Trevor Hance: Water, Water Everywhere… Time for a Bath(ology), June 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Trevor Hance
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 12 – 24, 2015

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank
Date: June 17, 2015

Science and Technology Log

We’re now at the half-way point of this journey and things continue to run well, although the weather has picked up a bit.  I mentioned to one of my fellow crew members that the cloud cover and cool weather reminded me of “football and gumbo” and he said, “Yeah… around here, we just call it ‘June’.” Touché, my friend.

“June,” huh…. Hey, this guy got jokes!

I am continually impressed by both the ship’s crew and the science party’s ability to identify work that needs to be done and set a course towards continued, uninterrupted success of the mission.  The depth and breadth of knowledge required to navigate (all puns intended!) extended scientific expeditions requires professional dedication matched with a healthy sense of humor, and it is truly an honor to be invited to participate in this unique opportunity for teachers. I am learning volumes each day and will forever treasure this wonderful adventure.  Thanks again, NOAA!

Remember students, don’t kiss frogs.  Gigantic lobsters?  Well…

Remember students, don’t kiss frogs. Gigantic lobsters? Well…

Science and Math

My instructional path is rooted in constructivist learning theory, and I work diligently to secure resources for my students to have authentic, project-based learning experiences where they determine budgets, necessary tools and physically build things that we use on our campus.

Most recently, my math class designed and built some raised mobile garden beds that will be used by the youngest students on our campus as well as those with unique mobility challenges.  Through these hands-on learning experiences, I expect my students to develop a solid working-level of mathematic and scientific literacy, and I’m proud of the fact that when I present a new concept, my students never ask “When am I going to have to use this in real life?”

My students doing math.  More doing, more learning...

My students doing math. More doing, more learning…

I believe fifth grade students can understand any science concept, and I am seeing additional opportunities to test that idea using what I learn out here, so thought I’d share a few examples of some of the things I’ve learned as they will be presented in my G5 classroom starting this fall.

With a basic understanding of the objective for this survey presented in the last blog, I’ll explore some of the geographic and hydrodynamic concepts associated with this part of the world in this post.  In the next blog, I’ll dive deeper into a specific study of scallops and lobsters, and in the fourth post I’ll talk more about the effects of current marine/fisheries management practices, with particular focus on those relating to closed areas (somewhat akin to the Balcones Preserve behind our campus.)

This is a Sculpin Longhorn, distantly related to BEVO

This is a Sculpin Longhorn, distantly related to BEVO

Georges Bank…water, water everywhere, time for a bath(ology)

We all know that water is central to our survival, and “playing” with water provides a strong anchoring point (am I pushing the puns too far?) for understanding systems relationships as students progress through their educational path.  For the past couple of years, I have been accepted to participate in a “Scientist in Residence” program offered through the University of Texas’ Environmental Science Institute, which pairs local teachers with a graduate level scientist for an entire school year.  In my first year, I was paired with (recently graduated) Dr. Kevin Befus, whose work focuses on hydrology.  Through my work with Kevin (note to students:  I can call him Kevin, you call him Dr. – he’s earned it!), I learned much about water and the importance of “flow,” and when you understand some of the “flow” relating the world’s most productive fishery, Georges Bank, I think you’ll agree with me.

Dolphin splashin’, getting everybody all wet

Dolphin splashin’, getting everybody all wet

Georges Bank is an oval shaped shoal, which is essentially a submerged island that lies about 60 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, and covers nearly 150 square miles.  “The Bank,” or “Georges,” as many people aboard the vessel refer to it, is only recently submerged (i.e. – within the last 100,000 years).  As recently as ten years ago scientists found mastodon tusks on the Bank, and legend holds that in the early 1900s, fishing vessels would stop on an island in Georges Bank (now submerged to about 10m) and play baseball (note:  I have yet to find a bat and ball aboard the Sharp, but hope remains!)

Just like good soil helps support plant life, good water helps support marine life, and the key to the abundant life along Georges Bank lies in the nutrient rich water that is pushed towards the surface as it approaches Georges from the north and south.  On three sides of Georges Bank, the sea floor drops dramatically.  To the north sits the Gulf of Maine, which drops to approximately 1000m deep, and to the east and south, the Atlantic Ocean quickly reaches depths of over 2500m.

NASA photo

NASA photo

Almost all water enters Georges Bank from the north via the Gulf of Maine. The Gulf of Maine is fed via natural river discharges (including those from the Damariscotta and Merrimack Rivers) and the Labrador Currents that hug the coastline south around Nova Scotia before turning west into the Gulf of Maine.  Water also enters the Gulf of Maine through The North Channel on the east side of Maine from the Gulf Stream and that very salty, warm water is important, particularly when it comes to the biology of Georges Bank (as we’ll look at more in the next blog entry.)

Much of the water exiting the Gulf of Maine enters The Great South Channel, which is something like a “river in the ocean” that runs between Cape Cod and Georges Bank.  Deep within the Channel is a “sill,” which is a type of landform barrier, similar to a fence that doesn’t reach up to the surface.  The sill rises quickly from the sea floor and extends across the Great South Channel, effectively blocking the deepest, densest water, resulting in strong, deep, cold currents that are pushed east around the outer edge of Georges Bank before returning towards the United States’ east coast in a clockwise path, resembling “from 11 until 7” on a clock’s face.  Yes students, I do mean an analog clock!

After the deep currents make their way back to southern Massachusetts, they head south on the Longshore Coastal Current, which is like a “jet” of water that sprints southbound right along the eastern United States coastline (note:  those of us from the Gulf Coast frequently hear friends wonder why the Atlantic Ocean is so cold when they visit Florida, and this is partly why!)

