Cecelia Carroll: Visit with the NOAA Corps Officers, May 10, 2017                   

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cecelia Carroll

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

May 2 – 13, 2017 

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl

Geographic Area: Northeastern Atlantic

Date: May 10, 2017

Latitude: 42 54.920N
Longitude:  069 42.690
Heading:  295.1 degrees
Speed:  12.2 KT
Conditions: Clear

Science and Technology

I am on the day schedule which is from noon to midnight.  Between stations tonight is a long steam so I took the opportunity with this down time to visit the bridge where the ship is commanded.  The NOAA Corps officers supplied a brief history of the corp and showed me several of the instrument panels which showed the mapping of the ocean floor.

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps, known informally as the NOAA Corps, is one of seven federal uniformed services of the United States, and operates under the National Oceanic  and Atmospheric Administration, a scientific agency within the Office of Commerce.

“The NOAA Corps is part of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) and traces its roots to the former U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, which dates back to 1807 and President Thomas Jefferson.”(1)

During the Civil War, many surveyors of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey stayed on as surveyors to either join with the Union Army where they were enlisted into the Army, or with the Union Navy, where they remained as civilians, in which case they could be executed as spies if captured. With the approach of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson, to avoid the situation where surveyors working with the armed forces might be captured as spies, established the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Corps.

During WWI and World War II, the Corps abandoned their peacetime activities to support the war effort with their technical skills.  In 1965 the Survey Corps was transferred to the United States Environmental Science Services Administration and in 1979, (ESSA) and in 1970 the ESSA was redesignated as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and so became the NOAA Corps.

“Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA.” (1)

“The combination of commissioned service with scientific and operational expertise allows the NOAA Corps to provide a unique and indispensable service to the nation. NOAA Corps officers enable NOAA to fulfill mission requirements, meet changing environmental concerns, take advantage of emerging technologies, and serve as environmental first responders.” (1)

There are presently 321 officers, 16 ships, and 10 aircraft.


We are steaming on a course that has been previously mapped which should allow us to drop the net in a safe area when we reach the next station.

The ship’s sonar is “painting” the ocean floor’s depth.  The dark blue is the deepest depth.


The path of the ship is highlighted.  The circles are the stations to drop the nets for a sample of the fish at that location.


This monitor shows the depth mapped against time.


This monitor also showing the depth.


A view inside the bridge at dusk.


The full moon rising behind the ship ( and a bit of cloud )


What can you do ?

  • When I asked “What can I tell my students who have an interest in NOAA ?”

If you have an interest in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts you might begin with investigating a Cooperative Observer Program, NOAA’s National Weather Service.

“More than 8,700 volunteers take observations on farms, in urban and suburban areas, National Parks, seashores, and mountaintops. The data are truly representative of where people live, work and play”.(2)

Did you know:

The NOAA Corps celebrates it 100 Year Anniversary this May 22, 2017!

Cute catch:

  1. Bobtail Squid

This bobtail squid displays beautiful colors!  (3 cm)


View from the flying bridge.


On the flying deck!



Bibliography

1. https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-corps/about

2. http://www.nws.noaa.gov/os/coop/what-is-coop.html

3.   http://www.history.noaa.gov/legacy/corps_roots.html

Kimberly Scantlebury: The Night Shift, May 10, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Scantlebury

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 1-May 12, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 10, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 15:36

Latitude: 2804.2177  N, Longitude: 9042.0070 W

Wind Speed: 10.2 knots, Barometric Pressure: 1016.8 hPa

Air Temperature: 26.1 C, Water Temperature: 24.89 C

Salinity: 36.49 PSU, Conditions: Some cloud, light wind, 2-4 foot waves

Science and Technology Log

Research vessels do not just work during the day. It is a 24/7 operation. Tonight I checked in with the night shift to learn more about the sonar mapping that has been done in the dark ever since I boarded NOAA Ship Pisces.

IMG_3081

Algebra I level math in action!

The first thing I noticed entering the dry lab was a pad of paper with math all over it. Todd, the survey technician I interviewed earlier, had noticed the the picture the ship’s sonar was producing had a curved mustache-like error in the image. Details like temperature need to be taken into account because water has different properties in different conditions that affect how sound waves and light waves move through it. He used the SOH-CAH-TOA law to find the speed of sound where the face of the transducer head was orientated. He found a six meter difference between the laser angle and what the computer was calculating. Simple trigonometry on a pad of paper was able to check what an advanced computer system was not.

