Denise Harrington: Saying Farewell To NOAA Ship Pisces and the Pacscagoula Lab, May 12, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces (In Port)
May 04, 2016 – May 12, 2016

“Gross!”

“Is that an eyeball in its stomach?”

“Can I touch it?”

 

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I hear the inquiry skills of tomorrow’s scientists develop under the guidance of Fisheries Biologists Lisa Jones and Christian Jones during a recent shark dissection at the Pascagoula, Mississippi Laboratories of NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center. The NOAA mission of “Science, Service, and Stewardship” is taken very seriously as fishery biologists work with students of all ages to learn about our natural resources and how to understand and manage them wisely. But NOAA Fisheries doesn’t just educate people about science, they do research, provide national data collection, collaborate with other scientists, help make everything from nets to policies to help manage our scarce resources, and even sniff our fish to make sure it is safe to eat.

Science

Developing scientific methods to answer questions that can only be answered by collecting data, science, is the first of NOAA’s three part mission.  Kevin Rademacher, a Fisheries Biologist, uses his understanding of scientific inquiry and standardized data collection to inspire students.  He encourages students to consider characteristics, purpose, and habitat to expand their inquiry when they ask questions like why one shell spiky and the other one is smooth.

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Kevin shows students the head of an Atlantic cutlassfish.

Kevin’s deep understanding of the diversity of life in the Gulf of Mexico is obvious as he inspires students from nearby Pascagoula, and as far away as Tillamook, Oregon to learn more about the ocean and its inhabitants.

Stewardship

While Kevin, Christian and Lisa teach science, other students head outside to learn about stewardship. Stewardship, using sound science to protect and manage people and resources, is another component of NOAA’s mission. The Harvesting Systems Unit helps develop and test more efficient and environmentally friendly gear used to catch fish and other seafood.  For example, fishermen are happy to let other marine species like sea turtles escape from nets, leaving more room for the shrimp they are trying to catch and helping sea turtles at the same time.

Provide national fisheries gear engineering support in the development, fishery-dependent assessment and implementation of more efficient and environmentally friendly fishing gear;

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Here, Fisheries Methods and Equipment Specialist Warren Brown builds and makes changes to a Turtle Excluder Device using generations of family history in the shrimp trawling industry to guide his work.

By 1978, all five species of sea turtles in the northern Gulf of Mexico were on endangered or threatened species list, in no small part because of shrimp trawling methods.  Sea turtles, who need to take a breath of air at least every 55 minutes, would get caught in the nets and die.  NOAA responded to this problem by designing new equipment and gear meant to decrease the amount of by-catch, or other living things, shrimp trawlers and fisherman pulled up in their nets. A Turtle Excluder Device, or TED, allows sea turtles to escape from shrimp nets. Learn more about sea turtles and what you can do to help them through NOAA’s great educational resources.

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This sea turtle is escaping from a bottom opening TED!        Photo Credit: NOAA

Andre DeBose, Fisheries Biologist, educates, inspires, and engages students of all ages as they learn what it feels like to be an endangered sea turtle crawling out of a shrimp net through the TED.

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Andre DeBose shows students each component of the TED, how it was designed and how it works.

 

Service

The three components of NOAAs service, science, and stewardship mission are inseparable. While most scientists work in the field or educate others, the scientists in National Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) use good science to make sure the seafood we eat is good.

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Angela Ruple wears protective glasses to make sure the germs that grow in these petri dishes don’t get in her eyes!

Angela Ruple is the Lead Analyst at NSIL, keeping a close protected eye on any seafood that is tested for hazards like Salmonella and chemical contaminants.  She works with other government agencies and encourages food safety education programs such as the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s FightBac program, which uses fun games and other tools, to educate us about food hazards like bacteria.

Shannara Lynn is one of NOAA’s seafood detectives.  Untrustworthy seafood dealers may sell fish that are easy to catch as more expensive fish.  They will take a piece of less expensive ray or shark and pretend it is a scallop. But each species of fish has DNA and protein markers that make them unique.  Looking at proteins, Shannara can run 72 fish in 1 day to see if they match their label, but only 8 fish in 2 days using DNA analysis.  So, stores like Kroger, with lots of fish to test, might want to screen with protein banding first to make sure they aren’t getting hoodwinked.

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This graph I made is similar to the ones Shannara uses on the computer.  A shark (red line) has three characteristic protein peaks above the 500 unit line. The blue line represents a different species of fish. No match!