At this point, I’m going to take a moment and speak directly to my students:   Just as the water flows into and mixes at Georges Bank from different directions, I’m hopeful that your thoughts are starting to swirl as you recognize the connection to concepts we have studied relating to energy, weather and climate, mixtures and solutions, salinity (and conductivity/resisitivity) and density (and buoyancy) – they are all evident and part of this story! And YES — this WILL be on the test!

b3g - 4 shells

I pulled these four scallops from one of our dredges to show the unique, beautiful patterns we find while sorting

While the deep-water currents that circle around Georges Bank’s edges exist year-round, in the winter there isn’t tremendous difference in the three primary water measurements (“Conductivity, Temperature and Density,” or “CTD”) between the water in The Great South Channel versus that sitting atop Georges Bank.  As you might recognize, in normal conditions, there shouldn’t be much cause for warm or fresh water to be added to the area during the cold winter months, as our part of the world seems to slow down and a goodly amount of water freezes.  In the spring, however, the northern hemisphere warms and ice melts, adding lots of warmer-and-fresh water to the Labrador Current and river discharges I mentioned above, ultimately sending that water south towards Georges Bank.  At this point, things get really interesting…

The new, warmer water is less dense than the deeper water. The warm and cold water ultimately completely decouple and become fully stratified (i.e. – there are two distinct layers of water sitting one on top of the other.)  The stratified layers move in separate currents:  the deeper, colder, more-dense layer continues its clockwise, circular path along the outer edge of the Bank before heading south; and the top, “lighter” layer gets “trapped” in a clockwise “gyre,” which is the formal word for a swirling “racetrack” of a current that sits on the Bank. This gyre goes full-circle atop Georges Bank approximately 2.5 to 3 times per summer season.

Bigelow and Bumpus:  Going with the Flow

The stratified/gyre relationship was confirmed almost 90 years ago by Henry Bigelow (note: those familiar with NOAA will no doubt recognize his name for several reasons, including the fact that a ship in the NOAA fleet is named after him).  Essentially, Bigelow used a type of “weighted-kite-and-floating-buoy” system to observe and confirm the two layers.  Bigelow’s “floating-buoy” was tied to the “weighted-kite” (actually called a drogue) and set at various depths, with each depth tested as an independent variable.  Once set, Bigelow drogued the water, chasing after the floats-and-kites, ultimately confirming that the stratified currents did in fact exist.  When you look at our dry lab here on the Sharp, complete with dozens of computers constantly monitoring hundreds of variables, Bigelow’s paper-and-pencil study aboard a 3-masted schooner is pretty awesome, and makes me feel a little lazy!

Source:  Bigelow, HB (1927): Physical Oceanography of the Gulf of Maine

Source:  Bigelow, HB (1927): Physical Oceanography of the Gulf of Maine

In a different study conducted later in the 1900s that perhaps might evoke romantic images of the sea, physical oceanographer Dean Bumpus performed a study similar to Bigelow’s, but in a slightly different fashion. Over the course of a few years, Bumpus put notes in over 3,000,000 test-tubes and set them adrift from Georges Bank.  The notes provided instructions on how to contact Bumpus if found, and he used the returned notes to determine things like current speed and direction.  While I’m not sure if Bumpus also used this methodology to find true love, the experiment did reinforce the idea of the currents that exist around Georges Bank!

b3i - Bumpus

Yep, it’s pretty cool to hear stories of those old-school scientists getting their names in the history books by just going with the flow.

Gulf Coast Style Kicking It Up North

One other unique hydrologic influence on Georges Bank relates to “meanderings” by the Gulf Stream.  Normally, as the Longshore Coastal Current sprints southbound along the east coast faster than a recent retiree snowbirding to Florida, a little further offshore, the Gulf Stream is heading north, bringing with it warm water.  As the water moves towards Georges Bank, the bank does its thing, acting as a berm (my BMX students might better identify with that term), and pushes that water off towards the east.  The warm water ultimately reaches England, and when mixed with the cool air there, causes the cloudy conditions and fog we frequently associate with life in the U.K.

Shark!

Shark!

The unique aspect of this relationship occurs when, from time to time, the Gulf Stream misses the turn and a “slice” of the Gulf Stream breaks away.  When this happen, the split portion spins in a counter clockwise fashion and breaks into Georges Bank, bringing with it warm water — and all the chemistry and biology that comes with it.  More on that later…

Water Summary 

So, in a nutshell, that’s the system.  The coldest water at the headwaters of rivers in Maine and that in the arctic freezes and becomes ice.  Deep water doesn’t have access to the warm sunlight, so it stays colder than the warm, less dense water at the surface that is hoping for the chance to boil over and soar up into the skies as water vapor.  Newton tells us that things like to stay still, but will stay in motion once they get started.  Things like sills and submerged islands get in the way of flowing water (yeah, more Newton here), resulting in mixtures and unique current patterns.

From a biological standpoint, the traditional currents associated with Georges Bank bring the deep, nutrient rich waters to the surface. As that water is pushed to the surface, algae and phytoplankton grow in great numbers.  Phytoplankton attracts zooplankton, fish larvae eat the zooplankton, and eventually, “circle gets a square,” the trophic pyramid is complete, and nature finds its equilibrium.

If only it was that easy, right?

Unfortunately, the frequency of warmer weather over the past century has had an impact on the ecology of Georges Bank.  Scientists have noticed more warm water from the north as ice continues to melt and increased frequency of the Gulf Stream meandering from the south. I’m told that 20 years ago, Red Hake were rare here, but I’ve noticed very few of our dredges where Red Hake weren’t at least the plurality, if not majority, of fish we caught.  As Mr. Dylan says, “the times, they are a changin’.”

Okay.  That’s it!  Congratulations students! You have passed Oceanography: Hydrodynamics Short Course 101 and it is time to move on to Oceanography:  Shellfish Biology 101, which we will cover in the next blog.

