Mission: Rockfish recruitment and ecosystem assessment survey
Geographic Range: California Coast
Date: June 29, 2018
*Update from previous blog*
I mentioned in my previous blog that one of our scientists was analyzing water samples for sea turtle eDNA. Here is what she added about her research…
“Kirsten Harper, a postdoctoral researcher with NOAA/AOML, collected water to analyze for environmental DNA (eDNA). This is DNA that might be left in the air, soil, or water from feces, mucus, or even shed skin of an organism. In her case, she is trying to detect the diurnal vertical migration of fish species, such as sardine, using eDNA. Additionally, she is using eDNA to detect the presence of leatherback turtles. Very little is known about leatherback turtles in the open ocean, as they are difficult to find and survey. eDNA could help solve this problem!”
I officially left the Reuben Lasker on the morning of June 11, 2018 via small boat transfer. While I was looking forward to getting back to family my students, I realized I wasn’t quite ready to leave the ship and the work behind. I finally felt integrated into the team and the work, and that quick it was over. I definitely wanted to stay!
The small boat transfer was fun; it was the fastest speed I traveled in over a week. We also spotted dolphins on the way into shore. Once on land, I had the opportunity to meet with Emily Susko, Program Specialist for NOAA TAS. I had almost a full day to spend on land, and [I believe] Emily knew I had only been to California once before for a very short visit. She was an awesome host and decided to show me some really cool attractions that were more first-time experiences for me.
The first place we visited was the Henry Cowell State Park, a well-known location for exploring redwood forests. I am not sure I ever knew the difference between the coastal redwoods and the giant sequoia redwoods; I now understand the coastal redwoods are the smaller of the two species. Nonetheless, there were still the biggest trees I think I’ve ever seen. I also had the chance to test some of my birding skills. I do not know Pacific coast species as well, but some calls sound similar to east coast species, and I feel pretty confident in saying I heard and saw chestnut-backed chickadees, a species we do not have in Philly.
The second place we visited was Natural Bridges State Beach. This was another equally exciting experience for me because, again, it was so different. On the east coast, the land is pretty flat along the ocean. Therefore, our coast is lined with salt marshes (another one of my favorite places). Being able to see the rocky coasts in Santa Cruz was cool because it’s something I’ve only seen in pictures. When we teach beach ecology, we use this coast as an example because the ecological boundaries are so visually obvious, and I saw it for the first time in person. We explored some of the tidal pools, and they were teeming with little organisms. Now the next time I teach about them in class, I can use my own pictures!
Long story short, I had a blast! I am so genuinely grateful for the opportunity to participate in something like this. As someone who started out in Marine Biology, it is near and dear to my heart. I like to think I knew a few things coming in, but I learn so much during this trip. I learned about how much has changed since the last time I did this type of research, like the importance of being able to read and write programming language to analyze data. I personally enjoyed working with people whose work has the potential to impact the environment and people alike. I also learned a lot about how many people it takes to get the work done. It included every individual on the ship, no matter his or her role.
It’s been a few weeks since I returned from my cruise. I had some time off to catch up with home life, and then had to get back in the office and prepare for the summer. Since our program is an out-of-school program, we are running programs and opportunities year-round. I have a group of Seniors who completed the program, the current 9th-11th grade students move up a grade, and we have a brand-new group of rising 9th grade students beginning the WINS journey. Everyone, from family to colleagues to students, has been asking to hear about my experience. I have a few dates in place to present what I’ve learned and how they too can get involved. I am looking forward to the next stage of the process, writing the activities based on my experience.
I especially want to thank everyone from the Science Team, all of the NOAA Corps. Officers, and the crew of the NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker. I truly enjoyed my time while aboard the ship, and appreciate that you all welcomed me and treated me with kindness. I hope this is not my only visit to the Reuben Lasker!