Cheryl Lassitter, Lead Chemist at NSIL, (pictured below) combined her mathematical, technological, and scientific skills, to make a library that makes the protein identification of each fish easy to find in a computer program.

All senses are used at NOAA’s Seafood Inspection Program (SIP) to test fish.  Susan Linn, Approving Officer for SIP, travels around the nation to teach seafood inspection testers to use the same vocabulary and methods when testing fish with their noses.  If it smells like “dirty socks,” it’s gone bad.

susan sniffing fish

Susan sniffs a salmon for freshness.  Photo courtesy of Kevin Rademacher.

Patience and Tenacity

Patience and tenacity do not start with an “S,” but these two life skills are what fuel the “Science, Service, and Stewardship,” three part mission of NOAA aboard the Pisces.

When told there was a problem that would delay our departure, I asked to “see it.” What I learned over the next ten days is that science requires precision, complex tools, experts working in teams, and lots of money.  Brent Jones, Chief Engineer and Augmenter William Osborn, showed patience and tenacity as they helped me understand some of the unique features of the power system for the Pisces.

CLICK ON PICTURES BELOW TO MAKE THEM BIGGER AND TO READ ABOUT PARTS OF THE POWER SYSTEM.

 

For fisheries science, the boat has to be quiet in the water.  A simple diesel engine would have been easy to fix, but would scare away many of the fish that scientists are trying to study. Second graders use their “fox feet” in our outdoor classroom, and Pisces scientists use a stealthy diesel electric engine, to sneak up on their specimens.   The unique ship requires experts capable of finding problems in a maze of technology without major calamity.

Once again, the more questions I asked, the more questions I had.  The problems were in the SCR drives, behind big gray panels.  Diodes convert AC power to DC power and the SCR drives smooth out and clean up the pulses of power.

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How fortunate I was to meet Eric Richards, from VT Halter Marine, who built Pisces and  drew this block diagram, and gave me a builder’s perspective on how the ship operates.

Somewhere in a room of grey closets filled with live wires, pulsing with 600 volts of electricity, was the problem that kept Pisces from sailing.  As long as I worked as a Teacher in Port, the problem hid like a second grader after the recess whistle blew.

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Here Chief Engineer Brent Jones, “Chief,” sensing my desire to get my hands on the problem, tells me to stay away from the SCR drives. Photo credit: William Osborn

The Reef Fish Survey has four parts or legs.  During the first leg, the motor died a couple times while at sea.  Fortunately, the crew was able to shut down the engine and restart it.  If something like this happened when pulling into a tight space, the ramifications could be scary.

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Commanding Officer, Commander William Mowitt, Field Party Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher, and Junior Officer Nathan Gilliam have one of many brainstorming meetings as they figure out how to tackle mechanical problems and reschedule surveys, so that they can collect the scientific data needed to complete the Reef Fish Survey on time.

Experts took a systematic approach to solving the intermittent problem, complicated by a limited budget, with equanimity. Yet they could not solve the problem fast enough to go on leg two or three of the survey. Now, Kevin Rademacher, the Field Party Chief Scientist has to negotiate other ways to collect the data required for the last two legs of the survey. Junior Officer Nathan Gillman summed it up as follows, “with science, nothing goes according to plan, but it gets done.”

Personal Log

While Pisces ultimately never left port, I imagine that I learned a broader scope of the role NOAA plays in protecting and managing our ocean resources on land than I would have at sea. Thank you, Kevin Rademacher, for showing me the port side of NOAA while juggling a crazy, changing schedule, and teaching me about many intriguing aspects of fisheries science. I also send a big thank you to the scientists in the lab who have inspired me to continue asking curious questions, and to encourage students to embrace science and technology. Thanks to the ship engineers who showed me how the ship works, and sometimes doesn’t. Thank you Keigm and Eric Richards, for showing me the path less traveled.

Thank you to Daeh Kujak, Second Grade Teacher, Karen Thenell, Principal, South Prairie Elementary, and our superintendent Randy Schild for being so flexible and supportive, allowing me to become inspired, ocean literate, and an advocate for our limited natural resources. Thank you TAS administrators for creating a life changing program that inspires teachers and students by getting us out in the field with scientists. It takes the whole team to manage our limited ocean resources, and to educate our leaders of tomorrow.  Thanks to the team, I can see the significant, beneficial difference in how I learn and teach.

