Alex Miller: Making Waves, June 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015 

Putting ourselves in the way of beauty. Several members of the science crew joined me to witness this sunset.
Putting ourselves in the way of beauty. Several members of the science crew joined me to witness this sunset.

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Friday, June 5th, 2015

Weather Data:

  • Air Temperature: 14.0°C
  • Water Temperature: 12.7°C
  • Sky Conditions: Clear
  • Wind Speed (knots/kts) and Direction: 21.9 kts, NNW
  • Latitude and Longitude: 45°00’19”, 124°19’94”

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Before I go into the events of the research and life onboard the Shimada, let me explain the weather data I share at the beginning of posts at sea. Weather can change quickly out at sea so the ship’s Officer(s) of the Deck (OODs) keep a running record of conditions throughout the cruise. On the Shimada, the OODs all happen to be NOAA Corps Officers, but there are civilian mates and masters on other ships.

Another important reason to collect weather conditions and location information is that it’s need to be linked to the data that is collected. The ship collects a lot of weather data, but I’ve chosen to share that which will give you an idea of what it’s like out here.

IMG_8172
The bridge with a view of the captain’s seat.

First, I’ve shared the temperature of both the air and the water. Scientists use the Celsius temperature scale but Americans are used to thinking about temperatures using the Fahrenheit scale. On the Celsius scale, water freezes at 0°C and boils at 100°C, whereas on the Fahrenheit scale, water freezes at 32°F and boils at 212°F. I won’t go into how you convert from one scale to another, but to better understand the temperatures listed above, temperatures around 10°C are equal to about 50°F.

Second, the sky conditions give you an idea of whether we are seeing blue or gray skies or I guess at night, stars or no stars. Clear skies have graced us intermittently over the past few days, but we’ve seen everything from light showers to dense fog.

Third, is the wind direction and speed. Knots is a measurement used at sea. It stands for nautical miles per hour. 1 knot = 1.2 miles/hour or 10 knots = 12 mph.  The NOAA Marine Weather Forecast allows us to prepare for what might be coming at future stations. Depending on wind speed, some nets cannot be deployed. If wind speeds reach 25-30 kts, the kite-like neuston will literally fly away. If a weather day ends up keeping scientists from collecting data that can be very disappointing and, unfortunately, there’s no way to make up for lost time.

With the wind speeds picking up, so have the swell sizes, making for a rougher ride. As funny as it can be to watch a colleague swerve off their intended path and careen into the nearest wall, chair or person, we have to remember to, “save one hand for the ship,” meaning, be ready to steady yourself.

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Randy (foreground) and Larry (background) in their culinary kingdom.
Randy (foreground) and Larry (background) in their culinary kingdom.

Considering how well taken care of I’ve been on this cruise, it only seems right to tell you guys all about the heroes of the mess (also galley, basically, it’s the dining area), Larry and Randy. Larry and Randy plan and prepare three meals a day on board the Shimada. There’s always a hot breakfast and our dinners have included steak, mahi-mahi, and I like to think they were catering to the quarter of me that’s Irish when they made corned beef and cabbage last night. This dynamic duo really outdo themselves. Both are trained merchant mariners, meaning they hold their Z-card, and they tell me that working as a chef at sea definitely helps to bring home the bacon.

It feels good knowing that they don’t want us to just have cereal and sandwiches for the two weeks we are at sea.

Larry (background) and Randy (foreground) admiring their hard work.
Larry (background) and Randy (foreground) admiring their hard work.

I especially want to shout out Randy, the denizen of the desserts. So far Randy has made from scratch: bread pudding, chocolate white-chocolate cookies, rum cake and date bars. Good thing for me his mother was a chef because he’s been cooking since around the age of 6.

I just finished a Thanksgiving style turkey meal prepared by these two and all this told, I’m thankful there’s an exercise room on board with a stationary bike. Seriously though, these guys are doing a lot to make the ship feel like a home. With the disruption in my sleep cycle, I’ve been sleeping through some meals. Like 50% of meals. They noticed. When I came walking into dinner yesterday, after sleeping through two meals, they were full of concern and questions. Awww.

So, on behalf of all the crew and scientists, I want to say thank you for all that you do!