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 24 – August 4, 2012
Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Tuesday, June 26, 2012
My first ocean encounter happened while on an overnight field-trip to San Francisco in 7thgrade. Our Science Club traveled from Reno, Nevada by school bus to visit a museum, the Fisherman’s Wharf, and the tide pools on the coast. I had no idea how this experience would eventually impact my life. Our teachers, who were our guides, lead the group to a steep drop off where the land ends and the beach lies below. Carefully we picked our way single file down a worn path cutting through a sea of ice plants descending slowly to the sandy shore. Outcroppings of rocks trapped the cold ocean water, forming small natural containers for water AND living sea organisms. We had to step carefully to be sure of our footing and to avoid crushing the live inhabitants of these rocks. California mussels closed tight to preserve their moisture, and slippery seaweed covered most of the rock surface. They were waiting for the sea level to rise again. Peering into the sparkling pools revealed spiny purple sea urchins, colorful sea stars and tiny crabs, betrayed by their movement across the pool bottom. Seeing these organisms up close was amazing to me and created a lifelong memory. It awakened a curiosity about living things that inspired me to study biology in college and become a science teacher.
I am Susan Kaiser and I teach 7th grade Life Science at Pine Middle School in Reno, Nevada. Soon, I will be embarking on a voyage that combines all of these elements: biology, sea organisms and teaching. It promises to be even more memorable than my first trip to a tide pool. Best of all, I get to bring my students at Pine along with me! Well, at least through this blog…read along and see what is in store.
Since, 1990 NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has been including teachers on board their research vessels through a unique program called Teacher at Sea. Each year teachers apply from across the county and about 25 are selected to participate. After several years of wanting to apply, I finally mustered my courage and completed an application. I am proud to have been selected and will sail aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster leaving from the port of Key West, Florida. I will have the opportunity to observe and learn about organisms in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary with the help of the crew and scientists led by chief scientist, Scott Donahue. Their research includes monitoring sensitive marine organisms over a long period of time. In this way, scientists can detect population changes that may occur due to extreme events such as hurricanes, harmful algal blooms (HAB) or more recently, impacts of possible oil spill contamination. You can see that I have some homework to do to prepare for this adventure. I am reading the websites you can click on and learning all I can to contribute to the success of the mission.
If it could get any more exciting, I saved the biggest news for last. In addition to working alongside the scientists and living on an ocean-going vessel for two weeks, I may also have the opportunity to snorkel in the coral reef study areas. To be truthful, my snorkeling skills are a little rusty. Living in the desert makes it a challenge to stay in practice! The last time I snorkeled was on a family vacation in 2005. But not to worry, I have a plan. I have been spending time at the pool practicing with the snorkel equipment I borrowed from my friend and colleague at Pine Middle School, Jencie Fagan. It turns out that Ms. Fagan is SCUBA certified and willing to help me build my skills before I set sail next month. Thank you Ms. Fagan, you rock!
It is time for my practice session at the pool. The next time you read my blog I will be writing from the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. Join me on this adventure of ocean learning. What memory will you make of your 7th grade year in Science?
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4 – 16, 2011
Mission: Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS) Geographical Area: Bering Sea Date: September 3, 2011
Weather/Location Data for Unalaska, AK Latitude: 53°54’0”N
Longitude: 166° 32′ 36″ W
Wind Speed: Calm
Air Temperature: mid 50’s°F
Whew…I made it to Unalaska. After an entire day of sitting on airplanes and running through airport terminals, I am finally here. I can’t believe how beautiful it is here. The surrounding mountains are a stunning green color and there have even been some sightings of blue sky between the normal grey clouds. I am also amazed at how warm it is. It almost got up to 60°F today, but I was told that the weather can change here pretty quickly. We have already heard of bad weather coming our way next week. The National Weather Service issued a Gale Warning with predictions of wind gusts of up to 50 knots and waves above 20 feet. I had better take my seasickness medications.