Andrea Schmuttermair: Farewell, Kodiak, July 25, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 6 – 25, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 25, 2015

Science and Technology Log

It is hard to believe we are wrapping up this leg of the journey. While our focus has been on the walleye pollock for this survey, we have encountered some other critters in our midwater and bottom trawls, and on our nightly DropCam excursions. We’ve even had some neat finds in our Methot net. There is quite a diverse ecosystem both in and out of water around Kodiak, and I’d like to take a moment to highlight some of the critters we’ve caught in our trawls and on camera.

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One other neat thing happened on one of our final trawls of the leg. We caught several Dusky rockfish in our bottom trawl, and they were easy to spot as we sorted the trawl because of the large size and dark color. Several of these rockfish had bloated bellies as well. Being the curious scientists we were, we decided to dissect a couple of the rockfish to find out why. Some of them had very inflated swim bladders, while others turned out to be very pregnant females. We pulled out the ovaries, and they were about the size of a water balloon! Millions of tiny eggs poured out of one that we accidentally nicked with the scalpel. We took some of those and looked at them under the microscope. Rockfish are actually viviparous, which means they give birth to live young.

 

Did you know? The Arctic lamprey’s life cycle is similar to salmon. They are born in freshwater, leave for the ocean, and return to the same freshwater they were born in to spawn.

Personal Log

Once again, my experience as a Teacher at Sea has amazed me, and I have taken away so many great experiences I can’t wait to share with my students. While the science was quite different on the Oscar Dyson  in comparison with the Groundfish Survey on the Oregon II, there are many similarities in the experiences themselves which make this a valuable program for educators. I formed relationships and made connections with people I may never have encountered, and these relationships have been (and will continue to be) invaluable to my teaching.

The fearless navigators of the Oscar Dyson and I on our final day.

The fearless navigators of the Oscar Dyson and me on our final day.

Here are just a few of the things I learned while out at sea:

  • Science is everywhere! From the lab, to the bridge, to the engineering rooms, there is science in everything we do!
  • Push-ups are a little more difficult in 4ft swells.
  • Even in the field, scientists are making (and verbalizing) hypotheses, and they are always asking questions about the work they are doing, even in the middle of an experiment or project.
  • Alaska has an abundance of jellyfish in all colors and sizes.
  • The shape of an otolith is unique for every species of fish.
  • Everyone looks funny when they are trying to walk during rough seas, even the experienced sea folk.
  • Different types of scientists work together toward a common goal, each bringing their unique backgrounds to the work they are doing.
  • Trust is crucial when you live and work on a ship, as each person on board is a member of a team; that team is like your family.
  • Everyone has a story. Take a moment, and find it out.

I want to thank everyone that works on the Oscar Dyson for making this experience a memorable one. I enjoyed working with everyone on board, and will cherish the relationships I formed.

This final post wouldn’t be complete without Wilson, our infamous shark who had fun on his trip too. Here he is highlighting his adventures with all the people and places on board the Oscar Dyson!

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Bill Lindquist: The Small Boats, May 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 10, 2013

Weather on board. Taken at 1600 (4:00 in the afternoon)
Latitude: 55° 47.29’ N; Longitude 130° 58.27’ W

Broken skies with a visibility of 10+ nautical miles
Wind from the west at 15 knots
Air temperature 12.6° C
Sea temperature  8.9° C

Science and Technology Log: The Small Boats

Yesterday the ship captured most of the ocean basin using its multibeam sonar equipment located on the bottom of the ship. Today we set out in smaller launches that could take us to the sections of the ocean the big ship couldn’t. Three teams were deployed, each containing a coxswain (person who has the skills to handle the boat), senior hydrology technician (in charge of the survey work to be done), and several others to help – one boat of which was gracious enough to take along a rookie “Teacher of the Sea” to experience first hand the work involved.

Moving the launch off the ship into the sea.

Moving the launch off the ship into the sea.

Trying out driving the boat is a prescribed line (harder than it would appear).

Trying out driving the boat in a prescribed line (harder than it would appear).

We all met on the fantail (rear deck) of the ship at 6:30 AM to go over the work that lays ahead. From there the launches were lowered off the ship, we entered, were released, and off we went. While still in the early morning low tide we examined the shoreline to verify the existence or non-existence of rocks in question from the last survey. We conducted our surveys throughout the rest of the day in areas not able to be accessed by the larger ship. Each launch is also equipped with multibeam sonar units on the bottom of the boat (image) and a plotting computer on board. As with the ship, the computer measures and controls for location (GPS); heave, pitch, and roll; and the temperature and salinity of the water column below our boat.