NOAA Ship Pisces is also equipped with an advanced multibeam sonar. (Sonar stands for SOund NAvigation and Ranging.) In fact, there are only eight like it in the world. One of Todd’s goals before he retires from NOAA is to tweak it and write about it so other people know more about operating it. Since they are so few and you need to go to them, there are fewer publications about it.

Another mapping device is the side scan sonar. It is towed behind the vessel and creates a 300 meter picture with a 50 meter blind spot in the center, which is what is underneath the device. Hydrographic vessels have more sonars to compensate for this blind spot. The purpose of the mapping is to identify new habitat areas, therefore expanding the sampling universe of the SEAMAP Reef Fish Surveys.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Up on the bridge looks much different. The lights are off and monitors are covered with red film to not ruin the crew’s night vision. Everything is black or red, with a little green coming from the radar displays. This is to see boats trying to cross too close in front of NOAA Ship Pisces or boats with their lights off. Lieutenant Noblitt and Ensign Brendel are manning the ship.

Ensign Brendel noted to me that, “We have all of this fancy equipment, but the most important equipment are these here binoculars.” They are always keeping a lookout. The technology on board is built for redundancy. There are two of most everything and the ship’s location is also marked on paper charts in case the modern equipment has problems.

There are international rules on the water, just like the rules of the road. The difference is there are no signs out here and it is even less likely you know who is following them. Each boat or ship has a series of lights that color codes who they are or what they are doing. Since NOAA Ship Pisces is restricted in maneuverability at night due to mapping, they have the right of way in most cases. It is also true that it takes longer for larger vessels to get out of the way of a smaller vessel, especially in those instances that the smaller one tries to pass a little too close. This did happen the night before. It reminds me of lifeguarding. It is mostly watching, punctuated with moments of serious activity where training on how to remain calm, collected, and smart is key.

Personal Log

It has been a privilege seeing and touching many species I have not witnessed before. Adding to the list of caught species is bonito (Sarda sarda) and red porgy (Pagrus pagrus). I always think it is funny when the genus and species is the same name. We have also seen Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) jumping around. There are 21 species of marine mammals indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico, most in deep water off of the continental shelf. I also learned that there are no seals down here.

One of the neatest experiences this trip was interacting with a sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates). It has a pad that looks like a shoe’s sole that grips to create a suction that sticks them to their species of choice. The one we caught prefers hosts like sharks, turtles…and sometimes science teachers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Did You Know?

Fishing boats use colored lights to indicate what kind of fishing they are doing, as the old proverb goes red over white fishing at night, green over white trawling tonight. Vessels also use international maritime signal flags for communication during the day.

Mark Wolfgang: If a Fish Laughs in the Ocean and No One is There to Hear it, Does it Really Make a Sound? April 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Wolfgang

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

April 11 – April 22, 2017

 

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species (Anchovy/Sardine) Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean

Date: April 21, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Lat: 38o 2.4’N        Long: 123o 6.2’W
Air Temperature: 13.9oC (57oF)
Water Temperature: 12.9oC (55oF)
Wind speed: 12 knots (13.8 mph)
Barometer:   1014.97 mbar
Conditions:  Clear skies and the seas are pretty smooth

Scientific and Technology Log:

DSC00196

The Acoustics room on the Reuben Lasker

Today, I decided to learn more about the other key research part of the Coastal Pelagic Survey.  As the trawling is happening at night and the egg and larval collections during the day, acousticians are listening to what is below us.  Using this information, research scientists can assess the population of coastal pelagic species (CPS).  The acoustics room is full of stacks of computers, servers, monitors and organized wires.  NOAA researchers collect enormous amounts of data as we move down the 80 mile transects across the Pacific Ocean.  On this leg, we have not found many large schools of sardines or anchovies, but the data from acoustic-sampling did lead us to some jack mackerel.  I am going to try to explain some of the technology they use on the Reuben Lasker.reuben-lasker-acoustic-sampling

Simrad EK60 and EK80:  These are two sonar systems that use multiple frequencies to listen to the ocean right below the ship.  In the diagram, it is seen in green.  The EK80 is newer and is being tested on the Reuben Lasker.  It collects enormous amounts of data and acousticians are looking at how best to use that data.