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Wednesday night, or Thursday morning–days tend to run together when you’re working the night shift–the net picked up an unusual jelly that Ric had to key out using a jelly identification manual. Using photos in the Pacific Coast Pelagic Invertebrates by Wrobel and Mills, Ric identifies this jelly as the Liriope (sp. ?). While Ric is an accomplished biologist, he specializes in fish identification, so the question mark after the scientific name of this jelly represents the need for a jelly expert to confirm the identification as Liriope. But what’s in a name, right? What’s really interesting about this jelly is that it usually inhabits warm water areas between 40S and 40N. We were towing north of the 44th parallel!

Liriope (?)
Liriope (sp. ?)

That wasn’t the only unusual sighting we had. Amanda, who does her surveys exclusively in the Northeast Pacific, meaning relatively close to shore (12 – 200 km) saw, for her first time in the wild, the Hawaiian petrel, a bird whose name alone suggests that Oregon is too far north to be seeing them. Additionally, it’s being more of an offshore bird makes it even more unlikely to see as far east as we are.

All images in this slideshow were taken by Amanda Gladics, Faculty Research Assistant, Oregon State University. 

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Her initial reaction to the sighting was mild surprise that she saw something she didn’t quite recognize, she decided to grab her camera and photograph the bird so she could take a second look at it. Later, she realized just how rare of a sighting she had made. After consulting with Josh Adams at USGS, it was confirmed that the bird was a Hawaiian petrel.

Though most of the community nests on the big island of Hawaii, smaller colonies are found on Oahu and Kauai, and Adams explained that they tend to loop around areas of high pressure when foraging (searching) for food. It just so happens that such an area is within our transect range. If you look at the image to the right you can see this area as a loop marked with 1024 (mb, millibars, a pressure measurement) just off the coast of Oregon.

Map of pressure systems
Map of pressure systems and precipitation in the Pacific. Note the high pressure system of the coast of Oregon (1024 mb). Photo courtesy of Amanda Gladics.

Amanda has also sent her images to Greg Gillson and Peter Pyle, two experts in the field; Gillson confirms the sighting as a Hawaiian petrel and is notifying the Oregon Birding Association Records Committee. She is still waiting to hear back from Pyle.

Super cool!

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Considering these two events alongside some warmer water temperatures the CTD and ship sensors have picked up in our transect area, the conclusion several of the scientists are reaching is that these unusual sightings are coincident with an El Niño event this year. El Niño events occur in a cycle. They are a disruption of the normal ocean temperatures, leading to anomalously warm temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. This can affect weather and climate and perhaps it can also affect animal behavior. There’s also that warm blob to consider. You yourself can see that the water temperature is warmer here than it was at our earlier transects.

For more information on how NOAA monitors El Niño events, please follow this link.

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Personal Log

In an effort to gain a deep understanding of all the research taking place on board the ship, I’ve started transitioning back to the day shift. After investing five days in training myself to stay up all night, I’m now trying to sleep through the night. My body is utterly confused about when it’s supposed to be asleep, so right now it’s settled on never being asleep. I’ve been able to catch naps here and there but I’m resorting to caffeine to keep me going.

However, there’s always a silver lining. This morning I climbed to the flying bridge for a bit of solitude with the rising sun. Few things can compare to a sunrise on a ship while it’s traveling northeast and to top it all off the swells crashing against the bow were so high that, at times, I could feel the sea spray. So I thought I would make this .gif so you can share this moment too.

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#shiplife

Until next time, scientists!

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Question of the Day:

Amanda can only survey when the ship is traveling faster than 7 kts. If the ship travels at 7 knots for 1 hour, how many nautical miles does it cover? Standard miles?

Amy Orchard: Days 9-13 – Conch, NOAA Corps, Seining, & Mission Stats, September 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Conchs Surveys and Fish Seining
Geographical area of cruise: Marquesas Keys Wildlife Management Area
Date: September 22-26, 2014

Weather: September 25, 2014 17:00 hours
Latitude 24° 27 N
Longitude 82° 14 W
Broken clouds, Lightening, Funnel Clouds
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 28° Celsius (82.4° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 29.9° Celsius (85.8°Fahrenheit)

MONDAY

Typical Day

Today started as it has every other day – up at 5:15 am, a trip to the gym, 30 minutes of yoga under the stars on the “Steel Beach” on the top deck of the ship, a sunrise and a delicious breakfast by Lito & Bob.