My students get scribbled maps like this from me all the time. I didn’t draw this one, but it did make me feel good about my methods!

My students get scribbled maps like this from me all the time. I didn’t draw this one, but it did make me feel good about my methods!

Lagniappe:  Dr. Scott Gallager

My students and friends know that I am continually working to learn new things.  I am surrounded by experts on this cruise and I need to go ahead and admit it:  I feel sorry for these folks because they are trapped and can’t escape the questions I’ll wind up asking them about their incredibly interesting work!

As I mentioned earlier, depth of knowledge is important to success of these missions, but, breadth is equally important.  Addressing challenges and solving problems from different perspectives is essential, and it sure would be nice to have a Boy Scout out here.  Oh wait, we actually have a long time Scout Master among us, Dr. Scott Gallagher.  There, I feel better already…

Scott is a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (“WHOI”), where his work focuses on biological and physical interactions in oceanography, which can perhaps be a little better explained as “working to understand the physical properties and processes of the ocean that impact biological abundance and populations (aka – distributions).”  In other words, “where are the scallops, how many are there, and why are they there and at that number?”

From a scientific perspective, there are three primary controls to analyze when studying shellfish populations:  the total amount of larvae spawned; the transportation, or “delivery”, of the larvae through the water column to the place where they settle; and, post-settlement predatory relationships (aka – the sea stars, crabs, and humans all out to feast on these delicious creatures)… Seems like an easy-peasy career, right? (I kid. I kid.)

This is a shot of the specimen count in the wet lab

This is a shot of the specimen count in the wet lab

Scott cut his teeth as an undergrad at Cornell, starting off in electrical engineering, and ultimately earning degrees in both pre-med and environmental science (see, I told you he could see things from a variety of perspectives!).  In his environmental science courses, Scott studied the Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, and after graduating from Alfred University/Cornell University, moved on and earned a master’s degree in Marine Biology at the University of Long Island.  Over the next several years, he worked at Woods Hole as a research assistant, first working in bivalve (shellfish) ecology, and quickly moving up through the ranks to research specialist.  After a couple of years at WHOI, the magnitude and awesome wonder of the life in our oceans presented Scott with more questions than answers, and he realized it was time to return to school and obtain his PhD so he could start answering some of the questions swimming around in his head (okay, no more puns, I promise).

In our discussion, Scott described the challenge of decoupling the biological processes of the ocean as a fascinating mystery novel that never ends, and never allows you to put the book down or stop turning the pages to see what comes next.  After only a week out here with these good folks, it is evident that passion and curiosity exists in each of them, and it is really cool to feel their continued excitement about their work.

Our live aquarium

Our live aquarium

Aboard the ship, I’ve been fortunate to spend some time working with Scott in the wet-lab, where he helps conduct a more intensive study of a sample of 5-7 scallops from each dredge, according to survey protocol: taking photos, measuring the scallop size and weight, and recording whether it is male or female.

While the survey work is the mission of this cruise, it was the development and operational support for the HabCam that really got Scott working aboard these cruises, and members of his team are aboard each of the three legs every summer to participate in the survey work and provide technical assistance for the HabCam.  I think of my time driving the HabCam of what it must be like to explore Mars with Curiosity.

In addition to his mission-specific field-work, Scott has set up an onboard live aquarium in one part of the deck, using nothing more than an air hose, fresh sea water, and a tote.  The aquarium is a temporary home for many of the unique species we’ve caught on our dredge.  Most species are only kept long enough for me to nerd-out and take some photos, and it has been very interesting to see the interaction of the animals in the confined habitat that would normally only be seen on the sea floor.

Photoblog:

The pasta-looking stuff on the top of the clam shell are wavedwelk eggs. You can see a black-and-white wavedwelk poking out of the shell just to the right of the clam

The pasta-looking stuff on the top of the clam shell are wavedwelk eggs. You can see a black-and-white wavedwelk poking out of the shell just to the right of the clam

Sea urchins.  We catch many of these.  Zoom in on the one on the right.  Yeah, that’s its mouth.  Life’s at sea is tough!

Sea urchins. We catch many of these. Zoom in on the one on the right. Yeah, that’s its mouth. Life’s at sea is tough!

An ocean pout.  They crush sand dollars and eat them for breakfast.

An ocean pout.  They crush sand dollars and eat them for breakfast.

The smaller birds were enjoying that fish until the big dog bombed them and stole it away. Katie said it was cleptoparasitism; Fancy Nancy would approve.

The smaller birds were enjoying that fish until the big dog bombed them and stole it away. Katie said it was cleptoparasitism; Fancy Nancy would approve. 

Barnacles growing atop this scallop.  I think this was one of the designs tossed around for NASA’s recent “UFO” launch

Barnacles growing atop this scallop.  I think this was one of the designs tossed around for NASA’s recent “UFO” launch

It’s remarkable watching these guys zig-and-zag through rough seas, their wings not ever touching the water, but sometimes too close to it to see light peeking through from the other side

It’s remarkable watching these guys zig-and-zag through rough seas, their wings not ever touching the water, but sometimes too close to it to see light peeking through from the other side

I kept looking for a button to push and see if it would sing “Feliz Navidad”

I kept looking for a button to push and see if it would sing “Feliz Navidad”

Stars on the water

Stars on the water

Don't be a skater-hater

Don’t be a skater-hater

Dredge playlist:  Metallica, Dierks Bentley, Spoon, The National

Special thanks to Dr. Gallager for his help with this one.

Okay, that’s it, class dismissed…

Mr. Hance

June Teisan, Ichthyo-WHAT? Ichthyoplankton! May 6, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
June Teisan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 1 – 15, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Plankton Study
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
12:00 hours; Partly cloudy skies; Wind 080 (WNW) 9 knots; Air temp 25.8C; Water temp 25.7C; Wave height 3-4 ft.