The multibeam sonar units on the bottom of the launch.

The multibeam sonar units on the bottom of the launch.

The plotting computer aboard the launch.

The plotting computer aboard the launch.

The work is similar, yet has a different feel. Unlike the automated features on the ship, a control panel allows the surveyor to hand tune variables that will help assure the best measurements. We can control the strength of the sound waves leaving the boat, the frequency of pings, wave length, and the degree of sweep that will be collected. Doing so allows us to maintain sufficient strength to capture tbe bottom, but not so overpowering that we lose the finer details such as the makeup of the bottom. Each boat sets a path back and forth at a speed of 7-10 knots in the sections assigned by the FOO (Field Operations Officer). This is repeated until each section is covered. This takes a concerted and collaborative effort between the coxswain and technicians. When surveying from the ship, the Moving Vessel Profiler’s fish can be cast by the push of a button at the computer in the Plotting lab. Not so on the launch. After bringing the boat to a stop, we lift over the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) instrument. We allow it to drop to the bottom before we turn on the winch to reel it back in. It is lifted out and attached to a cable connected to the computer where the data is downloaded.

The CTD sensor unit

The CTD sensor unit

Deploying the CTD

Deploying the CTD

One of the screens on the plotting computer indicates the areas that have been surveyed (in blue) and where the ship is.

One of the screens on the plotting computer indicates the areas that have been surveyed (in blue) and where the ship is.

Before we get back to the ship, we download the day’s data to an external hard drive and hand it off to another crew that begins the job of cleaning the data to be pieced together with all the other sections of data. We end with one complete picture of the project area.

Life at sea

There are 46 people living and working on board the ship. The launches go out with a smaller group of 4. Spending all day on a small boat with three other people necessitates attention to clear communication channels. The waves continually keep the boat in motion providing a challenge to manipulate the mouse and detail on the computer screen. In between there are many moments of quiet allowing for conversation and banter. It is in those moments you get to know one another better and forge strong relationships. This close community is evident among the crew on board. Such is the allure of sea life.

Sunny days

In anticipation of a trip to SE Alaska, I did a bit of research on what kind of weather to expect. Ketchikan is in a rain forest and noted for being the rainiest city in the United States with an average rainfall of 160 inches a year.  Since my arrival, I have enjoyed sunshine and calm seas. People have assured me how unusual this is and to expect a change. The forecast for tomorrow suggest the change will arrive. Seems to experience life at sea without a bout of inclement weather would not allow full appreciation of the grandeur we have had. I will take them both expecting there will be equal beauty in the rain and clouds.

I continue to be amazed at the majesty of the landscape.

I continue to be amazed at the majesty of the landscape.

Susan Kaiser: Safety and Teamwork Needed for Success, July 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday, July 27, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 41 min N
Longitude:  82 deg 59 min W
Wind Speed: 5.61 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 30.33 C
Air Temperature: 29.33 C
Relative Humidity: 79.0%

Science and Technology Log

Close up of the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Close up of the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Safety is first in the science classroom AND on board the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster too. Our expected departure was delayed by one day because the Public Announcement (PA) system was not working. Without the PA system, communication about emergency situations would not be possible. The ship’s crew worked to solve the problem themselves and also contacted outside help, but in the end a part had to be replaced so we stayed in port at Key West an extra day. Ships don’t sail without meeting safety requirements. By morning on Friday the system was working fine and the crew prepared to set sail.

Lt Josh Slater leads the science team safety briefing in the dry lab.

After boarding the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster one of our first tasks was to review the safety protocols of the ship with one of the ship’s officers.  We learned the whistle signals for man overboard (3 prolonged blasts of the alarm), fire (1 continuous blast of the alarm) and abandon ship (7 or more short blasts followed by 1 long blast) and the designated places to report in these situations. We will be practicing abandon ship in a drill very soon so I will report on that later. Since the ship works on a 24 hour schedule someone is always awake on board which means someone is always asleep too.  Lt. Slater stressed the importance of not being too loud and showing respect for others’ space.  After all this ship is home to the crew and the science team are guests in that home.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers ENS Jamie Park, ENS Michael Doig and Lt Josh Slater (hidden), inspect diving equipment.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers ENS Jamie Park, ENS Michael Doig and Lt Josh Slater (hidden), inspect diving equipment.

