Cara Nelson, The Gales of September, September 12, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sampling in Prince William Sound

Date: September 12, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 0830
Latitude: 60º16.073’ N
Longitude: 147º59.608’W
Wind: East, 10 knots – building to 30
Air Temperature: 13ºC (55ºF)
Air Pressure: 1003 millibars
Cloudy, light drizzle

Science and Technology Log

There is a tool for every job and the same holds true for sampling plankton and water in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA).  As we sorted, shuffled and assembled equipment yesterday, what struck me the most was the variety of nets and other equipment needed for the different science research being performed as part of the LTER program. 

There are a variety of research disciplines comprising the LTER scientific team aboard the R/V Tiglax, each with their own equipment and need for laboratory space. These disciplines include physical oceanography, biological (phytoplankton and zooplankton), and chemical oceanography along with marine birds and mammal.  Their equipment has been transported from University of Alaska Fairbanks, as well as Western Washington University to the remote town of Seward AK and subsequently transferred to the ship before it could be either set up or stored away in the hold for later use.  Logistics is an important part of any research mission.

Immediately, it was obvious that some of the primary equipment on the ship, used for almost all the water sampling and plankton tows, require frequent maintenance in order to maintain function.  The winch for instance needed rewiring at port before we could depart. Winch runs the smart wire cable that allows the scientists to talk real time to the equipment (e.g., CTD and MultiNet).

v
The deck full of boxes being unpacked and stored away, as well as the winch pulled apart for rewiring

One of the most complex pieces of equipment and the workhorse of all oceanographic cruises, the CTD, takes a good deal of time to set up as well properly interface with the computers in the lab for real-time data communication.  A CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature and depth, is a piece of equipment that accurately measures the salinity and water temperature at different depths.  The CTD is actually only a small portion of the device shown below.

CTD prep
The CTD is being put together and wired before departure.
CTD output
Temperature (blue line) salinity (red line) and fluorescence (chlorophyll) are transmitted and graphed on the computer as the CTD is lowered and raised.


The main gray bottles visible in a ring around the top are called Niskin bottles. These bottles are used to collect water samples and can be fired from the lab computer to close and seal water in at the desired depth.  These water samples are used by the team to examine both chlorophyll (abundance of phytoplankton) as well as nutrients.  As a side note, if these bottles are not reopened when the CTD is sent back down the pressure can cause the bottles to implode.  Two bottles were lost this way at our second station this morning, luckily spares were available onboard!

One bottle shattered from the pressure (on the right) and in the process, broke the neighboring bottle.

On the bottom of the CTD, there are several important sensors.  One is for nitrates and another for dissolved oxygen.  Additionally, there is a laser that detects particle size in the water, aiding in identifying plankton.  Much of this data is being fed to the computers but will not be analyzed until the scientists return the lab at the end of the cruise. 

A big decision had to be made before departing Seward late in the evening on the 11th.  A gale warning is in effect for the NGA with 30+ knot winds and high seas.  After several meetings between the chief scientists and the captain, it was determined to forego the typical sampling along GAK1 and the Seward line and head immediately to Prince William Sound (PWS) to escape the brunt of the storm. 

After getting underway late in the evening on Wednesday, the 11th, we stopped at a station called Res 2.5 in Resurrection Bay.  This station is used to test the CTD before heading out.  Just as with any complicated equipment it takes time to work out the glitches.  For example, it is imperative to have the CTD lower and raise at a particular rate of speed for consistent results and speed and depth sensor were not initially reading correctly.  Additionally, the winch continued to give a little trouble until all the kinks were worked out close to midnight. With a night focused on transiting to PWS, sampling was put on hold until this morning.


Personal Log

There are three F’s to remember when working aboard a NOAA research vessel: Flexibility, Fortitude and Following orders.  Flexibility was the word for everyone to focus on the first day.  I was immediately impressed with how everyone was able to adjust schedules based on equipment issues, coordination with other researchers on equipment loading and storage and most of all the weather.

Yesterday, there was help needed everywhere, so I was able to lend a hand with the moving and sorting and eventually assembly of some of our equipment.  The weather was beautiful in Seward as we worked in the sunshine on the deck, knowing that a gale was brewing and would follow us on our exit from Resurrection Bay.  Helping put together the variety of nets we are going to be able to use during our night shift, gave me time to ask our team a lot of questions.  I am amazed at how open and willing the entire team is to teach me every step of the way.  I am feverishly taking notes and pictures to take it all in.

Orientation and safety are also a big part of the first day on a new ship.  Dan, the first mate, gave us a rundown of the rules and regulations for R/V Tiglax along with a tour of the ship.  We ended on the deck with a practice drill and getting into our survival suits in case of a ship evacuation. 

survival suit practice
The new crew practices with their survival suits: Emily, Jake, Kira and Cara
Cara in survival suit
Although it has been a few years, I was able to don my survival suit pretty quickly.

Adjusting to a night time schedule will be one of my greatest challenges.  Usually we work the first night but we had a break due to the weather so we were able to put off our first nighttime sampling until Thursday night.  Everyone on the night crew has a different technique to adjust their body clock.  My plan was to stay up as late as possible and then rise early.  Last night however, between the ship noise and the rocking back & forth in the high seas during our transit from Seward to Knight Island passage, I did not sleep well.  Hopefully this will inspire a nap so I can wake refreshed for our first night shift. 

When I awoke this morning at 06:00, we had entered the sheltered waters of Knight Island passage. with calm seas and a light drizzle, ready to start a full day of collection.  I was able to watch the first plankton tows with the CalVet for the daytime zooplankton team with Kira Monell and Russ Hopcroft. Additionally, I made my rounds up to the fly bridge where Dan Cushing monitors for seabirds and mammals while we are underway.  I will share details of these experiences in the coming days.

For now, it is time for lunch and my power nap.


Did You Know:

There are a wide variety of plankton sampling nets each with a unique design to capture the desired type and size of plankton.  To name a few we will be using: Bongo nets, Mutlinets (for vertical and horizontal towing), Methot trawl nets, and CalVet nets.  As I get to assist with each one of these nets, I will highlight them in my blog to give you a better idea what they look like and how they work.

Callie Harris: Jellyfish Landslide, August 15, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 8/15/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57° 16.15 N
Longitude: 152 ° 30.38 W
Wind Speed: 6.53 knots
Wind Direction: 182°
Air Temperature: 17.1°C
Sea Temperature: 15°C
Barometric Pressure: 1026 mbar


Science and Technology Log

Now that we have been out to sea for 3 days, I can better describe what my 12 hour ‘work shift’ is like. We average about three stations (i.e. research locations) per shift. Each ‘station’ site is predetermined along a set transect.

transect map of stations
Transect Map of all of our tentative stations to survey (red dots). Image credit: Matt Wilson

Before we can put any scientific equipment in the water, we have to get the all clear that there are no marine mammals sighted within 100 yards of the boat. I was thrilled yesterday and today that we had to temporarily halt our survey because of Humpback Whales and Harbor Porpoises in the area. I rushed from the scientific deck up to the bridge to get a better look. Today, we saw a total of 6 Humpback Whales, one of which was a newborn calf. Chief Electronics Technician Rodney Terry explained to me that you can identify the calf because the mother often times pushes the calf up to help it breach the surface to breathe. We observed one tall and one short breathe ‘spout’ almost simultaneously from the mother and calf respectively.

humpback whale spout
Humpback Whale breath spout off of bow.

Once we arrive at each station, we must put on all of our safety equipment before venturing out on the deck. We are required to wear steel-toed boots, a life preserver, and hardhat at all times. On scientific vessels, one must constantly be aware that there is machinery (A frames, booms, winches, etc.) moving above you overhead to help raise and lower the equipment in the water. We survey each station using bongo nets, a midwater trawl, and sometimes a CTD device. In future posts, I will go more into detailed description of what bongo nets and a CTD device entail. This post I want to focus on my favorite survey method: the midwater trawl, aka the ‘jellyfish landslide.’