Simrad ME70: This multibeam sonar (seen in orange in the diagram) listens to the water below and around the ship.  It would almost look like a fan.  This does not only tell us what is below, but what is beside the ship as well.

DSC00191

The Simrad ME70

Simrad SX90: This is a long-range sonar (shown in gray) that looks at the surface for a good distance around the ship.  When I was there, they were analyzing 450 meter radius around the ship.  This is where the UAS would come in to use.  If a school of sardines or anchovies are seen on this sonar, they could possibly deploy the drone to fly over the school and take photographs.  Researchers could then analyze those photographs and collect appropriate data.  Researchers can also potentially use this system to see how the ship moving through the water effects the behavior of the school.

DSC00190

The Simrad SX90

Simrad MS70:   The MS70 is a multibeam sonar that also analyzes the water off the side of the ship.  It almost fills in the imaging gap left by the ME70.

DSC00187

The Simrad MS70

DSC00195

K-SYNC

All of these sonars are linked together by a program called K-SYNC.  This program makes sure that the sonars don’t “ping” at the same time and cause interference with all of the systems.  The Reuben Lasker also a very quiet propulsion system to limit the interference of the sound of the ship moving through the water.  The ship also has 3 hydrophones that can be used to listen to marine mammals.

Together these five sonar systems give the Reuben Lasker an incredible view of what is in the water under and around the ship.  This informs the trawls at night and together gives a good picture of the CPS in the waters of coastal California.

Personal Log:

So what do we do during the time we are not working?  The ship is full of movies, an exercise room, and snacks are available all day.  I have been able to read a couple books, watch a few movies with the science team, work on my blog and talk to crewmembers, and even watch some TV (including seeing the Penguins play a couple hockey games).  When you are on shift, there will be some downtime and then a bunch of activity as the net is pulled in.  I have also tried to soak in the clean ocean air and take moments just to enjoy the experience.  My Teacher At Sea voyage has been enjoyable, but I am looking forward to arriving back in San Francisco on April 22nd and flying home that night to be with my family.

Did you know?

Sonar, an acronym for SOund Navigation And Ranging, is a technique that uses sound to navigate, communicate, or detect objects on or under the surface of the water.  American naval architect, Lewis Nixon, invented the first sonar-like device in 1906.  Because of the demands of WWI, Paul Langevin constructed the first sonar set to detect submarines in 1915.

 

Denise Harrington: Tenacity – May 7, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces (In Port)
May 04, 2016 – May 17, 2016

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Saturday, May 7, 2016

Tenacity helps NOAA manage our seafood supply.

P1050630

Tenacity, otherwise known as perseverance or stamina, is a required skill at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces, we are all anxious to head out to collect data about the type and abundance of reef fish along the continental shelf and shelf edge of the Gulf of Mexico.  However, things don’t always go as planned. Much like the animals we study, scientists must rapidly adapt to their changing circumstances. Instead of waiting for a problem to be solved, fisheries biologists of all ages and experience work in the lab, using the newest, most sophisticated technology in the world to meet our demand for seafood.

As I ate dinner tonight in the mess (the area where the crew eats), I stared at the Pisces’ motto on the tablecloth, “patience and tenacity.”

P1050609

The Pisces is a “quiet” ship; it uses generators to supply power to an electric motor that turns the ship’s propeller. The ship’s motor (or a mysteriously related part) is not working properly, and without a motor, we will not sail. This change of plans provides other opportunities for me, and you, to learn about many fascinating projects developing in the lab. Sound science begins right here at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center Laboratory in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

P1050488

Kevin Rademacher, a fishery biologist in the Reef Fish Unit, meets me at the lab where he works when he isn’t at sea. As he introduces me to other biologists working in the protected species, plankton, and long line units, I begin to appreciate the great biodiversity of species in the Gulf of Mexico. I get a glimpse of the methods biologists use to conduct research in the field, and in the lab.

