the Pacific side of Panama/Costa Rica aboard a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute research vessel.  During that experience, Nicole realized that sea-life was the life for her because it gave her a chance to be on the front end of data collection and analysis for a broad spectrum of scientific missions, while simultaneously working with a diverse group of people from around the world who were passionate about their work.  She’s been working aboard vessels for several years, with her recent work centering primarily on scallop and shellfish surveys and other research experiences aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp, NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, as well as on commercial vessels.  Her career keeps her at sea between 130-140 days per year.

Science Chief, Nicole Charriere

Science Chief, Nicole Charriere

As the Chief Scientist, she is in charge of the flow of scientific operations, meaning she oversees the scientific operations, helping to insure that the equipment needed to conduct the studies is available and in working order (obviously, the salt-water, constant-motion, marine environment requires you to be ready and resourceful!), makes sure that the relationship between the ship’s operational crew fits with that of the science party, and (where I’m concerned) helps to coordinate a fair transition to understanding your role as part of the working team aboard a vessel.  One very interesting point I learned is that there are many opportunities for people interested in research to volunteer to be part of a research team aboard a vessel, and Nicole said she rarely remembers being on a cruise where volunteers weren’t part of the crew.  I highly encourage any students who might read my blog that have an interest in marine science to explore this opportunity while an undergrad to see if sea-life really fits with your-life!

I’ll update about our dredge operations and another member of our science crew in the next blog post.

Current dry lab playlist:  Tom Petty, Bruno Mars, Abba

Carol Glor: Back from the Beyond, July 12, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Glor

Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp

July 5 – 14, 2014

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey (Third Leg)

Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean

Date: July 12, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind 12 knots, 005*, Seas 1-3 foot swells, Visibility – unlimited!!

Science and Technology Log:

Maritime meets Science

NOAA has a unique relationship with the shipping industry. Ships are traditionally built with specific uses in mind. The R/V Hugh R. Sharp is owned by the University of Delaware and was completed in 2006 as a state-of-the-art research vessel. Marine architects and engineers designed mechanical and electronic  systems to launch scallop dredges, the HabCam, and the CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) scanner. The ship can accommodate 9 crew members and 12 science staff members. The University leases the vessel to the NOAA scientific crew for specific missions or surveys. Each year NOAA sets up research surveys to collect data concerning many aspects of the fishing industry along with studies centered around conservation. The sea scallop survey is one such research project which has been a yearly event since 1977. It began as a bottom trawling event taking place for several legs (mission time periods) between May and July.

Sea scallops are a bivalve subgroup of mollusks. They take years to mature to a size that is sought after by fishermen. As with any species, overfishing is a major concern. Ideally, a species’ survival is dependent upon a consistent population. The Northeast Fisheries Association determines the scope and location of “open” fishing areas for all species of fish and shellfish. NOAA is called upon to collect data concerning the abundance or lack of scallops in a traditionally rich fishing locale or in a closed area. During our leg of the survey, we collected data using the HabCam as well as towing a scallop dredge. A map of the fishing locations is analyzed to determine the dredge or HabCam areas that are to be investigated.

Each dredge “catch” contained a variety of marine species with the inclusion or exclusion of scallops. At one event, we hauled in 16 baskets of baby scallops. These were an encouraging sign that the scallop population is prolific. At other times, no scallops were present but there was a bumper crop of sand dollars. This was because the area that they were collected is considered an “open” scallop fishing area. The range in size of the scallops that were brought in varied between 55 and 155 mm?

Fourspot Flounder

Fourspot Flounder

Carol on Sharp

Carol prepares to sort the dredge.

Silver and Red Hake

Silver and Red Hake

wet lab

Data collection inside the wet lab of the Sharp.

 

Personal Log:

Yesterday we completed our dredging events. A glorious sunset was the backdrop for this momentous occasion. Too bad there were no scallops in the dredge. We did, however collect many scallops of different sizes throughout our watch. The fog that was present for most of our dredging days finally burned off to reveal calm seas and a blue sky. The watch team that I was a member of worked like a well-oiled machine. Each member had a specific task to complete to carefully collect scientific data from each dredge event. Science is messy work and handling different species is not for sissies.

shucking scallops

The research team and crew members gather to shuck scallops.

sunset

Another spectacular sunset aboard the RV Sharp.

 

I look forward to returning home to be with my family and friends. The life of a sailor/scientist was an incredible experience and I am excited to share all that I have learned with my students at West Genesee.  Many thanks go out to the Captain and crew of the R/V Sharp and the NOAA science staff for making my journey unforgettable.

Final dredge

The final dredge for the third leg of the scallop survey 2014.

