Spencer Cody: What Remains Unseen, June 17, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 17, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N

Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W

Air Temp: 16˚C (60˚F)

Water Temp: 12˚C (54˚F)

Ocean Depth: 30 m (100 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 81%

Wind Speed: 10 kts (12 mph)

Barometer: 1,013 hPa (1,013 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

106_0507 (2)
Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician Clint Marcus is cataloguing all of the discreet hazards and objects by location and by photographic evidence that will be available for the new nautical charts once the survey is complete.

Uncovering potential dangers to navigation often requires more that acoustic equipment to adequately document the hazard.  Many hazards are in water that is shallow enough to potentially damage equipment if a boat were to be operating in that area and may also require special description to provide guidance for those trying to interpret the hazard through nautical charts and changing tides.  This is one of the key reasons so much planning must be placed into assigning survey areas determining the size and extent of polygons for mapping.  Depending on the complexity of the area’s structures, the polygon assignment will be adjusted to reasonably reflect what can be accomplished in one day by a single launch.  Near-shore objects may require a smaller boat to adequately access the shallow water to move in among multiple hazards.  This is where a smaller boat like the Fairweather’s skiff can play a role.  The skiff can be sent out to map where these near-shore hazards are using equipment that that will mark the object with a GPS coordinate to provide its location.  Additionally, a photograph of the hazard is taken in order to provide a greater reference to the extent of the object and what it looks like above or below the water.  This information is collected and catalogued; so, the resulting nautical chart will have detailed resources and references to existing nautical hazards.

104_0445 (2)
Ensign Pat Debroisse covers nautical hazards such as rocks and kelp indicated throughout a very shallow and hazardous inlet.

Nautical hazards are not the only feature found on charts.  Nautical charts also have a description of the ocean bottom at various points throughout the charts.  These points may indicate a rocky bottom or a bottom consisting of silt, sand, or mud.  This information can be important for local traffic in terms of boating and anchoring and other issues. In order to collect samples from the bottom, a launch boat drops a diving probe that consists of a steel trap door that collects and holds a specimen in a canister that can be brought up to the boat.  Once the sample is brought up to the boat, it is analyzed for rock size and texture along with other components such as shell material in order to assign a designation.  This information is collected and catalogued so that the resulting nautical chart update will include all of the detailed information for all nautical hazards within the survey area.

109_0712 (2)
Bottom samples are taken with a heavy steel torpedo-shaped probe that is designed to sink quickly, dive into the ocean bottom, clamp shut, and return a sample to the boat.  Credit Ensign Joseph Brinkley for the photo.

Personal Log:

Dear Mr. Cody,

The food on the cruise ship is great. They have all of our meals ready and waiting.  There are many people who prepare and serve the food to us to make our trip enjoyable.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The food onboard the Fairweather is also very good.  Much of the work that they do happens so early in the morning that most never see it take place.  Our stewards take very good care of us by providing three meals a day, snacks, and grab bag lunches for all of our launches each day.  They need to start early in morning in order to get all of the bagged lunches for the launches prepared for leaving later that morning and breakfast. They start preparing sandwiches and soup for the launches at 5 AM and need to have breakfast ready by 7 AM; so, mornings are very busy for them.  A morning snack is often prepared shortly after breakfast for those on break followed by lunch and then an afternoon snack and finally dinner.  That is a lot of preparation, tear down, and clean up, and it all starts over the next day.  The steward department has a lot of experience in food preparation aiding them in meeting the daily demands of their careers while preparing delicious and nutritious food that the crew will enjoy.

106_0469 (2)
What are you doing at 5:15 in the morning?  Mornings are very busy for the steward department preparing lunches for the day’s hydrographic launches and breakfast for the entire crew.  From left to right, Chief Steward Frank Ford, Chief Cook Ace Burke, Second Cook Arlene Beahm, and Chief Cook Tyrone Baker.
106_0477 (2)
Chief Steward Frank Ford is preparing a delicious mid-morning snack for the crew.

Frank Ford is the chief steward. He has been in NOAA for six years.  Before joining NOAA he had attended culinary school and worked in food service for 30 years in the restaurant and hotel industry.  “I try to make meals that can remind everyone of a positive memory…comfort food,” Frank goes on to say, “Having good meals is part of having good morale on a ship.”  Frank and the others in the steward department must be flexible in the menu depending on produce availability onboard and available food stores as the mission progresses.

 

106_0473 (2)
Chief Cook Tyrone Baker helps prepare breakfast.

Tyrone Baker is the chief cook onboard. He has been in NOAA for 10 years and has 20 years of food service experience in the Navy.  Ace Burke has been with NOAA since 1991 and has served in many positions in deck and engineering and has been a steward for the last 15 years.  He came over from the NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson to help the steward department as a chief cook. Arlene Beahm attended chefs school in New Orleans.  She has been with NOAA for 1 ½ years and started out as a general vessel assistant onboard the Fairweather and is now a second cook.

 

Did You Know?

Relying on GPS to know where a point is in the survey area is not accurate enough.  It can be off by as much as 1/10 of a meter.  In order to increase the accuracy of where all the points charted on the new map, the Fairweather carries horizontal control base stations onboard.  These base stations are set up on a fixed known location and are used to compare to the GPS coordinate points.  Utilizing such stations improves the accuracy of all points with the survey from 1/10 of a meter of uncertainty to 1/100 of a meter or a centimeter.

Can You Guess What This Is?109_0609 (2)

A. an alidade  B. a sextant  C. an azimuth circle  D. a telescope

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was D. a CTD.  A CTD or Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth sensor is needed for hydrographic surveys since the temperature and density of ocean water can alter how sound waves move through the water column. These properties must be accounted for when using acoustic technology to yield a very precise measurement of the ocean bottom.  The sensor is able to record depth by measuring the increase of pressure, the deeper the CTD sensor goes, the higher the pressure.  Using a combination of the Chen-Millero equation to relate pressure to depth and Snell’s Law to ray trace sound waves to the farthest extent of an acoustic swath, a vertical point below the water’s surface can be accurately measured.  Density is determined by conductivity, the greater the conductivity of the water sample running through the CTD, the greater the concentration of dissolved salt yielding a higher density.)

Kainoa Higgins: Mantas and Megalopae, June 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kainoa Higgins
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
June 18 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northern California Current
Date: Saturday, June 28, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge: Current Latitude: 45° 59.5’ N Current Longitude: 125° 02.1’ W Air Temperature:  12.7° Celsius Wind Speed: 15 knots Wind Direction: WSW Surface Water Temperature: 15.5 Celsius Weather conditions: Partly cloudy

Find our location in real time HERE!

Science and Technology Log:

Neuston Net and Manta Tow Today, the weather is pleasant but the sea seems more than restless. The show must go on! I step onto the open deck behind the wet lab just as Dr. Curtis Roegner, a fisheries biologist with NOAA, is placing a GoPro onto the end of an extensive net system.

Dungeness Crab – A Pacific Northwest Delight Photo Credit: http://www.smokeybay.com

While Curtis specializes in the biological aspects of oceanography, he is especially interested in the synthesis of the ocean system and how bio aspects relate to other physical and chemical parameters. He joins this cruise on the Ocean Starr as he continues a long-term study of distribution patterns of larval crabs. The species of focus: Cancer magister, the Dungeness crab; a table favorite throughout the Pacific Northwest.

While I have been known to eat my weight in “Dungies”, I realize that I know very little about their complex life cycle. We begin with “baby crabs”, or crab larvae. Once they hatch from their eggs, they quickly join the planktonic community and spend much of their 3-4 month developmental process adrift – at the mercy of the environmental forces that dictate the movement of the water and therefore, govern the journey of these young crustaceans. It has been generally assumed that all planktonic participants float wherever the waters take them. In that context, it makes sense that we have been finding large numbers of larvae miles offshore during our nighttime trawl sorting. Still, not all are swept out to sea. Every year millions make their way back into the shallows as they take their more familiar, benthic form which eventually grows large enough to find its way to a supermarket near you. The question is: How? How do these tiny critters avoid being carried beyond the point of no return? Is it luck? Or is there something in the evolutionary history of the Dungeness crab that has allowed it to adapt to such trying conditions?

Dungeness Crab Megalopae
“Dungie” babies

Curtis tells me about recent research that suggests that seeming “passive” plankton may actually have a lot more control of their fate than previously supposed.  By maneuvering vertically throughout the column they can quite dynamically affect their dispersal.  Behavioral adaptation may trigger vertical migration events that keep them within a particular region, playing the varied movement of the water to their advantage.  Curtis believes the answer to what determines Dungie abundance lies with with the Megalops, the final stage of the larva just prior to true “crab-hood”. By the end of this stage they will have made their way out of the planktonic community and into estuaries of the near shore zone.

Kainoa and Curtis
Dr. Curtis Roegner explains the importance of his study

This continued study is important in predictably marking the success or failure of a year’s class of crab recruitment. That is to say, the more Megalopae that return to a region, the better the promise of a strong catches for the crabbing industry – and a better chance for you and me to harvest a crab or two for our own table!

As Curtis and I discuss his research, he continues preparing his sampling equipment. The instrument looks similar to the plankton nets we use in marine science at SAMI only it’s about ten times longer and its “mouth” is entirely rectangular, unlike the circular nets I am used to using. I’ve heard the terms “manta”, “bongo” and “neuston” being tossed around lab and yet I am unable to discern one from the other. It’s time I got some answers!

Curtis explains that the Megalopae he wants to catch are members of the neuston, the collective term given to the community of organisms that inhabit the most surface layer of the water column. The Neuston net is named simply for its target. It occurs to me that a “plankton net” is a very general term and that they can come in all shapes and sizes. In addition, the mesh of the net can vary drastically in size; the mesh on our nets at school is roughly 80µm, while the mesh of this net is upwards of 300μm (1 µm or micrometre is equivalent to one millionth of a metre).

Manta tow & Neuston net
The manta body design for neuston sampling. A specialized plankton tow.

I’m still confused because I am fairly certain I have heard others refer to the tool by another name. Curtis explains that while any net intended to sample the surface layer of the water column may be referred to as a neuston net, this particular net had a modified body design which deserved a name of its own. The “manta” is a twin winged continuous flow surface tow used to sample the neuston while minimizing the wake disturbance associated with other models. The net does seem to eerily resemble the gaping mouth of a manta ray. These enormous rays glide effortlessly through the water filtering massive volumes of water and ingesting anything substantial found within. On calm days, our metallic imposter mimics such gracefulness. Today however, it rides awkwardly in the chop, jaggedly slicing and funneling the surface layer into its gut. It’s all starting to make sense. Not only is this a plankton net designed to sample plankton, it is also a plankton net designed to sample only the neuston layer of the planktonic community.   The modified body sitting on buoyed wings designed to cover a wider yet shallower layer at the top of the water column further specified the instrument; a neuston net towed via manta body design for optimized sampling. Got it.

Collected Plankton Sample
A filtered sample of various crustaceans collected from the neuston

After the tow is complete, Curtis dumps the cod end of the net into a sieve, showing me an array of critters including more than a dozen Megalopae! Two samples are frozen to ensure analysis back at the Hammond Lab in Astoria. There, Curtis will examine the developmental progress of the Megalopae in relation to the suite of data provided by the CTD at each testing site. This information, along with various other chemical and physical data will be cross-examined in hopes of finding correlation – and perhaps even causation – that make sense of the Dungeness crabs’ biological and developmental process.

Analysing CTD Data
Dr. Curtis Roegner looks for patterns relating crab Megalopae and CTD data

The CTD 

CTD
The CTD measures conductivity, temperature and depth among other auxiliary measurements

Fundamentally, a CTD is an oceanographic instrument intended to provide data on the conductivity, temperature and depth of a given body of water. The CTD is one of the most common and essential tools on board a research ship. Whether it’s Jason exploring benthic communities, Sam hunting jellies, or Curtis collecting crab larvae, all can benefit from the information the CTD kit and its ensemble of auxiliary components can provide about the quality of the water at a given test site. In general, the more information we collect with the CTD the better our ability to map various chemical and physical parameters throughout the ocean. Check out the TAScast below as I give a basic overview of and take a dive with the CTD and its accessories.  

 

 

Personal Log:

Just when I thought I was beginning to get the hang of it…. Hold on, I have to lie down. As I mentioned above, the seas have been a bit rougher and I’ve been going through a phase of not-feeling-so-hot for the first time this trip. It’s odd because we hit some rougher ocean right out of Eureka and it didn’t seem to faze me much. I stopped taking my motion sickness medicine a few days in, and though I’ve picked it back up just in case, I’m not entirely convinced it’s the only contributing factor. I think it has more to do with my transition onto the night shift and all the plankton sorting which requires lots of focus on tiny animals. The night before last was particularly challenging. In the lab, all of the papers, books and anything else not anchored down slid back and forth and my body felt as if it were on a giant swing set and seesaw all at once. In addition, each time I looked out the back door all I could see was water sloshing onto the deck through the very drainage holes through which it was intended to escape. I remember wondering why there were so many rolls of duct tape strapped to the table and why chairs were left on their side when not in use. Well, now I know. Earlier today we made a quick pit stop in Newport, Oregon – home of the Hatfield Marine Science Center as well as NOAA’s Marine Operations Center of the Pacific. In short, this is where NOAA’s Pacific fleet of vessels is housed and the home base to several members of my science team, including Chief Scientist, Ric Brodeur.

The NOAA Pacific Fleet
The NOAA Pacific fleet at rest in Newport, OR.

I remember the anticipation of seeing the R/V Ocean Starr, a former NOAA vessel, for the first time. Growing up in Hawai’i, I remember these enormous ships making cameo appearances offshore, complete with a satellite dome over the bridge, only imagining the importance of the work done aboard. Now here I was, walking amongst the giants I idolized as a kid – the difference being that my view was up close and personal from behind the guard gate, a member of their team. I’m totally psyched even though I attempt to pretend like I’ve been there before. As much as I could have spent all afternoon admiring, I needed to make the most of our two hour layover in the library uploading blog material. Unfortunately the satellite-based internet is incredibly finicky out at sea. It’s a first world problem and understandably a part of life at sea, I realize, but all the same, I apologize to all those anticipating regular updates. I continue to do the best I can. I can say, however, that the Hatfield Marine Science Center boasts a fantastic library. I look forward to exploring the rest of the facility upon my final return in a little over a week. ‘Till then, BACK TO SEA!

Louise Todd, CTD and Samples, September 25, 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 25, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1008.6mb
Sea Temperature: 28.3˚C
Air Temperature: 26.3˚C
Wind speed: 8.73knots

Science and Technology Log:

After we set the line, the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) is deployed at each station.

CTD
CTD ready to be deployed

This instrument provides information a complete profile of the physical characteristics of the water column, including salinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen.  The CTD is deployed from the bow of the boat using a winch.

Deploying the CTD
Deploying the CTD

When it is first lowered in the water it calibrates at the surface for three minutes.  After it is calibrated it is lowered into the water until it reaches the bottom.  The CTD records data very quickly and provides valuable information about the station.  Conductivity is used to measure the salinity, the amount of salt dissolved in the water.  The CTD also measures the dissolved oxygen in the water.  Dissolved oxygen is an important reading as it reveals how much oxygen is available in that area.  The amount of oxygen available in the water indicates the amount of life this station could be capable of supporting.  Dissolved oxygen is affected by the temperature and salinity in an area.  Higher salinity and temperature result in lower dissolved oxygen levels.  Areas of very low dissolved oxygen, called hypoxia, result in dead zones.  NOAA monitors hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico using data from CTDs.

The otoliths and gonads are taken from all of the commercially and recreationally important fish like Snapper, Grouper and Tilefish.  Otoliths are used to age fish.  Aging fish provides information on the population dynamics for those species.  The otoliths are “ear bones” of the fish and are located in their heads.  It takes careful work with a knife and tweezers to remove the otoliths.

Removing otoliths
Removing otoliths

Once the otoliths are removed, they are placed in small envelopes to be examined in the lab in Pascagoula, MS.  Otoliths have rings similar to growth rings in trees that have to be carefully counted under a microscope to determine the age of the fish.

Otolith
Otolith

The gonads (ovaries or testes) are removed and the reproductive stage of the fish is determined.  The weights of the gonads are also recorded.  Small samples of the gonads are taken in order for the histology to be examined in the lab.  Examining the gonads closely will confirm the reproductive stage of the fish.  Gathering information about the reproductive stage of the fish also helps with understanding the population dynamics of a species and aids in management decisions.

Personal Log:

Taking the otoliths out of the fish was harder than I anticipated, especially on the larger fish.  It takes some muscle to get through the bone!

