Patty McGinnis: Anchovies, Shrimp, and Krill, May 28, 2013

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

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pescadero, California
Date: Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 37 16.941 ° N
Longitude: 123 07.440° W
Air Temperature: 14 Celsius
Wind Speed: 25 knots
Wind Direction: NE
Surface Water Temperature: 12.8 Celsius
Weather conditions: foggy

Science and Technology Log

I’ve come to realize that each trawl is a whole new adventure; although Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma has the historical data to predict what might be found at each station, he is occasionally surprised at the treasures that are yielded by the ocean’s pelagic zone. The majority of our trawls are conducted at 30 meters below the surface. The area that falls between the surface and 200 meters below the surface is known as the epipelagic zone. The next zone, the mesopelagic, is the area that lies 200 meters to 1,000 meters below the surface. Last night our first trawl of the night was a deep water trawl. Although described in the Project Instructions, this was our first opportunity to conduct a deep water trawl. Keith was taking advantage of the fact that the captain wanted to unwind one of the trawl winch cables so that it could be carefully rewound onto the spool.

putting out the net

The crew of the Ocean Starr cheerfully assisted with the trawls each night

During the deep water trawl, the net was dragged for 15 minutes at a depth of 300 meters, rather than the traditional 15 minutes at 30 meters. In addition to a large number of adult hake, we pulled up a long-finned dragonfish. Like many fish that live in the deep ocean, the dragonfish has an organ on its head that produces a bioluminescent light. This light is used by some species to attract prey and can also serve to help the fish see its surroundings. Tonight we found another type of deep dwelling fish; the stoplight loosejaw fish, so named for its large jaw. Its red spot is capable of producing red light to help it navigate. We also pulled in several King of the salmon specimens. The King of the salmon is not a real salmon, but is a type of ribbon fish. It has a very flat, ribbon-shaped body and a long dorsal fin that runs down the entire body. Deep water fish like the stoplight loosejaw and King of the salmon tend to get pretty banged up in the trawl.

deep water trawl haul

I stand next to the results of our deep water trawl haul

stoplight loosejaw

This stoplight loosejaw is a type of dragonfish that lives in deep ocean waters

king of the salmon

King of the salmon fish

Lindsey good-naturedly dissected out a handful of otoliths (ear bones) from the adult hakes so that I could have a memento of my NOAA Teacher at Sea voyage. I anticipate using the otoliths to create a lab activity for the middle school science classroom. The hake lengths were then measured on a special board and a small piece of tissue was cut from five of them to be frozen and analyzed later.

adult hake

Adult hake

These otoliths, or ear bones, came from adult hakes

These otoliths, or ear bones, came from adult hakes

We conducted five additional trawls at 30 meters. Prior to and during each haul one of us does a mammal watch. This consists of listening and watching for mammals that may appear alongside the ship during the trawl. Should we encounter any marine mammals, the protocol is to stop the trawl immediately to avoid injuring any mammals. As of today, we have yet to be accompanied by any marine mammals during our trawls.

One of the surprises of the night was a catch of northern anchovies. I was surprised at their size; rather than the small fish I had envisioned, these fish were solid, robust, and at least 6 inches in length. Keith was pleased with the number of anchovies we hauled in given that very few or none were obtained the last two years. As he explained, the anchovy population tends to go through boom and bust cycles and have been down for the last several years. We also pulled up a North Pacific spiny dogfish, a shark named for its sharp dorsal spines.

Dogfish

Watch out for the dorsal spines on the North Pacific spiny dogfish

Other hauls yielded large amounts of juvenile rockfish and market squid. I have a great fondness for the squid, which I dissect annually with my students each spring. The small market squid we pull up, some barely an inch in length, pale in comparison to the adult squid which I use in my classroom. There is, however, no mistaking the miniature squid for anything else, so strong is their resemblance to their full-grown relatives that make their way from California’s pelagic waters to my classroom in Eagleville, Pennsylvania.

squid

We pulled up this beautiful squid in one of our trawls

Measuring Squid

I measure market squid as part of my work on the Ocean Starr

juvenile rockfish

juvenile rockfish

Krill, of course, are well-represented in the hauls as well. The abundance of the tiny crustacean makes it easy to envision the humpback whale straining out mouthfuls of krill as they make their annual trek to Alaska each spring.

Krill

Krill!

Krill

Krill

Since identifying and counting the majority of all the organisms for each trawl would be too labor intensive, we concentrate on a subsample. Keith then extrapolates the data from the subsample to obtain an estimation of what the total haul contained. Depending on what is present in the haul, we generally identify a subsample of 1,000 or 5,000 millilitres. Difficult sorts such as one that consists primarily of krill and small shrimp, may be restricted to 1,000 millilitres, whereas easier sorts may be up to 5,000 millimeters. Regardless, the total volume of the trawl is always recorded, as is the total volume of krill. Keith bags some of the catch for later use, carefully labeling each bag with the haul number, cruise number, and species identification code. Up to 30 specimens of each important species are also measured and recorded. In the morning, it will fall to Don Pearson to transfer the data from the data sheets to the computer. These numbers are then cross-checked the following evening to ensure that the data is accurate. The result: the groundfish stock assessments NOAA produces are as accurate as possible, an important factor for fisheries management.