A midwater trawl (aka a pelagic trawl) is a type of net fishing at a depth that is higher in the water column than the bottom of the ocean. We are using a type of midwater trawl known as a Stauffer trawl which has a cone shaped net that is spread by trawl doors.

trawl net
Trawl net aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

One of the survey’s goals over the next two weeks is to assess the number of age-0 Walleye Pollock (aka Alaskan Pollock.) These juvenile fish hatched in April/May of this year. As NOAA Scientist Dr. Lauren Rogers, my fellow shift mate, explains, this population of fish species tends to naturally ebb and flow over the years. Fisheries management groups like NOAA study each ‘year class’ of the species (i.e. how many fish are hatched each year).

Typically, pollock year classes stay consistent for four to five years at a time. However, every so often management notes an ‘explosion year’ with a really large year class. 2012 was one of these such years. Hence in 2013, scientists noted an abundance of age-1 pollock in comparison to previous years. Based on the data collected so far this season (2019), scientists are hypothesizing that 2018 was also one of these ‘explosive’ years based on the number of age-1 pollock we are observing in our trawl net samples. It is extremely important scientists monitor these ebbs and flows in the population closely to help set commercial limits. Just because there is a rapid increase in the population size one year doesn’t mean commercial quotas should automatically increase since the population tends to level itself back out the next year.

If you have ever gone fishing before, you probably quickly realized just because you want to catch a certain species doesn’t mean you are going to get it. That is why I have nicknamed our midwater trawl samples, “The jellyfish landslide.” After the trawl net is brought back onto the deck, the catch is dumped into a large metal bin that empties onto a processing table. I learned the hard way on our late night trawl that you must raise the bin door slowly or else you will have a slimy gooey landslide of jellies that overflows all over everywhere. At least we all got a good laugh at 11:15 at night (3:15AM Florida time).

Jellyfish Landslide
Jellyfish landslide! (I’m desperately trying to stop them from falling over the edge.) Photo credit: Lauren Rogers.
jellyfish landslide thumbs up
Jellyfish landslide, managed. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers

Once on the processing table, we sort each species (fish, jelly, invertebrate, etc.) into separate bins to be counted and weighed. Each fish specimen’s fork length is also measured on the Ichthystick.

Measuring fork length
Measuring fork length of pollock.

We then label, bag, and freeze some of the fish specimens to bring back for further study by NOAA scientists in the future. There is a very short time window that scientists have the ability to survey species in this area due to weather, so each sample collected is imperative.

Callie and salmon
Our first salmon catch in the trawl. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers.


Personal Log

This experience is nothing short of amazing. Upon arriving in Kodiak on Sunday, I got to spend the next two days on land with my fellow NOAA scientists setting up the boat and getting to know these inspiring humans. Everyone on the boat, scientists and the Oscar Dyson crew, are assigned a 12 hour shift. Therefore, you may not ever see half of your other ship mates unless it is at the changing of a shift or a safety drill. I did thoroughly enjoy the abandon ship safety drill yesterday where we had to put on our survival (nicknamed the orange Gumby) suits as quickly as possible.

Survival Suit Practice.
Survival Suit Practice. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers

Everyone has been commenting that I brought Key West here to Alaska. The last three days at sea have been absolutely beautiful — sunny, warm, and calm seas. I am sure I am going to regret saying that out loud, haha. At the end of my work shift, I am beat so I am beyond thrilled to curl up in my bunk for some much needed rest. Yes, it does finally get dark here around 10:30PM. I was told we might be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights toward the final days of our survey. I am also getting very spoiled by having three delicious homemade meals (and dessert J) cooked a day by Chief Steward Judy. That is all for now, we have another trawl net full of fun that is about to be pulled back onto the deck.


Did You Know?

NOAA CORPS Officer LT Laura Dwyer informed me of the ‘marine mammal’ protocol aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Scientists must temporary halt research collection if any marine mammal (i.e. a Humpback Whale, porpoise, orca, seal, etc.) is within 100 yards or less of the vessel; if a North Pacific Right Whale is within 500 yards; or if a polar bear (yes you read that correctly) is within half a mile on land or ice.


Challenge Yourself

Do you know how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit? You take the temperature in Celsius and multiply it by 1.8, then add 32 degrees. So today’s air temperature was 17°C and the sea temperature 15°C. Therefore, what were today’s temperatures in Fahrenheit? Answers will be posted in my next blog.

Shelley Gordon: Life on Board R/V Fulmar, July 23, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Shelley Gordon

Aboard R/V Fulmar

July 19-27, 2019


Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast

Date:  July 23, 2019

Weather Data: Wind – NW 19-23 knots, gust ~30 knots, wind wave ~7′, swell SSW 1′ at 16 seconds; Partly sunny, with patchy fog early

R/V Fulmar
R/V Fulmar refueling at Spud Point marina in Bodega Bay.

During this week, I am living aboard R/V Fulmar.  The “research vessel” is a 67-foot catamaran (meaning it has two parallel hulls) with an aluminum hull.  This boat was specifically designed to support research projects in the three National Marine Sanctuaries along the central and northern California coast, and was first put in the water in 2007.  Normally, the Fulmar is based out of Monterey Bay harbor in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  However, this week she is being put to work on an ACCESS cruise in the two sanctuaries a little farther to the north, Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones.  

Fishing trawlers at Spud Point marina
Fishing trawlers at Spud Point marina.

Each evening, after a full day of collecting samples, the Fulmar motors back into the harbor for the night.  We are working out of two harbors on this cruise, Sausalito and Bodega Bay.  The vibe in each harbor is quite different.  Sausalito is full of private pleasure yachts, small sailboats, and live aboard boats/houseboats.  Spud Point marina in Bodega Bay is much more of a working marina.  The majority of the boats are large fishing trawlers.  It is currently salmon fishing season, and the boats that are working bring back their daily catch to the marina so that it can be transported to market.

The Fulmar is operated by two crew members on this cruise.  Clyde Terrell is the captain and Rayon Carruthers is the first mate.  In addition to the crew there have been 6-7 scientists on board, and myself.  Jan Roletto is a scientist from Greater Farallones, Kirsten Lindquist and Dru Devlin work at the Greater Farallones Association, and from Cordell Bank we have Dani Lipski and Rachel Pound.  Jaime Jahncke is lead Principal Investigator on ACCESS and works at Point Blue Conservation Scientist.  Kate Davis, currently a post-doc at the University of South Carolina, also joined the first half of the trip.

The boat has 5 main areas.  The “bridge” contains the digital and physical equipment that the crew uses to steer the ship.  There are several computers that display radar signals and a GPS map.  In the main cabin there are bunks for sleeping, a marine head (bathroom) with a toilet, sink, and shower, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a lab/work area.  The back deck is where most of the equipment for sample collecting is stored and put to use when samples are being collected.  On the top deck there are life rafts and safety equipment, as well as an additional steering wheel.  This is also where the team sits to make observations as we move along the transects.  Finally, there are two engine rooms underneath the main cabin.

Shelley in immersion suit
Me, putting on the immersion suit. Photo: Jan Roletto

Safety on the boat is obviously very important.  Before we went the first day, I received a full safety briefing and I got to practice donning an immersion suit, which we would need to wear in the case of an emergency where we might need to evacuate the ship and be exposed to cold water for a prolonged period of time.  The immersion suit is like a full-footed, full-fingered, and hooded wetsuit.  The goal is to be able to get into the immersion suit in less than two minutes, which was actually a little more difficult than I expected given that once you have the full-fingered gloves on it is difficult to effectively use your hands to finish zipping up the suit.  Anyone working on the back deck collecting samples is required to wear a life jacket or float coat and a hard hat. 

The daily activities on the boat vary depending on your role.  In general, we have been leaving the marina between 6:30-7:00am and there has typically been a 1-2 hour transit to the first data collection station.  During that time the team is generally relaxing, preparing for the day, or employing their personal strategy to combat seasickness (napping, lying down, or sitting in the fresh air on the top deck).  I’ve been fortunate to feel pretty good on this trip and haven’t struggled with seasickness.  Once data collection begins, my role on the back deck has been a series of action and waiting.  Since we are using heavy tools to collect data at significant depths, we use a crane and cable to hoist the equipment in and out of the water.  The winch that unwinds and winds the cable can lower or lift the equipment at a rate of ~20 m/min.  For the most part while the equipment is away from the boat we are waiting, and at times we have lowered data collection tools beyond 200m, which means a travel time of ~20 minutes, down and back.

Jaime and Kirsten
Jaime Jahncke and Kirsten Lindquist recording observations along ACCESS transect 3N.