Otolith
Otolith removed from a Red Snapper

We have had a few very busy haul backs today.  One haul back had over 50 sharks!  My favorite shark today was a Bull Shark.  We caught two today but were only able to get one into the cradle long enough to get measurements on it.  We tagged it and then watched her swim away!  I can’t believe we are halfway through my second week.  Time is flying by!  I can’t wait to see what is on the line tomorrow!

Did you Know?

Yellowedge Grouper are protogynous hermaphrodites.  They start their lives as females and transform into males as they age.  Yellowedge Grouper are the only species of grouper we have caught.

Animals Seen

Here are a few of the animals we’ve seen so far!

Tilefish
Tilefish (Photo credit Christine Seither)
Sandbar
Sandbar shark in the cradle
Red Snapper
Red Snapper (Photo credit Christine Seither)
Yellowedge Grouper
Yellowedge Grouper (Photo credit Christine Seither)

Rosalind Echols: Cool Science on the Ship and Final Reflections on My Rainier Adventure, July 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rosalind Echols
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 8 — 25, 2013 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 30, 2013

Current Location: 54° 55.6’ N, 160° 10.2’ W

Weather on board: Broken skies with a visibility of 14 nautical miles, variable wind at 22 knots, Air temperature: 14.65°C, Sea temperature: 6.7°C, 2 foot swell, sea level pressure: 1022.72 mb

Science and Technology Log:

Sometimes in school you hear, “You’ll need this someday.” You have been skeptical, and (at times) rightfully so. But here on the Rainier, Avery and I encountered many areas in which what we learned in school has helped us to understand some of the ship operations.

How does a 234 ft. ship, like the Rainier, float?

If you take a large chunk of metal and drop it in the water, it will sink. And yet, here we are sailing on a large chunk of metal. How is that possible? This all has to do with the difference between density (the amount of mass or stuff contained within a chunk of a substance) and buoyancy (the tendency of an object to float). When you put an object in water, it pushes water out of the way. If the object pushes aside an amount of water with equal mass before it becomes fully submerged, it will float. Less dense objects typically float because it doesn’t take that much water to equal their mass, and so they can remain above the water line. The shape of a ship is designed to increase its buoyancy by displacing a greater quantity of water than it would as a solid substance. Because of all the empty space in the ship, by the time the ship has displaced a quantity of water with equal mass to the ship itself, the ship is still above water. As we add people, supplies, gasoline and so on to the ship, we ride lower. As evidenced by the sinking of numerous ships, when a ship springs a hole in the hull and water floods in, the buoyancy of the ship is severely compromised. To take precaution against this, the Rainier has several extra watertight doors that can be closed in case of an emergency. That way, the majority of the ship could be kept secure from the water and stay afloat.

How does a heavy ship like the Rainier stay balanced?

Another critical consideration is the balance of the ship. When the ship encounters the motion of the ocean, it tends to pitch and roll. Like a pendulum, the way in which it does this depends largely on the distance between the center of gravity of the ship (effectively the point at which the mass of the ship is centered) and the point about which it will roll. Ships are very carefully designed and loaded so that they maintain maximum stability.

Boat stability diagram
Boat stability diagram

Ballast is often added to the hulls of ships for the following reasons:

  • to help keep them balanced when there is not enough cargo weight
  • to increase stability when sailing in rough seas
  • to increase the draught of the ship allowing it to pass under bridges
  • to counteract a heavy upper deck like that of the Rainier, which itself contains 64, 000 pounds of launches.

Ballast comes in many forms and historically rocks, sandbags and pieces of heavy metal were used to lower a ship’s center of gravity, thus stabilizing it. Cargo ships, when filling up at port, would unload this ballast in exchange for the cargo to be transported.  For example, in the 1800s, the cobblestone streets of Savannah, Georgia were made with the abandoned ballast of ships. Today water is used as ballast, since it can be loaded and unloaded easier and faster. Most cargo ships contain several ballast tanks in the hull of the ship.

Cargo ship with several ballast tanks
Cargo ship with several ballast tanks

It is thought that the capsizing of the Cougar Ace cargo ship bound for the west coast of the US in 2006, was caused by a ballast problem during an open-sea transfer.  The ship was required to unload their ballast in international waters before entering US waters to prevent the transfer of invasive species carried by the stored water. The result of the Cougar Ace snafu: 4, 700 Mazdas scrapped and millions of dollars lost. Oops!

Couger Ace capsized in open ocean
Cougar Ace capsized in open ocean

Because the Rainier is not loading and unloading tons of cargo, they use a permanent ballast of steel rebar, which sits in the center of the lower hull. Another source of ballast is the 102, 441 gallons of diesel which is divided between many gas tanks that span the width and length of the ship on the port and starboard sides.  These tanks can be filled and emptied individually.  For stability purposes the Rainier must maintain 30% of fuel onboard, and according to the CO, the diesel level is usually way above 30% capacity. The manipulation of the individual diesel tank levels is more for “trimming” of the boat which essentially ensures a smoother ride for passengers.

Where does all the freshwater come from for a crew of 50?

If only humans could drink saltwater, voyages at sea would be much easier and many lives would have been saved. Unfortunately, salt water is three times saltier than human blood and would severely dehydrate the body upon consumption leading to health problems such as kidney failure, brain damage, seizures and even death.  So how can we utilize all this salt water that surrounds us for good use?  Well, to avoid carrying tons of fresh potable water aboard, most large ships use some type of desalination process to remove the salt from the water.  Desalination methods range from reverse osmosis to freeze thawing to distillation. The Rainier uses a distillation method which mimics the water cycle in nature: heated water evaporates into water vapor, leaving salts and impurities behind, condensing into liquid water as the temperature drops. This all is happening inside a closed system so the resulting freshwater can be kept.  To speed up this process, the pressure is lowered inside the desalinator so the water boils at a lower temperature.  Much of the energy needed to heat the water comes from the thermal energy or waste heat given off by nearby machines such as the boiler.

Desalinator in the Rainier engine room
Desalinator in the Rainier engine room

Distillation purifies 99% percent of the salt water and the remaining 1% of impurities are removed by a bromine filter.  The final step of the process is a bromine concentration and PH check to ensure the water is potable. The bromine should be about .5 ppm and the PH between 6.8-7.2.

Daily water quality log
Daily water quality log

Everyday the Rainer desalinates 2500 gallons of saltwater to be used for drinking, cleaning and showering. The toilets, however, use saltwater and if you are lucky like me, you can see flashes of light from bioluminescent plankton when flushing in darkness. It’s like a plankton discotec in the toilet!

How does the chicken cross the road when the road is moving?

The difference between a road map and a nautical chart is that a road map tells you which way to go and a nautical chart just tells you what’s out there and you design your course.  Thus, navigating on the ocean is not as simple as “turn left at the stop sign,” or “continue on for 100 miles”, like directions for cars often state. Imagine that the road beneath you was moving as you drove your car. In order to keep following your desired course, you would need to keep adjusting to the changes in the road. That’s a lot like what happens in a ship. If you want to drive due west, you can’t simply aim the ship in that direction. As you go, the ship gets pushed around by the wind, the currents, and the tides, almost as if you drove your car west and the road slid up to the north. Without compensating for this, you would end up many miles north of your desired location. If you have a north-going current, you have to account for this by making southward adjustments. In a physics class, we might talk about adding vectors, or directional motion; in this case, we are considering velocity vectors. When you add up the speed you are going in each direction, you end up with your actual speed and direction. In the ship we make adjustments so that our actual speed and direction are correct.

Which way to the North Pole?

Did you know that when you look at a compass, it doesn’t always tell you the direction of true north? True north is directly towards the North Pole, the center of the Earth’s axis of rotation which passes directly to the true south pole. However, compasses rely on the location of the magnetic pole which is offset somewhat.

Compass showing true north and magnetic north
Compass showing true north and magnetic north

The combination of the solid iron core and the liquid iron mantle of the Earth create a magnetic field that surrounds the Earth (and protects us from some really damaging effects of the sun). If you visualize the Earth like a bar magnet, magnetic north is located at an approximate position of 82.7°N 114.4°W, roughly in the middle of northern Canada. If you stood directly south of this point, your compass would point true north because true north and magnetic north would be on the same line of longitude. However, as you get farther away from this west or east, the North indicated by your compass is more and more offset.

The magnetic poles of the earth
The magnetic poles of the earth
Earth showing true and magnetic poles
Earth showing true and magnetic poles

Our navigational charts are made using “true” directions. Because of our location in Alaska, if we were steering by compass, we would have to offset all of our measurements by roughly 14° to account for the difference in true and magnetic north. Fortunately, due to the advent of GPS, it is much simpler to tell our true direction.

Why so much daylight and fog?

Every hour, the crew of the Rainier measures the air temperature, sea water temperature, atmospheric pressure, and relative humidity. Aside from keeping a record of weather conditions, this also allows the National Weather Service to provide a more accurate weather forecast for this geographical region by providing local data to plug into the weather prediction models.

Hourly weather log
Hourly weather log

Weather in the Shumagin Islands could be very different from that of the nearest permanent weather station, so this can be valuable information for mariners. In our time out here, we have experienced a lot of fog and cool temperatures (although the spectacular sunshine and sunsets of the past few days make that seem like a distant memory). One reason for this is our simultaneous proximity to a large land mass (Siberia, in far-east Russia) and the ocean. Cool air from the land collides with warm waters coming up from Japan, which often leads to fog.

Currents of the Pacific
Currents around Alaska

However, because we are pretty far north, we also experience a lot of daylight (although not the 24-hour cycles so often associated with Alaska). At this time of the year, even though the Earth is farther away from the sun that it is in our winter season, the axis of the Earth is tilted toward the sun, leading to more direct sunlight and longer hours of illumination.

Earth's orbit around the sun
Earth’s orbit around the sun

One slightly bizarre fact is that all of Alaska is on the same time zone, even though it is really large enough to span several time zones. Out in the west, that means that sunset is in fact much later than it otherwise should be. Our last few spectacular sunsets have all happened around 11pm and true darkness descends just past midnight.  I have on several occasions stayed up several hours past my bedtime fishing on the fantail or getting distracted wandering around the ship because it is still light out at 11pm!

Rosalind and Avery at sunset
Rosalind and Avery (with Van de Graaf generator hair) at sunset

Personal Log:

After roughly a week back on land, I have already been inundated with questions about life on the Rainier, the research we were doing, the other people I met, and so on. It occurs to me that as challenging as it was to embark on this journey and try to learn as much as possible in three weeks, perhaps the greater challenge is to convey the experience to friends, family, and most importantly, my students. How will I convey the sense of nervousness with which I first stepped from the skiff to land, trying not to fall in the frigid north Pacific? What will I do in my classroom to get my students as excited about learning about the ocean and diving into new experiences as I was on this trip? How will I continue to expand on the knowledge and experiences I have had during my time on the Rainier? At the moment, I do not have excellent answers to these questions, but I know that thinking about them will be one of the primary benefits of this extraordinary opportunity.

For the moment, I can say that I have deepened my understanding of both the value and the challenge of working in collaboration with others; the importance of bringing my own voice to my work as well as listening to that of others; and the extent to which new experiences that push me out of my comfort zone are incredibly important for my development as an individual. I genuinely hope that I can develop a classroom environment that enables this same learning process for my students, so that, like the science I discussed above, they aren’t doing things that they will, “need some day,” but doing things that they need now.

Finally, I will say that I am finishing this trip even more intrigued by the ocean, and its physical and biological processes, than I was before. When one of the survey techs declared, “This is so exciting! We are the first people ever to see the bottom of this part of the ocean!” she wasn’t exaggerating. Even after my time on the Rainier, I feel like I am only beginning to scratch the surface of all of the things I might learn about the ocean, and I can’t wait to explore these with my students. I look forward as well to the inevitable research that I will do to try to further solidify my understanding and appreciation of the world’s oceans.

I leave with fond memories of a truly unique 18 day voyage aboard the most productive coastal hydrographic survey platform in the world: her majesty, the NOAA Ship Rainier. Thank you lovely lady and thank you Rainier crew for making this Teacher at Sea adventure so magical!

The most striking sunset of our voyage.
The most striking sunset of our voyage.

Avery Marvin: Cool Science on the Ship and final Reflections of My Rainier Adventure, July 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Avery Marvin
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 8 — 25, 2013 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 30, 2013

Current Location: 54° 55.6’ N, 160° 10.2’ W

Weather on board: Broken skies with a visibility of 14 nautical miles, variable wind at 22 knots, Air temperature: 14.65°C, Sea temperature: 6.7°C, 2 foot swell, sea level pressure: 1022.72 mb

Science and Technology Log:

Sometimes in school you hear, “You’ll need this someday.” You have been skeptical, and (at times) rightfully so. But here on the Rainier, Rosalind and I encountered many areas in which what we learned in school has helped us to understand some of the ship operations.

How does a 234 ft. ship, like the Rainier, float?

If you take a large chunk of metal and drop it in the water, it will sink. And yet, here we are sailing on a large chunk of metal. How is that possible? This all has to do with the difference between density (the amount of mass or stuff contained within a chunk of a substance) and buoyancy (the tendency of an object to float). When you put an object in water, it pushes water out of the way. If the object pushes aside an amount of water with equal mass before it becomes fully submerged, it will float. Less dense objects typically float because it doesn’t take that much water to equal their mass, and so they can remain above the water line. The shape of a ship is designed to increase its buoyancy by displacing a greater quantity of water than it would as a solid substance. Because of all the empty space in the ship, by the time the ship has displaced a quantity of water with equal mass to the ship itself, the ship is still above water. As we add people, supplies, gasoline and so on to the ship, we ride lower. As evidenced by the sinking of numerous ships, when a ship springs a hole in the hull and water floods in, the buoyancy of the ship is severely compromised. To take precaution against this, the Rainier has several extra watertight doors that can be closed in case of an emergency. That way, the majority of the ship could be kept secure from the water and stay afloat.

How does a heavy ship like the Rainier stay balanced?

Another critical consideration is the balance of the ship. When the ship encounters the motion of the ocean, it tends to pitch and roll. Like a pendulum, the way in which it does this depends largely on the distance between the center of gravity of the ship (effectively the point at which the mass of the ship is centered) and the point about which it will roll. Ships are very carefully designed and loaded so that they maintain maximum stability.

Boat stability diagram
Boat stability diagram

Ballast is often added to the hulls of ships for the following reasons:

  • to help keep them balanced when there is not enough cargo weight
  • to increase stability when sailing in rough seas
  • to increase the draught of the ship allowing it to pass under bridges
  • to counteract a heavy upper deck like that of the Rainier, which itself contains 64, 000 pounds of launches.

Ballast comes in many forms and historically rocks, sandbags and pieces of heavy metal were used to lower a ship’s center of gravity, thus stabilizing it. Cargo ships, when filling up at port, would unload this ballast in exchange for the cargo to be transported.  For example, in the 1800s, the cobblestone streets of Savannah, Georgia were made with the abandoned ballast of ships. Today water is used as ballast, since it can be loaded and unloaded easier and faster. Most cargo ships contain several ballast tanks in the hull of the ship.

Cargo ship with several ballast tanks
Cargo ship with several ballast tanks

It is thought that the capsizing of the Cougar Ace cargo ship bound for the west coast of the US in 2006, was caused by a ballast problem during an open-sea transfer.  The ship was required to unload their ballast in international waters before entering US waters to prevent the transfer of invasive species carried by the stored water. The result of the Cougar Ace snafu: 4, 700 Mazdas scrapped and millions of dollars lost. Oops!

Couger Ace capsized in open ocean
Cougar Ace capsized in open ocean

Because the Rainier is not loading and unloading tons of cargo, they use a permanent ballast of steel rebar, which sits in the center of the lower hull. Another source of ballast is the 102, 441 gallons of diesel which is divided between many gas tanks that span the width and length of the ship on the port and starboard sides.  These tanks can be filled and emptied individually.  For stability purposes the Rainier must maintain 30% of fuel onboard, and according to the CO, the diesel level is usually way above 30% capacity. The manipulation of the individual diesel tank levels is more for “trimming” of the boat which essentially ensures a smoother ride for passengers.

Where does all the freshwater come from for a crew of 50?

If only humans could drink saltwater, voyages at sea would be much easier and many lives would have been saved. Unfortunately, salt water is three times saltier than human blood and would severely dehydrate the body upon consumption leading to health problems such as kidney failure, brain damage, seizures and even death.  So how can we utilize all this salt water that surrounds us for good use?  Well, to avoid carrying tons of fresh potable water aboard, most large ships use some type of desalination process to remove the salt from the water.  Desalination methods range from reverse osmosis to freeze thawing to distillation. The Rainier uses a distillation method which mimics the water cycle in nature: heated water evaporates into water vapor, leaving salts and impurities behind, condensing into liquid water as the temperature drops. This all is happening inside a closed system so the resulting freshwater can be kept.  To speed up this process, the pressure is lowered inside the desalinator so the water boils at a lower temperature.  Much of the energy needed to heat the water comes from the thermal energy or waste heat given off by nearby machines such as the boiler.