subsample

Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma obtains a subsample

samples in bags

Samples are carefully labeled and stored for later analysis

catch data sheet

The haul from all trawls are recorded on data sheets

As busy as the night shift is, the day shift keeps busy with important work, too. Don conducts CTDs throughout the day, while Jamie filters phytoplankton from water samples that the CTD captures.

ame filters phytoplankton

Graduate student Jamie Lee filters phytoplankton obtained from CTD sampling

Doug watches the computer as part of conducting a CTD

Fisheries biologist Don Pearson watches the computer as part of conducting a CTD

deploying CTD

Deploying the CTD

As I am sleeping the ship periodically conducts transects over the ocean floor. These transects are conducted in areas where upwelling tends to occur. Upwelling is caused when a predominantly northwest wind pushes water offshore. Water rises up from below the surface to replace the water that was pushed away. In doing so, nutrients from the ocean bottom are transported from the sea floor to the water column. These nutrients serve to promote the growth and reproduction of phytoplankton, which is the basis of all ocean food chains. Upwelling areas therefore attract fish, birds, and marine mammals. While the ship is running transects, a computer in the lab is continually monitoring evidence of sea life at different frequencies. The picture below shows four graphs that monitor for krill, invertebrates, and fish. Fisheries biologist Don Pearson explained that it takes a practiced eye to spot patterns in the data. These patterns should correspond with the birds and mammals that Sophie spots on deck as seeing lots of organisms on the computer means lots of food for the birds and mammals. As much as I’ve enjoyed the night shift, part of me wishes that I had been able to have spent more time on the lookout deck with Sophie.

graphs

These graphs indicate the presence of marine organisms

transects on computer

The computer tracks the transects conducted by the Ocean Starr by day

All of this takes an enormous amount of preparation. Keith, Don, Amber, and oceanographer Ken Baltz spent the better part of a day setting up the equipment which will be used over a six-week span. This includes the trawling net which has been built to a specific length, opening and mesh size. The use of a standardized net is important because it enables the scientists to compare catches throughout the years. Other equipment includes an array of computers, the CTD, and miscellaneous equipment needed to sort through catches.

trawl net

Trawl net Photo credit: Kaia

Personal Log

It is interesting getting used to life on ship; this small community consists of 17 crew and 8 scientists (including myself). This vessel, in addition to being equipped with the necessary science equipment, houses its inhabitants in “staterooms.” I have been partnered with Kaia, a reflective wildlife biologist whose company I thoroughly enjoy.

stateroom

This is where I slept while on the Ocean Starr

roommate

Kaia was a wonderful roommate!

I have taken note that you can set your clock by the four meals served each day. Our ship’s steward, Crystal, and her assistant Liz, never fail to amaze me with the diverse menus that they faithfully create for us each day. The mess, or the room where we eat, has snacks and sodas available at all times of the day and night. Crystal also keeps a refrigerator stocked with leftovers that are available for anyone to access at any time. If that wasn’t enough, there is an entire freezer which houses nothing but a variety of ice cream bars (which the night shift enjoys on a regular basis). The mess is a popular place to hang out between meals. Two large televisions are constantly on; I’ve noticed that sci-fi movies (especially B-rated ones) and old war movies seem to be the favored among the crew.

Monday dinner

The ship steward consistently prepares wholesome and delicious meals

Menu

What’s for dinner?

ice cream

Ice cream was a favorite treat for the night shift

Yesterday I had an opportunity to do my laundry using one of the ship’s two washing machines. When I first came on board I asked Keith about fresh water on the ship. He explained to me that as long as the ship is moving that it is able to make fresh water through a desalination process. Since the Ocean Starr is in constant movement other than when the CTD is being employed, having fresh water has not been an issue. Regardless, taking the type of long showers favored by many of my students is something I did not indulge in.

washer

The Ocean Starr has all the comforts of home

As I write this the ship rocks gently from side to side. I think of how quickly I have adapted to my new surroundings and to the companionship of my new friends. As Keith had promised, after three days of working the night shift my body has adjusted and has acclimated to the routine. My time here is drawing short, however…three days from now I’ll be back in my classroom sharing stories and photos with my students.

Did You Know?

Commercial fisherman use a big spotlight to attract market squid?

Here is a list of some of the fish I have seen this week:  barracudina, northern lampfish, blue lanternfish, Pacific hake, pallid eelpout, yellowtail rockfish, shortbelly rockfish, cowcod, blue rockfish, boccacio, lingcod, cabezon, Irish lord, wolf-eel, medusafish, Pacific sanddab, speckled sanddab, rex sole, Dover sole, and many more

 

Sue Oltman: Greetings from the Ring of Fire! May 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Oltman
Aboard R/V Melville
May 22 – June 6, 2012

Mission: STRATUS Mooring Maintenance
Geographical Area: Vina del Mar, Chile
Date: May 20, 2012

Personal Log

I’m staying in the town of Vina del Mar, about 90 minutes from Santiago and close to the busy port city of Valparaiso.  Learning a bit more about the culture of this country. Once again, I’m reminded how useful it is to know other languages. The science team from WHOI (affectionately called by its acronym, pronounced hooey) is led by Dr. Robert Weller, the chief scientist, a renowned oceanographer whose expertise is moorings. The mooring for STRATUS 11 will be recovered and STRATUS 12 will be deployed. Another significant science contribution of WHOI is the Alvin submersible. Alvin has explored the mid-ocean ridge in the Atlantic Ocean extensively.