However, today we actually did observation-only lines, so I had a lot of time to relax and observe.  The weather also turned a little bit today.  We had pretty dense fog in the morning, and more wind and rougher seas than on previous days.  But, near the end of the day, as we reached Drake’s Bay in Point Reyes National Seashore, the fog suddenly cleared and Point Reyes provided some protection from the wind.  The marine life seemed to appreciate the sun and wind protection as well as there was a large group of feeding seabirds and humpback whales right off the point.  We ended the day on a pleasant, sunny ride along the coast and underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, docking for the night in Sausalito.


Did You Know?

Humpback whales are migratory.  The population we are able to see here migrate annually from their breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico.  They come each summer to enjoy the nutrient rich waters of the California coast.  Humpback whales thrive here due to upwelling of nutrients from the deep ocean, which helps supports their favorite food – krill!  Humpback whales feed all summer on krill, copepods, and small fish so that they can store up energy to migrate back down to the warmer tropical waters for the winter breeding season.  I hope they get their fill while they’re here since they won’t eat much until they return, next summer.

humpback whale tail.
A humpback whale tail. Photo: Dru Devlin

Hayden Roberts: Wet and Wild, July 14, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hayden Roberts

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 8-19, 2019


Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 14, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 29.19° N
Longitude: 83.45° W
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: 180
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 30.5°C
Barometric Pressure: 1019 mb
Sky: Few clouds


Science Log

NOAA Ship Oregon II includes many departments and sections of the ship. As part of the TAS program (Teacher at Sea), I spend most of my time assisting the research team in the wet lab, which occurs in 12-hour shifts. The wet lab is where each catch is brought after it is hauled aboard. The process involves bringing what we find in the trawling net on deck so that we can weigh, sort, count, and measure a subsample of what is found. Fortunately, we do not have to weigh and determine the sex of everything that comes aboard in the net; otherwise, it would take hours when the catch is large. By taking a subsample, fishery biologists can split the catch into percentages depending on the weight of the entire catch and sample size. This subsample’s diversity can then be used as a basis for the entire catch. This conserves our efforts and while still providing an accurate representation of what was caught.

Pulling in the trawling net
Pulling in the trawling net.
Sorting the catch
Opening and sorting the catch.
Wet Lab
Wet Lab aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.
Sorted samples
Sorted samples ready to be cataloged.

In order to ensure that our leg of the groundfish survey covers the maximum area possible, NOAA uses a method called independent random sampling. A computer program randomly selects stations or research sites based on depth data and spatial area. By choosing random samples independently, fishery biologists can ensure that they have not inadvertently singled out or favored one area over another and that the data collected represents an accurate picture of the fish population in the Gulf. Previous legs of the groundfish survey this summer have focused on research stations along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf coast. Our sampling takes place along the Florida side of the Gulf. The goal is to hit 45-50 research sites during our trip.

So far, I have learned that the eastern side of Gulf can be more challenging to survey than the west. NOAA and its SEAMAP partners have covered less area in the eastern part of the Gulf. While the eastern Gulf is not exactly uncharted waters, NOAA is still perfecting its research techniques in this part of the Gulf. As early as the 1970s, NOAA has surveyed the muddy bottom of the western Gulf off the coast of Texas. In that part of the Gulf, silt from rivers (mostly the Mississippi) makes for a more uniform surface to trawl for fish samples. East of Mobile, Alabama, tends to be rocky and sandy with outcrops of coral and sponge. The craggy surface, while ideal for a host of aquatic species, can create challenges for collecting samples. With each research station we visit on our cruise, we have to be careful not to cause too much damage to the sea floor. Therefore, we have been using a torpedo-shaped probe to scan our trawling paths before we drop the net. While this doubles the time it takes to complete each research station, it does improve our odds of collecting good samples as well as protecting our trawling net from jagged objects that might tear the net.


Did You Know?

A fishery biologist is a scientist who studies fish and their habitats. As biologists, they mostly focus on the behavior of fish in their natural surroundings. Some biologists work mostly in a lab or sorting data in a research facility like NOAA’s office in Pascagoula, but many spend quite a bit of time collecting field samples in various ecological settings. To become a fishery biologist, scientists have to study botany, zoology, fishery management, and wildlife management as a prerequisite to a career in the fish and game biology field. A bachelor’s degree may be acceptable for managerial positions, but many fishery biologists have advanced degrees such as a Master’s or Doctorate.


Personal Log

At the beginning of the cruise, we conducted safety drills aboard Oregon II. Safety drills include fire, man overboard, and abandon ship. Each drill requires the crew to go to various parts of the ship. For fire, the research crew (including myself) heads to the stern (or back of the ship) to wait instructions and to be out of the way of the deck crew working the fire. For man overboard, we are instructed to keep eyes on the individual in the water, yelling for help, and throw life preservers in the water to help mark the person’s location. For abandon ship, the crew meets on the fore deck with their life jackets and “gumby” survival suits (see picture). If life rafts can be deployed, we put on our life jackets and all of us file into groups. If we have to jump into the water, we are asked to put on our red survival suits, which are a cross between a wetsuit and a personal inflatable raft.

Hayden in gumby suit
Practicing donning my survival suit.

I asked Acting Commanding Officer Andrew Ostapenko (normally the Executive Officer but is the acting “captain” of our cruise) about what we would do in the event of a storm. With a length of 170 feet and a width of 34 feet, Oregon II is large enough to handle normal summer squalls and moderate weather like the ones we have sailed through the first few days our trip, but it is important to avoid tropical storms or hurricanes (like Barry, which is gathering near the coast of Louisiana), which are just too big to contend. On the ship, the officers keep a constant watch on the weather forecast with real-time data feeds from the National Weather Service (NWS).

As part of my orientation to the ship, I took a tour of the safety features of Oregon II with the officer in charge of safety for our cruise, OPS Officer LT Ryan Belcher. He showed us what would happen in case of an emergency. There are 6 life rafts on board, and each can hold 16 people. Three rafts position on each side of the ship, and they automatically float free and inflate if that side of the ship goes underwater. An orange rescue boat can be deployed if someone falls overboard, but that craft is more It is more regularly used for man overboard drills and to support periodic dives for underwater hull inspections and maintenance.

Rescue vessel
Rescue vessel.
radio and satellite receivers
NOAA Ship Oregon II funnel with radio and satellite receivers.
Foghorn
Foghorn is a device that uses sound to warn vehicles of navigational hazards and hazards or emergencies aboard the ship.

If an emergency on the ship did occur, it would be essential to send out a call for help. First, they would try the radio, but if radio communication no longer worked, we also have a satellite phone, EPIRBS (satellite beacons), and a radar reflector (that lets ships nearby know there is an emergency). On the lower tech end, old fashion emergency flares and parachute signals can be launched into the air so other ships could locate us.

Lisa Battig: Of Auroras, Anemometers, Anchors and Adult-sized Exposure Suits, September 3, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lisa Battig

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 28 – September 8, 2017

 

Mission: Arctic Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Location: Transit from Port Clarence to Yukon River Delta with Ship Surveying on the west side of Norton Sound
Latitude: 62o 32.5 N            Longitude:  165o 48.7 W

Date: September 3, 2017

Weather on the Bridge:
48 degrees F, Winds 6-8 knots from NNE, Seas 2-3 ft increasing, 50% cloud cover


Science and Technology Log

 AURORAS: 

Manda aurora 1
A shot of the aurora taken by Lieutenant Damien Manda, Operations Officer. This was my first aurora ever, and I know I was treated to a truly spectacular display. There was a lot of ooo-ing and aaah – ing and shrieks of delight. I was definitely one of those!

So this isn’t ship science, and it certainly isn’t technology that is made or operated by anyone on the ship, but the aurora is great science and of all the things I’ve experienced out here, has one of the best ties to Chemistry. Why Chemistry? Well, because it’s dealing with electrons. As my chemistry students will learn in a month or so, energy at certain frequencies has the ability to affect the electrons in an atom by causing them to jump up one or more energy levels. That electron does not want to stay in that higher energy position (orbital) so it will shortly drop back down. When it does so, it releases the absorbed energy as a photon of light which is what our eyes see as the brilliant colors. Neon lights follow this principle.