Teamwork is critical on board the ship. The science team and the ship’s crew work closely to help each other achieve the best results and stay safe. Most of the data collected on this cruise uses divers. Twice each day, the science team meets to review the Plan of the Day or POD. This meeting allows team members to learn the expectations of them to meet the research objectives of the day. They also have the chance to provide input or to ask questions. What do you think is a main focus of this meeting?  You got it…Safety! While we waited for the PA system repair, the scientists checked their SCUBA gear again under the supervision of the ship’s crew members. This double-check insures all the equipment is safe to use.

After we steamed away from the keys, the scientists did a practice dive to simulate an unconscious diver at the surface. This drill included 5 science team divers as well as the ship’s crew and allowed them to practice their response in an emergency situation as well as deploying a small boat. A debriefing meeting afterward helped to identify the important tasks that need to be completed in the event of an emergency.   Practicing through drills allows a quick response to an unusual situation and helps everyone stay safe.

Unconscious diver drill. Pictured Ben Binder, Lt. Slater, and Chris Rawley. Sarah Fangman, who acts as the unconscious diver, is in the boat.

With the safety issues well-covered, the science team is ready to begin retrieving the “listening stations” called VR2s from their positions on the ocean floor tomorrow.  VR2 stands for Vemco Receiver 2 and is the model of the equipment used by the scientists use to collect fish movement information.  What do you think the “listening stations” are listening for? Read about the “listening stations” in a future posting of my blog. For now you can make an educated guess by reading for hints in this blog and answering this poll.

Personal Log

Mrs. Kaiser at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport ready to start her NOAA Teacher at Sea adventure!

Flying out of Reno, NV the plane took off heading south climbing quickly into the sky.  From my window seat I could see Pine Middle School below. Then after a quick glimpse of Lake Tahoe to the west, the plane turned gracefully eastward. As I looked down I could see the desert valleys that once lay beneath the ancient Pleistocene lakes, covering a good part of the Great Basin with water. Although it doesn’t seem possible, one can still find shells and marine fossils in these now desert locations. I thought how different the landscape is today compared to the distant past. Our environment is undergoing constant changes even though the processes may seem slow and may not be noticed from day to day.

This is why it is important to observe, record and think about all aspects of our environment and to be aware of small changes so we can predict if they may become big impacts. Soon I would be landing in Florida, a state very different from Nevada, and joining the science team aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. This team is one of many that makes observations of their marine ecosystem, recording data and interpreting any changes or patterns they notice. I am very pleased to join them for the next 2 weeks and expect to learn a great deal.

Greeting me at the airport were artistic decorations made of models of tropical fish found along the Florida coast.  High on the walls, they are creatively arranged in geometric patterns reminding me of synchronized swimmers competing in the Summer Olympics. These fish are more than art. They represent an important economic factor to Florida. They lure tourists for diving and snorkeling activities. Some of them are harvested for food or fished for sport. They are also important to the ecosystems of the coastal reefs and shore communities of Florida. I wonder what changes these scientists are seeing in this marine ecosystem. What are the solutions they will propose to the public? How can a balanced management meet the needs of people who live and work there? These are difficult questions to answer.

Great Basin at 30,000 ft. This area would have been covered with small lakes during the Pleistocene period.

It is dark when I arrive finally in Key West but a scientist meets me at the airport and drives me to the ship where I find my bunk and spend the night! Everyone has been very kind and helpful which makes participating in NOAA Teacher at Sea even more amazing – if that is even possible!

Alicia Gillean: Adventures in Dredging; July 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alicia Gillean
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 27 – July 7, 2012

 

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic; Georges Bank
Date: Sunday, July 1, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 40 48.43 N
Longitude: 068 04.06W
Relative Wind Speed: 8.9 Knots
Air Temperature: 17.61 degrees C
Humidity: 92%
Surface Seawater Temperature: 16 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

Dump dredge

Dumping dredge onto sorting table

My last shifts have been a mix of HabCam work and dredging. Remember, dredging is when we drag a heavy-duty net along the ocean floor for fifteen minutes, then bring it up and record what ocean critters we catch.  Dredging involves a lot more physical work and is much dirtier than flying the HabCam, so time goes much faster when we are dredging and it’s exciting to see what we will catch.  However, it is also kind of sad to see all the animals we bring up in the dredge, because most of them are dead or will soon be dead.  You can watch a video about sea scallop dredging here and here.