We don’t ship out until tomorrow, so we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and explore Unalaska. Unalaska is much bigger than I thought that it would be. It is a major international fishing port and is one of the larger cities in Alaska with about 4,000 residents. Life in Unalaska revolves around fishing. Most residents are either commercial fishermen, work in the processing facilities, support the fishermen through stores and other services, or work in the ship yards where the seafood is shipped to all parts of the world. The name of the harbor where all of this is going on might be familiar to you. It is called Dutch Harbor and is where the show “Deadliest Catch” is filmed about the commercial crab fishermen. Crab is not the only type of commercial seafood coming out of Dutch Harbor. Pollock, Cod, Halibut, Rock Sole, and Mackerel are just a few of the other commercial fisheries in Dutch Harbor.
For those of you interested in history, Dutch Harbor also has historical significance from World War II. Dutch Harbor was the only land in North America, besides Pearl Harbor, that was bombed by Japanese Zeros during World War II. In our exploring around the island today, we saw evidence of Armed Forces’ bunkers, Quonset huts, and barracks still visible amongst the green hills of Unalaska. The National Park System opened a WWII National Historic Area and Visitor Center in 2002 in Unalaska and I hope to have time to visit it either before or after my cruise.
What’s the best place to go on a beautiful, sunny day in Unalaska? The beach, of course. We didn’t go to the beach to get sun tans or to go for a swim. We went to check out the tide pools. I love tide pools! It is amazing how resilient the little creatures are that live in the tide pools. When the tide is in they are completely submerged under water and then six hours later they are above the water level when the tide goes out. To make life even harder, they are also smashed by huge waves crashing on them as the tide goes in and out. It is a tough life, but there was such a diversity of life that they must be pretty tough and have some helpful adaptations. As I explored amongst the rocks, I found sea anemones, barnacles, mussels, and lots of different types of seaweeds. On our way back to the van, we also found a stream leading back to a brackish lake and the salmon were running. They are amazing creatures to watch too. The amount of energy that they exert and the sacrifice that they make to reproduce is incredible.
Unfortunately we couldn’t spend our entire day exploring. The plan for the rest of the day is to get settled onboard the Dyson, have a science team meeting to discuss the science that we will be doing and the logistics associated with the different stations and sample sites, and have a safety meeting with the crew of Dyson to discuss life onboard the ship and emergency situations. I am so excited to go out to sea tomorrow and actually start fishing.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown November 6 – December 3, 2008
Mission: VOCALS, an international field experiment designed to better understand the physical and chemical processes of oceanic climate systems Geographical area of cruise: Southeast Pacific Date: November 8-10, 2008
Science and Technology Log
Chile is due south of Portland, Maine; and Santiago, its capital, largest city and main gateway for international visitors is about 5235 miles from my home in New Jersey (By my crude flight calculations). Sometimes called the London of South America, it is as modern and upscale as some US cities. Chile is huge and diverse; it’s more than half the length of South America and bigger than Texas. Its 2666-mile (4300-Km) coastline stretches from the sub-tropical areas and deserts in the north, across the Tropic of Capricorn (The southernmost point where the sun reaches the Winter Solstice), through agriculturally important Mediterranean and Temperate climates at its middle, to the frigid tip of the continent at Tierra del Fuego.
Chileans are friendly, good natured and known for their hospitality towards visitors. Although the population is described as mestizo (A mixture of European and indigenous bloodlines) Aymara Indians in the North and Mapuche Indians in the South still follow many of their traditional ways of working the land. After a short stay in Santiago, another 1,040 miles and two flights up the coast put us in the port of Arica, the capital of northern Chile, where we were to meet the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown.
Arica is squeezed between the nearly rainless Atacama Desert of Peru, one of the driest places on Earth, and one the widest and island-free portions of the South Pacific. It is a week’s sail to “westernmost” Chile, Easter Island in the southwest; the home of the giant Moai statues and the most remote population of Polynesians. Arica is known as La Ciudad de la eternal primavera -“The city of the eternal spring” and is a busy but pleasant commercial center; the export/import hub for the region. Arriving before the ship’s departure allowed time for two worthwhile endeavors: sitting in on meetings with scientists who were reviewing their projects and exploring this fascinating part of the world. Over 50 researchers and technicians met at the Hotel Arica, on the shore just south of the city. Discussed in detail were various aspects of VOCALS (VAMOS Ocean Cloud Atmosphere Land Study). VAMOS refers to Variability of the American Monsoon Systems – the seasonal changes of wind patterns. Atmospheric scientists presented overviews on large scale wind movements, rain and cloud-forming particles (nuclei) in the air.