Desalinator in the Rainier engine room
Desalinator in the Rainier engine room

Distillation purifies 99% percent of the salt water and the remaining 1% of impurities are removed by a bromine filter.  The final step of the process is a bromine concentration and PH check to ensure the water is potable. The bromine should be about .5 ppm and the PH between 6.8-7.2.

Daily water quality log
Daily water quality log

Everyday the Rainer desalinates 2500 gallons of saltwater to be used for drinking, cleaning and showering. The toilets, however, use saltwater and if you are lucky like me, you can see flashes of light from bioluminescent plankton when flushing in darkness. It’s like a plankton discotec in the toilet!

How does the chicken cross the road when the road is moving?

The difference between a road map and a nautical chart is that a road map tells you which way to go and a nautical chart just tells you what’s out there and you design your course.  Thus, navigating on the ocean is not as simple as “turn left at the stop sign,” or “continue on for 100 miles”, like directions for cars often state. Imagine that the road beneath you was moving as you drove your car. In order to keep following your desired course, you would need to keep adjusting to the changes in the road. That’s a lot like what happens in a ship. If you want to drive due west, you can’t simply aim the ship in that direction. As you go, the ship gets pushed around by the wind, the currents, and the tides, almost as if you drove your car west and the road slid up to the north. Without compensating for this, you would end up many miles north of your desired location. If you have a north-going current, you have to account for this by making southward adjustments. In a physics class, we might talk about adding vectors, or directional motion; in this case, we are considering velocity vectors. When you add up the speed you are going in each direction, you end up with your actual speed and direction. In the ship we make adjustments so that our actual speed and direction are correct.

Which way to the North Pole?

Did you know that when you look at a compass, it doesn’t always tell you the direction of true north? True north is directly towards the North Pole, the center of the Earth’s axis of rotation which passes directly to the true south pole. However, compasses rely on the location of the magnetic pole which is offset somewhat.

Compass showing true north and magnetic north
Compass showing true north and magnetic north

The combination of the solid iron core and the liquid iron mantle of the Earth create a magnetic field that surrounds the Earth (and protects us from some really damaging effects of the sun). If you visualize the Earth like a bar magnet, magnetic north is located at an approximate position of 82.7°N 114.4°W, roughly in the middle of northern Canada. If you stood directly south of this point, your compass would point true north because true north and magnetic north would be on the same line of longitude. However, as you get farther away from this west or east, the North indicated by your compass is more and more offset.

The magnetic poles of the earth
The magnetic poles of the earth
Earth showing true and magnetic poles
Earth showing true and magnetic poles

Our navigational charts are made using “true” directions. Because of our location in Alaska, if we were steering by compass, we would have to offset all of our measurements by roughly 14° to account for the difference in true and magnetic north. Fortunately, due to the advent of GPS, it is much simpler to tell our true direction.

Why so much daylight and fog?

Every hour, the crew of the Rainier measures the air temperature, sea water temperature, atmospheric pressure, and relative humidity. Aside from keeping a record of weather conditions, this also allows the National Weather Service to provide a more accurate weather forecast for this geographical region by providing local data to plug into the weather prediction models.

Hourly weather log
Hourly weather log

Weather in the Shumagin Islands could be very different from that of the nearest permanent weather station, so this can be valuable information for mariners. In our time out here, we have experienced a lot of fog and cool temperatures (although the spectacular sunshine and sunsets of the past few days make that seem like a distant memory). One reason for this is our simultaneous proximity to a large land mass (Siberia, in far-east Russia) and the ocean. Cool air from the land collides with warm waters coming up from Japan, which often leads to fog.

Currents of the Pacific
Currents around Alaska

However, because we are pretty far north, we also experience a lot of daylight (although not the 24-hour cycles so often associated with Alaska). At this time of the year, even though the Earth is farther away from the sun that it is in our winter season, the axis of the Earth is tilted toward the sun, leading to more direct sunlight and longer hours of illumination.

Earth's orbit around the sun
Earth’s orbit around the sun

One slightly bizarre fact is that all of Alaska is on the same time zone, even though it is really large enough to span several time zones. Out in the west, that means that sunset is in fact much later than it otherwise should be. Our last few spectacular sunsets have all happened around 11pm and true darkness descends just past midnight.  I have on several occasions stayed up several hours past my bedtime fishing on the fantail or getting distracted wandering around the ship because it is still light out at 11pm!

Rosalind and Avery at sunset
Rosalind and Avery (with Van de Graaf generator hair) at sunset

Personal Log:

Well friends, I said a bittersweet goodbye to the Rainier and its incredible dynamic crew. I am sad to have left but am also excited to return home to the Oregon Coast to begin planning for this school year. I look forward to incorporating my newfound knowledge and unique experience at sea into the classroom.  I am still amazed at the breadth and diversity of information that I learned in just under 3 weeks. From learning how to steer the ship to acquiring and processing survey data to puffin reproduction, the list goes on. I never stopped asking questions or being curious.  And the Rainier crew was always there to graciously answer my questions.  I am grateful for all that they taught me and for the kindness and patience they consistently showed me.

When I asked Rick Brennan, the Commanding Officer, what he most enjoyed about his job, he responded “The people.” He said he enjoys seeing the personal and professional growth of individual crew members.  It is not hard to see that the Rainier crew is pretty amazing.  They are an extremely dedicated group of individuals whose passion for their profession supersedes living a “normal life”. Each one of them has an interesting story of how they got to the Rainier and many of them sacrifice family time and personal relationships to be aboard the ship for months at a time.

Beyond the scientific knowledge attained, I leave this ship with a few important life reminders.

1) Be patient with yourself, your own learning style, with others around you and the task at hand. Authentic science is messy and exhausting. Ship life attracts unique personalities.

2) Don’t forget about the big picture and why you are here in the first place. “Mowing the lawn” day in and day out can seem mundane but all of those data points together will compromise the updated nautical chart which will ensure safe mariner travel for a multitude of ships.

3) Teamwork is key to any complex operation. This not only means working together but always being willing to lend a helping hand and sharing your particular knowledge with fellow crew members.

4) Appreciate, observe and protect the natural beauty that surrounds us.  Cultivate this awareness in others. Our livelihood as a species depends on our interaction with the environment.

This is my second to last blog post. Stay tuned for an exciting last entry about my extended stay in Kodiak, Alaska (post Rainier) where I explored the unique cultural and historical facets of this vibrant fishing port. Note: This next post will involve bears, a seal skin kayak, a behind the scenes fish factory tour, orcas, reindeer sausage and fossils!

For now, I leave with fond memories of a truly unique 18 day voyage aboard the most productive coastal hydrographic survey platform in the world: her majesty, the Rainier. Thank you lovely lady and thank you Rainier crew for making this Teacher at Sea adventure so magical!

The most striking sunset of our voyage.
The most striking sunset of our voyage.

Julie Karre: A Day of No Fishing is Not a Day of Rest, July 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013 

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic
Date: July 27

Weather Data from the Bridge
W TO NW WINDS 5 TO 10 KNOTS
SEAS 1 TO 2 FT.

We departed Pascagoula yesterday with calm winds and steamy temperatures. Our team decided that with storms developing in and around the Gulf, it was best for us to head out to the Atlantic. So we’re all loaded in to hang out for a few days before the fishing begins.

Science and Technology Log

It would be easy to think of these traveling days as days of rest. But they are far from it. The ship’s crew and fishermen are hard at work each day keeping the ship running as it should. One of the tasks the fishing crew is responsible for is dealing with the rust that builds up on the ship. (Ok, seventh and eighth graders – why is rust such a problem for a ship?)

Because of the constant moisture, rust is a persistent problem on the ship, exacerbated by the salt. Whenever docked, the crew works tirelessly to get the ship into prime condition. Any of the deck equipment that can be removed gets taken to a workshop where it is sanded down to raw metal again and then galvanized. This increases the life of the equipment because galvanized steel doesn’t rust. That leaves all the parts that cannot be removed to be touched up piecemeal, as Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols said. On a day like today – calm sea, light wind, and no fishing – the guys set to work on designated areas of the ship. Once an area of rust is identified, the rust must be removed. After removing the rust and vacuuming up all the dust and particles, the area gets primer painted twice and then its topcoat. The end result is a nice clean look to the boat.

Opening on the starboard side of the ship getting its rust removal makeover.
Opening on the starboard side of the ship getting its rust removal makeover.
Removing rust from the railing on the starboard side.
Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway removing rust from the railing on the starboard side.

In addition to keeping the ship in tip-top shape, it is essential to make sure all of the equipment used during the survey works appropriately. Around 9:40am, the Oregon II stopped moving and deployed a CTD unit (conductivity, temperature, depth). These cylinder shaped units carry tanks that bring water samples back to the ship from designated depths while the sensors read the water for its temperature, depth, and salinity.

Alongside the crew hard at work, the science team is busy doing work on sharks that came with us from Pascagoula. According to scientist Lisa Jones, some of these sharks are from surveys done to collect sharks following the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf in 2010. Others are sharks that needed further identification and information from surveys like the one I am on. Each shark is weighed and measured, sexed, and then internal organs are removed for further analysis, tissue samples are taken, and the remains of the shark are thrown overboard to reenter the food chain.

Mike recording data as Lead Scientist Kristen Hannan dissects a Gulper Shark from a previous survey.
Scientist Mike Hendon recording data as Lead Scientist Kristin Hannan dissects a Gulper Shark from a previous survey.

During this down time I was treated to a visit to the bridge, where officers steer the ship, among other things. NOAA Corps Officer LTjg Brian Adornato was on duty and offered me a glimpse of the technology that keeps us headed in the right direction. The Oregon II has one propeller controlled by two engines, which are both running while we steam across the Gulf. The boat was on its version of autopilot while I was visiting, which means the navigational heading is programmed and the boat is steered on that heading automatically. Whether steered by hand or computers, the ship is rarely perfectly on its heading. (Come on seventh and eighth graders – what factors are also influencing the ship’s movement?)

All of the navigation equipment driving the Oregon II.
All of the navigation equipment driving the Oregon II.

The wind and water are factors in how close the ship’s course over ground is to its heading. The waves, currents, and wind are all pushing the ship.

Personal Log

While the ship is buzzing with work, there is also lots of time to sit and share stories. I feel very lucky to be aboard the Oregon II at all, but to be aboard with such welcoming and friendly people feels like I hit the jackpot.

I share a room with NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor. She is on duty from 8 am – noon and from 8 pm to midnight. During those hours it is her job to drive the ship. I am on duty from noon to midnight, but during these days prior to fishing, I have a lot of free time. I have been reading, taking pictures, and hanging out with the others. The sleeping on the ship is easy and comfortable. And the food is delicious. Chief Steward Walter Coghlan is an excellent cook.

Some of the things that have caught me off guard should make perfect sense to my lovely seventh and eighth graders, like why I had a blurry camera. (Ok, kiddos – the ship is an air-conditioned vessel kept at cool temperatures to relieve the crew and scientists from the heat of the Gulf. What happens if you keep your camera in your room and bring it out onto the hot deck to take pictures?)

CONDENSATION! The cool glass of the lens becomes immediately foggy with condensation from the high temperatures outside.

It only took me one time of making that mistake and missing some great pictures because of it to learn my lesson. I now keep my camera in a room closer to the outside temperature so it’s always ready to take pictures – like this one of me in my survival suit! I’m also thrilled I didn’t miss the sunset.

The Abandon Ship drill requires everyone on board to get into a survival suit. It's not easy.
The Abandon Ship drill requires everyone on board to get into a survival suit. It’s not easy. – Photo Credit: Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin.
A beautiful sunset on my first night out at sea.
A beautiful sunset on my first night out at sea.
The sunset glistening on the calm water the second night.
The sunset glistening on the calm water the second night.

Did You Know?

Fathoms are a unit of measurement commonly used to measure the depth of a body of water. One fathom is exactly six feet.

Animals Seen

Flying Fish

Pilot Whales

Avery Marvin: Sound Off! From Noise to Nautical Charts, July 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Avery Marvin
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 8 — 25, 2013 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 22, 2013

Current Location: 54° 55.6’ N, 160° 10.2’ W

Weather on board: Broken skies with a visibility of 14 nautical miles, variable wind at 22 knots, Air temperature: 14.65°C, Sea temperature: 6.7°C, 2 foot swell, sea level pressure: 1022.72 mb

Science and Technology log:

Teamwork, safety first
Rainier motto, painted in the stern of the ship above the fantail, the rear lower outside deck where we have our safety meetings.

“Teamwork, Safety First”, is inscribed boldly on the Rainier stern rafter and after being aboard for more than 2 weeks, it is evident this motto is the first priority of the crew and this complex survey operation at hand.

Rainier launch
This is one of the survey launches that we use to gather our survey data. In this case, the launch is shown approaching the Rainier, getting ready to tie up.

It’s a rainy overcast morning here in SW Alaska and we are circled around the officers on the fantail for the daily safety meeting. Weather conditions, possible hazards, and the daily assignment for each launch are discussed. Per the instructions on the POD (Plan of the Day), handed out the previous evening, the crew then disperse to their assigned launches. The launches are then one-at-a-time lowered into the water by the fancy davit machinery and driven away by the coxswain to their specific “polygon” or survey area for the day. A polygon surveyed by a launch on average takes 2-3 hours at 6-8 knots to survey and usually is an area that is inaccessible by the ship. Many polygons make up one large area called a “sheet” which is under the direction of the “sheet manager”. Several sheets make up an entire survey project. Our hydrographic project in the Shumagins has 8 sheets and makes up a total of 314 square nautical miles.

Safety meeting
The CO, XO, and FOO lead the safety meeting for the day, discussing weather conditions, water conditions, and the assignments for each launch.
Shumagin Islands
This is a chart of the Shumagin Islands showing the 8 sheets (highlighted in green) that we are surveying.
Polygons
East side of Chernabura Island divided into survey “polygons”, each labeled with a letter or word. Notice how each polygon is a small subset of the larger sheet.

On board each launch we have a complex suite of computer systems: one manages the sonar, another manages the acquisition software, and the third records the inertial motion of the launch as it rocks around on the water (pitch, heave, roll). The acquisition system superimposes an image of the path of the launch and the swath of the sonar beam on top of a navigational chart within the polygon. Starting at one edge of the polygon, the coxswain drives in a straight a line (in a direction determined by the sheet manager), to the other end of the polygon, making sure there is some overlap at the boundaries of the swaths. He/she then works back in the other direction, once again making sure there is some overlap with the adjacent swath. We call this “mowing the lawn,” or “painting the floor” as these are visually analogous activities. Throughout the day, we pause to take CTD casts so that we have a sound velocity profile in each area that we are working.

Launches
Typical launch dispersal for a survey day. Launches are signified by “RA-number”. You can also see the location of our tide measurement station and GPS control station, both of which we use to correct our data for errors.
Mowing the lawn
This image shows the software tracking the path and swath of the launch (red boat shape) as it gathers data, driving back and forth in the polygon, or “mowing the lawn.” The darker blue shaded area shows overlap between the two swaths. The launch is approaching a “holiday”, or gap in the data, in an effort to fill it in.

You might be wondering, why the swath overlap? This is to correct for the outer sonar beams of the swath, which can scatter because of the increased distance between the sea floor and the sonar receiver below the hull of the boat. The swath overlap is just one of the many quality control checks built into the launch surveying process. Depending on the “ping rate”, or the number of signals we are able to send to the bottom each second, the speed of the boat can be adjusted.  The frequency of the sound wave can also be changed in accordance with the depth. Lower frequencies (200 khz) are used for deeper areas and higher frequencies (400 khz) are used for shallower areas.

Rosalind working the surveying computers in the launch
Rosalind working the surveying computers in the launch

Despite what might seem like mundane tasks, a day on board the launch is exhausting, given the extreme attention to detail by all crew members, troubleshooting various equipment malfunctions, and the often harsh weather conditions (i.e. fog, swells, cool temperatures) that are typical of southwest Alaska. The success of the ship’s mission depends on excellent communication and teamwork between the surveyors and the coxswain, who work closely together to maximize quality and efficiency of data collection. Rain or shine, work must get done.  But it doesn’t end there. When the launches arrive back at the ship, (usually around 4:30 pm), the crew will have a debrief of the day’s work with the FOO (field operations officer) and XO (executive officer). After dinner, the survey techs plunge head first (with a safety helmet of course) into the biggest mountain of data I have EVER witnessed in my life, otherwise known as “night processing”. We are talking gigabytes of data from each launch just for a days work.  It begins with the transferring of launch data from a portable hard drive to the computers in the plot room. This data is meticulously organized into various folders and files, all which adhere to a specific naming format. Once the transferring of data has finished, the “correction” process begins. That’s right, the data is not yet perfect and that’s because like any good science experiment, we must control for extraneous factors that could skew the depth data. These factors include tides, GPS location error, motion of the launch itself, and the sound velocity in the water column.

