Jennifer Dean: Sampling the Sea Floor, May 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jennifer Dean

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 12 – May 24, 2018

Mission: Conduct ROV and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside six marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA) to assess the efficacy of this management tool to protect species of the snapper grouper complex and Oculina coral

Geographic Area of Cruise: Continental shelf edge of the South Atlantic Bight between Port Canaveral, FL and Cape Hatteras, NC 

Date: May 15, 2018

Weather from the Bridge
Latitude: 32° 23.3070’ N
Longitude: 79°02.4555’ W
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 feet
Wind Speed:  10.7 knots
Wind Direction: 131.42°
Visibility:  10 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 25.1°C
Sky:  Scattered Cloud Cover

Science and Technology Log

Multibeam Bathymetry
Lieutenant Jamie Hart (seen on the bridge in the picture below) explained how sonar pings allow software to paint a picture of the ocean floor.

Communication between the bridge, the technicians and the scientists are continuous to keep the mission coordinated and progressing.

With GPS that determines the latitude and longitude, the sonar determines the last piece of information to gain a three-dimensional view.  Adjustments have to be made below deck by Mr. Todd Walsh, Hydrographic senior technician (see previous post for additional information). The echo of return waves are detected downstream and calibrated to adjust for time, salinity, depth and a host of other factors to create the images used by the scientist to choose a path for sampling.

Images like the ones above are being used to determine locations for the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) dives and to aid in navigation during the collection of samples and observations when running transects for inventory of the fish, coral and habitat.

Robotic Arms and Taking Samples of Coral and Sponges

Screen displays in front of the ROV operator, Eric Glidden, includes information on the sea floor gathered from the multibeam sonar technology. Other screens include information coming in from a still camera, cameras that are set to view the sampling bottles and drawers, as well as high definition images of the live ocean floor feed ahead of the ROV and images from cameras directly on the robotic arm.  The blue image in the picture is Pisces, another smaller red image not visible on this photo is the location of the ROV. The ROV operator ensures that there are no collisions, even if there is a loss of power or other malfunction, the ROV floats to the surface for recovery.

Two modes of sampling with ROV attachments visible in this image; on the left a suction hose and on the right is the robotic claw, used both to maneuver the hose and to grab samples for removal from the ocean floor by twisting and rotating the claw device. Using this arm reminds me a bit of those arcade area claws where one attempts to grab that coveted stuffed animal prize to have it ultimately not clasp or drop the treasure.  Unlike these games, the ROV operator and the claw expertly grasp and deposit coral and sponges with a 5 function arm system.

For a fun engineering activity that models these robotic systems visit this activity https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/edu/collection/media/hdwe-URRobot56.pdf

After samples are recovered topside they are brought inside the wet lab for processing, barcoding, photographing and for those samples needing genetic analysis, placed in vials and test tubes filled with ethanol for longer term storage and preservation of the coral’s tissues.

John K. Reed (Biologist/Taxonomist) discusses the sampling of a recovered sponge with Felicia Drummond (LT NOAA Corps).  Dr. Reed explains to me the octagonal polyps to look for when identifying this particular type of coral.

Caribbean Spiny lobster

Caribbean Spiny lobster, Panulirus argus. One of the many biotic factors observed on this ROV dive.

Other highlights this day were observations of two sandbar sharks and a stout moray eel, spotted on May 14th dive, and May 13th respectively.

Personal Log

May 13th, day 2 on the ship, I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I found myself playing corn hole off the back of a ship in the Atlantic ocean with Navy officers, deckhands, stewards, engineers and scientists at sunset. For those of you that may not have heard of such a game, it involves throwing 4 bean bags at a hole.  Landing on the board seen in the pictures without sliding off, is a point.  Getting the bean bag into the hole is 3 points.  First team to 12 wins.  I enjoyed the additional challenge of being on a swaying ship, keeping one’s balance and making the toss, all at the same time.