Oceanographers discussed the movement of rings (50-mile wide cores or eddies of circulating water bodies) in the main study area designated ORS* – the Stratus Ocean Reference Station – a curious region hundreds of miles off of Chile with persistent stratocumulus cloud cover. Satellite images, radar, air samples taken by various aircraft and balloons, and water samples brought to the surface from hundreds of meters below are analyzed to study this expanse to better understand the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere, as well as influences on climate. Meteorologists sometimes tease their colleagues that oceanography is a small aspect of weather science. The atmosphere and ocean are linked by exchanges of energy, and the currency for this interaction is water vapor. Major mechanisms for energy transfer in the ocean are exhibited by great water currents – “Rivers in the sea” as Mathew Maury described them – like the Gulf Stream of North America, and the Humboldt (or Peru) Current off of the western coast of South America.
Since the ship was not fully loaded, the galley closed and much of the crew on shore-leave, we were free to explore the town’s small shops and restaurants at its center. My first stop is always the outdoor markets to see what is being raised and caught locally, and there are some interesting choices here besides fishes, including: muselina, cangrejo, limpa, percebe. (Mussels, rock crabs, limpets and barnacles.) Then, after enjoying a meal of this interesting nugget that I couldn’t help copying verbatim from the local menu…Pastel de jabus en su greda (“Cake baked carb whit cheese in his clay pot”)…it was off to explore the shore.
There are small pocket beaches here with ghost crab burrows; and I found a nice assortment of bivalves and univalves for my collection. There were also many empty squid egg cases that were as thin and white as tissue paper. In spite of the cool waters (60’s), children don’t hesitate jumping in the waves or sitting in the tide pools gouged in the rocks. These pools are a perfect spot for the budding marine biologist to study or play, and are filled with barnacles, pretty striped snails, and kelp. In the larger ones, small fish stranded by the tides dart for cover when they see your shadow; and other residents – little dark blennies, that match the color of the rocks and probably spend their lives in these havens, safe from bigger predators.
Higher up the tideline where the wash of the waves – the life support of the littoral zone – diminishes, barnacles disappear and the main residents are durable little snails grazing on algae, and enduring harsher conditions of temperature and salinity that other creatures cannot. William Beebe wrote of his little periwinkle…”when a race of creatures develops an ability to clothe itself in impregnable marble palaces, immune to a host of dangers which threatens less armoured brethren, there is little need of their changing to meet new conditions.” The uppermost depressions in the rocks collect salt spray or ocean water during the spring tides which quickly turns to brine in the dry air and afternoon sunshine. I find the coast here reminiscent of Southern California in many ways. Sturdy foot gear is in order since much of the coast is either eroding cliffs or rocky wave washed marine terrace. This is the realm of rugged creatures like limpets, snails and barnacles that must hold or cement themselves to the rock face. It is also the haunt of the colorful Sally Lightfoot, a lively semi-terrestrial crab that darts into crevices as soon as it sees you move, or in anticipation of the next wave – whichever comes first.
Picking at whatever morsels they can catch among the rocks are groups of ruddy turnstones; tall, stately and wary curlews; and noisy and very nervous black oystercatchers. The oystercatchers have a loud squeak-toy call and announce their presence regularly to intruders like me and each other, so although discrete, they are easy to find. Grey gulls (Larus modestus) live up to their Latin name only when it comes to appearance. Since this is the Autumnal spring, hundreds of them put on a continuous and raucous show along the shore, calling to each other in courtship pursuits, or in pursuit of any working fishing boat that passes. Some birds like the striking band-tailed gull habituate to people and are common around the docks and anywhere fishermen are cutting up their catch. Others, like the Peruvian booby, fly away whenever you approach them. The boobies and their cousins the cormorants, are responsible for the guano cliffs south of Arica, and a short trip to the end of the coast road brings you to a path that leads along the white-washed precipice through a series of caves.