Plot room
Our chief surveyor works in the plot room cleaning and correcting data.
Data cleaning.
Data showing the consequences of the tide changing. The orange disjointed surface shows the data before it was adjusted for the tide changing. You can see how the edges between swaths (i.e. red and olive green) do not match up, even though they should be the same depth.
Sound speed artifact
This image shows the edge effects of changing sound speed in the water column. The edges of each swath “frown” because of refraction owing to changing density in the water column. This effect goes away once we factor in our CTD data and the sound speed profile.

In previous posts, I discussed how we correct for tides and the sound velocity. We also correct for the GPS location of the launch during a survey day, so that any specific data point is as precisely located as possible. Although GPS is fairly accurate, usually to within a few meters, we can get even more precise (within a few centimeters) by accounting for small satellite errors throughout the day. We do this by determining the location of a nearby object (our Horizontal Control, HorCon, Station) very precisely, and then tracking the reported position of this object throughout the day. Any error that is recorded for this station is likely also relevant for our launch locations, so we use this as the corrector. For example, if on July 21, 2013, at 3pm, the GPS location of our Bird Island HorCon station was reported 3cm north of its actual location, then our launches are also probably getting GPS locations 3cm too far north, so we will adjust all of our data accordingly. This is one of the many times we are thankful for our software. We also account for pitch, heave, and roll of the launch using the data from the inertial motion unit. That way, if the launch rolled sideways, and the center beam records a depth of 30 meters, we know to adjust this for the sideways tilt of the launch.

HorCon station
This shows the set up of our Horizontal Control and tide gauge station. The elevated rock position was chosen to maximize satellite visibility.

After all correctors have been applied (and a few software crashes weathered), the survey technicians then sort through all the data and clean out any “noise.” This noise represents sound reflections on sea life, air bubbles, or other items that are not part of the seafloor.  Refraction of sound waves, as mentioned in the last post, is caused by density changes in the water due to changes in the temperature, pressure, or salinity.

Dirty data
This shows sonar data with “noise”. The noise is the seemingly random dots above and below the primary surface. On the surface itself, you can see data from four different swaths, each in a different color. Notice the overlap between swaths and how well it appears to be matching up.
Cleaned surface
This shows sonar data after the “noise” has been cleaned out. Notice how all data now appears to match a sea floor contour.

Many of the above correctors are applied the same day the data is collected, so the sheet manager can have an up-to-date record of the project’s progress before doing final planning for data collection the next day. After a sheet has been fully surveyed and ALL correctors applied, the sheet manager will complete a “descriptive report”, which accompanies the data and explains any gaps in the sonar data (“holidays”) and/or other errors present. This report, along with the data, is sent to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch for post-processing, and in 1-2 years, we will have a corrected and updated navigational chart. During this time the data is reviewed for quality and adherence to hydrographic specifications and then is distilled into a cartographic product (nautical chart) consisting of points, lines, and areas.

Personal Log:

So I am going to hold off in talking about an animal that has recently fascinated me and instead devote this personal log to some cool things I have been doing on the ship.

Most recently I got to be the helmsman and steer the ship. This involved me following orders from the “conning officer” who told me various steering commands such as: “Left ten degrees rudder”, “steady on course 167°”, “ease 5° right”, “helm in auto” (auto-pilot). To acknowledge the command, I repeated what the conning officer said followed by “aye”. For example: “Left ten degrees rudder, aye” or “course 167°, aye”.  When the boat is actually on the course that was requested by the conning officer, I repeated the command with the word “steady”. For example: “Steady on course 167°”

Avery at the helm
Avery at the helm

You might be wondering why all of the commands involve degrees. Well that is because this ship is steered by the rudder, similar to how you manually steer a small sailboat.  So changing the angle of the rudder will change the direction of the ship.  To change this angle, you turn the steering wheel a desired amount of degrees beyond zero in the direction the conning officer instructed.  So if he said “right 5 degrees rudder”, I would turn the steering wheel right, and stop at the 5 hash mark.

Once the boat actually turns 5°, I will make sure I am at the correct “heading” or degree mark that the conning officer instructed.  A heading can be any number between 000-360 (where 000-deg = North, 045 = Northeast, 090 = East, etc.) as this boat can turn in a complete circle and be navigated in any direction.  (There is 360° in both a compass and a circle.)  Once I am steady at the correct heading, I will put the steering wheel back to 0° which means the rudder is completely straight and parallel with the boat. At this point the boat is going straight. If this were a car, you could just stay straight no problem.

But because this boat moves in water and is affected by ocean conditions such as swells, it is easily knocked off course of the heading. So as helmsman I am constantly making tiny adjustments with the steering wheel by a few degrees in either direction to maintain my heading.   This adjustment is done using the steering wheel if I am driving manual, or using a dial on the gear panel if the boat is in “auto” (auto-pilot). Because the ship rudder must “push water out of the way” in order to steer the boat, there is a delay between when I turn the steering wheel to when the ship actually moves that amount of degrees. This is not a car which turns instantaneously by the movement of axles.  So I need to account for that “lag time” as well as ocean conditions and the speed of the boat when turning the ship.  For example, if the boat is going slow (3 knots) and I need to turn quickly, I will have to use a greater rudder angle.  Throughout this process I have several digital screens that show me my current position and course, current heading and desired heading as well as other navigational aides.  When I was helmsman, I was closely monitored and assisted by Jason, a former Navy Chief Boatswain, who is one of the best helmsman on the ship.  To be a good navigator you need to know the fundamentals but you also need a lot of practice and exposure to various navigational situations.

Helm stand
Helm stand

Yesterday, Rosalind and I got to work on deck and help the Chief Boatswain with various deck tasks such as lowering the anchor and assisting with the davit to hoist the launches from their day of surveying out on the water.  Assisting with the job of lifting a 16,000 lb launch with 3 people aboard using the davit winch was by far the most exhilarating experience thus far on the ship. I handled the task with extreme caution. As with being a helmsman, there are many factors I must consider as a davit operator.  For example, if there is a significant swell, I need to be more aggressive with the davit movements to get the boat lifted fast to avoid any excessive swaying in mid-air. Most importantly, I must attentively follow the gestures of the deck boss below who is able to see the launch very clearly and is directing me on every davit movement.  Even an experienced davit operator like Jason, who probably can predict the next davit movement in his sleep, must never assume and then act. He ALWAYS follows the exact orders of the deck officer below because he never knows what they are seeing that he cannot from the above deck.  Overall, with Jason’s close attention and assistance, I think I did a good job of assisting with the davit. The boat made it safely aboard, and my heart returned to a normal beating pattern. 🙂

Operating the crane to get the davit ready to lift the launch out of the water
Getting the davit positioned and ready to lift the launch out of the water.

On a lighter note I learned how to play the good ole’ mariner pastime favorite, Cribbage. Rosalind (the other Teacher at Sea and my delightful roommate) taught me how to play. We had a cribbage tournament here aboard the ship in which about 12 people competed. I did not advance to the finals but had a lot of fun nonetheless.  I am looking forward to gaining more Cribbage strategies so I can be a more competitive player for future matches.

First round of Cribagge tournament
First round of Cribbage tournament

Just for fun:

An adorable sole I caught on the fantail of the Rainer (I released him/her)
An adorable sole I caught on the fantail of the Rainer (I released him/her). 🙂

Fun factoid: A fathom which is a maritime measurement equal to 6 feet, was originally based on the distance, fingertip to fingertip of a man’s outstretched arms. Fathom that!

Sue Cullumber: Drifting Away, June 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/21/2013
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:  Time:  21.00 (9 pm)
Latitude/longitude:  3734.171ºN, 7507.538ºW
Temperature: 20.1ºC
Barrometer: 1023.73 mb
Speed: 9.6 knots

IMG_0878
Getting ready to launch the buoy – photo by Chris Taylor.
launchingdrifter
Launching the buoy from the ship’s stern – photo by Chris Taylor.

Science and Technology Log: 

This week we launched a Global Drifter Buoy (GDB) from the stern of the Gordon Gunter.  So what is a GDB? Basically it is a satellite tracked surface drifter buoy.  The drifter consists of a surface buoy, about the size of a beach ball, a drogue, which acts like a sea anchor and is attached underwater to the buoy  by a 15 meter long tether.

Drifter tracking: The drifter has a transmitter that sends data to passing satellites which provides the latitude/longitude of the drifter’s location. The location is determined from 16-20 satellite fixes per day.  The surface buoy contains 4 to 5  battery packs that each have 7-9 alkaline D-cell batteries, a transmitter, a thermistor to measure sea surface temperature, and some even have other instruments  to measure barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, salinity, and/or ocean color. It also has a submergence sensor to verify the drogue’s presence. Since the drogue is centered 15 meters underwater it  is able to measure mixed layer currents in the upper ocean. The drifter has a battery life of about 400 days before ending transmission.

buoy
Stickers from students at Howard Gray School.
decoratingdrifter
Attaching the stickers to the buoy – photo by Kris Winiarski.

Students at the Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona designed stickers that were used to decorate the buoy. The stickers have messages about the school, Arizona and NOAA so that if the buoy is ever retrieved this will provide information on who launched it.  In the upcoming year students at Howard Gray will be tracking the buoy from the satellite-based system  Argos that is used to collect and process the drifter data. You can follow our drifter here, by putting in the data set for the GTS buoy with a Platform ID of 44932 and select June 19, 2013 as the initial date of the deployment.

Why are drifter buoys deployed?

In 1982 the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) determined that worldwide drifter buoys (“drifters”) would be extremely important for oceanographic and climate research. Since then drifters have been placed throughout the world’s oceans to obtain information on ocean dynamics, climate variations and meteorological conditions.

IMG_0886
The Howard Gray School drifter on its ocean voyage.

NOAA’s Global Drifter Program (GDP) is the main part of the Global Surface Drifting Buoy Array, NOAA’s branch of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).  It has two main objectives:

1. Maintain a 5×5 worldwide degree array (every 5 degrees of the latitude/longitude of world’s oceans) of the 1250 satellite-tracked surface drifting buoys to maintain an accurate and globally set of on-site observations that include:  mixed layer currents, sea surface temperature, atmospheric pressure, winds and salinity.

2. Provide a data processing system of this data for scientific use.

bongossunset
Bongo nets going out for the plankton samples.
meshsamples
Plankton from the different mesh sizes. The left is from the smaller mesh and contains much more sample. Photo by Paula Rychtar.

EcoMon survey: We are continuing to take plankton samples and this week we started taking two different Bongo samples at the same station. Bongo mesh size (size of the holes in the net) was changed several years ago to a smaller mesh size of .33 mm. However, they need comparison samples for the previous nets that were used and had a mesh size of about .5 mm.  They had switched to the smaller net size because they felt that they were losing a large part of the plankton sample (basically plankton were able to escape through the larger holes). We are actually able to see this visually in the amount of samples that we obtain from the different sized mesh.

dolphinflying
Common Dolphins were frequent visitors to the Gordon Gunter.

Personal Log:

It’s hard to believe that my Teacher at Sea days are coming to a close. I have learned so much about life at sea, the ocean ecosystem, the importance of plankton, data collection, and the science behind it all.  I will miss the people, the ocean and beautiful sunsets and the ship, but I’m ready to get back to Arizona to share my adventure with my students, friends and family. I want to thank all the people that helped me during this trip including: the scientists and NOAA personnel, the NOAA Corps and ship personnel, the bird observers and all others on the trip.

Did you know? Drifters have even been placed in many remote locations that are infrequently visited or difficult to get to through air deployment.  They are invaluable tools in tracking and predicting the intensity of hurricanes, as well.

Question of the day?  What information would you like to see recorded by a Global Drifter Buoy and why?

shipsunset-2
Another beautiful sunset at sea.

Frank Hubacz: Unimak Pass, May 4, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Frank Hubacz
Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
April 29 – May 10, 2013

 

Mission: Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Mooring Deployment and Recovery

Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea

Date: May 5, 2013

 Weather Data from the Bridge (0300):

Partly cloudy, S Winds, variable, currently 3.71 knots
Air Temperature 2.8C

Relative Humidity 73%

Barometer 1025.1 mb

Surface Water Temperature 0.10 C

Surface Water Salinity 31.66 PSU

Seas up to 5 ft

Science and Technology Log

Once we completed our mooring work from Gore Point through to Pavlof Bay, we sailed on to Unimak Pass, nearly 400 miles away, and then entered into the Bering Sea.  Unimak Pass is a strait (wide gap) between the Bering Sea and the North Pacific Ocean in the Aleutian Island chain of Alaska.  Upon arrival at our first station, we started the process of deploying our CTD sampling unit at predetermined points as well as MARMap Bongo casts(discussed in my next blog) when specified, within a region forming a rectangular “box” north of the pass.  If you have been following my voyage using NOAA ship tracker, hopefully you now understand why we appeared to have been “boxed in” (I can hear the groans from my students even out here in the Bering Sea). It is important to understand the ocean waters of this region given that it is a major egress between the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea.  Therefore it serves as an important pathway between these two water bodies for commercially important fish stock as well as serving as a major commercial shipping route.

Unimak Pass
Unimak Pass

 A CTD (an acronym for conductivity, temperature, and depth) is an instrument used by oceanographers to measure essential physical properties of sea water.  It provides a very comprehensive profile of the ocean water to help better understand the habitat of important marine species as well as charting the distribution and variation of water temperature, salinity, and density.  This information also helps scientist to understand how variations in physical ocean properties change over time.  The  CTD is made up of a set of small probes attached to a large stainless steel wheel housing. The sensors that measure CTD are surrounded by a rosette of water sampling bottles (niskin bottles) that individually close shut by an electronic fired trigger mechanism initiated from the control room on-board the ship.  The rosette is then lowered on a cable down to a depth just above the seafloor.  The science team is able to observe many different water properties in real time via a conducting cable connecting the CTD to a computer on the ship. A remotely operated device allows the attached water sampling bottles to be closed (sample collected) at selective depths as the instrument ascends back to the surface.

 

CTD Unit
CTD Unit
Here I am in my hot rain pants helping to deploy the CTD
Here I am in my hot colored rain pants helping to deploy the CTD.  Notice the niskin bottles?
Monitoring the drop with Peter
Monitoring the drop with Peter
Monitoring the CTD deployment
Data screens in the lab

On this cruise, our CTD was equipped to collect real-time water column measurements of conductivity, temperature, density, dissolved oxygen, salinity, chlorophyll levels, and light as the unit traveled down through to a set point just above the ocean floor.  Additionally, water samples for determining concentrations of nutrients (nitrate (NO3-1), nitrite (NO2-1), ammonium (NH4+), phosphate (PO4-3), and silicates (SiO4-4), dissolved oxygen, dissolve inorganic carbon, and chlorophyll were measured at specified depths within the water column as the unit was raised back to the surface.  Replicate measurements of some chemical constituents measured on the ascent are completed to help support the reliability of  the dynamic measurements of these same species made on the drop.  All of the nutrient samples are then frozen to -80C and brought back to the lab on shore for analysis.  Dissolved oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon, and chlorophyll samples are also treated according to unique methods for later detailed analysis.

The sampling begins!
The sampling begins from a niskin bottle!
Filling the sampling vials to be stored for later analysis
Filling the sampling vials to be stored for later analysis
Peter placing samples in the freezer
Peter placing samples in the freezer
Scott preparing the chlorophyll samples
Scott preparing the chlorophyll samples

Our first CTD cast from the “Unimak Box” began with my shift, a bit after midnight, on May 3rd and ended 32 hours later on May 4th.  The science crew worked nonstop as they completed 17 different CTD casts. Again, it was impressive to see the cooperation among the scientists as each group helped one another complete CTD casts, launch and retrieve Bongo nets, and then collect the many different samples of water for testing as well as the samples of zooplankton caught in the bongo nets.  My task was to collect nutrient water samples from each CTD cast.  As the water depth increased so did the number of samples that were collected.  During our sampling water depths ranged from approximately 50 meters (5 samples) up to 580 meters (11 samples).  On our last cast the air temperature was -2.3o C with water temperature reading 2.90 C. Seas were relatively calm and we were able to see many different islands in the Aleutian chain.