Valparaiso

From the R/V Melville, in port, looking towards shore, there are many smaller touring and fishing boats in addition to cargo vessels.

Last time, I shared that earthquakes are almost expected here, so there is a common concern about tsunami preparedness.  In 2010, many Chileans lost their lives due to a tsunami they did not know how to react to. The country’s leaders are trying to implement better evacuation plans, so there is a large public drill planned in about a week here. There are banners in the street announcing the upcoming drill!  Think of the school fire drills we have…a whole country will practice in a coordinated earthquake and tsunami drill to ensure that lives will be spared in the future.

Valparaiso colorful street

Many of the steep hills of Valparaiso were colorful – the homes and artistic graffiti.

The port of Valparaiso is very colorful and busy, with a lot of commerce taking place. New cars enter South America here, as does steel for construction and other goods. The U.S. oceanographic research  ship R/V Melville arrived and the team has been getting equipment ready for the mission ahead.  The new buoy and instruments have been shipped here separately, and the technician, Val Cannon, has been checking them out before they are deployed.It’s not an everyday event that a US Navy ship enters Chile, so local government will take the opportunity to somehow enrich their citizens.  A school group visited for a tour of the ship as well as an overview of the scientific research happening aboard the vessel. The Melville science crew prepared to give a presentation to the group of high school students on Saturday morning.  The research vessel  Melville had come into port on the heels of 2 weeks of  earthquake research by Oregon State University scientists. This scientist gave a presentation about her work first.

Scientists present to Chilean students

Dr. Sebastian Bigorre, WHOI, and Elsie Denton, translator, and I speaking to the students.

Next, Dr. Sebastien Bigorre (Seb) gave a talk about the atmospheric research in the Stratus project which I will elaborate more about in upcoming blogs.  He showed them the location of the stratus mooring and why that location is chosen – it is in the area of persistent stratus cloud cover in the lower atmosphere.  Did you know that some ocean water masses have a specific “fingerprint? ” This allows scientists to determine where that water mass travels to, and this reveals more information about winds and currents in the region.I gave the students an overview of the Teacher at Sea program and how NOAA  provides resources for science instruction, and invites teachers to experience cutting edge science in the oceans.  Teachers at Sea create new lessons and curriculum related to their cruises which are then shared on the NOAA website. The Chilean science teachers asked if these materials were available to them as well, and were happy to find out that they were.

Today was also a busy day of shipboard work inValparaiso, heavy work and long hours of getting the project’s equipment aboard.

Crates and crates of equipment and gear was unloaded, involving cranes and heavy lifting by all.  Even the top scientists are not exempt from the gritty hard labor! In the video clip, you will see Dr. Weller and other hardworking, versatile scientists assembling the mooring on deck. The ocean is all around us, but no one is swimming in it.
The water is pretty cool here, due to the Peru current which bring Antarctic water masses northward. There is continuous upwelling from about 1,000 meters where the thermocline is.

The coastline is on the edge of the Peru-Chile trench, part of the network of tectonic plate boundaries surrounding the Pacific. While on land, we are on the South American plate, and when we put out to sea, we will be above the Nazca plate.  This is a subduction zone where the trench descends to as deep as 6,000 meters in places! The Nazca plate is subducting under the continent. The R/V Melville will mostly be sailing in water in the 4,000-4,500 meter range.  This teacher is ready to set sail! Comment below to let me know your questions about the ship.

Answers to previous polls:

The KMS hat won! Upwelling is the movement of deep,cold, nutrient rich water to the surface. The cables can be over 4000 meters long.

Caitlin Thompson: Zooplankton, Ocean Currents, and Wave Gliders, August 7, 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 7, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat. 47 degrees, 00.8N
Long. 124 degrees, 29.8W
Present weather: Cldy 8/8
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind direction: 323
Wind speed: 08 kts
Sea wave height: 1 feet
Swell waves – direction: —
Swell waves – height: —
Sea water temperature: 13.7 degrees C
Sea level pressure: 1018.8 mb
Temperature – dry bulb: 15.8 degrees C
Temperature – wet bulb:  14.7 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

On the fish deck in my work clothes

On the fish deck in my work clothes

The Shimada conducts research around the clock, with crew members working twelve-hour shifts. So far, I have worked with the acoustics team studying hake during the day, when the hake school together and are easy to fish. Last night I branched out, staying up with Steve Pierce, the oceanographer studying ocean currents, Jennifer Fisher, a faculty assistant at Oregon State University (OSU) who is studying zooplankton, and her intern, Angie Johnson, a graduate student at OSU. All the different research on this trip complements each other, and I learned more about the acoustic team’s work from the night people.

Gray's Harbor Transects

Gray's Harbor Transects

The map at right shows the transects we follow and the stations that the night team takes samples, which Steve chooses. Just like the acoustics team, he only chooses sites on the east-west transects. The night team usually works one transect ahead of the day team, and must have the ship back where they started by sun-up. Steve is mapping small currents because, he says, surprisingly little is known about ocean currents, even though they have a tremendous impact on ocean life.