The presence of seabirds is a clue to the productivity of ocean waters, and the legendary abundance of boobies, cormorants, pelicans and gulls (and their guano) along this coast and especially across the border, confirms it. The guano islands of Peru that were mined for their rich fertilizer, harbor the world’s largest colony of seabirds, some 10 million strong. The upwelling of nutrient-rich deep waters here helps produce perhaps one fifth of the world’s annual fish catch. By lunchtime the camanchaca (coastal fog) cleared “as it always does” and I negotiated a history and cultural tour with a very agreeable taxi driver named Federico. In spite of my poor knowledge of Spanish, he was able to make it a very educational afternoon. First stop was inland to the Azapa valley and the Museo Arqueologico which specializes in cultural artifacts from the various groups that inhabited this harsh environment from the 7th Century BC until the Spanish “invasion” and colonial period. The earliest inhabitants fished and hunted fur seals and sea lions, and must have struggled constantly with their environment because of the lack of water and building materials. However they did leave behind evidence of their accomplishments: tools like fish hooks fashioned from cactus spines, weaved materials and most significantly (to the archaeologists) cementerios with clay-covered mummies – said to be the oldest in the world. Three are exhibited: a man, woman and child.
They also invented and left behind their own brand of graffiti on the barren hills – Geoglyphs. By arranging dark stones on the light dusty hillsides, they created large and highly visible outlines of people and animals, especially llamas. South of Arica is the Giant of the Andes – said to be the largest in existence. I was told these images are a type of ancient trailside billboard, which would have guided pack trains. Climbing up one steep hill to line up a photograph of a very distant condor geoglyph, I stumbled and fell flat on my back – much to the delight of Federico and a friendly dog hoping for a treat from picnickers. I wonder how long my dust angel, The Gringo of the Andes(?) will remain here, untouched by wind and rain.
On our way back to town we passed many farms where drip irrigation allows the cultivation of hedgerows of tomatoes, and of course, corn. Olives are an important crop too and the trees that the Spanish introduced are some of the largest and oldest plants in the valley. I made a mental note to pick up some of the local products to bring home to New Jersey as gifts: Aceitede Olivia (Olive oil) and a delicious Mango Chutney. In town we visited the restored 1874 customs house (Aduana) which, to my surprise, was designed by none other than Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. Besides designing the support structures for his famous tower in Paris and the Statue of Liberty, he is responsible for a number of buildings and bridges here in South America.
Looming over the city and harbor is El Morro. At 330 meters it offers an incomparable vista of the entire area, including a birds-eye view of surfers and windsurfers taking advantage of the consistent southeasterly breeze and swell. Birds are in constant motion too, benefiting from the updraft on the steep cliff and circling it effortlessly. Vultures are the most common, and I made eye contact with a large red-tailed hawk soaring directly in front of us. At one point three falcons of different sizes were engaged in aerial combat, diving upon each other and then wheeling high above; the smallest being the noisiest and most aggressive; perhaps defending an eyrie below us. After a glorious sunset over the sea, the wind died down “as it always does” and the cool layer of marine air moved inland. Once it was dark, the park downtown erupted in music at several locations, including what I would describe as a head-banger concert that was loud enough to cause me to retreat back to the hotel to instead be sung to sleep (as the poets say) by the mewing of the nearby gladness of gulls.
*(ORS refers to a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) buoy moored at 20º South/85º West, in the center of a vast region of cloud cover in the South East Pacific (SEP). Similar cloud regions occur off of the coasts of West Africa, California, the Western Atlantic and Western Australia, but this one is the largest and most important in modifying weather.)