The following quote sums up my experience as part of the Teacher at Sea program.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  Mark Twain

Carol Glor: Awe Shucks! The Mission Continues, July 9, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Glor

Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp

July 5 – 14, 2014

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey, Third Leg

Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean

Date: July 9, 2014

Weather data from the bridge: Wind 204* 15 knots, Seas 4-6-10-12 ft. mixed directions, Visibility – overcast

Science and Technology Log:

Today we began dredging for scallops. The ship follows a predetermined path and the dredge is lowered to the ocean floor at specific locations along the path. These locations are chosen by the Scallop Assessment Biologist at NOAA because they are an accurate representation of the scallop population in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. The area that we are focused on is known as Georges Bank. It is a broad, shallow submarine plateau forming the seaward boundary of the Gulf of Maine. The average depth is between 30 and 75 meters deep. It is home to an assortment of marine life including the Atlantic Sea Scallop. Several computers are employed to record all of the data that is pertinent to each dredge event. These include: ocean depth, air temperature, salinity, barometer, air speed, wind direction, fluorometer, and wind direction. The lab is in constant communication with both the bridge and the engineer who operates the winch system. Depending upon the ocean depth at the dredge station location, a specific amount of dredging cable (called line) to which the dredge net is attached, is released in order to create the best angle for the dredging operation.

 

map of Georges Bank

3D map of Georges Bank at the Woods Hole Aquarium.

map

Map of dredge stations.

offloading the dredge

The dredge is offloaded onto the sorting table.

After 15 minutes the dredge is hauled up to the surface and the net is emptied out onto the sorting table. All members of the science team are poised and ready to sort the catch. Each sorter is outfitted with foul weather gear. This consists of rubberized jacket, coveralls and rubber boots. Also required is a life vest, heavy duty gloves, and a hard hat (if the winch is in use). Several baskets and buckets are arranged around the sorting table. One is reserved for scallops, one for assorted fish and skate, one for crabs and whelk, and the last is for items that are not part of the study. This is known as trash.

When everyone has completed their preliminary sorting, it is time to count and sort each species that was collected. Trash is also accounted for. Each basket that is returned to the ocean is counted and data is recorded. The sorting and trash data is entered into the computer system inside the wet lab (also known as the van). At the three stations inside the van, a measuring tray is utilized to quickly measure and record the length of certain fish, scallops and skate. The first large scallop from each dredge event is photographed as a representation of that event. All large scallops are then weighed and shucked and the scallop is sexed (recorded as a male or female). The sex organ is weighed as well as the meat. The shells of the large scallops are cleaned, labeled, and placed into a muslin bag in order to be further analyzed at a NOAA laboratory back on shore. At the conclusion of the dredge event and sorting process, the lab is cleaned and prepped for the next event.

During our first watch, our team completed seven dredge events. Each event can take more than an hour from start to finish. Our catches included a variety of marine species: scallops, sand dollars, ocean pout, windowpane flounder, yellowtail flounder, four spot flounder, and gulfstream flounder, silver and red hake, quahogs, barn-door and winter skate, haddock, sand lance, cancer and hermit crab, sea mouse, sea sponge, fawn cusk eel, wave whelk, and monkfish (goosefish).

Sorting

Sorting the dredge.

skate

Carol measures a skate inside the lab

Baby Scallops

Baby Scallops to be counted, weighed, and measured.

 

Personal Log:

As an inexperienced sailor and scientist, the NOAA staff all worked hard to train me to complete many of the tasks required during our watch. Scientific method and protocol was followed to a “T”. It was an awesome and intense responsibility to fly the HabCam, annotate images recorded by the HabCam, monitor environmental data, set up the dredging event on the computer system, and record the sample data. Throughout the scheduled watch we witnessed whales spouting and breaching, and porpoise antics. During our down time we enjoyed the company of each other as well as the delicious meals prepared by Chef Paul.

Life at sea can be challenging. The weather is checked often in order to adjust the dredging route. High waves can make a dredge event difficult. They can also be a safety issue out on deck. For this reason, each person is required to wear a life vest and boots. Anyone on deck during a dredge drop or haul back is also required to wear a hard hat.

After a long, hard day, sleep is usually the best thing that you can do for yourself. The cabin area is quiet at all times because everyone is on a different shift. I am in a 4-person cabin but my roommates are all on the opposite shift. The rocking of the ship, and background engine noise makes it easy to fall asleep for long periods of time.

Did you know?

Scallops can be male or female. The simplest way to determine the sex is to open the scallop shell and examine the gonad. Female scallops have a pink gonad and males are cream-colored.

male and female scallops

Female scallop is on the left and a male scallop is on the right.

Photo Gallery

sea stars

An assortment of Sea Stars

Fin back whale

Fin Back Whale sighting

dolphins

Dolphins at play

Ocean Pout

Ocean Pout – eats sand dollars

Answer to last poll:

The R/V Hugh R. Sharp has at least 88 computer monitors on board. An equal number are part of the navigational  and monitoring systems as well as the scientific research components.