While it looks like a regular old office building on the outside, the center of the building is filled with labs where fish are taken to be discovered.  Mark Grace, a fisheries biologist in the lab, made one such discovery of a rare species of pocket shark on a survey in the gulf. The only other specimen of a pocket shark was found coast of Peru in 1979. Mark’s discovery raises more questions in my mind than answers.

When I met Mark, he explained that capability of technology to gather data has outpaced our ability to process it. “Twenty years ago, we used a pencil and a clipboard. Think about the 1980s when they started computerizing data points compared to the present time… maybe in the future when scientists look back on the use of computers in science, it will be considered to be as important as Galileo looking at the stars” he said. It’s important because as Mark also explains,  “This correspondence is a good example.  We can send text, website links, images, etc…and now its a matter of digital records that will carry in to the future.”

How do fishery biologists find fish?

P1050731

Charlie McVea, a retired NOAA marine biologist, and his trusty assistant Scout, pictured above, learned they may need more sophisticated equipment to locate fish.

Earth has one big connected ocean that covers the many features beneath it. Looking below the surface to the ocean floor, we find a fascinating combination of continental shelves, canyons, reefs, and even tiny bumps that make unique homes for all of the living creatures that live there.  Brandi Noble, one of 30-40 fishery biologists in the lab, uses very complicated sonar (sound) equipment to find “fish hot spots,” the kinds of places fish like to go for food, shelter and safety from predators. Fisheries sonar sends pulses of sound, or pings, into the water.  Fishery biologists are looking for a varied echo sound that indicates they’ve found rocky bottoms, ledges, and reefs that snapper and grouper inhabit.

The sonar can also survey fish in a non-invasive way. Most fish have a swim bladder, or a gas filled chamber, which reflects sonar’s sound waves.  A bigger fish will create a returning echo of greater strength. This way, fisheries biologists can identify and count fish without hurting them.

sonar fish

The circular image shows a three-dimensional map NOAA scientists created from the sonar data they collected about the seafloor and a school of fish.

Ship Pisces uses a scientific methods to survey, determining relative abundance and types of fish in each area. They establish blocks of habitat along the continental shelf to survey and then randomly sample sites that they will survey with video cameras, CTD (measures temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen in the water), and fishing. Back in the lab, they spend hours, weeks, and years, analyzing the data they collect at sea. During the 2012 SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey, the most common reef fish caught were 179 red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), 22 vermillion snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens), and 10 red porgy (Pagrus pagrus).  Comparing the 2012 data with survey results from 2016 and other years will help policy makers develop fishing regulations to protect the stock of these and other tasty fish.

How do fishery biologists manage all the information they collect during a survey?

Scientists migrate between offices and labs, supporting each other as they identify fish and marine mammals from previous research expeditions.

P1050572

Kevin Rademacher, at work in the lab.

Our mission, the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey has been broken into four parts or legs.  The goal is to survey some of the most popular commercially harvested fish in the Gulf of Mexico.  Kevin Rademacher is the Field Party Chief for Leg 1 and Leg 3 of the survey.

Last week, he showed me collections of frozen fish, beetle infested fish, and fish on video. At one point the telephone rang, it was Andrew Paul Felts, another biologist down the hall. “Is it staying in one spot?” Kevin asks. “I bet it’s Chromis. They hang over a spot all the time.”

We head a couple doors down and enter a dark room.  Behind the blue glow of the screen sits Paul, working in the dark, like the deep water inhabitants of the video he watches. Paul observes the physical characteristics of a fish: size, shape, fins, color.  He also watches its behavior. Does it swim in a school or alone?  Does it stay in one spot or move around a lot?  He looks at its habitat, such as a rocky or sandy bottom, and its range, or place on the map.

As you watch the video below, observe how each fish looks, its habitat, and its behavior.

To learn about fisheries, biologists use the same strategies students at South Prairie Elementary use.   Paul is using his “eagle eyes,” or practiced skills of observation, as he identifies and counts fish on the screen.   All the scientists read, re-read and then “read the book a third time” like a “trying lion” to make sense out of their observations.  Finally, Paul calls Kevin, the “wise owl,” to make sure he isn’t making a mistake when he identifies a questionable fish. paul screen

Using Latin terminology such as “Chromis” or “Homo” allows scientists to use the same names for organisms. This makes it easier for scientists worldwide, who speak different languages, to communicate clearly with each other as they classify the living things they study.