The aurora occurs in an oval shape around the magnetic poles of the earth – both north and south. The reason for this is that the magnetic field of the earth dips closer to earth at the North and South Pole. It is in these regions that highly charged electrons and protons from the solar wind move close enough to the earth that they will interact with the electrons in elements in our lower atmosphere; nitrogen, oxygen, argon and the trace gases.

Because each element has a different emission spectrum, the color given off will vary with the elements being charged. The green that is so often associated with auroras is from atmospheric oxygen. Oxygen in the lower atmosphere is the element that is most commonly affected by the solar wind particles. When higher altitude oxygen is affected, reds will actually be present. Nitrogen will also be charged this way, but less frequently than oxygen. Nitrogen’s color scheme is blues and purples. A strong aurora, which we had the opportunity to see, will have a mix of greens, pinks, purples, whites and blues.

ANEMOMETERS: Weather is one of the more important factors in determining ship navigation. High winds bring heavy seas; heavy moisture in the air may bring low clouds or fog reducing visibility. These factors must be figured into a navigational plan. Weather on the ship is compiled both through analog and digital means. The first wind information given to a seaman standing watch during daylight hours is the wind vane on the bow of the ship. It will tell which direction the wind is from and will give that seaman a sense of how the ship may drift off course while underway.

Fairweather anemometer
Looking up at the anemometers on Fairweather set on the flying bridge. You can see the two levels reasonably well. This is where constant weather data are being gathered which are then relayed to multiple places both on the ship and off.

The ship also has two anemometers. Both are on the mast. One is above the other physically as you somewhat see in the image. They are able to pick up exact wind speed and direction and keep record of maxima. One of the two will be chosen as dominant because the wind is less influenced by obstacles as it (the wind) travels across the ship’s surface. The anemometer chosen will feed into the ship’s digital data stream.The watch also takes data on air temperature, atmospheric pressure, cloud cover, and seas. Air temperature is taken from wet and dry bulb mercury thermometers. The difference between the wet and dry bulb temperatures will give a reading of relative humidity, also, when assessed using a psychrometric chart. A standard barometer is also on the bridge. Swell height and direction are determined by the watch crew visually, as are cloud cover and type. All of these data are recorded hourly. Digital sensors on board also take many of these readings and feed them into the navigation system and the ship’s ECDIS system. The redundancy of these processes, using both digital and analog means, underscore the importance of weather to the ship.

All NOAA ships, UNOLS (university ships) and some merchant vessels also serve as weather stations for the National Weather Service. The digital data is automatically sent on the hour. Visual data on swell direction and height and the condition of the seas is shared through another program, keeping the NWS and other weather agencies more informed of local weather activity.

ANCHORS:

watching the anchor and chain
Commanding Officer Mark Van Waes and Chief Bosun Brian Glunz checking the anchor and chain to be sure it is clear of the ship. Dennis Brooks is standing by.

 

When placing the anchor, the ship will initially overshoot the anchor location and then reverse back over it. This is primarily to keep the anchor and chain from ever being underneath the ship. The anchor and chain are extremely heavy and could do serious damage to the scientific equipment underneath, the propellers and even scratch up the hull. Once the ship has reversed slowly to the location, the anchor is dropped along with 5-7 times the amount of chain as the depth of water the ship is in. As the chain is dropping, the ship will continue to slowly back up laying the chain along the seafloor. The chain will then be locked, and as the anchor finally drags back, it will catch and hold. When the anchor catches, the ship will buck slightly, pulling the chain completely taut, and then because the ship will rebound, the chain will slacken. This is done twice (or more, if necessary) to ensure the anchor has really caught. The bosun and deck hands are watching over the side of the ship communicating with the bridge when the anchor is taut and slack as well. For complete safety, fixed points of land are marked on the radar and distances to each are calculated. The bridge will take measurements from these points every 10 minutes for the first half hour confirming that the anchor is set and then every half hour while at anchor.

Heaving the anchor involves “reeling” it in (similar to sport fishing) by getting the ship closer to the anchor as it is being drawn up. The goal is keeping the chain at a 90o angle to the surface of the water. Again, this keeps the anchor and chain from being able to do damage to the ship. During this process, the bridge will continually check the location of the bow relative to the anchor to insure that the hull will never cross over the chain. Once the ship is directly over the anchor, it should pull free. Finally, during the time the anchor chain is being pulled up, it must be cleaned of all the mud and debris.

washing the anchor chain
Me. Washing down the anchor chain as it comes up with SS Dennis Brooks helping hold the fire hose (it’s pretty heavy!)

ADULT EXPOSURE SUITS: 

Exposure suit
Me trying on a VERY large adult exposure suit. Look at those legs!!

Each week, the entire crew of the ship has an emergency drill. Because there are no outside emergency personnel available for the ship (e.g. fire department) all crew must be well trained in how to handle fires, a sinking ship, and a person falling overboard. There are many crewmembers who pursued their MPIC (Medical Person in Charge), and others who are trained in Rescue Swimming, and there are also members of the Engineering crew who are trained firefighters. But regardless of training, the entire crew needs to be clear as to their responsibilities in an emergency situation and how to communicate with one another throughout the ordeal. So once a week, an unannounced drill will be run to sharpen some of these skills.

I had the chance to be involved with “man overboard” drill today. The drill consisted of me screaming as a dummy (Oscar) with a life vest was dumped over the side. After that, a man overboard was called and the ship’s alarm system was initiated. There are differing signals for each type of emergency. As all ship personnel mustered, communication began. The Commanding Officer, Mark Van Waes, was actually the first to spot the MOB (man overboard) and fixed the location for the bridge who subsequently relayed it through ship communications. At that point, two different options were available; bringing the ship to a position next to the victim and rescuing from the ship or deploying the Fast Rescue Boat mentioned in my last post to do a rescue. Although the ship was brought around, the rescue from the ship proved too difficult. The Fast Rescue boat was deployed with a coxswain, rescue diver (outfitted in an exposure suit) and a third. The MOB was found, placed on a back board, brought back to the ship, and rescue breathing was started along with warming up of the body.

It was fantastic watching all of the different pieces of the puzzle come together to be successful.


Department of the Day: The Deck Crew!

The Deck Crew
The amazing deck crew! L-R back row: Terry Ostermeyer, Dennis Brooks, Brian ____. L-R front row: Carl Coonts, Rick Ferguson, Me, Peter “Nick” Granozio

Every department is important on Fairweather, but the deck crew does a lot of difficult tasks that are often overlooked. They are the ones who keep the ship clean and stocked with supplies. They do the heavy lifting and the fixing of anything non-mechanical. They are responsible for driving the small launches – and are indispensable to the surveys since they need to drive the lines and make the call if it gets too shallow or dangerous. They are also on bridge watch and typically have the helm, meaning they are driving the big ship, too!

Deck crew launches the small boats from Fairweather and they head up the line handling to keep everyone safe. Members of the deck crew are also on watch 24 hours a day and do constant security checks throughout the entire ship every hour. They operate all of the cranes onboard. They are responsible for the flow of materials – what will be incinerated or placed in hazmat containers or stored for later disposal – and then take care of it. Finally, they also do the physical work of anchoring and heaving the anchors. The ship certainly would not run without the deck department.


Personal Log

Getting to know the different groups of people that work here has been amazing. I’ve had opportunities to work closely with the Survey team, the NOAA Corps officers, the stewards and the deck department. I’ve had a chance to see a bit of what the engineering group does, too. I’ve learned so much about the work they do and even about the lives they led before and lead now. I’ve also learned that ship life has some big ups and downs. The work is fascinating and most of the time there are new and interesting things to do. The CO, XO and Ops Officer work hard to ensure that daily duties change often and that there is a constant atmosphere of training.

But it’s difficult to be out at sea for long periods of time, and Fairweather in particular does not have a true “home port” – so it’s virtually impossible to have a place to call home. Several of the folks on this ship have family around the area of where Hurricane Irma is about to hit (Florida, the Carolinas…) and so one of the crewmembers is on his way to Florida to make sure everything is going to be okay. On the flip side, you really do get to see amazing places and events – like the aurora at the top of my post, or Russia…

Little and Big Diomede from Kyle
The islands of Little Diomede (left, foreground) and Big Diomede (right, background). Little Diomede is American land but Big Diomede is Russian. I saw Russia!