Then science begins at 7:30 am and usually goes till 7:30 pm or later if I am writing, studying fish identification books or asking a million questions of the scientists!

Conch

Today I began with small boat trip to assist the conch scientists Bob and Einat (pronounced A KNOT)  Their surveys will be the same all week (in different locations)  They drop a weight tied to a rope with a bouy and dive flag on top.  They dive down the line and survey four transects, to the north, south, east then west.  Each transect is 30 meters by 1 meter.  They only count the Queen Conch within that defined area.  Then they come back up the line and move to the next site.  They have already made 270 dives this summer alone.  Einat told me they may dive up to 11 times a day!  I’m not sure Einat’s hair ever dries out.

measuring tool
This is the tool used to measure the lip (or the curled up front part of their shell) The largest slot would indicate a sexually mature adult, the middle; a young adult and the skinniest (TL stands for Thin Lip) for the youngest.
Einat on the transect line
Here you can see Einat as she glides along the measuring tape which marks the area of study. In her hand she holds a measuring caliper and her clipboard (which she can write on underwater!)
Einat measuring conch lip
Einat measuring a Queen Conch with her measuring tool.

NOAA Corps

While our coxswain ENS Conor Maginn and I waited for Bob and Einat, I asked lots of questions about the http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov/about/about.html  As I have mentioned before, I am impressed with the character, quality and kindness of everyone on board.  I truly hope I am able adequately convey the experiences I have had to my Junior Docents and Earth Campers and perhaps inspire many of you to look into NOAA as a career option.  It’s very possible my career would have taken a different direction if I had known about the NOAA Corps earlier in my life.

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.  They are not trained for military action, but rather for positions of leadership and command in the operation of ships and aircraft which support scientific research.  Conor told me about his training which included leadership, 1st Aid and CPR, firefighting, navigation, seamanship and radar.   In addition to the 320 officers in the Corps, there are 12,000 civilian employees; some of these positions do not require an advanced college degree.

Seems like a wonderful agency to work for with great benefits such as seeing the world and supporting scientific data collection which leads to making the world a better place.

Stowaway

Stowaway
We had a stowaway today! It seemed really exhausted once it had finally caught up with the ship. Seems that a storm is blowing in, perhaps it got knocked off course. Can you identify what type of bird this is?

 

TUESDAY 

More on Conch

Einat was happy to have me out on the boat with them again.  She claims I am a lucky charm because the only time they have found conch on their surveys has been while I am aboard.  Perhaps I should become a conch whisperer.

really pink conch
I took this photo last week of a Queen Conch at Fort Jefferson. Bob was surprised how pink & purple it was. They get their color from the algae they eat.

Queen Conch have an average life span of 8-11 years, although some in the Bahamas have been aged up to 40 years old.  About the only way to age them is to date the corals which grow on their backs.  They are herbivores which graze mostly on red algae.  They are docile and Bob says “very sweet animals”.  Bob and Einat are surveying to collect more information about their population densities as they will not reproduce unless there are enough numbers in one location.  The Queen Conch is a candidate for the Endangered Species Act.  Harvesting of conch has been illegal in Florida and its adjoining waters since 1986.  This is a big deal because collecting conch for meat, fishing bait and their beautiful shells has been an important part of the Florida Keys since the early 19th century.

When all conditions are just right, a Queen Conch will lay 400,000 eggs at once, called an egg mass.  Only 1 in 8 million of these eggs will survive to adulthood.  Many efforts are being made to help their populations increase including raising for release into the wild.  Bob told me that they have even taught these captive-raised conch how to avoid predation so when they are released they can survive.

conch with egg mass
Bob and Einat were very excited to see Queen Conch laying egg masses. Understandably so since the eggs hatch 5 days after being laid, there is a very short time frame in which to see this in the wild.

I try to be as helpful on the small boats as I can be.  Here is a slide show of me working really hard to pull the weight dive flag back to the boat.

 

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WEDNESDAY 

Receiver Data Retrieval

Today the divers retrieved acoustic receivers from the ocean floor which have been out for a year in order to bring the data top side for analysis.