Science and Technology Log:

From my very first shift the day we left port at Pascagoula, I’ve been out on the ship’s deck deploying nets and processing samples. Samples of what, you ask? Ichthyoplankton! Ichthyo-What? Ichthyoplankton are the eggs and larvae of fish, and are typically found less than 200 meters below the surface, in the “sunlit” zone of the water column. We have 40 testing sites or “stations” ahead during this cruise, as shown below.

SEAMAP_OregonII

The blue area holds the SEAMAP Plankton stations we plan to sample on the first leg of the spring cruise. The other stations will be sampled on the second leg May 17-31.

 

With my noon to midnight teammates Pam Bond and Jonathan Jackson, and the invaluable Oregon II deck crew to operate the winches, I’ve learned to draw samples from the Gulf with specially developed equipment: the Bongo net, Neuston net, MiniBongo net, and S-10 Neutson net, and the CTD sampler.

The Bongo and its smaller cousin the MiniBongo are designed with funnel-shaped nets that collect samples into a cylinder at the end of the net. Once the nets are sprayed down to chase the last of the biomass into the PVC cylinder or “codend”, we take the cylinders to the processing table to sieve the biomass, transfer that to the glass lab jars, and fill with preservative solution.

The Neuston net is affixed to a large metal rectangle and is pulled along the surface of the water for a ten minute time segment. The mesh of the Neuston is not as fine as the Bongo, so smaller plankton slip through and larger organisms are gathered.

 Once the samples are gathered they must be sieved, transferred into lab jars, and preserved. Immediately after collecting the samples, we walk the buckets holding the codend cylinders to the back deck where the processing table holds the equipment and solutions we need for this part of the process.

Personal Log:

I’ve been on board the Oregon II for five days, and I am deeply impressed by many facets of this scientific journey.

  • The level of dedication, professionalism, and passion of the NOAA science team: This work is high caliber data gathering in sometimes grueling conditions, with monotonous waiting periods in close quarters; but the good humor, dedication to best practice field science, and mutual respect and support among the team is always evident.
  • The complexity of running a working research vessel: From the Commanding Officer down the chain, each crew member has their jobs and each person is vital to the success of the excursion.
  • The importance of the work: Our fisheries are a vital food source; to manage the stocks and avoid overfishing we need data to make management decisions that ensure a healthy ecosystem.
  • The beauty and jaw-dropping magnificence of the Gulf: This vast expanse of water – teeming with life, driving weather patterns, supplying us with food and fuel – is a sight beyond words.

Finally, here’s a shout out for Teacher Appreciation Week! Kudos to all my colleagues across the country and especially to the teaching staff at Harper Woods Schools in Harper Woods, Michigan for all you do everyday!

huzzah

And a special hello for the students in Mrs. Wesley’s class all the way from the Gulf of Mexico!

Susan Kaiser: Ready, Set, SCIENCE!! July 29, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday, July 29, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 36 min N
Longitude:  83 deg 20 min W
Wind Speed: 5.8 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 29.5 C
Air Temperature: 29.5 C
Relative Humidity: 67.0%

Science and Technology Log

Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.

Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.

Science is messy! Extracting DNA, observing animals in their native habitat or dissecting are just a few examples. On board NOAA Ship Nancy Foster it may even be stinky but only for a little while. That is because the divers are retrieving the Vemco Receivers also called VR2s for short. These devices have been sitting on the ocean floor quietly collecting data on several kinds of grouper and snapper fish. Now it is time to download the VR2s recorded information and give them new batteries before placing them at a new site. So, why are they stinky? Even though the VR2s are enclosed inside another pipe, sea organisms have begun to grow on the top of the VR2. They form a crust that is stinky but can be scraped away with a knife. Any object left in the ocean will soon be colonized by sea creatures such as oysters, algae, and sponges to name a few. These organisms will grow and completely cover the area if they are undisturbed. This crust smells like old seaweed drying on an ocean beach.

VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.

Clean VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.

Really, it isn’t too bad and after a while you don’t notice it so much. Besides this is the only way scientists can get the numbers out of the VR2. These numbers tell scientists which fish have been swimming by and how often. Some of the VR2s have collected over 21,000 data points but most have fewer. This information alone helps scientists understand which areas of the ocean floor each species of grouper and snapper prefer as their home or habitat. These data points can even paint a picture of how these fish use the habitat space over the period of an entire year.

Have you been wondering what the VR2s are listening for? You may be surprised to learn it is a signal called a ping from a tracking device that was surgically implanted while the fish is still underwater! The ping is unique for each individual fish. The surgeries were completed when the study began in 2008. First, the fish are caught in live traps. If the trap is in deep water (>80ft) divers descend to perform the surgery on the ocean floor. The fish’s eyes are covered and it is turned upside down. Then a small incision is made in their abdomen and the tag is inserted below the skin. Stitches that dissolve over time are used to close the incision. Once the fish has recovered a bit it is released. An external tag is also clipped into the dorsal fin so other people will know the fish is part of a scientific study. Fish caught in the upper part of the water column may be brought up to the surface slowly and kept in a holding tank while the surgery performed on the boat. Scientists have noted the fish are less stressed by being caught, handled and tagged using this method.  This is a factor for collecting enough data to gain a real understanding of these fishes behavior.

Scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are able to conduct this study with support from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant. They have also worked with other agencies on this research including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS)  the area where the VR2s are positioned. Since 2008 they have learned a great deal to better understand how grouper and snapper use habitat. Both fish are good for eating and are found on the menu in many restaurants around the world. They are commercially harvested and fished by recreational fishermen like you and me. Fishing is a big industry in all coastal locations and especially in Florida. In fact, commercial fishing alone accounts for  between 5-8% of total income or jobs in the local economy of the Florida Keys.  Knowledge gained from this study will help FWC and FKNMS guide decisions about fishing and recreation in the FKNMS and be aware of negative impacts to these fish populations in the future. Stinky air is small sacrifice to help preserve populations of groupers and snappers.

Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.

Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen

You can see that exploring marine habitats takes time, trained people and resources. Luckily a device has been developed to help scientists explore the ocean floor in an efficient and safe way. This little gem is called a Remotely Operated Vehicle or ROV. It is a cool science tool operated with a joy-stick controller.  The ROV can dive and maneuver at the same time it sends images back to the operator who is using a computer or wearing virtual reality glasses. Yes, I said virtual reality glasses! The operator can see what the ROV can “see” in the depths of the ocean. I had the opportunity see the ROV in the lab and then ride with the ROV team as they tested the equipment and built their skills manipulating this tool in dive situations. The beauty of the ROV is that it can dive deeper than is allowed for a human diver (>130 feet) and it can stay down for a longer period of time without stopping to adjust to depth changes like a human. If a dive site has a potential risk due to its location or other factors, the ROV can be sent down instead. Scientists can make decisions based on the ROV images to make a plan for a safe live dive and save time and resources. Science is messy, sometimes, but it is cool too!

Personal Log

The weather has been simply amazing with calm crystal clear seas and very smooth sailing. Still, spending the day in the sun saps your energy. However, that feeling doesn’t last too long after a nice shower and a trip to the mess to enjoy a delicious meal prepared in the galley. There Chief Steward Lito Llena and 2nd Cook Randy Covington work their magic to cook some terrific meals including a BBQ dinner one evening on the upper deck. They have thought of everything, especially dessert! I will be paying for it later by running extra laps when I get back home but it will be worth it.

Mrs. Kaiser's stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

Mrs. Kaiser’s stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

My stateroom is a cozy spot with everything one would need and nothing more. A sink is in the room but showers and toilets are down the hall a few doors. One item that is missing is a window. It is so very dark when the lights are off you can’t see your hand in front of your face. It is easy to over sleep! Surprisingly noise has been minimal since the rooms are very well insulated. I share this space with three female scientists but we each have a curtain to turn our bunks into a tiny private space. I enjoy climbing up in my top bunk, closing my little curtain and reading my book Seabiscuit, An American Legend before being rocked to sleep by the ship.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers and crew have been wonderful hosts on this cruise. All have patiently answered my questions and helped me find my way around to do what I need to do. I am curious about their life at sea and the opportunities it affords them to see new places, meet new people and engage in new experiences too. I hope to learn more about their careers as mariners before this voyage ends. The ship truly is a welcome place to call home for these two weeks.

Lesley Urasky: Smile and say, “Squid!”, June 20, 2012

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

 Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 20, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 18.1937
Longitude: -64.7737

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 28°C (83°F)
Wind Speed:  19 knots (22 mph), Beaufort scale: 5
Wind Direction: from N
Relative Humidity: 80%
Barometric Pressure: 1,014.90  mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (83°F)

Science and Technology Log

The cameras are a very important aspect of the abundance survey the cruise is conducting.  Since catching fish is an iffy prospect (you may catch some, you may not) the cameras are extremely important in determining the abundance and variety of reef fish.  At every site sampled during daylight hours, we deploy the camera array.  The cameras can only be utilized during the daytime because there are no lights – video relies on the ambient light filtering down from the surface.

Camera array – the lens of one of the cameras is facing forward.

Deployment of the array at a site begins once the Bridge verifies we are over the sampling site. The camera array is turned on and is raised over the rail of the ship and lowered to the water’s surface on a line from a winch that has a ‘quick release’ attached to the array.  Once over the surface, a deck hand pulls on the line to the quick release allowing the array to free fall to the bottom of the ocean. Attached to the array is enough line with buoys attached. The buoys mark the array at the surface and give the deck hands something to aim for with the grappling hook when it is time for the array to be retrieved.  Once the buoys are on deck, a hydraulic pot hauler is used to raise the array from the sea floor to the side of the ship.  From there,  another winch is used to bring the array on board.

Vic, Jordan, Joey, and Joe deploying the camera array.

When the array is deployed, a scientist starts a computer program that collects the time, position and depth the array was dropped at. The array is allowed to “soak” on the bottom for about 38 minutes. The initial 3-5 minutes are for the cameras to power up and allow any sediment or debris on the bottom to settle after the array displaces it. The cameras are only actually recording for 25 of those minutes. The final 3-5 minutes are when the computers are powering down.  At one point in time, the cameras on the array were actual video cameras sealed in waterproof, seawater-rated cases. With this system, after each deployment, every individual case had to be physically removed from the array, opened up, and the DV tape switched out.  With the new system, there are a series of four digital cameras that communicate wirelessly with the computers inside the dry lab.

We did have a short-lived problem with one of the digital cameras — it quit working and the electronics technician that takes care of the cameras, Kenny Wilkinson, took a couple of nights to trouble shoot and repair it.  During this time period, we reverted back to the original standard video camera.  Throughout the cruise, Kenny uploads the videos taken during the day and repairs the cameras at night so they will be ready for the next day’s deployments.

Squid (before being cut into pieces) used for bait on the camera array

Besides the structure of the camera array which is designed to attract reef fish, the array is baited with squid.  A bag of frozen, cut squid hangs down near the middle.  The squid is replaced at every site.

Adding bait to the camera array.