 


 Did You Know?

…that exposure (immersion) suits really do extend your life? In March 2008, up here in the Bering Sea, a fishing trawler, Alaska Ranger, went down with 47 people on it. All 47 put exposure suits on prior to abandoning ship – some of them were not properly fitted, one ended up with a gash in it – but at least they all put them on. While lifeboat deploys were attempted, at least two of the lifeboats ended up floating away with no one in them. Only 2 were properly deployed and one of those took on water immediately. So exposure suits were the primary survival tool! Although 5 members of the crew did not make it, 42 were saved through the actions of the US Coast Guard and others in the 1-7 hour window after hitting the water. Some of the crew members were floating in the water in their suits for 3 hours before they were rescued! The necessity of proper training, like the weekly drills on NOAA ships, cannot be overstated. But in these worst case scenarios, even an ill-fitting exposure suit is going to give you more time.

Susan Brown: Let’s Go Fishing, September 4, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017

Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 4, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29 43.931N
Longitude: 086 09.617W
Sea wave height: .5 meters
Wind Speed: 2
Wind Direction: 250 degrees
Visibility: good
Air Temperature: 28.3 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1016 mb
Sky: partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Numbered tags used for each hook

Mackerel used for bait

Today was my first shift. We are using mackerel to bait the 100 hooks that will be places into the water at a specific station. Each hook is numbered so that we can collect data on which hook brought in a fish and entered into the database. There are several jobs out here from baiting the hooks, placing the buoys, flinging the baited hooks out, and recording data in the computer. My job today is the computer.

entering data on the deployment of the baited hooks

The longline is set and left to sit in the ocean for approximately one hour before we start bringing up the line to see if we have a fish on. Out of the 100 hooks we got one fish, a baby tiger shark and a larger juvenile tiger shark coming in at six feet or so. This tiger shark had several hooks in its mouth as well as a tag so when she was brought up on board, all the hooks were removed and the tag replaced with a new one.

IMG_5947
Removing hooks from the tiger shark’s mouth

The tag that was on the tiger shark was opened up to reveal a small scroll of paper with a unique number so that this shark can be tracked from where it was first picked up to when it ended up with us for the brief visit. Below is a short video of us bringing up the shark in the cradle! [no dialogue or narration.]

We will be setting another line tonight at our second station as we continue to motor southeast following the coast of Florida.

Beside recording data on the sharks, a CTD is deployed to collect data on conductivity, temperature and depth. We will use this data in the classroom to look for trends between the abiotic factors that may influence where we are finding certain shark species and the number of overall sharks at any given station.

The CTD that measure conductivity, temperature and depth

Personal Log

There are many different scientists on board researching different things. I am sharing a stateroom with Dani who is on the night shift. She is looking into how different sharks handle stress. I see very little of her since we are on opposite shifts so we get a quick visit at noon when there is a changing of the guards so of say. Brett and Carlos, as mentioned in an earlier post, are looking into parasites that inhabit the various animals we are bringing up. I will do a separate blog on those two and their research later this week to share what they are finding.

Donning the survival suit during abandon ship drill

Today we had a few drills to practice in case of an emergency. One was a fire drill and the other was an abandon ship drill where I had to don a large neoprene suit in less than two minutes. Here I am in that suit! It was quite cumbersome to put on.

Learning new words as I get acclimated to the ship. Here are a few for you:

The head = bathroom

Stateroom = room where I sleep

Muster = to assemble

Bow = the front of the ship

Stern = the back of the ship

Did You Know?

Military time is used on board this ship. See the photo of the clock below.

Question of the Day: Why use military time?

NOAA clock

Louise Todd, Underway, September 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 16, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1014.01mb
Sea Temperature: 28.8˚Celsius
Air Temperature: 29.9˚C
Wind speed: 19.22 knots

Science and Technology Log:

Oregon II
Oregon II (Photo Credit NOAA)

We left Galveston a little before 2pm on Sunday, September 15.  We were in transit to our first sampling location and should arrive there around 8pm tonight.  Depending on the conditions we might actually be able to do some fishing tonight!

Today we went through our abandon ship drill.  The ship’s alarm is used to alert everyone on board in the event of an emergency.  Abandon ship is indicated by 7 short rings followed by one long ring of the alarm.  When the alarm sounds with the abandon ship signal, we must carry our survival suits, personal flotation devices (PFDs), long pants, a hat and a long-sleeved shirt to the well deck, at the bow (front) of the ship.  My survival suit and personal flotation device (PFD) are kept in cabinets in my room.  The survival suit is tricky to get on and it gets very, very warm when you are wearing it!

Survival Suit
In my survival suit (Photo Credit Lisa Jones)

Personal Log:

During this initial transit, there hasn’t been much for me to do.  I spent a lot of time sleeping on Sunday.  The way the waves rock the ship back and forth makes me very sleepy!  I have taken a few short naps today in order to be ready in case we do any fishing on the later part of my shift tonight.  I am on the day shift which means I will work noon to midnight.  I think it will take me some time to get used to staying up that late but I think these naps will help!  As we start fishing the days will be much busier for me so staying awake will be easy I hope.  The views off of the ship are amazing.  I was surprised to see how blue the water gets.

View off the ship
View off the Oregon II

My stateroom is very comfortable and I have plenty of space in drawers and cabinets for everything I brought with me.  I am getting used to latching doors and drawers behind me so they do not slam back and forth as the ship rocks.  On the ship there is always someone sleeping so everyone works hard to be courteous and stay quiet.

My stateroom
My stateroom

My roommate is an officer on the ship so we are usually in the room at different times.  Officers on NOAA ships are part of the NOAA Corps.  Roommates are usually assigned based on the shifts people are working so each person has some time alone in the room.  As we start fishing more I will bring my computer and other items I might want throughout the day into one of the labs on the ship so I won’t have to go in and out of the room when my roommate might be sleeping.  The curtains are helpful in blocking out any light that might prevent you from sleeping.  The showers are right next to my room which is convenient and the common head (bathroom) is just around the corner.

There are plenty of food choices in the galley on the ship and everything has been delicious.  In the mornings you can even get eggs made to order!  I certainly don’t think I will be going hungry!

Did You Know?

Even in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, hypothermia is risk due to the difference in water temperature and our body temperatures.  The survival suit helps to protect our bodies from the difference in temperature.

 

Liz Harrington: The Adventure Begins – Setting Sail! August 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 13, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly Cloudy
Lat. 24.24 ° N  Lon. 81.17 ° W
Temp.  86.9° F ( 30.5 °C)
Wind speed 12.1 knots
Barometer 1017 mb
Visibility 10 mi

Science and Technology Log

I’m very excited to finally be aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II.  Everyone I have met has made me feel very welcome.  I know I’m going to have a fantastic time.

Oregon II
Oregon II docked in Mayport, FL

The Oregon II set off from Mayport, Florida (near Jacksonville) Saturday at 1:30 pm (which is 13:30 our time since the crew uses the 24 hour time system).

24-hour Clock
24-hour Clock

We will travel along the entire eastern coast of Florida, around the Florida Keys and into the Gulf of Mexico where the fishing will begin.  I am on the second leg of a four leg Shark/Red Snapper survey.  This is a yearly survey with the purpose of gathering data on a number of shark species and Red Snapper, a popular commercial and recreational fish.  The majority of the sharks caught are weighed, measured, tagged and released.  A few are dissected, with tissue samples being taken for further studies.  The focus on the Red Snapper is to assess the health of the population.  With this information the fishing regulations are revised to ensure a sustainable Red Snapper stock.

The general public is beginning to understand that sharks don’t deserve their reputation as vicious killers but are actually an important link in the marine food web.  The data collected from the surveys will be used to better understand the various shark species and to inform those responsible for updating the fishing regulations.

The Oregon II is a beautiful ship with a friendly and welcoming crew.  One thing that stands out to me is the focus on safety.  Upon arriving at the ship I immediately noticed the bright red message stenciled upon her.  The commitment to that message is evident throughout the ship with safety equipment readily available, briefings for the new people arriving, life raft assignments and safety drills carried out.

Safety is an important practice on the Oregon II.
Safety is an important practice on the Oregon II.