He is especially interested in the polar undercurrent that brings nutrient-rich water from the south up along the west coast. A small current, it is nonetheless important because of the nutrients it carries, which come to the surface through upwelling. He uses an acoustic device, the Acoustic Doppler Current Profile (ADCP), to find the velocity of the water at various depths. The data from the ADCP is skewed by many factors, especially the velocity of the ship. Later, Steve will use trigonometry to calculate the true velocity. He also uses the Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) meter, lowered into the water at every station during the night. The CTD gives much more information than its name would suggest, including salinity, density, and oxygen. It is deployed with a high-speed camera and holds bottles to capture water samples. I was impressed by the amount of work – and math! – that Steve does in between cruises. When he has down time on this cruise, he told me, he is calculating work from two years ago.

Jennifer divides a sample in the Folsom plankton splitter

Jennifer divides a sample in the Folsom plankton splitter

Jennifer and Angie are studying plankton, the organisms at the very bottom of the food web. Immediately, I recognized euphausiids, or krill, from the contents of hake stomachs. Actually I recognized their small black eyes, which always reminded me of poppy seeds when I saw them in hake stomachs. Jennifer is conducting this work through her group Northwest Fisheries Science Center, which, as she describes it, gives her a wonderful freedom to research different projects related to ocean conditions, especially salmon returns. In this project, they measuring phytoplankton, tiny, photosynthetic organisms, by measuring chlorophyll and nutrients. They are also looking at zooplankton, like euphausiids, salps, and crab larvae, which we examined other the microscope. To help the acoustics team refine their ability to use sonar to identify zooplankton, Jennifer and Angie record certain species. The acoustics team will match up the acoustics data that is continuously generated on this ship with the samples.

Angie

Angie takes water samples from the CTD.

Today, the second catch of the day was aborted because of whales too close to the ship. However, the NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), had asked the Shimada to investigate its waveglider. A waveglider is type of robot called an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). Programmed to travel and record data, it does not need an operator. The PMEL folks were concerned, however, that its AUV might have a problem.The bridge set the course for the AUV, described as a yellow surfboard, and I headed up to the flying deck, the highest deck and an ideal spot for observation, to watch for it. Immediately we saw a humpback whale, just starboard of the ship, spout and roll through the water, its tail raised in the air. Soon the AUV appeared. We saw nothing wrong with it but communicated our observations, photographs, and video tape of it to PMEL. The PMEL’s system of wavegliders monitor carbon dioxide levels and use the kinetic energy of ocean waves to recharge the batteries. The acoustics team hopes to get their own waveglider next year to collect acoustic data in between transects. As I was peering  over the edge of the boat, examining the surfboard-like robot below, I heard a loud splash. A bout ten  Dall’s porpoises were playing around the bow of our boat, rippling in and out of the water. Dall’s porpoises are tremendously playful creatures, and will often play around ships. But our ship was barely moving, and the porpoises soon lost interest and swam away.

Wave Glider

Wave Glider, seen from above

Personal Log

I’m getting a little of everything on this cruise. I would have stayed up two nights ago for the deploymentof the CTD and zooplankton samples, but the propeller developed a loud enough whamming sound to suspend all operations indefinitely. I woke up at 4:00 AM yesterday because the boat was swaying back and forth violently. (Violently by my standards, that is; more experienced mariners insist the swell is nothing.) Since our bunks go port to starboard, I could feel my weight sliding from hip to head to hip to head as I was rocked back and forth in bed. Meanwhile a discarded lightbulb in a metal shelf was rolling back and forth steadily – rattle-rattle-WACK! rattle-rattle-WACK! – until Shelby Herber, a student at Western University and my roommate, got up, found the culprit, and wrapped it in a shirt. When I woke again, it was eleven hours after the discovery of the problem with the prop and well past breakfast, and I started to get up until Shelby told me we were off transect, headed to shore because of the propeller.

Wave Glider

Wave Glider from beneath the water, taken from PMEL's website

So we took our time getting up. But when I finally arrived in the acoustics lab, Rebecca was running up the hall, saying, “Caitlin, I was looking for you! There’s a great big shark outside, and we’re pulling up the ROV!” The ROV is the remotely controlled vehicle, a robot like the AUV, but one that requires an operator to make it move. Unfortunately, out on the fish deck, the ROV was being put away and the shark gone off on his fishy business. To console me, John had the videotaped footage from the ROV and the dorsal fin of the shark, and showed me both. The ROV revealed no damage and I was invited down to the winch room, where the bang-bang-bang coming from the propeller was unnerving.

ROV

Puzzled birds approach the ROV

Everyone was in an uproar trying to decide what to do, an uproar made all the more dramatic by the steady lurching and swaying of the ship, which throughout the day has sent most of the scientists to their room for at least a few hours and most of the deck hands to tell stories of unhappy tourists who couldn’t find their sea legs. Finally, the engine guys decided the warped propeller would not prevent us from getting to Port Angeles, and Rebecca decided it would not interfere with the acoustics, and we got back on transect.

ROV

ROV

I’m getting a little bit of everything on this cruise. I’ve seen sharks and marines mammals, calm seas and rockier seas, an impressively well-functioning ship and a number of technological problems. I’ve interviewed scientists, NOAA Corps officers who command the ship, and crew members who recount endless adventures at sea. I’m even signed up for the cribbage tournament, which I’m not entirely thrilled about since I don’t know how to play bridge. I’ve been impressed by how much time and information everyone seems to have for me. I am constantly thinking how I can bring this experience back to my students. Some ideas are to have a science and math career day, collect weather data like the data the bridge collects, dissect hake, and examine zooplankton under a microscope. Various people on board have volunteered to help with all my ideas.