I appreciate how each member of the NOAA staff, on land and at sea, look at each situation as a springboard to more challenging inquiry.  They share with each other and with us what they have learned about the diversity of life in the ocean, and how humans are linked to the ocean.  With the knowledge we gain from their hard work and tenacity, we can make better choices to protect our food supply and support the diversity of life on Earth.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

P1050551

Spined Pygmy Shark Jaw (Squaliolus laticaudus)

Personal Log

Crew members tell me that every day at sea is a Monday.  In port, they are able to spend time with family and their communities.  I have been able to learn a bit about Pascagoula, kayak with locals, and see many new birds like the least tern, swallow tailed kite, eastern bluebird and clapper rail.  Can you guess what I ate for dinner last night?P1050747

 

 

 

 

Nichia Huxtable: Time to Make a Map, May 8, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Nichia Huxtable

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

April 28 – May 9, 2016

Mission: Mapping CINMS
Geographical area of cruise: Channel Islands, California
Date: May 8, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge:

Science and Technology Log

Seafloor in CINMS

Seafloor in the CINMS

In previous posts, I’ve discussed the ME70 multibeam sonar on board Shimada. You’d think that I’ve told you all there is to know about the wondrous data this piece of equipment provides, but oh, no, dear readers, I’ve merely scraped the surface of that proverbial iceberg. In this post, I will explain how the raw data from the ME70 is used to create important seafloor maps. Heck, I’ll even throw in a shipwreck! Everyone loves shipwrecks.

Nichia Huxtable, Diana Watters, ME70, and EK60; aboard Shimada

Nichia Huxtable, Diana Watters, ME70, and EK60; aboard Shimada

Back to the multibeam. As you may remember, the ME70 uses many beams of sonar to capture a 60 degree image of the water column. It collects A LOT of data, one survey line at a time. Lots of data are good, right? Well, if you want to map the bottom of the ocean, you don’t need ALL the data collected by the ME70, you just need some of it. Take, for example, fish. You don’t want big balls of fish obscuring your view of the seafloor, you just want the seafloor! Leave the schools of fish for Fabio.

Kayla Johnson aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

Mapping maven Kayla Johnson

The person you need to make your seafloor map is Kayla Johnson. First, she sends the raw data to a program called MatLab. This nifty software separates the bottom data from all the other stuff in the water column and packages it in something called a .gsf file. Next, this .gsf file goes to this huge processing program called CARIS HIPS, where it is converted into an something called HDCS data.

You’d think that all you’d need to make an accurate seafloor map would be data from the multibeam, but it is actually much more complicated than that (of course you knew that! just look at how long this blog post is). Think about it: while you’re running your survey lines and collecting data, the ocean and, therefore, the ship are MOVING. The ship is heaving, rolling, and pitching, it’s travelling in different directions depending on the survey line, the tides are coming in and out, the temperature and salinity of the water varies, etc. etc. All of these variables affect the data collected by the ME70 and, hence, must be accounted for in the CARIS software. Remember how I said it was HUGE? This is why.

Cross-section of the topography found in the CINMS

Cross-section of the topography found in the CINMS

Everyone still with me? Ok, let’s continue processing this data so that Kayla can make our beautiful map. Next up, she’s going to have to load data into CARIS from the POS. POSMV (POSition of Marine Vehicles) is a software interface used on the ship that collects real-time data on where we are in relation to the water (heave, pitch, and roll).  She’s also going to load into CARIS the local tide information, since the ship will be closer to the seafloor at low tide than at high. Not including tidal change is a good way to get a messed-up map! Once the POSMV and tide files are loaded into CARIS, they are applied to the survey line.

Completed map around San Miguel Island

Completed map around San Miguel Island

Next, Kayla has to compute the TPU (Total Propagated Uncertainty). I could spend the next four paragraphs explaining what it is and how it’s computed, but I really don’t feel like writing it and you probably wouldn’t want to read it. Let’s just say that nothing in life is 100% certain, so the TPU accounts for those little uncertainties.

Since the data was collected using multiple beams at a wide angle, there will be beams returning bad data, especially at the edges of the collection zone. Sometime a bad data point could be a fish, but most often bad data happens when there is an abrupt change in seafloor elevation and the beams can’t find the bottom. So, Kayla will need to manually clean out these bad data points in order to get a clean picture of the seafloor.