Yesterday we participated in two safety drills.  The first was a Spill Drill.  When the alarm sounded people went to their assigned stations.  Members of the Science Team went to the dry lab and were all accounted for. Other members of the crew reported to the spill area with the appropriate gear to contain and clean up the mock spill.  A second drill we performed was an Abandon Ship drill.  In this drill we all needed to report to the foredeck with our survival suit, our PFD (personal flotation device or life jacket) and a set of clothing to protect against sun exposure (hat, long pants and long-sleeved shirt). We all had to demonstrate putting on our PFD as well as our survival suit. It may not surprise you to hear that I had plenty of room inside my survival suit and it was very easy to get into.

Fire fighting gear ready to go.
Fire fighting gear ready to go.

However, I did have to concentrate to zip the suit with my big, mitted hand. You may have thought, as I had, that survival suits were for the chilly northern waters.  But the ocean temperature here is close to 80° F while our body temperature is 98.6°.  It wouldn’t take long to chill and become hypothermic.  It is very comforting to know that safety plays such an important role on this ship and the captain and crew follow the saying “plan for the worst, hope for the best”.

survival suit
Abandon ship drill requires putting on a survival suit.

This morning we are located just south of the Florida Keys.  Our latitude is 24.24° N.  We are close to the Tropic of Cancer, but we won’t be crossing it.

sunrise off Florida Keys
Sunrise off the Florida Keys

Once around the Keys we’ll begin to head north again.  We may begin fishing this evening or early tomorrow morning, as soon as we reach our first survey point.  I’m looking forward to learning how the fishing is done and especially seeing what we catch.

storing suit
Survival suit is properly stored so it is always ready for use.

PFD
Easy access to PFDs stored in our rooms.

life raft
Self-inflating life raft. I am assigned to Life Raft #1.

Amie Ell: Deadman’s Bay, July 11, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amie Ell
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 7 – July 11, 2013

Mission: Alaska Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 11th, 2013

Location Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 56.56 N
Longitude: 152.74 W
Ship speed:   11.3 kn

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 10.7 degrees Centigrade
Surface water temperature: 8.6 degrees Centigrade
Wind speed:  18 kn
Wind direction: 250 degrees
Barometric pressure: 1016 mb

Science and Technology Log:

Nets on Spools
Nets on Spools

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Full net on deck

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Pollock from a bottom trawl

So now that you know what we do with the fish after they are caught, let’s go back and see how the fishermen trawl.  There are two large nets at the stern of the ship.  Today we used both nets for the first time.  The scientists, crew, and fishermen all work together to catch the fish.  In the acoustics lab Paul is reviewing and scrutinizing the data he receives from the echo locators mounted on the hull of the ship.  There are many factors he must evaluate in order to have a good trawl.  There are places in our area that have been marked as “untrawlable”.  This is usually due to a sea floor that is rocky.  Trawling in these places may ruin the nets.  We have completed at least one trawl a day since we have been out to sea.  Today we completed two during my watch.  The first was with a larger net and was not sent all the way to the bottom.  The second trawl was sent to the bottom with a smaller net.  The bottom trawl brought up the largest pollock I have seen so far.  The longest pollock was 75 cm.  We also brought up a salmon, cod,   rock fish, and a whole lot of herring.

Crane lifting the net to be dumped into the bin.
Crane lifting the net to be dumped into the bin.

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The CamTrawl being removed after a trawl.

The nets are both on large spools and are released or returned with the help of a very large winch.  Before the net is released into the water the CamTrawl is attached to it.  This is a camera that takes pictures that help the scientists see at what point in the trawl fish were entering the net.

Example photo from the CamTrawl.  A Salmon Shark caught on the first leg.
Example photo from the CamTrawl. A Salmon Shark caught on the first leg.

The time that the net is in the water depends on the information about the amount of fish coming from the acoustics lab.  Scientists watch the echo information to determine how much time the net should be in the water to catch enough fish to sample.  We must have at least 300 pollock to make a complete survey.

The fishermen bring the nets back to the trawl deck and wind them back onto the spools.  They then will use a crane to lift the catch and dump it into a bin.  From the fish lab we can lift this bin to dump the fish onto the conveyor belt.

Personal Log

Me in my survival suit
Me in my survival suit

Entering Deadman's Bay
Entering Deadman’s Bay

On Monday, we had our weekly fire and abandon ship drills.  After the drills I practiced putting on my survival suit.  This suit is designed to keep you afloat and warm in the event that you have to go into the water.

Deadman's Bay
Deadman’s Bay

On Tuesday, we surveyed up into Deadman’s Bay.  It was a beautiful sun shiny day and the scenery was amazing.  We were very close to the shore on both sides.  I sat out on the trawl deck and scanned the hillsides with my binoculars.  I was told that it is common to see bears here, but I did not see any.

Marla Crouch: Gumbi Marla and Setting Course, June 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marla Crouch
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 8-26, 2013 
 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 18, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: as of 1900
Wind Speed 13.48 kts
Air Temperature 7.0°C
Relative Humidity 99.00%
Barometric Pressure 1,010.00.5 mb

Latitude:  54.31N   Longitude: 159.80W

Science and Technology Log

Another fashion statement – Gumbi Marla

Here I am, all zipped up in my immersion suit.
Here I am, all zipped up in my immersion suit.

I’ve donned an immersion suit, also known as a survival suit.  One of the first things I did when I came aboard was to locate this suit and my life vest, two pieces of equipment that save lives.  In the event we had to abandon ship, the survival suit would keep me both warm and afloat until rescue.  During our evacuation drill we needed to unpack and get into the suit, and be completely zipped up in 60 seconds or less.  Getting into the suit was much easier after I took my shoes off, as the soles caught on the fabric of the suit.  The suit is made of neoprene, which was invented in 1930.  SCUBA wetsuits are also made of neoprene, and even some laptop and tablet cases.

In an earlier blog I talked about the CTD being used to calibrate the sonar aboard the Oscar Dyson, but not all technologies on the Dyson are as high tech as the CTD and sonar equipment.  In fact you can build a weather station at home that is similar to some of the equipment used by the Dyson’s crew.  Below is a picture of a hygrometer.  There are actually two hygrometers aboard, one is located on each side of the bridge.  Hygrometers are used to measure relative humidity (how much moisture is in the air).   Also pictured is the wind bird which shows the direction the wind is moving.  The propeller was actually turning rapidly when the picture was taken.  The camera was able to “stop” the action.  The wind bird is mounted atop the jack staff, high above the bow.

Hygrometers are weather instruments used to measure relative humidity.
Hygrometers are weather instruments used to measure relative humidity.

Wind bird

The following link shows you how to build six instruments for monitoring the weather.

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/for_fun/BuildyourownWeatherStation.pdf

If you checked out the above link, how many snow days to you think the kids in North Dakota had?

Did you check out ship tracker?  If you did, the screen shot below will look familiar.  The blue lines in the water display the Dyson’s course.  Each segment of the course is called a transect.  Transects are numbered, enabling scientists to easily reference a location.

Oscar Dyson's course as of 6 18 13
Oscar Dyson‘s course as of 6 18 13

Are you wondering why we have traveled in rectangular patterns?  The scientists establish this course for a several reasons:

  1. Transects run perpendicular to the coast line, covering a wide range of bathymetry over the shortest distance.
  2. Regularly spaced transects (as opposed to randomly spaced or scattered) are correlated with historical data, and are the best way to describe the distribution of pollock.
  3. The combination of transects collects sufficient data to allow scientists to estimate the overall size of the pollock population with a high degree of certainty.

Does anyone have an idea about the meaning of “bathymetry” and a “leg”?  No, in this case a leg is not something you stand on.  Bathymetry is the shape and depth of the ocean floor, and a bathymetry contour line on a chart connects points of equal depth (like a topographic map).  A leg, in this context, is a segment of the overall distance covered in the survey.

The information collected during this year’s survey helps determine the number of pollock that can be caught in next year’s fishing season.

Here is the ship tracker link, you can check out the Dyson’s course and other NOAA ships as well.

http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html

Personal Log 

I want to revisit the sonar of Mystery Mix One.  In my last blog I talked about what was happening near the surface of the ocean.  This time I want to focus beneath the sea floor.