This was a fun and an amazing day with a fire hose dose of information coming at me.  There are so many interesting directions of study pulling for my attention.  I am curious about the formation of the ocean floor that gives the appearance of ancient Mayan formations.  The evolution of these block-like limestone formations created from water erosion and the laying down of sediment layers makes for beautiful habitat for a diversity of creatures seen during the dives.  Yet the biotic factors are equally fascinating to study with their adaptations of form, corals with polyps that have 6 tentacles, belonging to a subclass of Hexacoralia to 8 tentacles, from another subclass Octacoralia.  What advantages and disadvantages do these differences in form provide to these creatures in their marine environment?  Some of these hard corals we are observing and collecting evolved back in the Miocene.  To learn more about coral and for ideas and activities for teaching about coral evolution visit this site:  https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral04_reefs.html

Last, but not least, I was on this adventure during Mother’s Day, so I not only want to thank my own mother for helping to get my daughters to school and looking after pets and plants during my absence, but for being a constant and committed pillar of support for me growing up and now into my adult life.  I wouldn’t be living the dream without her guidance and not to mention those brutal critiques of my writing over the decades.  Thanks to my mom and all the others mom’s out there reading this blog!  Happy Belated Mother’s Day.

Did You Know?
Scientists make observations about not only a sponges’ appearance but also its texture and smell.  Some are very stinky giving off odors similar to that of a rotten egg and vomit while others can emit a spicy aroma!

Fact or Fiction?
Excretions from certain sponges are demonstrating pancreatic cancer fighting properties.  Additional information can be found at this link for the extra curious:
http://www.fau.edu/newsdesk/articles/marine-sponge.php

What’s My Story?  Stacey Harter
The following section of the blog is dedicated to explaining the story of one crew member on Pisces.

What is your specific title and job description on this mission?  Chief Scientist and Fisheries Ecologist

Stacey Harter

Stacey Harter, Chief Scientist and Fisheries Ecologist, posing after emergency training

How long have you worked for NOAA?  16 years

What path did you take to get to your current position?  Undergraduate at Florida State University with a degree in Biology;  As an undergraduate, she did an internship at the Panama City lab and fell in love with the research side of marine science. She got her Master’s degree in marine science at the University of South Alabama and at the end of her Master’s she took a position as a contractor for 5 years before becoming a staff member with NOAA as a federal employee.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job? She enjoys going to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meetings and giving them information on what they have learned about the MPAs and then seeing that data being used to make management decisions.
Reading all the ROV data is quite time consuming and can become monotonous at times.

When did you first become interested in this career and why? Even though Stacey grew up in landlocked New York, her passion for marine science started early on with visits to Sea World and watching the Discovery channel as a kid. In high school she realized that she could take this interest in the marine world and make a career out of it.

What science classes or other opportunities would you recommend to high school students who are interested in preparing for this sort of career?  She recommends as much math and science as one can take.  She highly recommends students participate in internships.  She has witnessed many times over the years that these internship opportunities later turn into long-term employment. In addition she recommends students volunteer in research labs and try to experience as many aspects of the different parts of the career as possible.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited for work?Around 2009 she went down in a manned submersible and explored the unique deep ocean communities at 2500 feet. She was blown away by the incredible different and original biota found in this environment.

Do you have a typical day? Or tasks and skills that you perform routinely in this job? Her typical day involves identifying fish species on video footage collected during and after dives. Another task she regularly performs is using software programs like Access and Excel for data analysis. She shared that about every couple of years she communicates their research by attending both scientific meetings and delivering information to the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council.

Has technology impacted the way you do your job from when you first started to the present? Definitely.  When she first started, pad and paper were used for recording dive information and species observed which was later entered after a dive into Excel.  Now everything is done digitally and directly into computer software as the dive occurs.  In addition to the approach to data collection, media storage has changed with how video footage is stored into hard drives rather than on mini-DV tapes.

What is one misconception or scientific claim you hear about how the ocean and atmosphere works and/or NOAA’s mission that you wished the general public had a greater awareness of? She doesn’t spend all of her time on boats doing field work. While field work is a fun, it is actually a very small portion of the job. She actually spends about 90% of her time at a desk in front of her computer analyzing data and writing reports.

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