In addition to the bait bag, a Temperature Depth  Recorder (TDR) is attached near the center, hanging downward near the bottom third of the array. The purpose of the TDR is to measure the temperature of the water at various depths.  It is also used to verify that the depth where the camera comes to rest on the ocean bottom and is roughly equivalent to what the acoustic sounding reports at the site.  This is important because the camera generally doesn’t settle directly beneath the ship.  Its location is ultimately determined by the drift as it falls through the water column and current.  The actual TDR instrument is very small and is attached to the array near the bait bag.  After retrieving the array at each site, the TDR is removed from the array and brought inside to download the information.  To download, there is a small magnet that is used to tap the instrument (once) and then a stylus attached to the computer is used to read a flash of light emitted by an LED.  The magnet is then tapped four times on the instrument to clear the previous run’s data.  The data actually records the pressure exerted by the overlying water column in pounds per square inch (psi) which is then converted to a depth.

TDR instrument

Computer screen showing the data downloaded from the TDR.

The video from each day is uploaded to the computer system during the night shift.  The following day, Kevin Rademacher (chief scientist), views the videos and quickly annotates the “highlights”.  The following things are noted:  visual clarity (turbidity [cloudiness due to suspended materials], what the lighting is like [backlit], and possible focusing issues), substrate (what the bottom is made of), commercially viable fish, fish with specific management plans, presence of lionfish (an invasive species), and fish behavior.  Of the four cameras, the one with the best available image is noted for later viewing.

Computer data entry form for camera array image logs

Once back at the lab, the videos are more completely analyzed.  A typical 20-minute video will take anywhere from 30 minutes to three days to complete. This is highly dependent upon density and diversity of fish species seen; the greater the density and diversity, the longer or more viewing events it will take.  The experience of the reader is also an important factor. Depending upon the level of expertise, a review system is in place to “back read” or verify species identification. The resulting data is entered into a database which is then used to assign yearly data points for trend analysis. The final database is submitted to the various management councils.  From there, management or fisheries rebuilding plans are developed and hopefully, implemented.

Spotted moray eel viewed from the camera array.  He’s well camouflaged; can you find him?

Coney with a parasitic isopod attached below its eye.

Two Lionfish – an invasive species

Personal Log

Today, we are off the coast of St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  We traveled from the southern coast of  St. Croix, went around the western tip of the island and across the straight.  When I woke up I could see not only St. Thomas and St. John, but a host of smaller islands located off their coastline.

Map of the Virgin Islands. St. Croix and St. Thomas are separated by 35 miles of ocean. It took us about 3 hours to cross to our next set of sampling sites.

Around dinner time last night we had an interesting event happen on board.  They announced over the radio system that there was a leak in the water line and asked  us not to use the heads (toilets).  A while later, they announced no unnecessary use of water (showers, etc.); following that they shut off all water.  It didn’t take long for the repairs to occur, and soon the water was returned.  However, when I went to dinner, I discovered that the stateroom I’m sharing with Kelly Schill, the Ops Officer, had flooded.  Fortunately, the effects of the flooding were not nearly as bad as I had feared.  Only a small portion of the room had been affected.  The crew did a great job of rapidly assessing the problem and fixing it in a timely manner.  After this, I have absolutely no fear about any problems on board because I know the crew will react swiftly, maintain safety, and be professional all the while.

Last night was the first sunset I’ve seen since I’ve been on board.  Up until this point, it has been too hazy and cloudy.  The current haze is caused by dust/sand storms in the Sahara Desert blowing minute particles across the Atlantic Ocean.

St. Thomas sunset

Today has been a slow day with almost nary a fish caught.  We did catch one fish, but by default.  It was near the surface and hooked onto our bait.  We immediately reeled in the line and extracted it.  It was necessary to remove it because it would have skewed our data since it was caught at the surface and not near the reef.  This fish was a really exciting one for me to see, because it was a Shark Sucker (Echeneis naucrates).  These are the fish you may have seen that hang on to sharks waiting for tasty tidbits to float by.  They are always on the lookout for a free meal.

Shark sucker on measuring board

One of the most interesting aspects of the shark sucker is that they have a suction device called laminae on top of their heads that looks a little like a grooved Venetian blind system.  In order to attach to the shark (or other organism), they “open the blinds” and then close them creating a suction-like connection.

The “sucker” structure on the Shark Sucker. Don’t they look like Venetian blinds?

I got to not only see and feel this structure on the fish, but also let it attach itself to my arm!  It was the neatest feeling ever! The laminae are actually a modified dorsal spines; these spines are needed because of the roughness of shark’s skin. When the shark sucker detached itself from me, it left a red, slightly irritated mark on my arm that disappeared after a couple of hours.

Look, Ma, No Hands! Shark sucker attached to my arm.

Tomorrow we’ll be helping place a buoy in between St. Croix and St. Thomas.  It will be interesting to see the process and how the anchor is attached.

With all the weird and wonderful animals we’re retrieving, I can’t wait to see what another day of fishing brings.

Scott Davenport: Heading to Sea, May 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Davenport
Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimida
May 21-May 27, 2012

Mission: Rockfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Eastern Pacific, off the California coast and next to the Mexican Border
Date: May 21, 2012

Personal Log

Hi, my name is Scott Davenport and I am excited to be a part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program.  It is going to be great. I teach at Paul T. Albert Memorial School located in scenic Tununak, Alaska.  It is a Yup’ik village on the Bering Sea. Most families practice subsistence living. My subject is junior high generalist, meaning I teach everything. Last year, I had a great group of seventh and eighth graders. It was my first year in Alaska and as a full-time teacher. Everyone learned a lot.

Tununak Seventh and Eighth Graders. Can you tell it is the last day of school?

Teacher at Sea intrigued me because it opens wide array of possibilities. A consistent issue at our school is what comes next? Graduation is a celebration, but it also brings apprehension and uneasiness. There are not a wide range of jobs in the village. It is normally limited to fishing, teaching, being a cashier, store stocker, or bush pilot. A NOAA boat offers a wider range of careers.  My experience on the ship will help my students make connections to new possibilities. The long cruises followed by long breaks  fit with subsistence living. They can have the time to go on a two week moose hunt and not miss work. Being located on the sea, most of my students  are acclimated to spending time on the water. My experience will  open eyes.

