Nikki Durkan: Global Commons, June 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nikki Durkan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Midwater Assessment Conservation Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Saturday, June 13, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots):  14.16
Sea Temp (deg C):  8.97
Air Temp (deg C):  8.06

Science and Technology Log

During my first several days in Kodiak, I spent as much time as possible exploring the island on foot.  I hiked up Pillar Mountain to the wind turbines which now help to make Kodiak virtually 100% renewably powered; 14% comes from these turbines while the bulk of the electricity is generated by Terror Lake hydro-power facility located within the interior of the island.  The hydro and wind generation replaced a diesel powered generator and resulted in many benefits to the town and our atmospheric global commons.

View from Pillar Mountain

View of turbines from Pillar Mountain

The idea of a global commons is one I spend a lot of time discussing in the first days of my environmental science course.  The Global Commons includes resources or regions outside the political reach of any one nation state:  the Atmosphere, Outer Space, Antarctica, and you guessed it…the High Seas!

June is National Ocean Month – and the theme for this week is marine debris.  I recently learned a new doctrine of mare liberum (free sea for everyone), but I’d like to add the latin word for responsibility, officium.  Dumping wastes is commonplace with the mantra of “dilution is the solution to pollution” and this practice continues to create challenges in our oceans.  Plastics pose a major threat to our marine life and NOAA is taking significant steps toward reducing plastic pollution through a variety of educational campaigns.  Plastic marine debris can come from a variety of industrial and domestic products, as well as lost or discarded fishing equipment.

While exploring the lovely little town of Kodiak, I came upon the rare plastic Iqaluk (Iñupiaq word meaning fish):

Sculpture constructed from collected marine debris

Sculpture constructed from collected marine debris

Another challenge facing our Global Commons includes over fishing in the High Seas.  Have you eaten Fish sticks, Filet-o-fish, Imitation-crab….otherwise known as Alaskan Pollock?  My mother often told me she craved McDonald’s fish sandwiches while pregnant with me; perhaps those sandwiches somehow led me to this spot 20 miles off the Aleutian Islands?  One of the main reasons we are on the Oscar Dyson for the next three weeks is to gather data on the Alaskan Pollock populations so that the fishery can be maintained at a sustainable level.  This Alaskan Pollock commercial fishery is one of the most economically valuable and well managed fisheries in the world.  Part of this success is due to the implementation of the MSA (Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act) that set up a system governing the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone – waters three to 200 miles offshore), and also established NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) under NOAA (you better know what this means).  The UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) provides international guidelines and law for our oceans.  Acronyms…scientists and the military love them.  I will learn to love them.

 Personal Log

On the topic of marine debris, there are often jokes made on the bridge about the too-fat-to-fly puffins. They furiously flap their little wings in front of our ship.

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffin Photo credit: NOAA image gallery

Apparently cribbage is the game to play on the Oscar Dyson and thanks to Emily Collins (fisheries biologist), I now have another card game to add to my repertoire.  Ever tried to ride a stationary bike on a ship?  The feeling is hard to describe and I must have a sensitive stomach because occasionally I feel as if I am on a roller coaster! Currently I am sitting in my stateroom listening to the sloshing ocean that gurgles and surges with the swell against the wall; the sounds are 95% soothing and 5% terrifying.  I will not get sea sick and I will do my best not to become marine debris….
Did You Know?  In the event that I have to abandon ship, my “Gumby suit” will help me survive the frigid waters of the Gulf of Alaska.
Donning my Immersion Suit!

Donning my Immersion “Gumby” Suit!

 

Caitlin Thompson: A Calm Day at Sea, August 9, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Thompson
Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
August 1 — 14, 2011

Mission: Pacific Hake Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean off the Oregon and Washington Coasts
Date: August 9, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Bringing in the net

Bringing in the net

Lat. 47 degrees 42.4 N
Long. 125 degrees 51.3
Present weather: cloudy
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind direction: 322
Speed 18 kts
Sea wave height: 3-4 feet
Swell waves – direction: 320
Swell waves – height: 4-5 feet
Sea water temperature: 16.7 degrees C
Sea level pressure: 1019.7 mb
Temperature – dry bulb: 14.9 degrees C
Temperature – wet bulb: 13.2 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

Mola Mola

A mola mola, like the one I saw from deck.

