Sarah Boehm: Plankton, July 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 6, 2013

Weather at 21:21
Air temperature: 27°C (81°F)
Barometer: 1016 mb
Humidity: 82 %
Wind speed: 5 knots
Water temp: 26°C
Latitude: 30.13° N
Longitude: 87.96°  W

Science and Technology Log

cleaning up
The daily ritual of cleaning up the wet lab

We are steaming our way to port now after 14 days at sea. We will pull in to Pascagoula, Mississippi tomorrow morning. Research has finished and our last task today was to clean up the wet lab. Even though we haven’t had fish in the wet lab in days, a slight fishy smell lingers there and on the stern deck where the nets are stored. My nose must be fairly used to it by this point though, because it was far more noticeable the first days on the boat. A few students asked if the boat was smelly – I think at this point my shoes are the smelliest things on board, despite my efforts to wash off the fish slime and salty crust.

We finished all our trawling stations a few days ago and switched to plankton stations. So instead of pulling up big fish, we used smaller nets to pull up the tiny organisms that float about on ocean currents. We sample with two types of nets: the Neuston net skims the surface of the water and the bongo nets have a weight that pulls them down into deep water.

Neuston Net
The Neuston net gathering plankton at the surface
bongo nets
The bongo nets being lowered into the water.
jar of plankton
This batch of plankton has a lot of tiny shrimp and a few little fish

A lot of plankton is microscopic algae and protists that are the base of the ocean food web. This study is more interested in ichthyoplankton – baby fish. Most fish and marine invertebrates actually start life as plankton, floating about until they are big and strong enough to swim against the current. We collect plankton in the nets, transfer them over to glass jars and preserve them in alcohol. Back in the lab scientists will use microscopes to identify and study the little guys.

plankton
Tiny planktonic critters
sargassum
Sargassum floating by

Sometimes the Neuston goes through sargassum, a free floating seaweed. The sargassum sometimes floats as small clumps, and sometimes vast mats cover the water. I watched a few pieces float by with fish seeking protection by carefully positioning themselves directly underneath the seaweed. The sargassum is great refuge for little critters and we have to pick through it carefully to pull out all the plankton, many of which are well camouflaged in the tangle of orange.

sargassum critters
Tiny fish living in the protection of floating sargassum. Notice how well they camouflage with the orange/brown of the sargassum.

Personal Log

The folks on board the Oregon II are knowledgeable, professional, and a whole lot of fun. I’d love to introduce you to everyone – but I’m out of time, so let’s go with the day watch science team.

Day watch
The science day watch team – Mara, Joey, Andre, Sarah, and Caitlin
Andre and the sting ray
Andre measures a sting ray.

Andre, our watch leader, is a biologist with the groundfish survey at the NOAA Pascagoula lab. He can identify and give the scientific names for an impressive amount of fish and invertebrates we pull up in the nets. Joey is also a biologist at the labs and while he works mainly with reef fish, he also knows a lot about everything from plankton to sharks. Andre and Joey are also good teachers who helped us learn those scientific names through lots of jokes and nicknames (Celine Dion, Tom Hanks, and Burt from Sesame Street each are now associated with a specific species of fish in my mind, and Mel Gibson is a lovely crab with purple legs).

Mara and Caitlin
Mara and Caitlin filling a jar with plankton

Also on our watch are two interns. Caitlin graduates at the end of the summer from University of Texas at Corpus Christi and is on the groundfish survey as part of her summer internship with the Center for Coastal Studies.  As part of her internship she dissected a few larger fish to examine their stomach contents, determining if that partially digested thing was a squid, crab, fish, etc.  The other member of our team is Mara Castro, from Puerto Rico where she is a graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan working on her Environmental Health Masters degree. She is doing an internship at the Pascagoula labs this summer and came out for this leg of the groundfish survey. Her favorite part of being on the boat is working with the fish, especially trying to identify them. She also loves the unusual fish we pull up, from transparent plankton to large shark suckers.

I have loved being out at sea for two weeks, but sometimes I felt a little trapped in such a small space. Then I would go up to the top deck, the flying bridge, and enjoy the view and the wind. It is a great place to watch the water and clouds and look for dolphins and birds. On a regular day on land I would move my body a lot more through normal activities like walking around the grocery store or climbing the stairs to the 3rd floor office at school. When I found myself with pent up energy I’d drag out the rowing machine or yoga mat that are stored up on the flying bridge to get some exercise. I have mixed feelings about reaching port tomorrow. I am ready to be on land again, but will miss all the people I have gotten to know and the beauty of the sea.

CDCPS Science Students

Where do you think the bongo nets got their name?

What does ” ichthyo” mean? Two words that use this root are ichthyoplankton and ichthyologist.

Beverly Owens: The Tenacity of a Scientist, June 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beverly Owens
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 24, 2013

Mission: Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat: Ground-truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical Area: Western North Atlantic
Date: June 11, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature:18.4 oC (65.12 oF)
Wind Speed: 24.56 knots (28.26 mph)

 

Science and Technology Log

The Tenacity of a Scientist

The science crew has been divided into two teams – the day watch (noon to midnight), and the night watch (midnight to noon). Those who are on “watch” are expected to be around the science labs while on duty. When TowCam is deployed, members of the science party on watch should be in the Dry Lab to monitor images and record data.

My watch is midnight to noon. Did I mention that my normal bedtime is 9:00? It will take a little while to get adjusted to this new schedule.

While the TowCam is in the water, the “Dry Lab” is bustling with activity. The TowCam operators, and some of the ship’s crew, ensure that the equipment is safely deployed. After lowering TowCam to a specified depth, control of TowCam is passed from the Bridge to the TowCam pilots. It is interesting to see how this large piece of machinery is operated. The pilot uses a joystick to raise or lower TowCam to the correct depth just above the ocean floor. In addition to the joystick controller, the pilot must also interpret data that is being recorded by TowCam or the ship. Knowing the wind speed, tension of the winch wire, altimetry, and depth are all variables that help the pilot to make the most informed decisions about the placement of TowCam.

Even with the best planning and most precise implementation, sometimes things go awry. For example, a cable may break, or the altimeter may not be registering correctly. During a research cruise such as this, spare parts, tools, and other materials must be packed for the voyage. There are no trips to the hardware store when you’re out in the middle of the ocean!

After yesterday’s practice dive, the engineers made some adjustments to TowCam so that it could work to its optimum capability. After adjustments have been made, a series of tests are run on TowCam to ensure that everything is working properly. After testing is complete, TowCam will be deployed again, allowing us another glimpse of the ocean floor.