Graphic provided by NOAA
Graphic provided by NOAA

Look beneath the red, yellow, and green bands, depicting the sea floor, at the blue color, notice how the density of color changes over time.  The density of the color tells scientists about the composition of the sea bed.  The denser the color, the denser or harder the seafloor is likely to be; probably, the places with the dark, dense color are rocky areas, which attract the fish schools seen in the water above.

Looking at this graph reminds me of an experiment that my husband worked on, when he worked for Charles Stark Draper Labs, in Boston, MA.  He worked on a Gravity Gradiometer that was sent to the moon on Apollo 17.  The gradiometer measured the changes in gravity.  The changes in gravitational strength give scientists information about what lays beneath the moon surface, like the sonar provides information about the sea bed.  The Gravity Gradiometer was a very specialized version of equipment that is commonly used in prospecting for oil on Earth.  I am sharing this story because, in class, one of our foci is to take what we know and apply the knowledge to a new scenario.  Next question:  Where will what we know now, take us in the future?

Did You Know?

Some fish can see color.

Patty McGinnis: Let’s Go Trawling! May 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Farallones
Date: Friday, May 24, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 37 ° 41.2’  N
Longitude: 122 ° 52.0’ W
Air Temperature: 10.5 Celsius
Wind Speed:  24 knots with gusts as high as 30 knots
Wind Direction: NW
Surface Water Temperature: 9.11 Celsius
Weather conditions: mostly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Last night was my first night of actual work; work that is a challenge given the fact that the boat is moving constantly. There are quite a few tasks that the scientists hope to accomplish over the next week. They will be periodically be deploying a unit called the CTD. The CTD is a carousel that samples for conductivity/salinity temperature, and depth, at a continuous rate as it is lowered from the craft towards the bottom of the ocean floor. The unit transmits data to a computer program which in data analysis and for calibrating the instruments on the CTD itself.

This machine is called a CTD and measures conductivity, temperature, and depth
This machine is called a CTD and measures conductivity, temperature, and depth

The CTD also holds bottles are “fired” at various depths for the purpose of capturing a sample of sea water. The first of these occurs at the lowest point, which is approximately at 10-20 meters above the sea floor. The second bottle fires at the point at which the highest chlorophyll concentration was measured as the CTD made its way to the bottom. This chlorophyll max indicates the productivity created by photosynthetic organisms. The last bottle is fired at five meters below the surface. Water from the bottles is filtered and run through a benchtop fluorometer to obtain chlorophyll concentration which can then be used to estimate primary productivity, or the speed at which photosynthetic organisms produce new matter. Although this measurement may seem a bit boring to some, especially when compared to fish and marine mammals, it is important to remember that photosynthetic organism make up the basis of the food chain and without them no other organisms would exist in the oceans.

The Ocean Starr's floating laboratory
The Ocean Starr’s floating laboratory

My work, however, involves sifting the trawl catches. A trawl is a net that is dragged 30 meters from the surface of the water and is designed to catch organisms in the water column. The trawl is shaped like an ice cream cone with an end called the codend made up of a small mesh that prevents organisms from escaping. The scientist is charge of this part of the operations is Keith, an entertaining character who enjoys telling stories. He has informed me that trawling is conducted at night because if held during the day the fish can see the net and avoid it. Night trawls are therefore the preferred method for sampling for juvenile fish. There are several other people who assist in sorting the catches. Among them are Amber, a member of the NOAA core, Lindsay, who is a fisheries technician, and Kaia, who is a volunteer.

The water has been quite rough, so rough that we altered course last night and made modifications to our planned course which meant only four 15-minute trawls were conducted instead of the planned five. The majority of last night’s haul was krill; a shrimp-like organism about an inch or inch and a half in length. Mixed in with the numerous krill was a variety of organisms that included juvenile rockfish species, juveniles from other types of fish, market squid, Gonatus squid, and several octopi. In addition, we collected jelly-fish like organisms called ctenophores and colonial salps (a common name for any type of gelatinous zooplankton). Ctenophores have sticky cells that trap their food while colonial salps are filter feeders; both consume phytoplankton and zooplankton. Someone unfamiliar with these organisms might have difficulty believing that they are animals since they lack any readily apparent brain, eyes, ears, or mouth.

Does this look like an animal to you?
Does this look like an animal to you?

This salp is from the genus Thetys
This salp is from the genus Thetys

assortment of catch
Some of the typical organisms in a catch

                                       

Tonight we conducted a 5-minute trawl to “test” the waters for the presence of jellyfish. Since jellyfish can quickly clog a net, it is important to determine if the area is suitable for trawling before commencing operations. The exploratory trawl produced no jellyfish, so a 15-minute trawl has conducted. Unfortunately, little was obtained during the first trawl, while the second trawl yielded a number of market squid. We’ll continue operations throughout the evening. There is a good bit of down time between each trawl since we have to move to a different point between trawls and wait for the CTD to be deployed at each site. While I keep busy working on my blog, others surf the Internet, nap, eat a snack, or chat. Which would YOU do???

Lindsay and Amber record data
Lyndsey and Amber record data

Check out the krill!
Check out the krill!

I'm holding a juvenile rockfhish
I’m holding a juvenile rockfish

Personal Log

Yesterday morning Dave, one of the crew, went over the safety rules and emergency procedures with me. As part of my training I put on my survival suit which is designed to keep me afloat if there should be a reason to have to evacuate the ship. I hope I never have to actually use it, as is not the easiest item to put on. The large rubberized gloves make it very difficult to pull up the zipper (and it gives you some bad “hat hair!”).

Thumbs up for the survival suit
Thumbs up for the survival suit

I have quickly come to realize that the galley area is the place people come to congregate. Because of the various shifts, food is available 24-7. A whiteboard proclaims the meal times (6 am, 11 am, 5 pm, and 11 pm). The cook, Crystal, has been very accommodating regarding my request of non-dairy products; I have been treated to several non-dairy cheeses and was happy to see soy milk in the fridge. Others were happy to spot the special freezer that contains ice cream.

Along with the varied mealtimes comes varied sleep times; I will be working the night shift starting last night. I am a bit surprised to learn that the majority of the work is actually done during the night; while there are six of us who do the sampling for the night shift, there are only three who work during the day.

Shhhh! People sleeping!
Shhhh! People sleeping!

I have spent quite a bit of time chatting with Don, a fisheries biologist who dabbles in hobbies such as robotics, computer animation, and origami. His main job is to communicate with the captain regarding our course to ensure that we are trawling in the correct areas. He had warned me that things would get rocking once we are underway. Evidently a stubborn stationary high pressure system is responsible for rough seas. A small weather craft has been declared, and although we are not a small weather craft, we are not immune from the effects of the elements.

Don has been correct in his predictions. As I sit here typing in the laboratory, papers and magazines are sliding from one end of the table to the other as the ship rolls back and forth. The pitch today has changed from yesterday. The intensity is no doubt responsible for my discomfort. As the ship pitches unpredictably, I find that my stomach rolls as well despite a preventative course of seasickness medication. Even the old trick of looking out on the horizon did not help much this afternoon when the horizon disappeared and reappeared with each roll. I find it interesting that I am in minority and wonder if immunity to seasickness is something akin to immunity to poison ivy (not that I’m immune to that, either!). My friend Don assures me that things will be calmer soon; the swells are supposed to decrease substantially within the next 24 hours and as long as I “don’t mind a little rain” things should be improving.

Despite this, I am enjoying the friendship of my new acquaintances and have many new “firsts” such as holding an octopus in my hand, truly comprehending what krill look like, and seeing blue whales for the first time. Tomorrow will no doubt bring more surprises as I continue to adjust to life at sea.

Did You Know?

That fish are aged by their ear bones?

Andrea Schmuttermair: Tows Away! June 26, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 26, 2012 

Ship  Data from the Bridge:
Latitude:  2805.26N
Longitude: 9234.19W
Speed:  10mph
Wind Speed:  5.86 knots
Wind Direction:   E/SE
Surface Water Salinity:  35.867 PPT
Air Temperature:  28.8 C
Relative Humidity: 86%
Barometric Pressure:  1010.51 mb
Water Depth:  96.5 m

Science and Technology Log


Sunrise
Sunrise on the Oregon II

Opisthonema oglinum, Lagadon rhomboides, Chloroscombus chrysurus…..yes, I have officially started dreaming about taxonomic names of our fish. It’s day 4 and I now have a much better grasp at identifying the variety of critters we pull up in our trawls. I am always excited to be out on deck when they bring up the trawl to see what interesting critters we catch. Surprises are great!