There are three two-week legs to this sea scallop survey.  I am on the last leg.  Before the first leg began, a computer program, with the assistance of a few people, decided which spots in the sea scallop habitat we should dredge and fly the HabCam.  These points were all plotted on a computerized map and the chief scientist connects the dots and decides the best route for the ship to take to make it to all the designated stations in the available time.

Here’s how our typical dredging process works:

About 10 minutes before we reach a dredge station, the Captain radios the lab from the Bridge (fancy name for the place at the top of the ship where the Captain and his crew work their magic) to let us know we are approaching our station.  At this point, I get on a computer in the dry lab to start a program that keeps track of our dredge position, length of tow, etc.  I enter data about the weather and check the depth of our dredge station.  When the engineer and Captain are ready, they radio the lab and ask for our depth and how much wire they need to send out to lower the dredge to the ocean floor.  I get the wire length from a chart hanging in the dry lab that is based on the depth of the ocean at the dredge site and use the radio to tell the engineer, who lets out that amount of wire until the dredge is on the ocean floor.  When the dredge hits the ocean floor, I use the computer program to start timing for 15 minutes and notify them when it is time to bring the dredge back up.

Alicia sorting fish

Alicia sorting the haul

The lab technicians and engineer raise and dump the dredge on a giant metal table, then secure it for the scientists to come in and begin sorting the haul.  Meanwhile, the scientists get dressed in foul weather gear to prepare for the messy job ahead.  That means I’m wearing yellow rubber overalls, black steel-toed rubber boots, blue rubber gloves, and a lovely orange lifejacket for each dredge.  Sometimes I add a yellow rubber jacket to the mix, too.  Science is not a beauty contest and I’m grateful for the protection!  Each scientist grabs two orange baskets, one large white bucket, and one small white bucket and heads to the table. The lab technicians shovel the catch toward each scientist as we sort.  Scallops go in one orange basket, fish go in the white bucket, crabs go in the small white bucket (sometimes), and everything else goes into the other orange basket.  This is considered “trash” and is thrown back overboard, but the watch chief keeps track of how many baskets of “trash” are thrown overboard during each haul and enters it into a computer database along with other data. After sorting the haul, much of the data collection takes place in lab called a “van”.

Research Van

Research “van” where we gather data from haul

The fish are sorted by species, counted, weighed, sometimes measured, and entered into a special computer system that tracks data from the hauls.  Sometimes we also collect and count crabs and sea stars.  The baskets of sea scallops are counted and weighed, and then individual scallops are measured on a special magnetic measuring board.  You lay the scallop on the measuring board, touch the magnet to the board at the end of the scallop, and the length is automatically entered into the database.    Some hauls have lots of sea scallops and some don’t have very many.  We had a couple hauls that were almost completely sand dollars and one that was almost completely sea stars.  I learned that sea stars can be quite slimy when they are stressed. I had no idea!

Sand dollar dresge

Dredge haul with LOTS of sand dollars

Sometimes my watch chief, Sean, will select a subsample of five sea scallops for us to scrub clean with a wire brush.

Alicia scrub scallops

Alicia scrubbing scallops at about 11pm

Next, we weigh and measure all five sea scallops before cutting them open to determine the gender.  We remove the gonad (the reproductive organ) and weigh it, then do the same with the “meat” (the muscle that allows the scallop to open and close its shell and the part people like to eat).  All of this information is recorded and each scallop is given a number.  We write the number on each shell half and bag and tag the shells.  The shells and data will be given to a scientist on shore that has requested them for additional research.  The scallop shells can be aged by counting the rings, just like counting the rings on a tree.

Alicia scrub scallops 2

Scrubbing scallops is dirty work!

Meanwhile, other people are hosing off the deck, table, buckets, and baskets used.  The dredge ends by shucking the scallops and saving the meat for meals later.  A successful dredge requires cooperation and communication between scientists, lab technicians, the Captain, and the crew. It requires careful attention to detail to make sure the data collected is accurate. It also requires strategic planning before the voyage even begins.  It’s an exciting process to be a part of and it is interesting to think about the different types of information that can be collected about the ocean from the HabCam versus the dredge.