Today the ocean was crystal clear and the sky partly clear. I saw amazing creatures floating on the still surface of the water — salps, mola mola, and jellies. Mola mola, also called sun fish, are flat and float on the surface of the water, seeming to sun themselves, eating jellyfish. The water was speckled with salps, identifiable by their small, jelly-like bodies and dark center. When Jennifer saw the salps, she groaned, explaining that their presence suggests a relaxation in the winds that drive upwelling. Less upwelling means fewer nutrients for the whole marine system. I spent the whole day trying to wrap my head around the fact that the slight winds I feel every day drive such an enormous system as coastal upwelling, and that one peaceful day could cause so many salps to be floating on the surface.

Black-footed albatross, like the one I saw

Black-footed albatross, like the one I saw

Usually there are enormous black-footed albatross all around the ship. Albatross, one of the biggest birds in the world, spend most of their lives at sea, coming to shore only to breed. The albatross I see may be nesting on remote Pacific islands, traveling many days to gorge themselves on fish off the West Coast before returning to their nests. They come to our waters because of all the fish here due to upwelling. An albatross can be away from the nest as many as seven days, returning to regurgitate fish from its stomach, which the chicks will eat. Like many seabirds, albatross fly extremely efficiently. They rise and sink repeatedly as they fly to use the energy from the wind. They also use the rising air that comes off of waves for more lift. I see them soaring without moving their wings, so close to the water that they disappear from view behind small waves. Before flapping, they seem to tilt upward, and even so, their wings appear to skim the water. A windless day like today is a hard day for an albatross to fly, so they stay on the water. I saw very few, all in grounded groups.

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffin

Instead of albatross, I saw many small diving birds, especially when we came close to the beautiful, jagged coast of the Quillayutte River and La Push, Washington. I saw tufted puffins in bright breeding plumage, surfacing on the water for a few minutes before bobbing back under for surprisingly long times. The day before we set sail, Shelby and I visited the Newport Aquarium, where we saw tufted puffins in the arboretum. We saw the puffins swim through the water in the arboretum, wings flapping as if they were flying. We told a volunteer we were headed to sea. She said to look for single puffins close to shore. This time of year, puffins are nesting in pairs, making nests in burrows in cliff faces this time of year. While one puffin stays in the nest, its mate goes to sea, eats its fill of fish, stuffs about another seven fish in its beak, and returns to feed its chicks. The puffins I saw certainly looked like they were hard at work hunting for fish.

Deploying the Tow Fish

Deploying the Tow Fish

Today I helped deploy two sonar devices that I haven’t seen before, a sub-bottom profiler called a tow fish, and an Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT). The tow fish is a sub-bottom profiler, meaning that it sends a signal to map the bottom of the ocean. The scientists on the acoustics team are using it to look for fish. We backtracked over a section where we fished yesterday and dragged the tow fish alongside the ship. The data from the tow fish will be analyzed later, and proofed against the information from the haul and the other sonars. As usual, the goal is to be able to use the data to identify specifies with more and more accuracy.

XBT

Alicia showing me how to launch the XBT

The XBT is a probe that measures the temperature of the water. Falling at a known rate, it sends the temperature back through two small copper wires, which can be graphed as a function of temperature vs. depth in order to find the temperature profile of the water. Because the XBT looks vaguely like a gun, Larry left earplugs and a mask out for me, warning me about the explosion I was about to make. However, Alicia was in charge. She said, “There’s a hazing that happens with the XBT. I’m a bad liar. You don’t need this stuff.” So I went out on deck in just a life jacket and hardhat, which are required when doing any operation on deck. Once the technology tech radioed that the XBT had fallen to the necessary depth, I broke the copper wires. They were so thin I could cut them by rubbing them between my fingers.

Shelby

Shelby taking algae samples

Shelby, my roommate and a student Western Washington University, showed me her work measuring harmful algal blooms (HAB). While algae and other phytoplankton are essential to marine ecosystem because as primary producers, some algae produce domoic acid. Domoic acid is toxic to marine life and humans. Using surface water collected outside the boat and pumped into a hose in the chemistry lab, Shelby filters the water and saves the filter paper for further analysis of domoic acid and chlorophyll. A NOAA scientist will compile her data in an effort to map HAB along the West Coast. Shelby is a volunteer, one of four college students who each collect the data for one leg of the journey.