Almost done! Last, Kayla makes the surface. All the data points are gridded to a certain resolution based on depth (lots of explanation skipped here…you’re welcome), with the end result being a pretty, pretty picture of the bottom of the seafloor. Phew, we made it! These seafloor maps are incredibly important and have numerous applications, including fisheries management, nautical charting, and searching for missing airplanes and shipwrecks (see! I told you there would be a shipwreck!). I’ll be getting into the importance of this mapping cruise to the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary in my final post, so stay tuned.

Endnote: A word about XBTs                                                                                                      

Deploying an XBT off Shimada

Deploying an XBT off Shimada

 Before all your data are processed, you need to know how fast the sound waves are travelling through the water. When sound is moving through water, changes in temperature and salinity can bend the wave, altering your data. An XBT is an expendable bathythermograph that is sent overboard every four hours. It transmits temperature and salinity readings throughout its quick trip to the ocean bottom, allowing the computer to make data adjustments, as needed.

 

 

Did You Know?
Hey, you’ve made it to the bottom of this post! If you are interested in seafloor mapping, have I got an institute of higher learning for you. The College of Charleston has a program called BEAMS, which trains future ocean surveyors and includes a course called Bathymetric Mappings. Three of the hip young scientists on board have taken this course and it seems to be pretty amazing. If you love sailing the high seas AND data processing, you might want to check it out.

Emily Whalen: Station 381–Cashes Ledge, May 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emily Whalen
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 27 – May 10, 2015

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine

Date: May 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Winds:  Light and variable
Seas: 1-2ft
Air Temperature:   6.2○ C
Water Temperature:  5.8○ C

Science and Technology Log:

Earlier today I had planned to write about all of the safety features on board the Bigelow and explain how safe they make me feel while I am on board.  However, that was before our first sampling station turned out to be a monster haul!  For most stations I have done so far, it takes about an hour from the time that the net comes back on board to the time that we are cleaning up the wetlab.  At station 381, it took us one minute shy of three hours! So explaining the EEBD and the EPIRB will have to wait so that I can describe the awesome sampling we did at station 381, Cashes Ledge.

This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine.  The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam.  This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!

This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine. The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam. This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!

Before I get to describing the actual catch, I want to give you an idea of all of the work that has to be done in the acoustics lab and on the bridge long before the net even gets into the water.

The bridge is the highest enclosed deck on the boat, and it is where the officers work to navigate the ship.  To this end, it is full of nautical charts, screens that give information about the ship’s location and speed, the engine, generators, other ships, radios for communication, weather data and other technical equipment.  After arriving at the latitude and longitude of each sampling station, the officer’s attention turns to the screen that displays information from the Olex Realtime Bathymetry Program, which collects data using a ME70 multibeam sonar device attached to bottom of the hull of the ship .

Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges in trawling has been getting the net caught on the bottom of the ocean.  This is often called getting ‘hung’ and it can happen when the net snags on a big rock, sunken debris, or anything else resting on the sea floor.  The consequences can range from losing a few minutes time working the net free, to tearing or even losing the net. The Olex data is extremely useful because it can essentially paint a picture of the sea floor to ensure that the net doesn’t encounter any obstacles.  Upon arrival at a site, the boat will cruise looking for a clear path that is about a mile long and 300 yards wide.  Only after finding a suitable spot will the net go into the water.

Check out this view of the seafloor.  On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges.  That's where we dragged the net and caught all of the fish!

Check out this view of the seafloor. On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges. We trawled right between the ridges and caught a lot of really big fish!

The ME70 Multibeam uses sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean at specific points.  It is similar to a simpler, single stream sonar in that it shoots a wave of sound down to the seafloor, waits for it to bounce back up to the ship and then calculates the distance the wave traveled based on the time and the speed of sound through the water, which depends on temperature.  The advantage to using the multibeam is that it shoots out 200 beams of sound at once instead of just one.  This means that with each ‘ping’, or burst of sound energy, we know the depth at many points under the ship instead of just one.  Considering that the multibeam pings at a rate of 2 Hertz to 0.5 Herts, which is once every 0.5 seconds to 2 seconds, that’s a lot of information about the sea floor contour!