Personal Log

It was rewarding to be able to help the team collect water samples for nutrient testing, especially given that we are able to sample many of these same nutrient species in our chemistry lab at Franklin Pierce.  I want my students to know that I practiced “GLT” when collecting nutrient samples making certain to rinse each sample bottle and sampling syringe at least three times before each collection.  Want to know what “GLT” references…ask one of my students!

My most “interesting” time on board ship happened during our first night of CTD testing along one of the lines of the Unimak Box.  At 2:45 am Peter, Douglas, and I were recording flow meter values from the previous bongo net tow on the side quarter-deck.  I was writing values down on a clip board as Peter read the values off to me.  I happened to glance over the deck towards the sea when I noticed an unusually large wave about 2 meters out from the boat traveling towards us.  Suddenly it crashed on top of us knocking us to the deck floor.  Water flooded all around us and through the doors of our labs.  I immediately grabbed onto one of the ship’s piping units and held on tight as the water poured back off the deck.  In an instant the sea was calm again after the “rogue” wave released its energy on our ship.  Because Peter and I fell onto the deck our clothes became completely soaked with icy cold seawater.  Upon standing, we checked on each other and then immediately began retrieving empty sampling bottles and other lab paraphernalia as they floated by in the water emptying off the deck.  Douglas was able to hold-on to the CTD and remained standing and dry under his rain suit.  This is the first, and I hope the last, “rogue” wave that I ever experience.  Fortunately, no one was lost or injured and we were able to retrieve all of our equipment with one exception…the clip board of data log entries that I was holding!

I must admit that I am disappointed at the limited internet access while on board ship.  I find it somewhat disheartening that I have not been able to write the consistent blogs promised to you telling of my adventures.  Hopefully this will improve as we change course and you will continue to follow along.

IMG_7099
View as I traveled to work!
Islands of the Aleutians.
Islands of the Aleutians.
IMG_7055
Island hopping!
IMG_7029
Not all islands are completely snow covered.

 

Do you know what this is?

Read my next blog to find out what this is!
Read my next blog to find out!

Set tags and categories(include your name)

Bhavna Rawal: Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) and Water Testing, August 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bhavna Rawal
Aboard the R/V Walton Smith
August 6 – 10, 2012

Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey, South Florida
Geographic area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 7, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Station: 6.5
Time: 21.36 GMT
Longitude: 080 17’ 184
Latitude: 250 3’ 088
Water temp: 29.930 oC
Wind direction: East
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea wave height: 3 ft

Science and Technology log:

Hello students! We know how to do water testing in our lab class using the testing kit. Today, I am going to explain to you the way ocean water is sampled and tested in the South Florida coastline.

Our 5 day cruise consists of over 80 stations along the Atlantic and Gulf coast of Florida.  At each station we take water samples, and at about 20 of the stations we tow nets to catch fish, seaweed or plankton and sometimes scuba dive to recover the instruments mounted on the seafloor.

Our journey begins at station #2 at Dixie shoal, which is near Miami; you can see this on the South Florida bimonthly Hydrographic survey map below (see fig).

South Florida Bimothly Hydrographic Survey map
South Florida Bimothly Hydrographic Survey map

At each station we performed CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) operations. The CTD is a special instrument to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll and the depth of water in the ocean. It is an electronic instrument mounted on a large metal cage that also contains bottles to collect samples.  These bottles are called niskin bottles and every oceanographer uses them.  They are made of PVC and are specially designed to close instantaneously by activation from the computer inside the ship. Collecting water samples at various depths of the ocean is important in order to verify in the lab that the instruments are working properly. Each bottle has an opening valve at the bottom and top to take in the seawater. The top and bottom covers are operated by a control system. Once a certain depth is reached, the person sitting at the control system triggers and it closes the bottles. You can control each bottles through this system to get a pure water sample from different depths. For example, when the ocean floor is 100 meters deep, water is sampled from the surface, at 50 meters deep, the very bottom.

Hard hat and life vest on and ready for CTD
Hard hat and life vest on and ready for CTD

The CTD instrument is very large, and is operated by a hydraulic system to raise it, to place it and lower down into the ocean. Rachel (another fellow member) and I were the chemistry team; we wore hard hats and life vests while we guided the CTD in and out of the water. This is always a job for at least two people.

Guiding CTD in and out of water
Guiding CTD in and out of water

The team usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean, in the middle layer and surface of the ocean. We closed the bottles in the middle layer because the characteristics of the water are different from at the bottom and the surface.  Remember, the ocean water is not all the same throughout, at different depths and locations it has different chemical characteristics. We closed two bottles per layer, just in case something happened with one bottle (it is not opened properly, for example) then the other bottle can be used.

Taking water sample out of CTD bottles
Taking water sample out of CTD bottles

Rachel and I took water samples from the CTD bottles and used them in the lab to conduct experiments. Before I explain the analysis, I want to explain to you the importance of it, and how a “dead zone” can happen. Remember phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients to live and survive. The more nutrients, the more phytoplankton can live in water. As you all know, phytoplankton are at the base of the food chain. They convert the sun’s energy into food. Too many nutrients mean too much phytoplankton.

  1. If certain species of phytoplankton increase, it increases the chance of a harmful algal bloom. Too much of one kind of plankton called the dinoflagellates can release toxins into the water which harms the fish and other ocean life and it can even cause people to feel like they have a cold if they swim in the water that has those plankton.
  2. Large amounts of plankton die and fall to the sea floor, where bacteria decompose the phytoplankton. Bacteria use available oxygen in water. The lack of oxygen causes fishes and other animals die. The zone becomes ‘the dead zone’.
    We prepare the sample for nutrient analysis to measure nutrients such as nitrate, nitrite, phosphate, ammonium and silicate in the water.
    We also prepare the sample for chlorophyll analysis. In the lab, we filter the phytoplankton out of the water. Phytoplankton contains special cells that photosynthesize (chloroplasts) which are made of chlorophyll. If we know the amount of chlorophyll, we can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in a given area of the ocean.
filtering the phytoplankton out of the water
Filtering the phytoplankton out of the water
Preparing the sample for nutrient analysis
Preparing the sample for nutrient analysis

Phytoplankton needs carbon dioxide to grow. Carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it provides an estimate of total carbon dioxide in the ocean.  It is also important in understanding the effects of climate change on the ocean.  If you increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (like when you drive cars), it enters into the ocean.  If you think about a can of soda it has a lot of CO2 dissolved into it to make it fizzy, and it also tastes kind of acidic.  This is similar to when CO2 dissolves into seawater.  When the ocean becomes more acidic, the shells of animals become weaker or the animals cannot produce the shells at all.

Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) analysis informs us where this water comes from.  The dissolved organic matter comes from decomposing plants, and some of these dead plants entered the water through rivers.  You can tell for example that water came from the Mississippi River because of the CDOM signal.  You can then follow its circulation through the ocean all the way to the Atlantic.

From the CTD instrument, we measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it on a computer (see figure) to analyze it.

Measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it
Measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it

Generally, I see that ocean surface water has high temperature but low salinity, low chlorophyll, and low oxygen. As we go deeper into the sea (middle layer), temperatures decrease, dissolved oxygen increases, chlorophyll and salinity increases. At the bottom layer, chlorophyll, oxygen, temp and salinity decrease.

Personal Log:

I arrived on the ship Sunday evening and met with other people on the team, tried to find out what we are going to do, how to set up, etc. Asked so many questions… I explored my room, the kitchen, the laundry, the science lab, the equipment, etc. Nelson (the chief scientist) gave me a really informative tour about the ship, its instruments and operations. He showed the CTD m/c, the drifter, the wet lab etc. He also gave me a tour of a very important instrument called the “flow-through station” which is attached to the bottom of the ship. This instrument measures temp, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM, when the boat drives straight through a station without stopping. I was really stunned by how precise, the measurements taken by this instrument are.

flow-through station
Flow-through station

The next morning, Nelson explained that if we have enough tide the ship would leave. We had to wait a bit. As soon as we got the perfect tide and weather, R/V Walton Smith took off and I said ‘bye bye’ to Miami downtown.

‘bye bye’ to Miami downtown
‘Bye bye’ to Miami downtown

I learn so much every day in this scientific expedition. I saw not only real life science going on, but efficient communication among crew members. There are many types of crew members on the ship: navigation, technology, engineering, and scientific. Chief scientists make plans on each station and the types of testing. This plan is very well communicated with the navigation crew who is responsible for driving the ship and taking it to that station safely. The technology crew is responsible for efficient inner working of each scientific instrument. 10 minutes before we arrive on a station, the ship captain (from navigation crew) announces and informs the scientific team and technology team in the middle level via radio. So, the scientific team prepares and gets their instruments ready when the station arrives. I saw efficient communication and collaboration between all teams. Without this, this expedition would not be completed successfully.
I have also seen that safety is the first priority on this oceanic ship. When any crew member works in a middle deck such as CTD, Net Tow etc, they have to wear a hard hat and life jacket. People are always in closed toe shoes. It is required for any first timer on the boat to watch a safety video outlining safe science and emergency protocol. People in this ship are very friendly. They are very understanding about my first time at sea, as I was seasick during my first day. I am very fortunate to be a part of this team.

The food on the ship is delicious. Melissa, the chef prepares hot served breakfast, lunch and dinner for us. Her deserts are very delicious, and I think I am going to have to exercise more once I come back to reduce the extra weight gained from eating her delicious creations!

Watch TV, play cards and have dinner together
Watch TV, play cards and have dinner together

My shift is from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. and I work with Rachel and Grant. After working long hours, we watch TV, play cards and have dinner together. I am learning and enjoying this expedition on the ship Research Vessel Walton Smith.

Question of the Day:

Why we do water testing in different areas of river and ocean?

New word:

Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM)

Something to think about:

How to prevent dead zone in an ocean?

Animals Seen Today:
Two trigger fishes
Three Moon Jelly fishes
Five Crabs

Did You Know?
In ship, ropes called lines, kitchen called galley, the place where you drive your ship is called bridge or wheel house.

Amanda Peretich: CTD and XBT – More Acronyms? July 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amanda Peretich
Aboard Oscar Dyson
June 30 – July 18, 2012

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise:
Bering Sea
Date:
July 8, 2012

Location Data
Latitude: 57ºN
Longitude: 172ºW
Ship speed: 11.2 knots (12.9 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 6ºC (42.8ºF)
Surface water temperature: 7ºC (44.6ºF)
Wind speed: 2.5 knots (2.9 mph)
Wind direction: 156ºT
Barometric pressure: 1020 millibar (1.0 atm, 765 mmHg)

Science and Technology Log
Today’s post is going to be about two of the water profiling devices used on board the Oscar Dyson: the CTD and XBT.

CTD
CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. It’s actually a device that is “dropped” over the starboard side of the ship at various points along the transect lines to take measurements of conductivity and temperature at various depths in the ocean. On this leg of the pollock survey, we will complete about 25-30 CTD drops by the end. The data can also be used to calculate salinity. Water samples are collected to measure dissolved oxygen (these samples are analyzed all together at the end of the cruise). Determining the amount of oxygen available in the water column can help provide information about not only the fish but also other phytoplankton and more. Although we are not doing it on this leg, fluorescence can also be measured to monitor chlorophyll levels.

CTD
From left to right: getting the CTD ready to deploy, the winch is used to put the CTD into the water, the CTD is lowered into the water – notice that the people are strapped in to the ship so they don’t fall overboard during deployment

DYK? (Did You Know?): What exactly are transect lines? Basically this is the path the ship is taking so they know what areas the ship has covered. Using NOAA’s Shiptracker, you can see in the photo where the Oscar Dyson has traveled on this pollock survey (both Leg 1 and Leg 2) up to this point in time.

Transect Lines
Using NOAA’s Shiptracker, you can see the transect lines that the Oscar Dyson has followed during the pollock cruise until July 8. The ship started in Dutch Harbor (DH), traveled to the point marked “Leg 1 start” and along the transect lines until “Leg 1 end” before returning to DH to exchange people. The ship then returned to the point marked “Leg 2 start” and followed transect lines to the current location. The Oscar Dyson will return to DH to exchange people before beginning Leg 3 of this survey and completing the transect lines.
Deploying the CTD
I was lucky enough to be able to operate the winch during a CTD deploy. The winch is basically what pulls in or lets out the cable attached to the CTD to raise and lower it in the water. Special thanks to the chief boatswain Willie for letting me do this!

The CTD can only be deployed when the ship is not moving, so if weather is nice, we should just stay mostly in one place. The officers on the bridge can also manually hold the ship steady. Or they can use DP, which is dynamic positioning. This computer system controls the rudder and propeller on the stern and the bowthruster at the front to maintain position.

Here is a video from a previous Teacher at Sea (TAS) about the CTD and showing its “drop” into the water: Story Miller – 2010. Another TAS also has a video on her blog showing the data being collected during a CTD drop: Kathleen Harrison – 2011.

XBT

Thermocline
The thermocline is the area where the upper isothermal (mixed) layer meets the deep water layer and there is a decline in temperature with increasing depth.

XBT is the acronym for the eXpendable Bathymetric Thermograph. It is used to quickly collect temperature data from the surface to the sea floor. A graph of depth (in meters) versus temperature (in ºC) is used to find the thermocline and determine the temperature on the sea floor.

DYK? Normally, temperature decreases as you go farther down in the sea because colder water is denser than warmer water so it sinks below. But this is not the case in polar regions such as the Bering Sea. Just below the surface is an isothermal layer caused by wind mixing and convective overturning where the temperature is approximately the same as on the surface. Below this layer is the thermocline where the temperature then rapidly decreases.

The MK-21IISA is a bathythermograph data acquisition system. This is a portable (moveable) system used to collect data including ocean temperature, conductivity, and sound velocity and various depths using expendable probes (ones you can lose overboard and not get back) that are launched from surface ships. The depth is determined using elapsed time from surface contact and a known sink rate.

There are three different probes that can be used with this data acquisition system:
1. XBT probe – this is the probe that is used on OD, which only measures water temperature at various depths
2. XSV probe – this probe can measure sound velocity versus depth
3. XCTD probe – this probe measures both temperature and conductivity versus depth

On the XBT probe, there is a thermistor (something used to measure temperature) that is connected to an insulated wire wound on two spools (one inside the probe and one outside the probe but inside the canister). The front, or nose, of the probe is a seawater electrode that is used to sense when the probe enters the water to begin data collection. There are different types of XBT probes depending on the maximum depth and vessel speed of the ship.

XBT Canister and Probe
This shows a sideview (left) and topview (middle) of the canister that houses the probe (right) released into the water during an XBT.

There are really four steps to launch the XBT probe using the LM-3A handheld launcher on board:
1. Raise contact lever.
2. Lay probe-containing canister into cradle (make sure to hold it upwards so the probe doesn’t fall out of the canister!).
3. Swing contact level down to lock in canister.
4. Pull release pin out of canister, aim into ocean, and drop probe.
Important: the wire should not come in contact with the ship!

Launching an XBT
“Launching” an XBT probe from starboard side on the Oscar Dyson. There is no actual trigger – you just make a little forward motion with the launcher to allow the probe to drop into the water.

Be sure to check out the video below, which shows what the data profile looks like as the probe is being dropped into the water. An XBT drop requires a minimum of two people, one at the computer inside and one outside launching the probe. I’ve been working with Scientist Bill and ENS Kevin to help out with the XBT launches, which also includes using the radios on board to mark the ship’s position when the probe hits the water.

Personal Log

Quickest Route?
We’ve been taught in school that the quickest way from point A to point B is a straight line, so you’d think that the red voyage would be the fastest way to get from Seattle, Washington across the Pacific Ocean to Japan. But it’s actually a path up through Alaska!

It’s been a little slow on the trawling during my shift recently, so I’ve had some extra time to wander around the ship and talk to various people amidst researching and writing more blog posts. I think one of my favorite parts so far has been all of the great information I’ve been learning up on the bridge from the field operations officer, LT Matt Davis.

DYK? When looking at the map, you’d think the quickest route from Seattle, Washington to Japan would be a straight line across the Pacific Ocean. But it’s not! Actually, ships will travel by way of Alaska and it is a shorter distance (and thus faster).

View from the Bow
View from the bow of the Oscar Dyson.

Vessels  use gnomonic ocean tracking charts to determine the shortest path. Basically a straight line drawn on the gnomonic projection corresponds to a great circle, or geodesic curve, that shows the minimum path from any two points on the surface of the Earth as a straight line. So on the way to Japan from Seattle, you would travel up through Alaskan waters, using computer software to help determine the proper pathway.