Personal Log

Fish Prints

Rebecca teaching me to make fish prints from the yellow-tails we had caught

Life aboard the Shimada seems to suit me very well. Every time I ask a question, which is often, I learn something new, and every time I look outside, I see something I never saw before. Yesterday, I ran into Rebecca in a hallway. Excited, she said, “There’s a P3 about to launch a sonobuoy!” I asked her to repeat. She said, “There’s a P3 about to launch a sonobuoy!” I stared at her. She said, “A plane is dropping stuff. Go outside and watch.” We both had to laugh about that one. Outside, I quickly learned that a marine ship had called the bridge to ask if we would help with a mission to drop a sonobuoy. A sonobuoy is a  listening device. With a parachute attached, it drifts into the ocean, where it floats, using passive sonar to report the location of objects like submarines. The day was shockingly beautiful, so a number of us stood on the very top deck of the ship, called the fly bridge or, jokingly, the beach. We watched the airplane circling us and watched the drifting clouds and diving birds. Several people declared it the flattest water they had ever seen in these parts.

I am happy to say that, with beginner’s luck, I won the first match of cribbage, placing me in semi-finals, and have started staying up in the evenings playing cards with other people on board.

Anne Mortimer: Cam-trawl, July 14, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 14, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Conditions: sunny and windy
Air Temperature: 10.1 ⁰C
Sea Temperature: 7.6 ⁰C
Wind direction: 237 ⁰C
Wind speed: 20 knots
Wave height: 2-3 ft.
Swell height: 5-6 ft.

Science and Technology Log

My last blog I said that I would talk more about the cam-trawl. This technology was created by scientists working on the pollock survey. The purpose behind the cam-trawl is to be able to put a net in the water with an open cod-end (basically a net with an opening at the end), and have images of the number, species, and size of fish that went through the net. Of course, sometimes some fish would have to be brought on deck so the otoliths and stomachs could be taken back to the lab in Seattle. Overall, this could eliminate taking so many research-based fish and/or invertebrate samples. When cam-trawl is used on acoustic-trawl surveys, the echograms can be matched up with the stereo-camera  images which can provide more data about the distribution of fish or other marine organisms in the water.

How the cam-trawl works: it is a stereo-camera system that takes snapshots of whatever comes through the net. These images allow the research team (including me on this leg) to determine the approximate number, species (some, not all), and size of fish that go through the net.

cam-trawl image

This still image from the cam-trawl shows a salmon and pollock against a black “curtain.”

The pictures are taken at the same time, but because of the slight difference in camera position, they look similar but not identical. You can mimic this with your eyes by looking at an object with only your right eye, then switching to looking with only your left eye. Did you see the same object but from a slightly different perspective? This is called disparity, or parallax (astronomers often use parallax to estimate the distance of far-away stars or other celestial objects). The program that was written for the cam-trawl (also by this research team) can then calculate the approximate size of the fish based on their relative positions.

In this photo, I’m using the cam-trawl measuring program to measure a sample of fish.

This screen shot shows the stereo-images and the yellow measurements that I’ve added. Using the lengths that I’ve chosen for the program, it calculates the approximate length (in meters) of the fish.

Personal Log

After several windy days with lots of swell, I’m happy to be in calmer waters. I’ve been working on the computer for some of the time which doesn’t go well with swell. I have also found it to be very tiring and tense on my body to be in constant motion and prepared to grab whatever I can to stay upright. I can’t tell you how hard it is to use a treadmill or take a shower in rough seas! BUT, for the time being, it’s calm and I just watched a great sunset over Kodiak island with a few humpback whale blows in the distance. If you are still wondering about the salmon in the picture above, it’s a chum!

Species Observed
humpback whales
northern fulmars
tufted puffins
black-footed albatross
storm petrels
porpoises (yesterday)

Anne Mortimer: Otoliths and more otoliths…, July 8, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 8, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: Sunny, 10°C
Sea temperature: 9.1°C
Wind direction: SW; 318 degrees
Wind Speed: 24.1 knots
Barometric pressure: 1012.12 mbar

Science and Technology Log

On my last 12 hour shift, a beautiful, sunny day, we started by pulling in, sorting, counting, and weighing fish caught in a mid-water trawl.  The scientists were also testing out a new “critter cam” that was attached to the net. The trawl net has a special device called a M.O.C.C. which stands for Multiple Opening and Closing Cod-ends. The net has three separate nets that can be opened and closed by the M.O.C.C. when the scientists reach the desired depth or location for catching, this keeps the catches from different targeted depths from mixing together. The three separate nets are called cod-ends. Each cod-end catch is processed separately. In this trawl, we saw multiple jellies, juvenile pollock, krill, juvenile squid, juvenile Pacific sandlance, capelin, juvenile flatfish, and juvenile cod.

capelin

Capelin from our trawl covered the deck of the boat.

MOCC entering the water

The Multiple Opening and Closing Cod-end, or MOCC, and net being released to the water for a mid-water tow.