Do you want to know where the Oregon II is headed?

Check out Ship Tracker at http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/

If you click on the link above, you can see the path that our ship is taking to hit all of our stations for the survey. We often have station after station to hit- meaning as soon as we are done sorting and measuring, we have to bring in the next catch. Because some stations are only 3-5 miles apart, we sometimes have to do “double dips”, where we put in the trawl for 30 minutes, pull it up, and put it right back in again.

It’s been interesting to note the variety of our catches. Croakers, bumperfish, and shrimp have been in high abundance the last 2 days as we were in shallower water. Before that we had a couple of catches that had a high abundance of pinfish. When we take our subsample, we typically enter data for up to 20 of that particular species. We take length measurements on each fish, and on every fifth fish. We will also weigh and sex it (if sexing is possible).

Shrimp in the Gulf
A comparison of the various sizes of shrimp we pull up from our trawls.

Shrimp waiting to be measures
A relatively small catch in comparison to the 200+ we’ve been pulling up recently.

When we were in shallower waters, we had a significant increase in the number of shrimp we brought up. Tuesday morning was the first catch that did not have well over 200 shrimp (this is because we’ve been moving into deeper waters).  For the 3 commercial shrimp, white (farfantepenaeus setiferus), pink (farfantepenaeus duorarum), and brown (farfantepenaeus aztecus), we take 200 samples, as opposed to our high-quantity fish, where we will only take 20 samples. For each of the commercial shrimp we catch, we measure, weigh and sex each shrimp. I’ve gotten very good at identifying the sex of shrimp- some of the fish are much more difficult to tell. The information we get from this survey will determine the amount of shrimp that boats can take during the shrimping season in Louisiana and Mississippi. During the first leg of the groundfish survey, the data collected determined the amount of shrimp that could be caught in Texas. The groundfish survey is crucial for the shrimping industry and for ensuring that shrimp are not overfished.

Students- think of the food chain. What would happen if we overfished and took out too many shrimp? (Hint: Think of predators and prey.)

Sunrise
The trawl net at sunrise

We’ve now started doing 2 different tows  in addition to our trawls. Some of the stations are trawl stations, whereas others are plankton stations.

The trawl on deck
Alex, Alonzo and Reggie unloading the trawl net.

At a trawl station, we lower the trawl from the stern down to the ocean floor. The trawl net is meant for catching larger critters that live at the bottom of the ocean. There is a chain, also known as a “tickler”, which moves lightly across the ocean floor to lure fish to leave their hiding spots and swim into our net. The trawl is down for 30 minutes, after which it is brought back on deck to weigh the total catch, and then brought back into the wet lab for sorting.

Another important mission of the groundfish survey is to collect plankton samples. To do this, we use a Neuston tow and a bongo tow.

neuston tow
The Neuston tow about to pick up a lot of Sargassum- oh no!

The Neuston tow has a large, rectangular frame with a fine mesh net attached to it. At the end of the net is a large cylindrical bucket, called a codend, with a mesh screen meant for catching the organisms. In comparison to the trawl net, which has openings of 41.4mm , the Neuston’s mesh is only 0.947mm. This means the mesh is significantly finer, meant for catching some of the smaller critters and plankton that would otherwise escape the trawl net. The Neuston tow is put on the surface of the water and towed for 10 minutes. Half the tow is in the water while half is out. We end up picking up a lot of Sargassum, or, seaweed, that is found floating at the water’s surface. When we gather a lot of Sargassum, we have to sift through it and spray it to get out any of the organisms that like to hide in their protective paradise.

Bongo tow
The bongo tow on deck waiting to be sent down to about 3m from the ocean floor.

After we’ve completed the Neuston tow, we do the bongo tow.  The bongo’s mesh is even finer than the Neuston tow’s mesh at only 0.333mm. The bongo has 2 parts- a left and a right bongo (and yes they do look a little like bongo drums- hence their name). The top part of the bongo is a large cylinder with an open bottom and top. The net is attached to this cylinder, and again at the bottom of each side is cylindrical tube  called codends meant to catch the plankton. The bongo tow is meant to take a sample from the entire water column. This means that instead of riding on the surface of the water, it gets sent down to about 3 meters from the ocean floor (there is a sensor at the top that is 2m from the bottom of the net)  and brought back up immediately.

Sifting through the sieve
The remnants from our Neuston tow. This is the sieve we use to weed out what we want and don’t want.

bongo leftover
Here are our 2 samples from the bongo tow. The left one is preserved in ethanol and the right is preserved in formaldehyde (10% formalin and sea water)

Neuston tow samples
Here is a sample from the Neuston tow. Carefully camouflaged are thousands of crab megalops, aka juvenille crabs.

For both tows, it is important to rinse the nets to get any lasting organisms we might not see with our own eyes into our sample. Once we’ve done this, we bring the tubes back into the wet lab where we continue to rinse them through a sieve so that only certain items are leftover. In the Neuston, we often find small fish (usually less than 3mm), baby shrimp, crabs and Jessica’s favorite, the Sargassum fish. Most recently a few flying fish got caught in our Neuston tow. Prior to pulling it up, I was enjoying watching them flit across the water- they were about all we could see in the water in the middle of the night. After being rinsed thoroughly through the sieve, we preserve them by placing the sample in a glass jar with either ethanol or formaldehyde solutions. They are preserved in ethanol for DNA work and in formaldehyde for long-term preservation. These samples are then saved to send to a lab in Poland, which is the sorting center for the SEAMAP samples.

Flying fish
Flying fish we pulled up in our Neuston tow at nighttime.

Personal Log

My stateroom
My sleeping quarters (top bunk), also known as a stateroom. My roommate is Kristin, one of the scientists on board.

Well, I think I am finally getting used to the schedule of working the night shift. I am thankful that my bunk is on the bottom floor of the ship- which means it is completely dark- so that I can sleep during the daytime. Yesterday was probably one of the least busy days we’ve had so far, and because we were in deeper waters, our trawls were much smaller. This means I had a little more time to work on my blogs, which at times can be hard to fit in. It amazes me that we have internet access on the ship, and it’s not even as slow as I expected. It goes down from time to time, especially when the waters are rough. We’ve been fortunate to have pretty calm waters, aside from the first day.

You may have heard about Hurricane Debby on the news as it prepared to hit the Gulf. On Sunday, we were heavily debating heading back to Galveston to “bunker down” and ride out the storm. However, the storm that was forming seemed to dissipate and head in a different direction, thank goodness.  I was not thrilled about the possibility of heading back to port!

We had our first drills the day after we set sail. The drills- fire and abandon ship are distinguished by different types of bells, similar to using Morse code. The abandon ship drill was fun. We got to put on our survival suit, which is like a big orange Gumby suit. It not only protects you in cold water, but also makes you highly visible. I remember reading some of the former TAS blogs, and this picture was always in. Of course, I’ve got to add mine as well.

Survival Suit
Here I am in my survival suit. Judd also decided to be in the picture. 🙂

I’ve been having fun exploring different areas of the ship, even though there is only so far you can go on the ship. Yesterday, I went up to the bridge, which is the front of the ship where the captain or the NOAA Corps officers steer the ship from. You can think of it like a control center of an airplane. There are navigation charts (both computerized and paper) and radars that help guide the ship so it knows what obstacles are out there. There is a great view from the bridge that you don’t get anywhere else on the ship. It’s also fun to watch the folks down on deck when they are deploying the CTD or either of the 2 tows.

We’ve caught such an abundance of critters, I thought I’d share some of my favorite catches thus far:

cownose ray
Here I am holding a cownose ray (Rhinoptera bonasus)- my favorite catch yet. He weighed about 25lbs! This one was the highlight of my day as rays are some of my favorite ocean critters!

Atlantic sharpnose shark
One of the 4 Atlantic sharpnose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) we’ve caught so far.

Sharksucker
A sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates)- these guys hang onto sharks to catch a ride- he’s still alive so is able to hang onto my arm!

Critter Query Time!

Critter Query #1: What is a fathom (in your own words please)?

Critter Query #2: What are the differences between skates and rays?