I’ve also had some time to explore a few other areas of the ship I hadn’t been to before. I’ve learned some new lingo (look for this in an upcoming post) and plenty of random facts. One of the places I checked out is the true bow of the ship where, if I was standing a bit higher (and wearing a PFD, or personal flotation device), I’d look like I was Rose Dawson in one of the scenes from Titanic.

Animal Love
All of the time I spend on the bridge also allows for those random mammal sightings and I was able to see a few whales from afar on July 7!

Whale Sighting
Whale sighting from the bridge! You have to look really closely to see their blow spouts in the middle of the photo.

Elizabeth Bullock: Introduction, December 8, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Bullock
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
December 11-15, 2011

Introduction

Hello! My name is Elizabeth (Liz) Bullock and I work for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program (TAS).  Before I worked at NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)  I was in graduate school at Clark University in Worcester, MA studying Environmental Science and Policy.  As my final project, I created an environmental curriculum for the Global Youth Leadership Institute (GYLI).  Through this experience, I realized how much I love both science and educating others about the importance of the natural world.

I have been invited to take part in a research cruise on the R/V Walton Smith.  I will be participating in the Bimonthly Regional Survey / South Florida Program Cruise.  The researchers on this survey are  from NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanography and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) which is located in Miami, FL.

What will we be studying?  The scientists on this survey are very interested in knowing about the strength and health of the ecosystem.  They can judge how strong it is by looking at various indicators such as water clarity, salinity, and temperature.  They can also record information about the phytoplankton and zooplankton that live in the water.

Question for students: Why do you think it is important to learn about the phytoplankton and zooplankton?  What can they tell us about the ecosystem?  Please leave a reply with your answers below by clicking on “Comments.”

Here is a map of the route the R/V Walton Smith will be taking.

Research Map
The R/V Walton Smith will be leaving Miami, FL and traveling around the Florida Keys into the Gulf of Mexico.

I am so excited and I hope you will follow along with me on this journey of a lifetime!

Steven Wilkie: June 26, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
STEVEN WILKIE
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OREGON II
JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 26, 2011

Ship Data:

Latitude 26.56
Longitude -96.41
Speed 10.00 kts
Course 6.00
Wind Speed 4.55 kts
Wind Dir. 150.72 º
Surf. Water Temp. 28.30 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 24.88 PSU
Air Temperature 29.20 ºC
Relative Humidity 78.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1012.27 mb
Water Depth 115.20 m
Before getting down to work, it is important to learn all precautionary measures. Here I am suited up in a survival suit during an abandon ship drill.

Science and Technology Log

After two days of travel we are on site and beginning to work and I believe the entire crew is eager to get their hands busy, myself included.   As I mentioned in my previous post, it is difficult if not impossible to separate the abiotic factors from the biotic factors, and as a result it is important to monitor the abiotic factors prior to every trawl event.  The main piece of equipment involved in monitoring the water quality (an abiotic factor) is the C-T-D (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) device.  This device uses sophisticated sensors to determine the conductivity of the water, which in turn, can be used to measure salinity (differing salinities will conduct electricity at different rates).   Salinity influences the density of the water: the saltier the water the more dense the water is.  Density measures the amount of mass in a specific volume, so if you dissolve salt in a glass of water you are adding more mass without much volume.  And since Density=Mass/Volume, the more salt you add, the denser the water will get.   Less dense objects tend to float higher in the water column than more dense objects, so as a result the ocean often has layers of differing salinities (less salty water on top of more salty water).  Often you encounter a boundary between the two layers known as a halocline (see the graph below for evidence of a halocline).

Temperature varies with depth in the ocean, however, because warm water is less dense than cold water. When liquids are cold, more molecules can fit into a space than when they are war; therefore there is more mass in that volume.   The warm water tends to remain towards the surface, while the cooler water remains at depth.  You may have experienced this if you swim in a local lake or river.  You dive down and all of a sudden the water goes from nice and warm to cool. This is known as a thermocline and is the result of the warm, less dense water sitting on top of the cool more dense water.

Here is the fancy piece of technology that makes measuring water quality so easy: the CTD.

Temperature also influences the amount of oxygen that water can hold. The cooler the temperature of the water the more oxygen can dissolve in it.  This is yet another reason why the hypoxic zones discussed in my last blog are more common in summer months than winter months: the warm water simply does not hold as much oxygen as it does in the winter.

The CTD is also capable of measuring chlorophyll.  Chlorophyll is a molecule that photosynthetic organisms use to capture light energy and then use to build complex organic molecules that they can in turn be used as energy to grow, reproduce etc.  The more chlorophyll in the water, the more photosynthetic phytoplankton there is in the water column.  This can be a good thing, since photosynthetic organisms are the foundation of the food chain, but as I mentioned in my earlier blog, too much phytoplankton can also lead to hypoxic zones.

Finally the CTD sensor is capable of measuring the water’s turbidity.  This measures how clear the water is.  Think of water around a coral reef — that water has a very low turbidity, so you can see quite a ways into the water (which is good for coral since they need access to sunlight to survive).  Water in estuaries or near shore is often quite turbid because of all of the run off coming from land.

This is a CTD data sample taken on June 26th at a depth of 94 meters. The pink line represents chlorophyll concentration, the green represents oxygen concentration, the blue is temperature and the red is salinity.

So, that is how we measure the abiotic factors, now let’s concentrate on how we measure the biotic!  After using the CTD (and it takes less time to use it than it does to describe it here) we are ready to pull our trawls.  There are three different trawls that the scientists rely on and they each focus on different “groups” of organisms.

The neuston net captures organisms living just at the water's surface.

The neuston net (named for the neuston zone, which is where the surface of the water interacts with the atmosphere) is pulled along the side of the ship and skims the surface of the water.  At the end of the net is a small “catch bottle” that will capture anything bigger than .947 microns.  The bongo nets are nets that are targeting organisms of a similar size, but instead of remaining at the surface these nets are lowered from the surface to the seafloor and back again, capturing a representative sample of organisms throughout the water column.   The neuston net is towed for approximately ten minutes, while the bongo nets tow times are dependent on depth.   Once the nets are brought in, the scientists, myself included, take the catch and preserve it for the scientists back in the lab to study.

The bongo nets will capture organisms from the surface all the way down to bottom.

The biggest and baddest nets on the boat are the actual trawl nets launched from the stern (back) of the boat.  These are the nets the scientists are relying on to target the bottom fish.  This trawl net is often referred to as an otter trawl because of the giant heavy doors used to pull the mouth of the net open once it reaches the bottom.  As the boat moves forward, a “tickler” chain spooks any of the organisms that might be lounging around on the bottom and the net follows behind to scoop them up.  This net is towed for thirty minutes, and then retrieved and we spend the next hour or so sorting, counting and measuring the catch.

Here you can see the otter trawl net extending off the starboard side of the Oregon II. When lowered into the water the doors will spread the mouth of the net.
Personal Log
I thought that adjusting to a 12 hour work schedule would be tough, but with a 5-month old son at home I feel I am more prepared than most might be for an extended day.  I might go as far as to say that I have more down time now than I did at home!  Although the ship’s crew actually manages the deployment of the majority of the nets and C-T-D, the science team is always involved and keeping busy allows the hours to tick away without much thought.  Before you know it you are on the stern deck of the ship staring at a gorgeous Gulf of Mexico sunset.

As we steam back East, the sun sets in our stern every day, and we have been treated to peaceful ones thus far on this trip.
The sun has long since set.  As I write this it is well after midnight and my bunk is calling.

Donna Knutson, September 16, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 16, 2010

Midway

It is hard to smile wearing a mask!
September 16, 2010 
Teacher at Sea:  Donna Knutson
Ship Name:  Oscar Elton Sette

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sittings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 28○  22.6’ N
Longitude: 177○ 28.5’ W  
Clouds:  6/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  8 Knots
Wave height:  3-4 ft.
Water Temperature:  28.0○ C
Air Temperature:  26.8○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1020.2 mb
History:
Memorial surrounded by Bonin petrel underground nests.
Midway is the second to the last island in the line of islands/atolls extending northwest of Hawaii.  Midway has a lot of history dating back to 1859 when it was first discovered by Captain N. C. Brooks.  The island, called Sand Island, at that time was nothing but sand and an occasional tuft of grass with birds everywhere.

In 1870 after the Civil War it was felt necessary to have access to Midway for political reasons and a company was hired to cut a path through the coral for steam engine ships to come and refuel.  It became too costly and never was finished.
On 1903 the Pacific Commercial Cable Company set to work to provide communication between Guam, Waikiki, Midway and San Francisco.  At this time President Theodore Roosevelt put Midway under the protection of the Navy because of Japanese poachers.  The workers for the cable company became the first planned settlement on Midway.
 In 1935 Pan American Airlines built a runway and refueling station for their Flying Clipper seaplane operation. They also helped the little community prosper as they transferred goods between Manila and Wake and Guam.
An inside corridor to the Naval facility.
The pictures were still on the wall.
Midway was made famous in 1942 during World War II.  The island had been named Midway as it is “midway” between the continental United States and Japan.  The United States had naval control over the island for approximately thirty years, but it wasn’t until 1938 that the Navy made it into a full naval base.
They hauled in over a hundred tons of soil in order to plant gardens and trees,  to make it appear more like home, and also to build roads and piers.   The navy base at one time housed ten thousand people, and was a very important strategic base.  Hawaii was at risk from an invasion from Japan and Midway was added defensive support.
The Japanese recognized Midway as a threat and attacked it on June 4-6, 1942.  It was a fierce battle with many fatalities.  It was reported that the Japanese lost 2,500 soldiers while the United States lost 320.  The victory of the Battle at Midway was a major turning point in WWII.
The airstrip has not been used since the ’60’s.
After the war ended there was less need for the Midway Naval Base.  Most of the people left Midway 1950, leaving behind buildings with the holdings intact.  In 1988 the military released the island to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Midway became a national park and refuge to protect the shorebirds, seabirds, and threatened and endangered species.
The upkeep of the naval base has fallen on the shoulders of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  They have torn down some of the buildings constructed before 1950 that are not repairable.  The fish and wildlife service is making room for more birds by clearing out some of the ironwood trees which have overgrown the island.  There are sixty-three places on Midway that are considered eligible for National Historic Landmarks.
Dr. Tran and Stephanie riding ahead of me on the old runway.
The trees were filled with common myna birds.
In addition to the historical significance of Midway, many animals find a sanctuary within the atoll.  Nineteen species of birds, approximately two million birds, nest on Midway.  In the water there are about two-hundred fifty spinner dolphins, the threatened green sea turtles, about sixty endangered Hawaiian monk seals, more than two-hundred sixty-five species of fishes, and forty plus species of stony corals that make Midway atoll home.
Resources:
Isles of Refuge, Wildlife and History of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, by Mark J. Rauzon, copyright 2001.
A white tern chick.
White terns lay an egg without a nest.
The chick must have strong feet to hold on to it’s
precarious perch.
Personal Log:
Today I am lucky enough to go to Midway!  I have read up on it and expect not only to see a beautiful destination with an abundance of wildlife, I will be seeing first hand a historical site few people have had the pleasure to explore.
My swimming suit is under my clothes so I’m also ready to try out the beaches! Mills and Chris are escorting me, Dr. Tran and the XO, Stephanie, on the small boat to the island. Mills has to weave in and out because of all the coral.  Mills is one of the few who have had the opportunity to see Midway and he is giving us last minute advice.
We are met at a small dock by John, a warden for the U.S. Wildlife Service, he is going to be our tour guide. As I watch the small boat head back to the Sette, I can’t help thinking that it feels like the beginning of one of those “stranded” movies. This is not what I pictured.  There is trash everywhere.  To the right I see the rocky shore littered with garbage. Plastics everywhere, all shapes and sizes right next to the sparkling clean water.  Ugh!  Piles of twisted metal are heaped in piles twenty feet high.  Then there are the piles of uprooted trees and old lumber.  I guess it is organized waiting to be hauled out, but I didn’t see any of that in the literature I read.
I am standing on the deck at”Captain Brooks”.
It was named after the man who claimed the island for the United States.
This was my first view of North Beach!
Unfortunately the garbage people throw out to sea is being collected on the atolls and banks of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  Crates, buckets, balls, anything and everything imaginable that is made from plastic is showing up on these unpopulated, remote islands.  It is the currents that carry the debris to the islands and the corals and beaches trap and collect the material.  Very sad.  People are so uncaring and oblivious to what they do daily to the environment.
John is very friendly and laid back, ok, I don’t feel like the star in one of those silly sci-fi movies I love to watch, any longer.  We three hop on a Kawasaki “mule” and head away from the dock.  Most of the buildings we pass are left-overs from the war, rusty, broken windows and even bullet holes.  John drives up to the Visitor Center/Office.  He gives us a general briefing on how things work there and mentions some of the sites we should see, and off we go again.  Now our mode of transportation is a golf cart.  He shows us where we can go on our own and tells us where not to go – the air strip.  Now I’m thinking “bad movie plot” again.
John described how the cannons were bolted to the center.
At that time there were no trees and the guns were aimed at the Japanese ships in the ocean.
He gives us bikes and we start our own tour.  We need to stay on paths or roads because the land is covered with holes for Bonin petrels.  They are nocturnal birds and burrow underground to nest and lay their eggs.  At one time Midway had a rat problem and they ate the chicks and eggs, so now that they have been eliminated, this is a true bird paradise.  It is fun to ride around and look leisurely at the island.
Doc had been there before so he was in the lead.  As we look around at the wonderful wildlife the ground is also littered with small plastic objects.  I see a toothbrush, a lighter, and bottle tops all over!  Other plastic objects with strange shapes seem to catch my eye. What is going on?
Doc explains to me that the albatross that go to feed in the ocean will see something resembling a fish, swoop down to get it and bring it back to shore for its offspring.  Once regurgitated, the fledgling may also eat it and then die with a stomach full of plastic.  Great!  Where is this plastic coming from?  Why hasn’t it stopped?  I am told later that tons of trash washes up every year.  Ugh!  Back to our tour.
A monk seal basking in the sun at “Rusty Bucket”.
Little white terns are above us following us on our paths. There are so many trees! From once an island with only a few tufts of grass, and now seventy years later, Midway has a forest.  It smells musty, old and slightly sweet, if you didn’t look too close, you would think you had fallen back in time.
We head for the beach!  Nothing eerie about the beach!  Absolutely spectacular! Soft white sand bordered by lush, thick leaved tropical plants.  The water was so clear, not a rock, not a piece of garbage, if it hadn’t been for the four beach chairs you could have imagined discovering an untouched pristine utopia.  I could not help but stand and stare at the soft pale turquoise water.  It felt as good as it looked.  We all loved our limited time playing in the water as though we were kids in the biggest swimming pool imaginable.
One of the machine shops.
All the tools were left behind.
Unfortunately we had to get back to the Visitor Center so we trodded up the incline back to the bikes.  With John on the golf cart, we resumed out guided tour.  One of the first places we go is the “rusty bucket”.  It is a site along the shore where ships and other vehicles have been left.  We see a basking Monk seal.  Monk seals are nearly extinct, they only live on the shores of the Hawaiian Archipelago.
John shows us where the large cannons were bolted to shoot into the bay, a graveyard of the early inhabitants, and in town many old buildings.  Some of the shops have all the tools still in them.  It is as if it is being left just so, waiting for the people to return and continue their projects.
One of the buildings that is still in pretty good shape is the theater.  It has all the old felt covered seats, the wood floors and the dull yellow colored walls you see in old movies. The stage is still intact and you can almost picture the place full of people watching Bob Hope perform.  He stayed at Midway entertaining the troops off and on throughout the war.  John gives us a great tour, but has other jobs to do, so we are alone once again to fend for ourselves.  Where do we go…the beach!

It is called North Beach.  A Coast Guard ship has docked on the other side of the beach around a corner.  I just lay and float trying to appreciate every second I have been given!  A green sea turtle swims up to check out the strange humans and off he goes.  They are threatened and this is a refuge for him.  Mills has lent me his snorkel and fins so off to explore I go.  We are within the atoll and can see waves crash on the corals miles away.  No risk of anything catching you off guard with such great visibility.

The movie theatre still decorated with the original pictures.
It was truly spectacular! The Sette is coming back to the area and the small boat will be coming to get us soon.  We head back to the dock.  On the radio Stephanie hears we have one more hour to be tourists.  John suggests snorkeling by the cargo pier and that sounds wonderful to me!
Stephanie and I jump off the pier to the water fifteen feet below.  The water is thirty feet deep and looks and feels wonderful!  There are fish of all shapes and sizes!  I feel as though I am swimming in a giant aquarium.
 I even saw a sleeping green sea turtle on a broken pier support.  Incredible!  We were weaving in and out of the pier supports looking all the way down thirty feet and seeing everything crystal clear.
All good things come to an end and our little vacation at Midway was over.  Doc, Stephanie and I had a “fabulous” time!  The small boat was back.  It was time to go back home to the Sette.
Midway is definitely a place of contrasting sites and interests.
I leave with mixed emotions, which are the seeds for memories, of a place I will never forget.