Later, we trawled a 2nd time for about an hour. The trawl net used is called the AWT or Aleutian Wing Trawl because the sides of the net are like wings. After the net is in the water, two large steel doors are dropped in the water and help to pull the net open wide. You can see them in the picture above, they are the giant blue steel plates attached to the very stern (end) of the ship. During this trawl, only one cod-end was opened, and the catch was several hundred pounds of Pollock, with some eulachon, capelin, squid and jellies also.

Because pollock are the target fish of this survey, each was sexed and counted, and a smaller number were measured for length and weight, and the stomachs and otoliths were removed. The stomachs are being preserved for another research project back in Seattle, and as I mentioned previously about otoliths, they tell the age of the fish.

Personal Log

Today I was happy to have beautiful sunshine and 2 trawls to sort through. The skies and surrounding islands were absolutely stunning. I can understand why people are drawn to this place. It’s wild and rugged and looks like it probably did hundreds of years ago.

Scenery of the Shumigan Islands.

sunset

Dusk in the Shumigan Islands.

Species List

humpback whale (just one today!)

fulmar

tufted puffin

pollock

arrowtooth flounder

jellies

krill

squid

Pacific sandlance

capelin

juvenile flatfish

juvenile cod

sea gulls

eulachon

Thought for the day… if I was a blubbery whale, I would live in the Gulf of Alaska. If I was a pollock, I’d try not to get into a net, they can give you a splitting headache.

Anne Mortimer: Fishing, July 7, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 7, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 9.53 C, Foggy
Sea temperature: 8.19 C
Wind direction: 145
Wind Speed: 18.73 knots
Barometric pressure: 1013.22 mbar

Science and Technology Log

Last night, we attempted a bottom trawl for walleye pollock. The way scientists know that fish are present is by using acoustic sampling. The centerboard of the ship is set-up with sound emitting and recording devices. When a sound wave is emitted toward the bottom, it will eventually be returned when it hits a fish or the ocean bottom. This is called echo-sounding and has been used by sport & commercial fisherman and researchers for many decades. The sound waves are sent down in pulses every 1.35 seconds and each returned wave is recorded. Each data point shows up in one pixel of color that is dependent on the density of the object hit. So a tightly packed group of fish will show as a red or red & yellow blob on the screen. When scientists see this, they fish!

This echogram shows scientists where fish can be found.

The scientists use this acoustic technology to identify when to put the net in the water, so they can collect data from the fish that are caught. The researchers that I am working with are specifically looking at pollock, a mid-water fish. The entire catch will be weighed, and then each species will be weighed separately. The pollock will all be individually weighed, measured, sexed, and the otolith removed to determine the age of the fish. Similar to the rings on a tree, the otolith can show the age of a fish, as well as the species.

pollock otolith

A pollock otolith.

Pollock otolith in my hand

These scientists aren’t the only ones that rely on technology, the ships navigation systems is computerized and always monitored by the ship’s crew. For scientific survey’s like these, there are designated routes the ship must follow called transects.

globe chart

This chart shows the transects, or route, that the ship will follow.

This chart shows the route (white line) of the ship once fish were spotted. When scientists find a spot that they want to fish (green fish symbol), they call up to the bridge and the ship returns to that area. As the ship is returning, the deckhands are preparing the net and gear for a trawl.

Personal Log

I think that I must have good sea legs. So far, I haven’t felt sick at all, although it is very challenging to walk straight most times! I’ve enjoyed talking with lots of different folks working on the ship, of all ages and from all different places. Without all of the crew on board, the scientists couldn’t do their research. I’ve been working the night shift and although we’ve completed a bottom trawl and Methot trawl, we haven’t had a lot of fish to sort through. My biggest challenge is staying awake until 3 or 4 am!

Did you know?

That nautical charts show depths in fathoms.  A fathom is a unit of measurement that originated from the distance from tip to tip of a man’s outstretched arms. A fathom is 2 yards, or 6 feet.

Species list for today:

Humpback Whale

Northern Fulmar

Tufted Puffin

Stormy Petrel

petrel

Fish biologist Kresimir found this petrel in the fish lab; attracted to the lights it flew inside by accident. The petrel is in the group of birds called the tube-nosed sea birds. They have one or two "tubes" on their beak that helps them excrete the excess salt in their bodies that they accumulate from a life spent at sea.

In the Methot net:

Multiple crab species including tanner crabs

Multiple sea star species, including rose star

Sanddollars

Juvenile fish

Brittle stars

Sponge

Multiple shrimp species including candy striped shrimp

shrimp variety

These are some of the shrimp types that we found in our Methot net tow.