While on board the Bell M. Shimada, we have seven objectives. Objective #1: Sample the epi-pelagic micronekton. That means–thanks to Cynthia explaining it to me–we are going to see what is living in the upper water column. The specific fish we are looking for are the  juvenile rockfish. We will also survey Pacific whiting, juvenile lingcod, northern anchovy, Pacific sardine, market squid and krill. Objective #2: Characterize prevailing ocean conditions and examine prominent hydrographic features. Objective #3: Map the distribution and abundance of krill. Objective #4: Observe seabird and marine mammal distribution and abundance. Objective #5: Collect Humboldt squid. Objective #6: Conduct deep midwater trawls to examine mesopelagic specimen. Finally Objective #7: Examine feeding habits of jellyfish. My personal objective is to not vomit at sea.

The three things I am looking forward to most are meeting new people, witnessing scientific research, and learning new, unexpected items. My three biggest concerns are falling overboard at night into a never-ending dark abyss, the food, and making sure I contribute to the work/use my time wisely.  I am also excited to have a break from snow.

In the fall, the stairs went down.

Kimberly Lewis, July 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Kimberly Lewis
NOAA Ship: Oregon II
July 1 -July  16 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 13, 2010

Ecosystem Conservation and some of the people who monitor it

Me holding a skate.

Me holding a skate.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time: 1130 (11:30 AM)
Position: Latitude = 28.57.59 N;
Longitude = 94.49.73 W
Present Weather: Clear
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 14.97 knots
Wave Height: 4 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.1 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 31.4 C; Wet bulb = 27.0 C
Barometric Pressure: 1013.77 mb

Science and Technology Log

“IT’S ALL CONNECTED.” Everything in an ecosystem is connected to everything else. This is a guiding principle of studying and managing ecosystems. This past spring in one of my online communities we were discussing whole ecosystem monitoring for conservation rather than the traditional ‘save one species at a time”.

I’m seeing it now in the Gulf of Mexico. Obviously, the ocean environment is connected to human activities – the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill makes that abundantly clear. But there are also countless natural connections, and much less obvious human impacts, that must be understood and assessed if the Gulf ecosystem is to be protected. Commercial fish and shrimp stocks can only be sustained through a careful understanding of the human impact and natural connections in the Gulf.

That’s why we identify and count every organism we bring up in a trawl. Sometimes we get 50 or more different species in one catch, and we don’t just count the commercially important ones like red snapper and shrimp. We count the catfish, eel, sea stars, sea squirts and even jellyfish we haul in. Why? Because even though these organisms might seem “unimportant” to us, they might be important to the red snapper and shrimp. They also might be important to the organisms the red snapper and shrimp depend on. And even if they’re not directly important, studying them might tell us important things about the health of the Gulf.

Brittany

Brittany on the deck

Bruce and I are learning a lot about this from the incredibly knowledgeable marine biologists in the science party. Brittany Palm is a Research Fishery Biologist from NOAA’s Southeast Fishery Science Center (SEFSC) in Pascagoula, MS, and leader of the day watch on this leg of the Oregon II’s Summer Groundfish Survey. Brittany is working on her M.S. on a fish called croaker, Micropogonias undulatus, studying its stomach contents to better understand its position in the food web. Croaker is not an economically important species, but it lives in the same shallow sea floor habitat as shrimp so shrimpers end up hauling in a huge amount of croaker as bycatch. So, when the shrimping industry declined in 2003-2004, the croaker population exploded. Since croaker are closely associated with shrimp habitat and the shrimp fishery, we might gain important insights by studying croaker population and understanding what they eat, and what eats them.

Alonzo

Alonzo helping to dissect a fish

Alonzo Hamilton is another NOAA Fishery Biologist from the SEFSC. Alonzo explained that there’s a lot to be learned by looking at the whole ecosystem, not just the 23 commercial species that are managed in the Gulf. For example, many of the crabs we commonly catch in our trawls are in the genus Portunas, known as “swimming crabs.”

Portunas spinicarpus

Portunas spinicarpus

Portunas species normally live on the sea floor, but when severe hypoxia sets in, Portunas crabs can be found at the surface, trying to escape the more severe oxygen depletion that typically takes place at the bottom of the water column.

Sean

Sean on the deck

Geoff on the deck

Geoff on the deck

Sean Lucey and Geoff Schook are Research Fishery Biologists from NOAA’s Northeast Fishery Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. They are working on the Oregon II right now to support the SEFSC because of huge manpower effort demanded by the oil spill. The NEFSC has been conducting their groundfish survey annually since 1963, making it the longest-running study of its kind. Originally the survey only looked at groundfish population, but as our understanding of ecosystem dynamics increased over time, more and more factors were analyzed. Now NEFSC looks at sex, age, stomach contents and many other species besides groundfish to obtain a more complete picture of the food web and the abiotic factors that affect groundfish. NEFSC even measures primary production in the marine ecosystem as one tool to estimate the potential biomass of groundfish and other species at higher trophic levels.

Fisheries biologist Andre DeBose
Andre DeBose is a NOAA Fishery Biologist from the SEFSC and the Field Party Chief for the Summer Groundfish Survey. In addition to leading the science team on the Oregon II, Andre is conducting research on Rough Scad, Trachurus lathami, an important food species for red snapper and important bait fish for red snapper fisherman. By gaining a better understanding of the relationship between Red Snapper and its prey we can better understand, and better manage, the ecosystem as a whole.