This is what the nautical chart for Cashes Ledge looks like. The numbers represent depth in fathoms.  The light blue lines are contour lines.  The places where they are close together represent steep cliffs.  The red line represents the Bigelow’s track. You can see where we trawled as a short jag between the L and the E in the word Ledge

The stations that we sample are randomly selected by a computer program that was written by one of the scientists in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who happens to be on board this trip.  Just by chance, station number 381 was on Cashes Ledge, which is an underwater geographical feature that includes jagged cliffs and underwater mountains.  The area has been fished very little because all of the bottom features present many hazards for trawl nets.  In fact, it is currently a protected area, which means the commercial fishing isn’t allowed there.  As a research vessel, we have permission to sample there because we are working to collect data that will provide useful information for stock assessments.

My watch came on duty at noon, at which time the Bigelow was scouting out the bottom and looking for a spot to sample within 1 nautical mile of the latitude and longitude of station 381.  Shortly before 1pm, the CTD dropped and then the net went in the water.  By 1:30, the net was coming back on board the ship, and there was a buzz going around about how big the catch was predicted to be.  As it turns out, the catch was huge!  Once on board, the net empties into the checker, which is usually plenty big enough to hold everything.  This time though, it was overflowing with big, beautiful cod, pollock and haddock.  You can see that one of the deck crew is using a shovel to fill the orange baskets with fish so that they can be taken into the lab and sorted!

You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge.  How many different kinds of fish can you see?

You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge. How many different kinds of fish can you see? Photo by fellow volunteer Joe Warren

 

At this point, I was standing at the conveyor belt, grabbing slippery fish as quickly as I could and sorting them into baskets.  Big haddock, little haddock, big cod, little cod, pollock, pollock, pollock.  As fast as I could sort, the fish kept coming!  Every basket in the lab was full and everyone was working at top speed to process fish so that we could empty the baskets and fill them up with more fish!  One of the things that was interesting to notice was the variation within each species.  When you see pictures of fish, or just a few fish at a time, they don’t look that different.  But looking at so many all at once, I really saw how some have brighter colors, or fatter bodies or bigger spots.  But only for a moment, because the fish just kept coming and coming and coming!

Finally, the fish were sorted and I headed to my station, where TK, the cutter that I have been working with, had already started processing some of the huge pollock that we had caught.  I helped him maneuver them up onto the lengthing board so that he could measure them and take samples, and we fell into a fish-measuring groove that lasted for two hours.  Grab a fish, take the length, print a label and put it on an envelope, slip the otolith into the envelope, examine the stomach contents, repeat.

Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets

Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets waiting to get counted and measured. Photo by Watch Chief Adam Poquette.

Some of you have asked about the fish that we have seen and so here is a list of the species that we saw at just this one site:

  • Pollock
  • Haddock
  • Atlantic wolffish
  • Cod
  • Goosefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Alewife
  • Acadian redfish
  • Alligator fish
  • White hake
  • Red hake
  • American plaice
  • Little skate
  • American lobster
  • Sea raven
  • Thorny skate
  • Red deepsea crab

 

 

 

 

I think it’s human nature to try to draw conclusions about what we see and do.  If all we knew about the state of our fish populations was based on the data from this one catch, then we might conclude that there are tons of healthy fish stocks in the sea.  However, I know that this is just one small data point in a literal sea of data points and it cannot be considered independently of the others.  Just because this is data that I was able to see, touch and smell doesn’t give it any more validity than other data that I can only see as a point on a map or numbers on a screen.  Eventually, every measurement and sample will be compiled into reports, and it’s that big picture over a long period of time that will really allow give us a better understanding of the state of affairs in the ocean.

Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow

Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow

Personal Log

Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!

Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!

It seems like time is passing faster and faster on board the Bigelow.  I have been getting up each morning and doing a Hero’s Journey workout up on the flying bridge.  One of my shipmates let me borrow a book that is about all of the people who have died trying to climb Mount Washington.  Today I did laundry, and to quote Olaf, putting on my warm and clean sweatshirt fresh out of the dryer was like a warm hug!  I am getting to know the crew and learning how they all ended up here, working on a NOAA ship.  It’s tough to believe but a week from today, I will be wrapping up and getting ready to go back to school!