Personal Log

Hallway to shower

Hallway to the shower and bathroom

Living on a ship is kind of like living in a college dorm again: shared room with bunkbeds, communal shower and bathroom down the hall, and meals prepared for you.  I can’t speak to the food prepared by the steward (cook) Paul, as I haven’t been able to eat much of it yet (I’m finally starting to get a handle on the seasickness, but I’m not ready for tuna steaks and lima beans just yet), but I do appreciate that the galley (mess hall) is open all the time for people to rummage through the cabinets for crackers, cereal, and other snacks. There’s even an entire freezer full of ice cream sandwiches, bars, etc.  If my husband had known about the ice cream, he probably would have packed himself in my duffel bag for this adventure at sea!

Taking a shower at sea is really not much different than taking a shower at the gym or in a college dorm… in the middle of a small earthquake. Actually, it’s really not too bad once you get used to the rock  of the ship.  On the floor where the scientists’ berths (rooms) are, there are also two heads (bathrooms) and two showers.  The ship converts ocean water into water that we can use on the ship for showering, washing hands, etc.  through a process called reverse osmosis.  Sea water is forced through a series of filters so small that not even the salt in the water can fit through.  I was afraid that I might be taking cold showers, but there is a water heater on board, too!   We are supposed to take “Navy showers”, which means you get wet, press a button on the shower head to stop the water while you scrub, then press the button to turn the water back on to rinse.  I’ll admit that I find myself forgetting about this sometimes, but I’m getting much better!

Shower

Shower on Hugh R Sharp

Today there was about an hour and a half of “steam” time while we headed to our next dredge location and had nothing official to do.  Some of the people on my watch watched a movie in the galley, but I decided to head to one of the upper decks and enjoy the gorgeous views of ocean in every direction.  I was awarded by a pod of about 15 common dolphins jumping out of the water next to the ship!

I’m starting to get a feel for the process of science at sea and am looking forward to the new adventures that tomorrow might bring!

Question of the Day

Which way do you think is the best way to learn about the sea scallop population and ocean life in general: dredging or HabCam?  Why do you think so?

 You can share your thoughts, questions, and comments in the comments section below.

Heather Haberman: Science and Life at Sea, July 16, 2011 (post #5)

  • NOAA Teacher at Sea
    Heather Haberman

    Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
    July 5 — 17, 2011

Mission:  Groundfish Survey
Geographical Location:  Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weather Data from  NOAA Ship Tracker
Air Temperature: 28.5 C   (83 F)
Water Temperature: 27.2 C  (81 F)
Relative Humidity: 82%
Wind Speed: 9.58 knots

Preface:  Scroll down the page if you would like to read my blog in chronological order.  If you have any questions leave them for me at the end of the post.

Science and Technology Log

Question of the day:  When I view your travels aboard the Oregon II on NOAA’s Ship Tracker website it looks as though you go as far as the continental shelf and then turn back towards the shore again.  Why don’t you go into the deep water?

Our groundfish survey course.

Answer:  If you were studying animals in the rainforest you would want to make sure to stay in that specific area.  You wouldn’t want to include Arctic animals in your report which are from a completely different biome.  The same goes for ocean life.  As depth, temperature, and amount of light change in the ocean so do the habitats and the animals that live in them.  On this groundfish survey we are focusing on offshore species that live in “shallow” waters up to 60 fathoms (361 feet).  If we were to go out into the deep water then our reports wouldn’t be as accurate.

Topic of the Day:  Science

What is science?  Can you come up with a good definition?  Difficult isn’t it.  There are many definitions that refer to science as the study of the natural world, systematic knowledge, etc. but something that’s often left out of the definition is that it can be used to make predictions.

We have all been conducting scientific experiments since we were old enough to formulate questions about our environment: “Will this ball bounce?”,  “Can I get it to bounce higher?”,  “Will ball #1 bounce higher than ball #2?”  The knowledge we have collected from these experiments allow us to make accurate predictions.  “I think ball #2 would be better for playing tennis than ball #1.”  Now keep in mind, the more we know about a subject, the better our predictions will be.

The more information we have the better our predictions become. Image: http://www.exploratorium.edu/baseball/bouncing_balls.html

Did you know that the ocean covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface but more than 95% of it remains unexplored.  This means we have a lot to learn if we want to accurately predict the relationships between the ocean, the atmosphere and the living things on our planet. To address these gaps in our knowledge, thousands of people working for the government, universities and private industries, are trying to collect the information we need to make the most accurate predictions possible.  Perhaps by expanding our knowledge we will be better equipped to formulate some solutions to the problems we have created in the seas such as  pollution (particularly plastics), climate change and overfishing.  These issues are drastically changing oceanic ecosystems which in turn affect the life on our planet.