The work the FWC has been doing in this area has been vital to providing the data necessary to show that these reserves act as connected highways essential to numerous species of fish and to justify the creation of these large ecological reserves which closed 150 square miles to commercial and private fishing.  Their data shows an increase in both the abundance and size of at least 4 species of fish in the protected areas where there was a decrease or no change at all in the non-protected areas in the same region.

It has been fulfilling to give a hand in collecting this critical data.

THURSDAY

Seining

The small boat took us to the Marquesas Islands today for some seine netting.  The fish biologists were not sure what to find since they don’t have opportunities to get this far out.  They were especially pleased to see Lane Snapper since they rarely find them.  We also saw 17 other fish species.  These mangrove islands are crucial habitat for juvenile fish.  Many species will spend the beginning of their lives in the sea grass beds near the islands, seek refuge as they grow within the mangroves and then head out to deep waters to live their lives as large adults.

Best thing to happen today – I finally saw a sea turtle!  They surface only occasionally but then dive back down so quickly that it is really hard to get a photograph of them, therefore no photo to share, but it is certainly a wonderful memory I will keep with me forever.

Dominoes King

The game was on again at the end of the second week.  The science team lost its crown.  The Commanding Officer of our ship LCDR Jeff Shoup won the championship and thus the crown stays on the Nancy Foster – right where it is meant to be.

Dominoes King
Commanding Officer of our ship LCDR Jeff Shoup – reigning Mexican Train winner

FRIDAY

We pulled into Key West a day early, giving me plenty of time to finish up my writing and collect some statistics from our 13 day scientific cruise:

  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission personnel – 10
  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Personnel – 7
  • University of North Carolina at Wilmington Remotely Operated Vehicle Operators – 2
  • Nancy Foster Officers – 9
  • Nancy Foster Crew – 14
  • Teacher at Sea – 1
  • Media Reporter at Sea – 1
  • ROV Operations – 14 hours and 20 minutes underwater
  • ROV digital stills – 957
  • ROV longest dive – 4 hours and 10 minutes
  • ROV deepest dive – 128 meters (420 feet)
  • Multibeam seafloor mapping distance – 787.9 linear nautical miles
  • Dives – 167
  • Fish surgeries performed- 8
  • Acoustic Receivers exchanged – 6
  • New Acoustic Receivers Installed – 5
  • Reef Fish Visual Census (or fish counts) – 40 dives on 11 stations
  • Seine Net pulls – 5
  • Number of species of fish counted in seines – 18 species
  • Total fish counted during seining – 290
  • Conch surveys- 14
  • Conch measured – 57
  • Conch females laying eggs – 2
  • Egg masses – 1
  • Facebook Reach on the FKNMS Account with Cruise Posts as of 8:15 on 9/26/2014:  528,584
  • Laughs – lots!
  • Fun had – tons!
  • Days/Nights of sea sickness for Amy – 0
  • Number of accidents- 0

Mission was a success!

Challenge Your Observational Skills

Can you find the fish in this photo?  Hint, it is NOT yellow!

hide and seek
You will have to zoom in to find this itty, bitty fish. Good luck finding it!

NOTE:  Scott Donahue, Chief Scientist for this cruise, actually found TWO fish in this photo!  Can you find them both?  He has a good eye!

BONUS QUESTION:  Can you identify the fish in the photo once you find them?

Answer to the last blog’s question:  Goliath Grouper is no longer being considered for Endangered listing because their populations have recovered due to a fishing ban.

Definition of the word EXTIRPATED:  Completely removed from an area.

 

Sunset at port - Key West
Sunset at port – Key West

The sun has set on my adventure, now it’s back to Arizona.  I leave better educated, but with plenty of questions to still find answers to.  I leave more inspired.  I am a better scientist, educator and a better person because of my Teacher At Sea experience.

A heart-felt “Thank You!” goes out to each and every person who made it possible for me.

Kimberly Lewis, July 14, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Kimberly Lewis
NOAA Ship: Oregon II
July 1 -July  16 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 14, 2010

Wed July 14, 2010 : the nightshift is running smooth

Sunrise
Sunrise

The sunrise is here and we are caught up on processing our catches. I may go try to grab a bite to eat before we get to the next station. I will be setting the CTD for a DO (dissolved oxygen) sample to do a titration. Hopefully when the boat is still and the CTD is down I will get a cool photo.