Dave Grant, November 13, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
November 6 – December 3, 2008

MissionVOCALS, 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 13, 2008

Gooseneck barnacles and Grapsid crab

Gooseneck barnacles and Grapsid crab

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: AM Calm; PM 5kts
Seas: 5’
Precipitation: 0.0
Pressure: 1016

Science and Technology Log 

Big whirls have little whirls That feed on their velocity, And little whirls have lesser whirls And so on to viscosity. (L.F. Richardson)

This little imitation of Jonathon Swift’s ditty helps illustrate the parallels between the atmosphere and ocean. Just as in the atmosphere, but much slower because of the increased density, turbulence in the water is expressed by meandering currents, and vortices. Good examples of this are observable when an oar is dipped into the water to push a boat, or a spoon is drawn across a bowl of soup. One of the mysteries of the SEP (South East Pacific) region is the presence of large oceanic vortices (Eddies), the mechanisms that generate them, and the length of time they persist as identifiable entities slowly spinning in the surrounding waters.

Dave holding the UTCD

Dave holding the UTCD

In a number of coastal areas fishermen and oceanographers have discovered that some important fish species can be found associated with these so-called mesoscale water structures, like upwelling areas, meandering currents and eddies. Such links are fairly well known and heavily exploited in the vicinity of the boundary currents off eastern North America (Gulf Stream), California (California Current) and Japan (Kuroshio Current); for tuna, swordfish, sardines and anchovies. The coast of Peru and Chile is swept by the northward flowing Humboldt (Peru-Chile) Current and the area is famous for the upwelling that brings deep,  cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface (and every 5-7 years when it doesn’t, El Nino conditions). Exposed to sunlight, phytoplankton utilize the nutrients to form the base of the world’s largest industrial fishery for fish meal and oil. The area also supports a large commercial tuna fishery.

UCTD Data

UCTD Data

Poorly understood is the role of eddies that spin off the major current; vortices averaging about 50-Km (30-miles) wide (i.e. mesoscale). These may be either cold or warm water eddies that may last offshore for months, and move as discrete masses to the west. In general these vortices have more energy that the surrounding waters, circulate faster; and are important because they transport heat, masses of water and nutrients to less productive regions towards the mid-ocean. The eddies also transport marine life and the mechanisms for this are also poorly understood, however the outcome is not. Moored buoys out here collect and support masses of fouling organisms like goose-neck barnacles that must be cleaned off periodically, along with other routine maintenance of the batteries and recording instruments. Servicing these buoys is also part of the mission of the Ron Brown.

Chasing “Eddy”

CTD Data

CTD Data

Tracking these “cyclones in the sea” requires interpreting daily satellite images that measure water temperature and by data collected by the UCTD (Underway Conductivity Temperature Depth) probe. This is a torpedo-shaped device cast off the stern of the Brown while we are underway. It rapidly sinks to several hundred meters. Then, like a big, expensive ($15,000.) fishing lure, it is retrieved with an electric motor that winds back over 600 meters of line. The whole process takes about 20-minutes (including the 2minute plunge of the UCTD).

The information acquired is phenomenal, and if collected any other way, would involve stopping the ship and repeatedly lowering Niskin or Nansen bottles; and adding weeks or months to a cruise schedule. Once back onboard the ship, the data is downloaded and plotted to give us a continuous picture of the upper layers of the ocean along our sailing route. All of this hourly data allows the tracing of water currents. The procedure is not without trials and tribulations. Lines can tangle or break, and there is always the possibility that the probe will bump into something – or something will bump into it down in the deep, dark ocean. However, any data retrieved is invaluable to our studies, and each cast produces a wealth of information.

Teeth marks on a UCTD

Teeth marks on a UCTD

Personal Log 

Today’s weather is fabulous. Most mornings are heavily overcast, but we are still close enough to the coast to enjoy breaks in the clouds. So, everyone is taking their breaks in folding chairs on the foredeck at “Steel Beach” since we are never certain when we’ll again have a sunny moment, or how long it will last.

After lunch there was a bit of excitement; we saw other mariners. In the old days of sailing, ships passing each other at sea would often stop to exchange greetings, information and mail. This practice was known as gamming. We sighted our first ship of the cruise; a cargo carrier heading north and piled high with shipping containers. It was too far off for gamming or even waving (The scientists who are sampling air want to keep their instruments free of exhaust from any nearby sources)  so it would have been out of the question anyway. The bridge gave it a wide berth; so wide that even with binoculars I could not be certain of the ship’s flag, name or registry, other than oversize lettering on containers that spelled JUDPER. Presumably it was carrying agricultural goods from southern Chile or manufactured goods and minerals from the central part of the country. Chile is a major exporter of copper; and the smelters, factories and vehicles in this upscale corner of South America (And the sulfur and particulate matter they spew into the sky) are a interesting land signatures for the atmospheric scientists and their delicate instruments. So the only gamming today is in the narrow passageways throughout the Brown. There is no wasted space on a ship, so in many areas there is “barely enough room to swing a cat.” (The cat being the cat-o-nine-tails once used to flog sailors. “The cat is out of the bag” when someone is to be punished.*)