Donna Knutson, September 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 15, 2010

KILLER WHALES!

I am holding a tuna that Mills caught.
 

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone, called the “EEZ”,aound Hawaii.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sightings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Killer Whales coming up for air.
Latitude: 27○ 40.6’ N
Longitude: 175○ 48.7’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  1-2 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.5○ C
Air Temperature:  27.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.2 mb
Orca is another name for Killer Whale.  They are some of the best known cetaceans.  Killer whales are the largest members of dolphin family.
Killer Whales are easily recognized by their huge dorsal fin that is located in the middle of their backs.  The male’s dorsal fin is usually between three and six feet high.  Orcas have unique flippers that are large broad and rounded.  Their bodies have a black and white color pattern.
The male Killer Whale can reach thirty feet long and weigh at least twelve thousand pounds.  The females are smaller in size reaching only twenty-six feet long and weigh eight thousand four hundred pounds.  The females may outlive the males by twenty to thirty years, living between eighty to ninety years.
 Killer Whales are not limited to any particular region.  Depending on the prey they prefer, Killer Whales can be found in cold or warm climates.  Orcas have a varied diet which may consist of fish, squid, large baleen whales, sperm whales, sea turtles, seals, sharks, rays, deer and moose.  Pods tend to specialize in a particular food and follow it.  Killer Whales tend to use cooperative hunting groups for large prey.
Orcas form matrilineal groups sometimes containing four generations.  All females help with calf rearing.  The females are more social and may be associated with more than one pod, but males are usually by themselves.  One group near British Columbia contained approximately sixty whales.
Killer Whales are not endangered, but numbers are declining in Washington and British Columbia.  The reasons for the decrease in whale numbers is not known, but possible factors may include chemical or noise pollution or a decrease in the food supply.
Personal Log:
In the middle is a mother with her calf.
I was just leaving the bridge after the XO (executive officer) asked me if I would like to join her and Doctor Tran to Midway tomorrow.  I knew we were stopping to pick up Jason, a Monk Seal Biologist who needed a boat ride from Midway to Kure Island, but I heard no one was going ashore.  So when she asked, I was totally thrilled and extremely excited to get my feet wet and of course said yes!
As I was leaving the bridge I decided to check out what was doing on the flying bridge.  When I got up there, everyone was on goggles or the big eyes, so I asked Aly what was going on.  She said someone saw a “black fish”, meaning something was seen, but not identified, and she offered me the big eyes she was looking through.  I looked maybe for five seconds and said, “I see it”!  This is very rare for me to see something so quickly!  I’m thinking, “I just saw a KILLER WHALE!!” but no one was excited or talking about it.  So now I begin to doubt myself, “That was a Killer Whale right?”
Three adults and a calf.
In the middle of my self -doubt, Adam comes running up the ladder screaming, “KILLER WHALE!!”  Drat why didn’t I say anything!  There wasn’t only one, but five killer whales!  One was a mother with her small calf! Wow what amazing animals! I couldn’t stop staring, and I wasn’t the only one.  There was a “full house” on deck again with everyone oooing and ahing.
Orcas aren’t typically seen in this area, but then again this is a survey ship, and this area hasn’t been surveyed in a very long time.
When the small boat was launched to try and tag one of the adult whales with a tracking device, they dove never to be seen again.  These animals are just too smart.  What an extraordinary experience!
Tomorrow I will have another adventure!  An adventure few people have taken.  I am going to Midway.  Midway Atoll is now a National Wildlife Refuge and also holds the Battle of Midway National Memorial.  I’m off to see a glimpse of our nation’s past and a birding and seal paradise!
Orca by itseft.

Donna Knutson, September 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 12, 2010

Pearl and Hermes

Me on the “Big Eyes”.

 

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Seabirds sittings will also be documented.

Jay, a steward, checking out the action!
Science and Technology:
Latitude: 27○ 40.6’ N
Longitude: 175○ 48.7’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  1-2 ft.
Water Temperature:  27.5○ C
Air Temperature:  27.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.2 mb
A busy flying bridge.

Pearl and Hermes is the name of an atoll named after two English whaling ships, the Pearl and Hermes, which ran into the surrounding reef in 1822.  The twenty by twelve mile atoll is under water most of the time.  It has a rich history including shipwrecks, over harvesting of oysters, a military site for war practice, and finally conservation.

Atolls are the remnants of ancient volcanoes.  Over millions of years, volcanic eruptions spill magma onto the sea floor.  The lava eventually becomes higher than sea level creating an island.  With the surface exposed, the now dead volcanoes began to shrink and erode.  Over time the island becomes very flat and barely above the water.  Corals grow in shallow water around the boundaries of the island.  Eventually the island erodes away only leaving the coral reefs around them and a large lagoon in the middle.  Through the actions of wind and waves, sand and coral debris come together to make up small islands called islets in a few places where the original large island used to be.
Ernesto and Allan ready to shoot for biopsy samples.
In 2003 the Pearl and Hermes reef measured 300,000 acres.  This area is home to thirty three species of stony coral.  The islets provide a needed stopping and resting area for seals, turtles and birds.  About 160,000 seabirds of seventeen different species nest at Pearl and Hermes.
The ocean surrounding Pearl and Hermes had never been properly surveyed for cetaceans.  The HICEAS cruise discovered the water is also rich in wildlife, particularly cetaceans.  The beaked whale is one of these cetaceans.  There are twenty different species of beaked whales, but the two found in these waters were the Curvier’s and Blainville’s Beaked Whales.
One way to tell them all apart from each other is their teeth.  The males all have different sizes, shapes and positions of their teeth in their bottom jaw.  The females and juveniles do not have teeth and need to be identified by other means such as the shape of their beak (rostrum).  Curvier’s Beaked whale has virtually no beak, the melon of the head slopes smoothly onto a short thick beak. It has a sort of “fish face”.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale has a moderately long beak.  The melon for the head is small and flat.
Yvonne and Sussanah listening in.
Blainville’s and Curvier’s Beaked Whales seem to have opposite coloring.  The Curvier’s Beaked Whale has a white face and the white coloring continues on to the top of back.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale has the dark gray color on the back and the lighter grey on the underside.
Size is another difference between the whales.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale is smaller with adult males measuring up to fourteen feet six inches and the Curvier’s whale at twenty three feet.  All male beaked whales are smaller than the females, but not by much and that is unusual compared to the other species mentioned in previous logs.
Personal Log:
Eddie looking at whales.

The past two days we have been circumnavigating the Pearl and Hermes Atoll.  There are only two other “land masses” before we reach the top of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  This region has more animals than anticipated.  The science crew of the Sette had 16 sittings and 17 biopsy samples to report.  It was a very exciting couple of days.  The little boat was launched both mornings and was traveling around the atoll also, but at a closer distance to the coral on its own mission.

In addition to the sightings, Yvonne Barkley, Sussanah Calderan and Niky where listening attentively to the sounds picked up by the array.  The array has four mini-mircophones housed in a long rubber cable that picks up various sound frequencies.  The acousticians are inside the ship recording and  analyzing the sounds they hear.  Working together really paid off!  A lot of ocean was covered and many animals were discovered.
Beaked Whales
I brought a plastic lawn chair up on the flying bridge because even though I want to write, I don’t want to miss out on any of the action.  I wasn’t the only one who wanted a look at the animals, the second steward Jay came up to also take a look through the “big eyes”.   I can’t imagine a boat that has a friendlier, more supporting crew!
Bottlenose Dolphin
Some of the sightings included Bottlenose Dolphins, the Curvier’s Beaked Whale, the Blainsville’s Beaked Whale and Sperm Whales (mentioned in log #3), Spinner Dolphins, and Rough Toothed Dolphins (mentioned in log#2).
To me the most exciting part of the two day survey was when the Bottlenose Dolphins were swimming in front of the bow.  At one time there were sixteen abreast.  All sizes of dolphins playing and “singing” right in front of us!  Their whistles were much louder than I ever imagined!
The dolphins were jumping over each other and swimming on their sides and on their backs belly up.  It almost seemed to be a contest on silliness.  It makes your heart warm when they look you in the eye and seem to want your attention.  They had my attention the whole time they swam there!  I had to get up on tip toe just to look over the edge as they were so close to the rush of water caused by the ship.  The group was traveling and frolicking effortlessly in front of a ship going ten knots! I stayed on tiptoe until the last dolphin drifted away to join the rest of the pack.
The Bottlenose Dolphin is definitely the friendliest, playful cetacean I have seen for far!

Donna Knutson, September 10, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 29, 2010

Kogia!

September 10, 2010

Me and Kogia!


Mission and Geographical Area: 

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Kogia with sharks.

Latitude: 25○ 35.5’ N
Longitude: 166○ 20.4’ W
Clouds: 3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 Knots
Wave height: 2-3 ft.
Water Temperature: 26.5○ C
Air Temperature: 25.8○ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1021.6 mb

There are two types of Kogia. Kogia is a genus name and the two types (species) are the breviceps and the sima. The common name of breviceps is pygmy and the common name for sima is dwarf. These animals are called sperm whales even though they are much smaller because they too have the spermaceti organ located in their heads just like their much larger relative.

One unique feature they do not share with the large sperm whale is a sac in their lower intestine that can hold approximately three gallons of syrupy, re-brown liquid. The dwarf and pygmy sperm whales will expel the liquid when they feel threatened as a defense mechanism. The liquid will cloud the water temporarily allowing time for the whale to escape.

Notice Kogis’s small mouth.

These are not very large whales. The pygmy sperm whale has a maximum length of eleven feet six inches and a maximum weight of nine hundred pounds. The smaller dwarf sperm whale has a maximum of eight feet ten inches and a weight of at least four hundred and sixty pounds.

It is very hard to tell these whales apart, especially in the water. Their dorsal fins are different in that the dwarf has a higher more pointed fin which is set farther back toward the tail than the pygmy which has a more curved dorsal fin in the middle of its body. Their heads have a slightly different shape also. The pygmy sperm whales head is blunt and is more square.

Mills eating in front of the scientists taking measurements.
“If there was ever a “Zissou”esque moment that is it!” from Team Zissou, Life Aquatic
They are both a bluish steel gray color and have a pinkish line where a gill slit would be on a fish. Because of this marking, the pygmy and dwarf sperm whales have often been falsely identified as sharks.
Both species of Kogia can be found at great depths in the tropical and temperate latitudes. They are relatively widespread but they are not abundant. Despite their large range relatively is known about these species. It is hard to find these whales in the wild because they do not “show off”. They do not jump or move in groups together. Even their blow is faint if not invisible.
Left side of Kogia.
Like the large sperm whales the dwarf and the pygmy sperm whales feed mostly on jellyfish, but also on shrimp, crab and fish.
A number of these whales have been stranded and the necropsy showed a gut blockage caused by plastic bags. People usually do not hunt pygmy and dwarf sperm whales for food, but because of their size they are occasionally trapped in fishing nets.
Personal Log:
After lunch on the flying deck Allan Ligon, mammal observer, was viewing through the “big eyes”. He said he saw something green in the water and said it was probably the shadow of an underwater net. As the ship got closer to the object he thought he was seeing a dead shark. A few minutes later he realized it was a dead whale with sharks feeding on it. The green color was caused by the whale’s blood dripping from bite marks.
A close up the head and pectoral fin.
All scientists were on deck to watching viscous sharks. Sure we had all seen similar scenes on television but to see it happen in real life right before your eyes was amazing! There were at least two sharks and they would circle the whale and then attack it. Sometimes a sharks head would come out of the water for a huge powerful bite. Occasionally a shark would push the whale under and swim over it. It definitely reminded me of an animal claiming its kill as the ship approached closer.
The whale was identified as a Kogia because the small mouth narrowed down the possibilities. It was either a breviceps, pygmy sperm whale, or a sima, dwarf sperm whale. Both species of whales are very elusive and are seldom seen on mammal survey cruises. Because there is a lot to learn about these whales, it was decided to bring the whale on board.
Kogia’s teeth in it’s small lower jaw.
Not only was the science crew excited at the extraordinary find, but every member of the ship was in attendance for the whale “capture”. All the officers, the stewards, the engineers, everyone was watching as the deck crew got prepared to lift the whale on the deck.
The boatswain, pronounced bosun (which is a story in itself), had his crew gaff the whale to the side on the ship. (a gaff is a pole with a hook on the end) Once the whale was close enough a rope was tied around its tail and attached to a crane. The Kogia was lifted easily out of the water. By this time the sharks had given up to the much larger ship and were lurking nearby. With all the blood in the water everyone was being extra careful not to fall in!
Once on deck the damage the sharks had inflicted became evident. Large chunks were missing from the whale’s back, head and tail. Everyone was speculating what kind of whale it was, either the dwarf or the pygmy. Nicky, from the acoustics team, approached Erin the chief scientist and asked her if she could perform a necropsy on the animal. Performing necropsies is part of Nicky’s job description at Southwest Fisheries in California and she has worked on dozens of stranded whales, so Erin was happy to have her handle the sampling.
The biginning of the necropsy.
Nicky got together a kit for dissection and also the containers for the samples and off she went. She had help from Aly Fleming, a grad student and visiting scientist, Corey Sheredy an oceanographer, Andrea Bendlin, mammal observer, and myself. We were all decked out in fishing boots and gloves. My chief job was to bag and label samples and to record data about the size and appearance of the whale “parts”, but I ended up using the scalpel and saw as well.
This was a long process and eventually the working scientists had to go back to their jobs, but Nicky, Aly and I kept working until finished. It took over five hours to look at all the major organs and tissues. We took two samples of every organ. One sample will be sent to Hawaii and the other sample to Southwest Fisheries where Nicky works. In the case of the lungs and testes, (yes we discovered it was a male) we had to take a sample from both the left and the right.
Aly and Nicky showing Kogia’s enormous liver.
Nicky did not think the small intestine felt right. It was extremely hard and compact and felt there might be some kind of blockage as the colon was empty. She made sure to get a feces sample for the lab also. Wow what a highlight! Yes, I am being sarcastic. It is a good thing hands are washable. I couldn’t keep gloves on while writing and sealing bags. It sure looks he was a very sick whale in the digestive system!
Nicky showed me some of the parasites she found in the tissue and also in the blubber. That was something I was surprised by but in hind-site all animals have some kind of parasite, even humans. There was foam in the left lung, much more than in the right. This could mean that the real death was drowning. Whether it was from a blockage or a drowning, it seems likely the sharks came across a dead carcass rather than attacked and killed the whale. The actual results will come when the samples are processed in the lab.
Aly holding the extraordinary liver.
The Kogia’s organs are all very similar to ours, comparing mammal to mammal, with a few exceptions. Their stomach has three distinctive sections and the kidney has many bulbous sections forming one large kidney. I did not do any research of kidneys but Aly believes the old shape in the kidney is due to the complex filtration system needed to remove salts from the whale’s body.
I asked the girls about the ears and they were almost impossible to find, but Andrea discovered one on the left side. It was a tiny pin hole behind the eye. Without specifically looking for it, we would not have seen it. We counted the teeth and there were twenty four (bottom only) which is normal.
Feeding the sharks the remains. Nicky, Aly and I eventually needed to use a pulley, it was too heavy.
Many people from all crew came to check on us, some even brought water. It was extremely hot and no breeze was felt the whole time. It sure was fun dissecting again and doing some comparative anatomy! The girls did a great job, at least from my point of view, they were very knowledgeable and taught me a great deal! Everyone seems proud to be on the Sette and be involved in the unusual tasks that this mission has undertaken.
The remainder of the Kogia was returned back to the sharks and the huge clean-up began. That did not even feel like a chore as we were chatting about the findings the whole time.
Cleaning up. Thanks Kogia for helping us learn more about you!
The type of Kogia (species) will not be known for certain until the test results are in, but most scientists feel 60/40 it is a breviceps or the pygmy sperm whale.

Donna Knutson, September 9, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 9, 2010

Green Sea Turtle Rescue

 

 
Mission and Geographical Area:
The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.
The tangled mass including the turtle.
Science and Technology:
Latitude: 24○ 45.4′ N
Longitude: 163○ 04.2′ W
Clouds: 6/8 Ci, Cu,
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 Knots
Wave height: 2-3 ft.
Water Temperature: 26.2○ C
Air Temperature: 25.8○ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1022.0 mb
Green Sea Turtles are very ancient animals. These reptiles were around when the dinosaurs still walked the Earth. Their top and bottom shell is actually much harder than other turtles. Another difference between the Green Sea Turtle and its “cousins” is that the Green Sea Turtle cannot pull its head into its shell.
 