The beautiful Pacific Ocean. Image: Universe Today

A new venture into deep ocean exploration. Image: ZD Net

One thing that sets science apart from other arenas is that is it based on verifiable evidence.  We are not talking about video footage of bigfoot or pictures of UFO’s here, we are talking about evidence that is easily confirmed by further examination or research.  I don’t think many people consider all of the expertise that goes into collecting this kind of scientific data–it’s not just scientists.

Not all evidence is verifiable.

Onboard the Oregon II there are engineers that make sure the ship and all its parts are functional, skilled fishermen that operate the cranes and trawling equipment, officers from the NOAA Corps that navigate and assist the captain in commanding the ship, cooks that feed a hungry crew and the scientists.  Conducting scientific research is a team effort that requires a variety of skilled personnel.

NOAA Corps member Ensign Brian Adornado with a nautical chart that's used for navigating our ships course.

Too often people underestimate the amount of time and labor that actually goes into collecting the information we have about our planet and its inhabitants.  In fact, many people dismiss scientific evidence as unimportant and trivial when in actuality it is based on the most technologically advanced methods that are available.  Scientific data, and conclusions derived from the data, are peer-reviewed (looked at by others in the field) before it is published or presented to the general public.

This is why it is so important to take heed to the reports about the changes taking place in the ocean’s waters. Without the data from NASA’s satellites in the sky,  NOAA’s ships on the sea and other sources too numerous to mention, we wouldn’t know the extent of the damage that’s being done to the ocean.

Chlorophyll concentrations in the ocean. Image: NASA satellite SeaWIFS

NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program has clearly demonstrated how good science is done.  I experienced first hand the importance of random sampling, scientific classification of organisms, repeating trials to ensure the accuracy of results, team work, safety, publishing data for the public to review and always having backup equipment.  I’m looking forward to sharing these experiences with my students.  Thank you NOAA!

Personal log:

My time aboard the Oregon II is coming to an end.  We have finished up our last stations and cleaned up the workrooms.  Now its back to Pascagoula, Mississippi.  It has been a wonderful experience!  For those of you that are wondering what I did each day on the ship it was pretty routine.

9:00 AM : Go to the galley for some juice and coffee.  Hot breakfast ends at 8:00 AM but they always have cereal and fresh fruit to eat.  In the galley there are two tables that each seat six people.  At the end of each table is a small TV so we can watch the news, our anything else that happens to be on DirectTV.

This is a picture of my room. I have the bottom bunk and my roommate sleeps on the top. The curtains are very nice for privacy since we work different shifts.

There is a bathroom (head) that my roommate and I share with our two neighbors. Each room has its own entry door to the bathroom.

This is the galley where all of our meals are served. It's also stocked with lots of yummy snacks and drinks!

9:30 AM:  After some coffee, juice and conversation I head upstairs to the lounge so I can check my e-mail and work on my blog.  The lounge has some comfortable seats, a big TV, lots of 8mm movies, two computers for the fishermen, and an internet cord for laptops.  Usually David, the ornithologist (bird scientist), is here working when I arrive so we usually chat for a while.

This is the lounge.

11:00 AM:  Lunch time!  everyday the chefs make amazing food for us to eat.  They’ve served bbq ribs, prime rib, turkey, quail, crab cakes, shrimp, mahi-mahi, ham, crab legs, pork loin, steaks and lots of other amazing side dishes and desserts.  Both chefs are retired from the Navy where they were also cooks.

12:00 noon: Head to the dry lab to start my shift.  At the start of every shift Brittany, our team leader, writes down all of the stations we will be going to as well as how many miles it takes to get there.

This is the "dry lab" where we spend our time waiting for the next trawl or plankton station. In this room there are computers dedicated to navigation, depth imagery and fisheries data.

5:00 PM:  Supper time!  Back to the galley for some more excellent food!

12:00 midnight:  Night crew comes in to relieve us from our 12 hour shift.  I quietly enter my room so I don’t wake up my roommate and hit the shower.  Then it’s to the rack (my bunk bed) with some ear plugs to block out the sounds of the engine.  The slow rocking of the waves makes a person fall asleep quickly after a long day at work.