Group watching a ship on the horizon

Group watching a ship on the horizon

I am still not certain what the proper ship’s etiquette is in passageways and stairways, but I am quick to relinquish the right-of-way to anyone who is carrying something, looks like they are in a hurry or on a mission, or in uniform (obviously) or kitchen staff in particular. Because the ship is always rocking, I’ve found that I tend to lean against the right wall while moving about. By lightly supporting myself leaning with a hand, elbow or shoulder (depending on the how significant the ship is rolling, pitching or yawing) I slide along the wall, and probably look like a clumsy puppy scampering down the hall, but it works…except for a few bruises here and there. Often I come face-to-face with the same shipmates repetitively during the day. (How many times a day can you say “Hello” to someone?) Everyone is polite and considerate, especially when moving about the ship, and in spite of repeatedly passing the same people many times every day. So generally, since everyone is busy for most of their shift, when meeting in the hallways, you resort to awkward routines like: muttered Hey, Hi, Yo or What’s-up; tipping your hat or a dumb half-salute; or a nod…or if from New England, what is known as the reverse nod.

*Flogging: There was a science to this horrible practice, not only with the number of lashes imposed, but what they were administered with: a colt (a single whip) or a cat (They varied in size from “king size” to “boy’s cats”).

Although the U.S. admirals reported that “it would be utterly impossible to have an efficient Navy without this form of punishment” Congress abolished flogging on July 17, 1862. And the last official British Navy flogging was in 1882 – although the captain’s authority remained on the books until 1949. (To politely paraphrase Winston Churchill, the British Navy was bound together by…*#@#&!, rum and the lash.)

One Final Note 

We discovered stowaways onboard…two cattle egrets. Egrets are wading birds that feed in shallow ponds and marshy areas; and the cattle egret regularly feed along roadsides and upland fields where cattle or tractors stir up insects. Even when threatened, they tend to fly only short distances, so it is odd to see them so far from land. However, in the 1950’s a small flock of these African birds crossed the South Atlantic to Brazil and establish a breeding colony. I remember spotting them for the first time on the Mexican border near Yuma in the 1970’s and today they have managed to thrive and spread all the way across the warmer half of North America.

Of ships sailing the seas, each with its special flag or ship-signal, 
Of unnamed heroes in the ships – of waves spreading and spreading  
As far as the eye can reach, 
Of dashing spray, and the winds piping and blowing, 
And out of these a chant for the sailors of all nations… 
(Song for All Seas, All Ships – Walt Whitman)

Stowaways – cattle egrets

Stowaways – cattle egrets

Beth Lancaster, April 13, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Lancaster
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
April 6 – 14, 2008

Mission: Examine the spatial and temporal relationships between zooplankton, top predators, and oceanographic processes
Geographical area of cruise: Cordell Bank Nat’l Marine Sanctuary & Farallones Escarpment, CA
Date: April 13, 2008

reported surface sea water temperatures for the California coast from satellite data.  The region of sampling is indicated by the box.

Reported surface sea water temps for the CA coast from satellite data. The region of sampling is indicated by the box.

Weather Data from the Bridge 

April 11, 2008 
Wind – Northwest 4-17 knots
Swell Waves – 3-8 Feet
Surface Sea Water Temperature – 9.3-11.9oC

April 12, 2008 
Wind – Light Swell Waves –1 to less than 1 foot
Surface Sea Water Temp – 9.2-12.5oC

Science & Technology Log April 13, 2008 

At the onset of this cruise, ocean winds and swells kept scientists on alert for the next rock of the boat or wave crashing over the side, and into the fantail work area. These winds play an important role in delivering nutrient rich cold waters to the Cordell Bank and the Gulf of Farallones marine areas – this process is referred to as upwelling.  Conditions on Thursday April 11 marked a noticeable change in the weather for this research cruise.  Winds hit a low of 4 knots and swells of three feet were reported from the bridge for the majority of the day.  On April 12 it was hard to believe that we were conducting research out on the ocean.  Conditions were magnificent.  Winds were light and swells were less than one foot.  This change in conditions is termed a period of “relaxation.” 

The term relaxation refers to a period when winds decrease, allowing for conditions that promote a boost in primary productivity.  These conditions include decreased turbulence and the presence of sun and nutrients. The nutrients are readily available from the upwelling and phytoplankton are retained in the well-lit surface waters due to the decrease in wind mixing and the resulting stratification (layering) of the surface waters – thus, providing the optimal conditions for photosynthesis to take place.  Figure one shows surface water temperatures from April 12, 2008.  There was a visible change over the course of the research cruise in surface temperatures with the decrease in winds and swells indicating conditions suitable for primary productivity.

Left to Right: Beth Lancaster, Rachel Fontana (Grad Student, UC Davis), and Caymin Ackerman (Lab Assistant, PRBO) enjoy the sun and calm waters while waiting for a sample to return off the McARTHUR II.

Left to Right: Beth Lancaster, Rachel Fontana (Grad Student, UC Davis), and Caymin Ackerman (Lab Assistant, PRBO) enjoy the sun and calm waters while waiting for a sample to return off the McARTHUR II.