Even though the streamlined shell is extremely tough, it is very lightweight. They do not have feet, but rather flippers which allow them to be graceful swimmers without much effort. They usually swim one mile per hour but can reach thirty-five miles per hour when need be.
Sea animals all need a system to dispose of the increased salt content in their bodies, and the Green Sea Turtle is no exception. It has a salt gland behind each eye. The turtle will shed extra salty tears when it needs to remove the excess salt. So when the turtles seem to “cry” they are only keeping their bodies chemistry in check.
Four of the seven species of sea turtles live in the water surrounding Hawaii. The four types are the Green Sea Turtle, the Hawksbill, the Leatherback and the Olive Ridley. The most common is the Green Sea Turtle.
Adult Green Sea Turtles are herbivores and eat mainly sea grass. The young turtles are carnivorous and eat mainly jellyfish and other invertebrates. The adults can weigh up to five hundred pounds and are usually found around coral reefs. The young turtles wander the sea until they are old enough to mate.
In the wild Green Sea Turtles grow slowly and can take ten to fifty years to reach their sexual maturity. This is one reason the popuation, once depleted, can take many years to recover. Their life span is unknown.
Abbie and Ray after cutting the turtle loose.
The Sette is in the background.
Adult females and males look similar with one exception. The male’s tail is much longer and thicker than the female’s short stubby tail. All the juveniles look the same, so determining sex by outside appearance is not possible.

Females return to nest on the same beach they left as a small turtle out of their eggl. It is unknown how they find their way back much like other animals that seem to have similar senses.

Hawaii’s Green Sea Turtle migrates as far as eight hundred miles from their feeding sites along the coast. The males and females migrate together, mate and return. The females do not mate every year. Ninety percent of the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles lay their eggs on French Frigate Shoals which is area North of Kauai and in the southern part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It is estimated that only one percent of hatchling turtles survive to mating age.
Scientists watching and waiting.
Green Sea Turtles have only two predators, man and sharks. People hunt the turtles for their meat, particularly for soup, their shells for souvenirs, and also for their eggs. Depending on their location, Green Sea Turtles are either threatened or endangered. They are threatened in Hawaii and endangered in Florida.

Thousands of Green Sea Turtles die every year by other sources as well. Thousands die in nets and other discarded gear. Plastics are harmful to turtles because once ingested they may clog their digestive systems. Green Sea Turtles have also been suffering from a disease discovered in 1980 that causes tumors. These tumors although harmless may block the throat and cause starvation or grow inside around internal organs.

Ray returning the Green Sea Turtle into the sea.
Little is known what causes the tumors. It is speculated that they might be associated with changes in the ocean environment by pollution, or change in water temperature or increased ultraviolet rays.
Personal Log:
While on the flying deck Eddie Balistreri, an observer, noticed something floating about 300 m from the ship. Abbie Sloan, mammal observer, and Scott Mills, bird observer, spotted a turtle in the floating debris. Juan Carlos Salinas, mammal observer, called to the bridge and asked the helmsman to turn the ship inorder to check out the turtle. While the ship was turning the scientists lost track of the tangled turtle.

I felt the ship turning and heard mention of a turtle on the ship’s radio and quickly got to the deck. Just as I looked down there it was, they had found it, a turtle struggling to keep its head up in the floating mass. You could tell it was alive because it was moving its neck back and forth and bubbles where seen when the turtle submerged.

By this time all sixteen people of the science crew were watching the trapped turtle. They were concerned with its fate because so many of these animals die in nets. It was decided that this was a worthwhile rescue mission and a small boat was launched. Abbie and Ernesto Vazquez, mammal observer, were assigned for this mission. Ray and Mills, both deck hands that have been on every small boat launch, were ready to help the turtle also. The scientists tell me it is very rare to do such a thing on these mammal cruises, and no one had done anything like it on previous cruises.  In other words, I was receiving a great bonus!  Everyone was eager to help out an animal in need.

The small boat did not have to go far before it came to the turtle. It was trying desperately to break free of the fishing net. There were crabs and barnacles also clinging to the net. It is possible the turtle thought it could get an easy meal and accidently got trapped. The turtle seemed healthy judging by the amount it was struggling when the small boat crew pulled the net into the boat.

Ray and Abbie cut the turtle lose and identified it as a Green Sea Turtle. Ray gently lowered the turtle back into the water. The size wasn’t measured but I was told it was the size of a large pizza.  I asked Juan Carlos to guess how old the turtle was, and he estimated it was less than five years old.

The science crew on the flying deck knew when the task was done and the turtle was free because we saw the “high fives” in the small boat. Then it was our turn to cheer! Saving this threatened animal was very rewarding!  Hopefully the little Green Sea Turtle will go on to help populate its species.

It was another great day at sea.

Donna Knutson, September 4-5, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 4-5, 2010

The Whale Chase

Me on the water in the small boat.
Mission and Geographical Area:
The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

The dorsal fin of a sperm whale.

Science and Technology

Latitude: 13○ 22.3 N
Longitude: 167○ 17.8 W
Clouds: 6/8 Cu, Cb
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 Knots
Wave height: 2-4 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.1○ C
Air Temperature: 25.5○ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1021.2 mb
Spermaceti, which means “sperm of the whale”, is commonly called a sperm whale. These whales had great commercial value in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The head of a sperm whale is filled with a semi-liquid oil which was used for making candles and later for cosmetics. This whale was the “villain” in the Herman Melville’s classic tale, Moby Dick.
Sperm whales are easy to identify at sea by their distinctive blow. They are seen almost anywhere around the world, but they especially like the areas around continental shelves.
Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales. The males can reach sixty feet long while the females are smaller at a maximum of thirty-six feet long. The males may weigh up to one hundred twenty thousand pounds while the females may reach fifty-five thousand pounds. The females are usually a third of the male’s size, which is the greatest size difference between all the whale species.
Medium to large sizes squid is the main food source for the sperm whale. One individual had a forty foot squid in its stomach.
Sperm whales may live between sixty to seventy years. Their population is growing steadily and with continued protection they should continue to recover.
A sperm whale blowing.
References for the past three logs:
Seabirds of Hawaii, Natural History and Conservation by Craig Harrison, copyright 1990.
A Field Guide to Sea Birds of the World by Peter Harrison, copyright 1987.
Guide to Marine Mammals of the World, National Audubon Society, copyright 2002.
Personal Log:
I had completed my” job” at 6:00 in the morning and then volunteered to be an independent observer for animals on the flying deck when Erin called me to the main deck for a “small craft safety meeting”. I started getting excited because I might have a chance to go out on the small 19 ft. boat.
Erin Oleson the chief scientist and the other acoustic girls, Suzanne, Yvonne and Nicole wanted to test their array. The array is a device that picks up sounds preferably whale and dolphin sound in the ocean. The small boat’s mission would be to go out ahead of the main ship with a “pinging” device that would be lowered into the water and then the array should be able to pick up the sound if the array is working properly. There had been some problems receiving data from the array so this outing seemed like a likely trip.
Not long after the meeting I was told I could go with Adam U, a mammal observer, and Nicole Beaulieu an acoustician. Woo Woo! I was one of the lucky ones for the adventure! Just being on the boat in the ocean with the rolling waves was a thrill. We needed to get two miles ahead of the ship then stop and lower the pinging device. It was hard to get that far ahead of the ship that was cruising at 10 knots with waves between three and five feet high.
Ray and Mills, both seamen, were with us. Mills drove the boat. He had obviously done it before because he had us soaring over the crests, catching air, and then slamming into the troughs.
The whale chase. My back is to the camera.
It was crazy /exhilarating for me because I hadn’t experienced anything like it. It was hard to hold on and I gave my weak left wrist a good workout! Especially when we slowed down a bit and I tried to take pictures with the right hand while trying to hold on with the left. My pride would have been hurt if I’d fallen out and so would my body considering we trying to outrun the ship, but the water was eighty degrees Fahrenheit and a beautiful royal blue.
When we had finished “pinging” the ship spotted some sperm whales and set out to chase them. We sat for about half an hour bobbing up and down on the waves and watching the ship and the water for whale blows. Listening to the radio we realized the whales were between us and the ship. They were blowing right in front of us! Now it was our turn to follow the whales and off we went!
When we discovered that we could get up close Adam brought out the crossbow. It was quite the frenzy! I was taking pictures, holding on and looking for whales at the same time! Adam was trying to get the crossbow ready and hold on while trying to watch for whales. Nicole was in the middle getting bounced around watching for whales.
Adam got a shot. The arrow hit the back of the whale and skidded off. He did not feel the arrow contained a good biopsy sample so we stopped got the arrow while he reloaded and off we went again. The arrows are hollow tipped for tissue to get trapped and once they strike they fall off and float until retrieved.
We continued our mad chase with Mills at the wheel. Eventually after chasing for approximately twenty minutes we came across a sperm whale” rafting” evidently they do this after being submerged up to forty minutes. Adam shot again and this time he was pleased with the biopsy sample as we could see the tissue dangling off the end of the arrow. Once hit the whale quickly put her head up. The action made me imagine her thinking “What was that?” and she submerged.
A sperm whale coming up for air.
Our whale chasing adventure was over and we returned to the Sette. I took over three hundred photos and five videos. My new little camera held up well in the salt water spray. I saw at least five sperm whales in the pod and one was a small one, a calf. Wow! Definitely a time I will never forget!
I need to tank Erin for letting me go! I’m heading back to the flying bridge with hope of finding more whales and dolphins.
Question: How do N.M. nautical miles compare to miles? How do Knots compare to miles/hour?

Donna Knutson, September 2-3, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 2-3, 2010

Seabirds are Amazing

Me on the Sette in front of Kaui.

 

Mission and Geographical Area:

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Seabird sightings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Thursday September 2, 2010 12:00 pm

Red footed Booby

Latitude: 21○ 47.4 N
Longitude: 160○ 35.7 W
Clouds: 6/8 Cumulus
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 ft
Water Temp: 27○ C or 80○ F
Air Temp: 26.5○ C or 80○ F
Sea Level Pressure: 1019.6 mb

Locating whales and dolphins is a science in itself! It takes great patience and experience to know and be able to recognize the signs of marine life. Birds play an integral part of this “game” of locating marine mammals.

Ed Bali, one of the observers with 31 years of experience tells me to look for the food. Where there is food, there are animals. Today they have not seen much of any life. So I remember what Ed said no food, no birds, no birds, no large animals.

Yesterday was a big bird day. Scott, a Bird Observer, showed me the difference between the types of seabirds we were seeing. Of the 9,000 different species of birds in the world, only 260 are seabirds. Those seabirds are categorized into four “groups” called orders. We saw birds from three of the four orders.

Scott Mills is an avid birder and lover of sea birds.
I have learned a lot from him.
Birds in the order Procellariiformes, commonly called the tubenosed, have a special desalinization system. They have a nasal gland with many blood vessels that filter out the salt from the blood. The reason the salt is in the blood is because they drink salt water while flying long distances over the ocean and also because the food they eat is salty. In most birds of this species the concentrated salt water from the nasal gland drips out of the tube which is located above the nose, and  drips down their beak. The birds that belong to this order are commonly called albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels, storm petrels and terns. We saw many tubenosed birds such as the shearwaters; Newell and Wedgetail, the petrels; Bulwers and storm.
Birds from the Pelecaniformes order are known for their four webbed toes. These birds include the boobies; red-footed the most common, brown and masked. The great frigatebird, also from this order was spotted, it is a very large bird related to the pelican.

Birds from the Charadriiformes order consist of the gulls and terns. They are special unto themselves for example the Sooty Tern can live above the water for up to five years from the time it leaves the nest until it finds a breeding territory. The terns that were spotted were the noddy, brown, black, white (which is also called faerie) and the sooty tern.

Overall seventeen different species of seabirds were identified on September 2, 2010.

Bulwers Petrel
The birds’ activity is a sign to look for larger animals especially where flocks are seen. The two marine mammals that were identified were the steno and the Bryde’s (pronounced brutus) whale.
Steno bredanesis is a species of dolphin.  They are commonly called stenos, meaning “rough toothed” dolphin, and are common in many tropical waters. Almost nothing is known about its reproduction because it is very hard to follow at sea. Stenos have a very smooth beak and head with no melon shape for the forehead. The maximum length is 8’8” (2.65 m) and weight 350 lb. (160 kg). Its life span is 32 years.
Brydes’s (pronounced Brutus) Whale is a baleen whale. It was named after John Bryde a Norwegian whaler in South Africa. Bryde’s Whale is large and sleek, dark grey above and grey white or pinkish below. They have modified teeth which form 250 – 370 baleen plates that are used to filter the water for small animals. The maximum length is 51 ft. (15.6 m) and weight 90,000 lb (40,000 kg). Its dorsal fin is tall and ragged on the trailing edge. No one knows what its life span is.
Personal Log:
My great “statemate” and avid birder, Dawn Breese.

I haven’t been seasick! So far. The waves right now are larger than before, and as I sit I need to keep my stomach tight for balance. If it weren’t for the wonderful food, I could get in better shape in this month at sea.

I did my job this morning at 5:00 am, it was beautiful out with bright stars and a calm sea. During the day I really enjoy sitting out on deck and just watching. I hope to spot an animal. It is very peaceful and the motion is comforting.
I have been practicing with my camera. If I zoom it in 12x and then put it up the “Big Eyes” I can get some great pictures. Hopefully I’ll get some good shots of whales and dolphins. Most of the day was spent doing research on the animals we have seen. It was another great day at sea!

Donna Knutson, September 1, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 1, 2010

Getting Underway
 
 

Mission and Geographical Area:

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands. To locate these animals the science crew will deploy acoustical equipment engineered to capture whale and dolphin sound and also locate animals visually with binoculars with magnification up to 25x. Another goal of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance. Along with aquatic mammals, aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

This survey’s data is necessary to estimate the abundance and understand the distribution of whales and dolphins in the EEZ. The data will be compiled for the Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Report. The assessment is required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

The old control tower for midway.
Science and Technology:
The Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor

Before the Sette left Pearl Harbor on its mission, it had to stop for fuel, at least 90,000 gallons worth according to the boatswain. While at the fueling station the Lieutenant Collin Little talked to the science crew about protocol on the ship and then Chief Scientist, Erin Oleson, gave essential information about the mission. There are sixteen people on the science crew including the Chief Scientist and myself. We are split into five groups: the Chief Scientist, the Acousticians, the Marine Mammal Observers, the Birders, an oceanographer and the Teacher at Sea.

The day was wrapped-up with a fire drill. Everyone had to report to their muster stations to be counted. Safety is extremely important on this ship as I have ascertained by the frequent encouragement to do tasks/activities correctly with as little risk of an accident as possible.
We are still heading out to sea. Tomorrow, when on course, the data collecting will begin.
Personal Log:
I hadn’t realized the time change would be so drastic. We are now 5 hrs. behind North Dakota time. I don’t think it will take me long to adjust, but I am very tired now.  I am impressed with all the young professional scientists! I am also pleased to see many are women, because sometimes it is hard to get girls motivated to do labs in the science classroom.
I will have a “job” soon. It is not very complicated, but I am needed to make sure the extremely expensive CTD (conductivity, temperature at depth measuring device) is not being pulled in any direction by the waves during readings. I don’t have to hold it.  I informed Ray one of the able-bodied seaman, and he reports the angle the CTD is in to the bridge.
Everyone has been very friendly and kind. If I had to go home today I would be sincere in saying I had a truly great time!
A view from the ship while heading to the Northwest Hawiaan Islands.

Kathy Schroeder, May 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathy Schroeder
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
May 5 – May 18, 2010

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: May 12, 2010

5/12 Mooring Buoy

Launching a mooring buoy
Launching a mooring buoy
Today we launched another type of buoy. It is called a Mooring Buoy. Its height is 5 meters above the surface (pictured on left) and 72 meters below the surface, which ends with a concrete dome that weighs 4110 (pictured on right). You can see the mooring being towed by the ship to get it into the right position. It has a barometer (measures atmospheric pressure), an anemometer (measures wind speed) and a thermometer on the top. There are sensors at different depths that measure salinity, chlorophyll, temperature, pressure, and nitrates.The information is transmitted to satellite Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (NOAA) that monitors the surface and subsurface of the Bering Sea. This piece of equipment costs $250,000. There are two other moorings already in this location. One measures ocean currents the other measures acoustic plankton. On one it has an underwater rain gauge. Can you figure out what that means? Headed to the Pribilof Islands today. On the way some crew saw sea ice. I’ll be looking! I love reading everyone’s comments. Keep them coming!