Theresa Paulsen: Mission Accomplished, April 2, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16-April 3rd

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: April 2, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Partly Cloudy, 26 C, Wind speed 12 knots, Wave height 1-2ft, Swells 2-4ft.

Science and Technology Log:

What are the mappers up to?

After we completed our two priority areas of the cruise, the mappers have been using Knudson subbottom sonar to profile the bottom of the trench. Meme Lobecker, the expedition coordinator sends that data directly to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for processing. They returned some interesting findings.

The subbottom sonar sends a loud “chirp” to the bottom. It penetrates the ocean floor. Different sediment layers reflect the sound differently so the variation and thickness of the layers can be observed. The chirp penetration depth varies with the sediments. Soft sediments can be penetrated more easily. In the picture below, provided by USGS, you can see hard intrusions with layers of sediments filling in spaces between.

image

The intrusions are basement relief, likely uplifting deformation ridges created by the subduction of the North American Plate. The subduction is now oblique, with the North American and Caribbean plates mostly sliding past each other now – sort of like the San Andreas Fault – but there is still some subduction happening. Subbottom Image and caption courtesy of USGS.

How does the bathymetry look?

In the last two days, I have been really enjoying the incredible details in the bathymetry data the multibeam sonar has gathered. We mapped over 15,000 square miles on our voyage! Using computer software we can now look at the ocean floor beneath us. I tried my hand at using Fledermaus software to make fly-over movies of the area we surveyed (or should I say swim-over movies). Check them out:

I also examined some of the backscatter data. In backscatter images soft surfaces are darker, meaning the signal return is weaker, and the hard surfaces are whiter due to stronger returns. One of the interns, Chelsea Wegner, studied the bathymetry and backscatter data for possible habitats for corals. She looked for steep slopes in the bathymetry and hard surfaces with the backscatter, since corals prefer those conditions.

Intern poster project

Intern Poster Project by Chelsea Wegner

Chelsea Wegner Poster (pdf)

On the next leg, the robotic vehicle on the ship will be used to examine some of the areas we were with high-definition cameras. You can watch the live stream here. You can also see some of the images and footage from past explorations here.
This is a short video from the 2012 expedition to the Gulf of Mexico to tempt you into tuning in for more.

Personal Log:

The people on this vessel have been blessed with adventurous spirits and exciting careers. Throughout the cruise, I heard about and then came to fully understand the difficulty of being away from family when they need us.

I would like to dedicate this last blog to my father, Tom Wichman. He passed away this morning at 80 years of age after battling more than his share of medical issues.  As I rode the ship in today I felt him beside me. Together we watched the pelicans and the boobies fly by. I am very glad I was able to take him on a “virtual” adventure to the Caribbean. He loved the pictures and the blog. I thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for helping me make him proud one last time.

My parents

My Parents, Tom and Kate Wichman

“To know how to wonder is the first step of the mind toward discovery” – L. Pasteur. These words decorate my classroom wall but are epitomized by the work that the NOAA Okeanos Explorer and the Office of Exploration and Research (OER) do each day.

Thank you to the Meme, the CO, XO, the science team, and the entire crew aboard the Okeanos for teaching me as much as you did and for helping me get home when I needed to be with family. I wish you all the best as you continue to explore our vast oceans! My students and I will be watching and learning from you!

I would also like to thank all of the people who followed this blog. Your support and interest proves that you too are curious by nature. Life is much more interesting if you hold on to that sense of wonder, isn’t it?

Answers to My Previous Questions of the Day Polls:

1.  Bathymetry is the study of ocean depths and submarine topography.

2. The deepest zone in the ocean is called the hadal zone, after Hades the Greek God of the underworld.

3.  It takes the vessel 19 hours and 10 minutes to make enough water for 46 people each using 50 gallons per day if each of the two distillers makes 1 gallon per minute.

4.  NOAA line offices include:

  • National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • National Ocean Service
  • National Weather Service
  • Office of Marine & Aviation Operations
  • Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

5. The pressure on the a diver at 332.35m is 485 pounds per square inch!

6.  The deepest part of the Puerto Rico Trench is known as the Milwaukee Deep.

Thank you for participating!  I hope you learned something new!