Continuous samples of plankton were taken during the day-time throughout the course of the research cruise. My observations suggest that samples collected early in the trip revealed little macroscopic (visible to the eye) plankton, while samples collected later in the trip during the relaxation event are more diverse and robust. Samples will be examined following the research cruise to draw conclusions based upon quantitative data. Night-time operations included targeted sampling for krill to look at species composition, overall abundance, age and sex.  Krill feed on phytoplankton, and will at times appear green after feeding. The optimal conditions for phytoplankton growth during a period of relaxation will result in a feast for krill that migrate up the water column at night to feed. A large portion of many resident and migratory bird and mammal diets consists of krill, indicating their importance to this marine ecosystem.

Weather conditions over the last few days also provided great visibility for mammal and bird observers. Nevertheless, there were still very few sightings of birds and mammals during this time period.  One sighting of importance was of a short-tailed albatross, an endangered species that is an infrequent visitor to the California Current ecosystem.  The short-tailed albatross population is estimated at 2000, and is currently recovering from feather harvesting in the late nineteenth century and loss of breeding grounds to a natural disaster.  For more information on the short-tailed albatross visit here.

Putting it all together….. 

All of the sampling done over the course of this cruise will allow scientists to look at the dynamics of the food chain during the early springtime.  This is just a small piece of a larger puzzle. The same sampling protocol has been utilized at different times of year in the same research area since the projects beginning in 2004.  This will allow researchers to look at the entire ecosystem, its health, and the interdependence of species to drive management decisions.

Laysan Albatross.

Laysan Albatross.

Personal Log 

As the trip comes to an end I’m grateful to both the scientists and crew members onboard the McARTHUR II. I now have a better understanding of physical oceanography, and the Cordell Bank and Farallones Escarpment ecosystem which I am looking forward to sharing with students for years to come. The McArthur crew has been kind enough to answer every one of my many questions, made me feel welcome, and given me an idea of what life is like at sea. Thank you! This was truly an experience I will remember and look forward to sharing with others.

Animals Seen April 11, 2008 

Cassin’s Auklet (36), Black-legged Kittiwake (1), Western Gull (61), Herring Gull (1), Red-necked Phalarope (8), Sooty Shearwater (12), Northern Fulmar (6), Steller sea-lion (35), California Gull (6), Rhinoceros Auklet (9), Black-footed Albatross (6), and Bonaparte’s Gull (1).

Animals Seen April 12, 2008 

Black-footed Albatross (11), Northern Fulmar (6), Western Gull (48), California Gull (5), Cassin’s Auklet (25), Common Loon (2), Common Murre (58), Bonaparte’s Gull (4), Sooty Shearwater (8), Dall’s Porpoise (6), Red-necked Phalarope (26), Pink-footed Shearwater (3), California Sea Lion (2),  Rhinoceros Auklet (10), Humpback Whale (1), Harbor Seal (1), and Glaucous-winged Gull (2).

Beth Lancaster, April 9, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Lancaster
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
April 6 – 14, 2008

Mission: Examine the spatial and temporal relationships between zooplankton, top predators, and oceanographic processes
Geographical area of cruise: Cordell Bank Nat’l Marine Sanctuary & Farallones Escarpment, CA
Date: April 9, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind – Northwest 20 – 35 knots
Swell Waves – 4-12 feet
Sea Water Temp – 9.4 – 10.5oC

A 24-hour forecast of sea conditions for April 7, 2008 off the West Coast of the United States. The red section indicates swells that range from 12 to 15 feet.

A 24-hour forecast of sea conditions for April 7, 2008 off the West Coast of the United States. The red section indicates swells 12 to 15 feet.

Reported sea surface temperatures from April 7, 2008 for coastal California from satellite data.  The coastal wind did in fact cause an upwelling and cooling of water along the coast.  The purple area indicates temperatures 8-8.5oC and the blue 8.6-10oC.

Today’s reported sea surface temperatures for coastal California from satellite data. The coastal wind did in fact cause an upwelling and cooling of water along the coast. The purple area indicates temperatures 8-8.5 degrees C.

The weather reports collected from the bridge of the McARTHUR II reported that the waters traveled over the course of the day did in fact reach 12 feet.  The winds from the northwest cause an upwelling effect, which brings deep, nutrient-rich cooler waters to the continental shelf area off the coast of California. This nutrient-rich water plays a large role in the food web of the area, increasing primary productivity, which will then result in large numbers of marine mammals and birds due to the availability of prey items.  This period of upwelling in the area of Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries marks the beginning of a productive time of year.

Science and Technology Log 

Part of the mission on this cruise is to gather oceanographic processes data to look at the relationship between biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) factors within the study area.  While many samples are being collected through observation and survey equipment outside of the ship, there is just as much being collected in the laboratory onboard the McArthur II. The ship is equipped with several pieces of equipment that report physical features and measurements throughout the day.  This information is recorded for scientists onboard to utilize in their data analysis.  The following is a list of equipment, and their functions being used to measure oceanic processes:

Thermosalinograph (TSG) – Surface water is pumped from the ocean through a hose to this piece of equipment which measures temperature and salinity.  There is an additional probe that measures CO2. All information collected during the course of the cruise will be given to researchers to use in data analysis.

Scientific Echosounder – Sends a sound wave into the water column.  If there is anything in the water column this sound wave will reflect back to the ship. The longer it takes for the reflected wave to get back to the ship the farther away the target is.  Comparing three different frequencies emitted by the echosounder allow scientists to identify different types of plankton in the water column, and set sampling sites.

Navigation Software – Allows researchers to track where they have been and where they are going. Because nets and other equipment are being deployed from the ship this computer software allows scientists to view the charted underwater topography to determine placement and depth of equipment.  By marking sample sites using the software, scientists can look at the relationship between the ocean’s topography and living organisms collected.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Beth Lancaster (left) and NOAA Chief scientist Dr. Lisa Etherington (right) view sampling areas using navigation software in the McARTHUR II’s dry lab.

NOAA TAS Beth Lancaster (left) and NOAA Chief scientist Dr. Lisa Etherington (right) view sampling areas using navigation software in the McARTHUR II’s dry lab.

Personal Log 

Pteropod collected from a hoop net.

Pteropod collected from a hoop net.

I have been onboard the McARTHUR II for four days, and have enjoyed every minute of helping out with the research project. Scientists have been so patient and willing to answer all of my questions. The crewmembers onboard the McARTHUR II are very friendly and helpful. I now have a much better understanding of the marine physical environment than I did upon my arrival!  I am enjoying living at sea, even the small bunks!  The ship is actually very large you would never know there were more than twenty people onboard!

Animals Seen Today

Black-footed Albatross, Pteropod, Pigeon Guillemot, Copepods, Brandt’s Cormorant,  Ctenophore, Sooty Shearwater, Krill, Northern Fulmar, Microscopic Plankton, Black-legged Kittiwake, California Gull, Western Gull, Common Murre, Cassin’s Auklet, Rhinoceros, Auklet, and Bonaparte’s Gull.

Beth Lancaster, April 7, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Lancaster
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
April 6 – 14, 2008

Mission: Examine the spatial and temporal relationships between zooplankton, top predators, and oceanographic processes
Geographical area of cruise: Cordell Bank Nat’l Marine Sanctuary & Farallones Escarpment, CA
Date: April 7, 2008

Beth Lancaster (right) preserves a plankton sample collected using a hoop net.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Beth Lancaster bottles a surface water sample that will be tested for the presence of nutrients.

Science and Technology Log 

Today was the first full daytime operations.  We began shortly after 7:00 a.m., and covered a 90 kilometer transect throughout the course of the day ending at 6:00 p.m.  At each sampling point along the transect a series of measurements and observations were made to look at relationships between the physical ocean environment, and abundance of living organisms that are observed and collected to gain a better understanding of the physical and biological features of the area, and how they interact. The daytime crew was divided into two groups: the marine mammal and bird observers, and a second group that was responsible for collecting water and plankton samples as well as other various physical measurements of the water.  I worked with the second group, and will share what sampling I assisted with.

At each sampling point we used the CTD, which is a piece of equipment that has several probes on it, to collect a vertical sample of the water column.  When the CTD is deployed into the water it is sent down 200 meters below the surface and collects water conductivity (used to calculate salinity), temperature, depth, and turbidity. There is also a fluorometer attached to the CTD that measures the fluorescence of chlorophyll-a, which approximates the abundance of phytoplankton.  The CTD collects all this data, and can then be downloaded onto a computer.  Surface water samples were also collected at each sampling point, and will be tested for the presence of nutrients which would also have a direct impact on the abundance of organisms in the area.

Beth Lancaster (right) preserves a plankton sample collected using a hoop net.

Beth Lancaster (right) preserves a plankton
sample collected using a hoop net.

To gather information on the living organisms present at each site, a hoop net was used to collect samples of plankton.  The net was sent down approximately 50 meters, and collected all of the tiny living organisms (zooplankton) on a screen as the net was pulled through the water column. When the hoop net was brought back onboard, the cod end of the net (where the sample is collected) was transferred to a sample bottle, and preserved for further investigations in the laboratory. In addition to the living organisms collected in the hoop net, marine mammal and bird observations are being made from the flying bridge of the ship. That would be the highest point on the boat, and not the location for people who are afraid of heights. Due to rough sea conditions (10-12 foot swells), sightings were few and far between today.  Springtime within Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary is a time where strong winds cause upwelling of deeper waters towards the surface near the coast.  This upwelled water is colder and has higher nutrient concentrations.

Sample of krill caught in the daytime with a hoop net.

Sample of krill caught in the daytime with a hoop net.

This influx in nutrients means the ecosystem becomes very productive. Given this high influx of nutrients, prey items for birds and mammals are readily available. The food of choice for a lot of these organisms is krill (a shrimplike zooplankton.)  We did collect some krill in the hoop net during the day, but the abundance of krill in shallower water is much greater in the evening, when krill migrate from deep depths towards the surface.  The night crew is collecting krill using a tucker trawl, which has three separate nets that are opened and closed at different depths. Krill play a vital role in the ecosystem scientists are currently studying. They provide nourishment for resident and migratory birds as well as marine mammals.  There is sufficient nutrient availability for primary producers which are then food for primary consumers such as krill, and therefore food availability for secondary consumers such as fish and tertiary consumers such as whales and dolphins.

Black-footed Albatross

Black-footed Albatross

Throughout the week the same measurements will be taken at different sights along the continental shelf and continental slope in the region of Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Farallones Escarpment (within Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary). This information will allow scientists to better understand the dynamic relationship between zooplankton, top predators, and oceanographic processes.  Data gathered will also be used in conservation planning of the marine sanctuaries.

Some Animal Sightings 
Black-footed Albatross, Ancient Murrelet, Northern Fulmar, Laysan Albatross, and Pacific White-sided Dolphin.