There’s a lot of information to be learned beyond just counting fish. By taking a wide look at the marine environment we can better understand how the whole ecosystem functions. This enables us not only to be more informed in setting sustainable catch levels, but also enables us to identify and respond to things that contribute to hypoxia and other problems that degrade habitat and reduce populations. It’s all connected.

Personal Log

Everyone in the scientific party has been working very hard to gather data. A 12 hour shift can be long at times, and other times fly by. Today Andre told us we will start cleaning up Thursday morning. It doesn’t seem possible that my 17 days with the Oregon II will soon be over. Part of me is excited to get back home to see my family and sleep in a bed that isn’t affected by the Gulf waves. The other part of me is sad due to the fact I will not longer be working with some remarkable people and worked with ongoing scientific research. It is very hard work, but very exciting to see what goes on at sea. I am sure I will call on some of them in the future for collaboration.

Chef Walter made some great meals over the past few days. Crab cakes, roasted buffalo, chicken curry, and quail, not to mention those great breakfasts. Based on my first two days of sea not able to keep anything down and not wanting to eat, I thought for sure I would go back to Ohio 15 pounds lighter. But the sea sickness wore off and I am enjoying food and adjusting to boat life.

Robert Lovely, April 4, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Robert Lovely
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
March 31 – April 12, 2008

Mission: Reef Fish Ecological Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pulley Ridge and the West Florida Shelf, Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 4, 2008

A “rosette” is used to hold the instrumentation for the CTD.  Here we see the rosette being lowered down into the water column by way of a crane mounted on the GORDON GUNTER.

A “rosette” is used to hold the instrumentation for the CTD. Here it is lowered down into the water by way of a crane.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility:  12 miles
Wind Direction:  150° (SE)
Wind Speed:  18 knots
Sea Wave Height:  2-3 foot
Swell Wave Height:  1-2 foot
Seawater Temp: 24.4 degrees C.
Present Weather:  Clear

Science and Technology Log 

We begin and end each day by making a CTD profile of the water column at our sampling site.  CTD refers to conductivity, temperature, and depth, but other parameters, such as dissolved oxygen (DO), also may be measured.  Conductivity is an expression of salinity, which at our location on Pulley Ridge is pretty uniform throughout the water column.  As we see from the graph below, however, both DO and water temperature do vary with depth. Temperature is uniform in the top layer of water and then begins to drop steadily with increasing depth from about 20 meters down.  This portion of the water column, where temperature declines rapidly with depth, is called the thermocline.  The temperature profile on our graph shows that a subtle thermocline extends nearly to the bottom at Pulley Ridge. This may help explain why certain shallow-water organisms are able to survive in this relatively deep water. In other locations the same depth may be well below the thermocline and therefore in water too cold for shallow-water species to live.

Above is a graph of the CTD profiles generated at Pulley Ridge on April 4, 2008.  Software linked to the CTD instrumentation on the rosette generates salinity, temperature, depth and oxygen profiles of the water column.  Note that the double lines on the graph result from the roundtrip made by the rosette down to the bottom and back.

Graph of the CTD profiles from Pulley Ridge. Software linked to the CTD instrumentation on the rosette generates salinity, temperature, depth and oxygen profiles of the water. The double lines on the graph result from the roundtrip down to the bottom and back.

Dissolved oxygen is normally high at the surface due to the mixing effect of wave action. But oxygen concentrations can be high in the deeper thermocline as well simply because cold water can hold more oxygen than warm water.  Our graph above illustrates this relationship by exhibiting an increase in dissolved oxygen concentrations at depths between 20-45 meters.

This remotely operated vehicle (ROV) carries both a video camera and a still camera.  The yellow umbilical shown in the foreground supplies power and control signals from the GORDON GUNTER.

This remotely operated vehicle (ROV) carries both a video camera and a still camera. The yellow umbilical shown in the foreground supplies power and control signals

Marine scientists employ different types of underwater vehicles to collect data on deep coral reefs, and the different vehicle types may seem a bit confusing at first.  Three important underwater vehicles are Submersibles, AUVs, and ROVs.  Submersibles typically refer to human-occupied vehicles, where a pilot climbs inside and drives the vehicle around like a small submarine.  The most famous example is Alvin, a submarine operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. AUVs, in contrast, are Autonomous Underwater Vehicles that are programmed to perform specific functions, such as bathymetric mapping.  AUVs are robotic— they are completely independent, having no wires to the surface.  Finally, ROVs are Remotely Operated Vehicles, which are tethered to the ship by means of a cable and umbilical.  The ROV captures video and still images, and is driven by a pilot from a control room onboard the ship.  While utilizing bathymetric charts created during earlier cruises, our mission on Pulley Ridge and the West Florida Shelf employs only the ROV.

Rob finds out that it’s interesting, but difficult, driving the ROV.

Rob finds out that it’s interesting, but difficult, driving the ROV.

Today we made three video transects (dives) with the ROV, each lasting about two hours.  Each dive followed a predetermined course, as we began working our way north along Pulley Ridge.  The depth of our dives normally ranged between 200-230 feet, with the ROV gliding about three feet above the reef. The ship towed the ROV at speeds that typically ranged from .5 to 1.3 knots.  However, because of the slack in the tether, the ROV itself had a remarkable range of speeds. In fact, skilled pilots can bring the ROV to a dead stop (while the ship continues to move) in order to pause for nice steady close-up shots of bottom organisms.  I was very impressed by this flexibility of motion and the freedom it offered the pilot to search around the reef for organisms hiding in nooks and crannies.

Personal Log 

I was given the opportunity to take the helm of the ROV during one of our video transects. I found this experience to be fun and somewhat akin to playing a video game.  However, I also found driving the ROV to be much more difficult than it looks.  It gave me a greater appreciation for the skill of our veteran pilots, Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor.