Valerie Bogan: First Days at Sea, June 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday, June 9, 2012

Weather Data from the bridge:  Sea temperature 27.5 degrees celsius, Air temperature 24.2 degrees celsius, calm seas with thunderstorms in the area.

Science and Technology Log

As I mentioned in the previous entry the Oregon II is conducting a groundfish survey.  During this research cruise we are studying many aspects of the Gulf’s ecosystem.  We start by collecting general information about the water chemistry.  To do this we use a piece of equipment called a CTD which stands for Conductivity/temperature/depth.  This piece of equipment collects information on the temperature, salinity, fluorescence and turbidity.

CTD
This is the instrument used to measure salinity, called a CTD.

I am going to briefly explain what each of these readings are and why they are important to the scientific community.  Everyone knows what temperature is but you may not be aware of its importance to the health of our planet.  The phrases global warming and climate change have become very popular in the last few years. By collecting temperature data in the same spot year after year scientists can determine if the oceans really are getting warmer.

sea surface temperature map
Map of the surface temperatures around the world. The highest temperatures are found in the red areas the lowest temperatures are found in the blue areas. (photo courtesy of bprc.osu.edu)

The oceans contain salt water which  is the most important difference between oceans and lakes.  The measurement of the amount of salt in an ocean is called salinity.  And the amount of salt in an ocean can reflect the workings of the water cycle.  If there is an excessive amount of evaporation due to high temperatures, the ocean will become more salty due to the fact that there is more salt in less water.  On the other hand  if there is a lot of rain or melt waters from glaciers and mountains then the water will become less salty because now the same amount of salt is dissolved in more water.

salt
The amount of salt in the water determines the salinity.

Fluorescence is the measurement of light which is connected to the photosynthesis rate of algae.  The health of the algae has a direct connection to the amount of carbon dioxide that can be absorbed by the ocean.  Algae produces its own food just like a tree so if the algae is healthy,  more carbon dioxide will be necessary  to carry out photosynthesis  and then ocean can absorb more natural and man-made carbon dioxide.   These readings can also tell us how well the oceans are responding to climate change.

algae
These algae make their own food through the process of photosynthesis.(photo courtesy of swr.nmfs.noaa.gov

Turbidity is the measure of water clarity.  If the turbidity is high it means that light isn’t getting through to the organisms below which in turn means that the algae and seaweed can’t get the light they need to make their own food.  High turbidity can also cause the water temperature to go up due to the excessive amount of silt and particles floating and absorbing energy from the sun.  High turbidity can also cause small animals on the bottom  of the ocean to be buried alive as the particles settle out the water column.

muddy Mississippi river
This is an example of the silt and particulate matter which is flowing into the ocean everyday.(photo courtesy of http://www.motherjones.com)

Personal log

Greetings from the Gulf of Mexico.  I have now been onboard  the Oregon II for one complete day and am slowly but surely becoming accustomed to the layout of the ship.  It has all the comforts of home even if they have different names and  look different from the parts of your home.  The place I sleep and keep my belongings in  is called a stateroom.  It is a small space but honestly the only thing I use it for is sleeping .  One other difference from your room at home is that the cabinets have latches which keep them closed even when the ship is rolling with the waves.  Given the fact that large waves may come up at any time it is important that all personal belonging are securely stored so that they don’t become flying projectiles which can hurt someone.

stateroom
This is where I am bunking for the voyage.

cabinets

The ship also contains restrooms but they are called the heads.   Fresh water is an important resource on the ship as we only brought so much with us so the toilets are flushed using  seawater which is very easy to come by out here on the gulf.  There are also a couple of showers something which is very important given the fact that our work has the ability to make us very dirty and nobody wants to be stuck on a boat with a bunch of dirty stinky people.

shower
This is where we clean off all the dirt that accumulates during sampling runs.

Safety is very important on ship so we have drills to practice what to do in case of emergency, just like the drills we do at Maple Crest middle school.  Today we had a fire drill during which the scientists were to muster (that means to report) in the lounge and stay out-of-the-way of the crew members who are actually trained to put out a fire if one should occur on the ship.  Following that we had an abandoned ship drill during which we had to put on long pants and shirts and a survival suit.  The purpose of all this clothing is to keep you protected from the elements if you have to float in the water for an extended time while waiting on a rescue ship to come

Survival suit
This is the suit you must wear during abandon ship drills.

Dave Grant: Fast, Flat and Flying Fishes, March 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Gulf Stream waters
Date: March 1, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 26.30N Latitude – 79. 23W Longitude
Wind speed:  Calm
Wind direction: Calm
Air Temperature:  76E F
Atm Pressure: 1013. mb
Water Depth: 750 meters
Cloud Cover: 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

Our most persistent travel companions on the cruise are the flying fish and today they are the most abundant in the entire trip. Sit at the bow while we are plunging into the swells and it is impossible not to be mesmerized by what issues from the sea surface when old Triton blows his wreathed horn.

Over the eons, fishes have experimented with many different avenues of escape from predators and competition, and soaring out of the water is arguably the most dramatic and effective. There are scores of species in the family Exocoetidae, which comes from Greek roots and refers to “sleeping outside” – which was logical to ancient mariners who believed the flying fishes left the ocean to sleep on the shoreline. I check the Ron Brown’s deck each morning, hoping one has inadvertently landed on it, but without luck so far.

We flush them from both sides of the ship while underway.  Like birds of a feather flocking together, some escaping groups are about a foot long with a wing span (Oversized pectoral fins to be exact) about the same spread. Juveniles in other schools look no larger than the silver dollar George Washington threw across the Delaware River(Or did he skip it for greater distance like these little fishes do off the crests of waves?).

Between the sky, sea and sunsets, I thought I had seen all the shades of blue on this cruise, up to the moment we had a perfect view of a flying fish that soared past the railing and then steered off towards the horizon. Flying fish exhibit all the colors of the near end of the spectrum as their attitude and altitude change in flight. Taking advantage of the mesoscale winds generated between swells, the fishes launch off wave crests and can soar farther than a football field; sustaining the flight time by sweeping their tail laterally in the water.

Flying fish are harvested throughout the warmer waters of the ocean by man and beast, and are an important staple to island cultures. Barbados – to our south – is called the  “land of the flying fish” and on the reverse side of a dollar coin that I kept after a Caribbean trip, one finds the fish in flight.  When we are closer to land, I hope to see one of their main aerial opponents flying out to meet us – frigate birds.

Impossible to photograph, for the time being, I’ll be content to admire their flights during the day, and at night, watch them dodge the attacks of mahi-mahi under the ship’s lights.

Flying fish off the bow!

Mahi-Mahi

Our British colleagues remembered to bring fishing poles and the mahi-mahi is the most sought after and elusive creature out here when the ship is “on-station” doing sampling. Fishes and squid routinely come to the surface and congregate under the stern lights, and occasionally a large mahi will lurk in the shadows and dart in close to us chasing prey.

Also called dolphin-fish, our fishermen have learned only that the Hawaiian name Mahi-Mahi (Many Polynesian words are repeated) means “strong” since the hooked fishes have broken their fishing lines and escaped.

Mahi is popular in restaurants and is a light, mild tasting fish. Swimming under the lights they look pale and eel-like, but when landed in a boat they exhibit a range of shades from blue and green that fades to golden – hence the Spanish name Dorado.

A Mahi rises to the surface alongside the Ron Brown

Fish ON!

Finally the fishermen had some luck and landed a jack – but without a fish guide, that’s as far as I can go in identifying it (Although the term “tuna” is loosely applied to most things that swim by.)  Fortunately, I was able to get off an email and photo to Jeff Dement of the American Littoral Society (www.littoralsociety.org).

When not fishing, Jeff runs the largest independent fish tagging program in the country; distributing tags to recreational fishermen and analyzing their thousands of returns to document where fishes migrate to and how fast they grow.
His quick analysis directs us towards the lesser amberjack (Seriola fasciata) “based upon the shape of the snout, and the eye stripe length.”

Fast swimming and hard fighting, the amberjacks are popular gamefish on the line and in the skillet. Like most fish, they are tasty fried, broiled, baked, or grilled (I like fried…my doctor demands boiled, baked or grilled)

Like barracudas and some other apex predators of the reef, amberjacks are implicated in Ciguatera poisoning in humans. They acquire contaminants from eating herbivorous reef fishes that have ingested and accumulated Ciguatoxins produced by Dinoflagellates attached to marine algae they have been grazing upon. Harmless to the fishes, the poison is a neurotoxin in humans who are exposed to a concentrated dose from a top predator like the amberjack through the process called bioaccumulation. This is the same process that concentrates Mercury spewing into the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants, into the sea, then into plankton and forage fishes, and finally tuna.

An amberjack gets a close look at people before returning to the sea.

“You strange astonished-looking, angle-faced,
Dreary-mouthed, gaping wretches of the sea,
Gulping salt-water everlastingly,
Cold-blooded, though with red your blood be graced,
And mute, though dwellers in the roaring waste…
What is’t you do? what life lead? eh, dull goggles?
How do ye vary your dull days and nights?
How pass your Sundays? Are ye still but joggles,
In ceaseless wash? Still sought, but gapes and bites,
And drinks and stares, diversified with boggles.”

 (Leigh Hunt – The Man to the Fish)

It pays to be clear.

 For me, the catch of the day is a leptocephali – a larval fish as long as my index finger, that I almost overlooked in the samples.

A number of species go through this inconspicuous stage as zooplankton, and the most famous and intensely studied are the eels. American eels spend a year drifting to East Coast estuaries from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea. The European species takes a more leisurely two-year tour of the North Atlantic on the Gulf Stream.

 (Images from the Ron Brown, by Dave Grant)

Dave Grant: Terra Nova, February 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 13, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26.30N Latitude – 71. 55W Longitude
Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South (bearing 189 deg)
Air Temperature: 23.2 C / 74 F
Atm Pressure: 1013.9 mb
Water Depth: 17433 feet
Cloud Cover: 30%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

After an uneventful flight from New Jersey and an eventful trip from the airport at Charleston and through security at the naval base (Taxi drivers don’t like to have their vehicles inspected…), I am setting up my bunk on the Brown. There is a skeleton crew since I have arrived early and everyone else is expected to report tomorrow. Crates of equipment are still being loaded, so it is advisable to stay off the outside decks, and after a quick orientation by every  ship’s most important crew member (the chef),  I will have the evening free to find my way around the ship and explore the dock.
First order of business: Pick up bedding from the laundry down below.
Next: PB&J sandwich (Since the galley doesn’t open until tomorrow).
Finally: Grab the camera to catch the sunset and an amazing assortment of cloud types.

South Carolina’s estuaries are noted for their fine “muff” mud and oyster banks and the tideline at the docks is covered with a dense ring of oysters. Besides filtering great quantities of water and improving its quality, oyster “reefs” provide a secure habitat for a myriad of marinelife, and food for many creatures. (As a frustrated oyster farmer in South Jersey once remarked: “There ain’t much that lives in the ocean that doesn’t like to eat oysters!”)

Oyster Chain
Oyster Chain

Comorant
Comorant

 

Grebe
Grebe

The prettiest bird around is the red-breasted merganser, another diving fish eater. Hunters nicknamed mergansers “saw-bills” since their bills have tooth-like notches for snaring fishes. The word merganser comes via Latin mergere meaning “diver” and “to plunge.” Curiously, one of my favorite students always mixes up the word and somehow it comes out as Madagascar (!).

(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

The most secretive and uncommon bird around the piers is the pied-billed grebe. It also dives for its dinner, but on the bottom. When frightened (or pestered by a photographer trying to get close in the fading light) it discreetly sinks straight down and disappears like a submarine. Locally, this trick earned the grebe the nickname water witch, and by Louisiana sportsmen Sac de plomb (bag-of-lead).

Grackle
Grackle

By far the noisiest birds around and the only ones onboard, are boat-tailed grackles. The iridescent, purple-black males are hard to ignore when gathering for the night on our upper rigging. A common bird of Southeastern marshes; since the 1960’s boat-tails have been expanding their range north along the Eastern seaboard beyond Delaware Bay, and now breed all along the New Jersey coast. (A normal extension of their population, or perhaps a response to warming climate? Time will tell.)

Just before dark a peregrine falcon surprised me as it glided past the ship – undeniably the most exciting sighting of the day and a great way to end it.

 “Oh end this day,
show
me the ocean.
When shall I see the sea.
May this day set me in emotion
I ought to be on my way”
(James Taylor)

Caitlin Fine: Endings and beginnings, August 9, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Aboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 7, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 9, 2011

Personal Log

The last days of the survey cruise followed a pattern similar to the first days. Everyone got into the schedule of working 12-hour shifts and everyone accepted their role and responsibilities as a member of the team.

We all (morning and night shifts) ate dinner together and often (if there were no stations to be sampled) sat together to play board games, such as Chinese checkers.

Maria and I in the "stateroom" we shared
The scientific team plays Chinese checkers

We also all watched the sunsets together — each one was spectacular!

Science team at sunset

On the night of August 6th, we were towing the Neuston net through an area that had so many jellyfish that we could not lift the net out of the water. We had to get another net to help lift the heavy load. We all took bets to see how many jellyfish we had caught. I bet 15 jellyfish, but I was way off — there were over 50 jellyfish in the net! There were so many, that as we were counting them, they began to slide off the deck and back into the water. I have a great video that I cannot wait to share with you in September!

Moon jellies sliding off the deck!
Science equipment in the truck

The ship arrived back in Miami on Sunday night around 7:30pm. It was amazing how quickly everyone unloaded the scientific equipment and started to go their separate ways. Because the NOAA building (Atlantic Oceanographic and Meterological Laboratory, AOML) is located right across the street from where the Walton Smith docks, we loaded all of the equipment into a truck and delivered it to the AOML building.

This was great because I got a quick tour of the labs where Lindsey, Nelson and others run the samples through elaborate tests and computer programs in order to better understand the composition of the ocean water.

Lindsey in one of the NOAA labs

In reflecting upon the entire experience, I feel extremely fortunate to have been granted the opportunity of a lifetime to participate in Teacher at Sea. I was able to help with all aspects of the scientific research from optics, to chemistry, to marine biology as well as help with equipment that is usually reserved for the ship’s crew, such as lowering the CTD or tow nets into the water.

There were many moments when I felt like some of my students who are struggling to learn either English or Spanish. There are a lot of scientific terms, terms used to describe the equipment (CTD and tow net parts), and basic boat terminology that I had not been exposed to previously. I am thankful that all of the members of the cruise were patient with my constant questions (even when I would ask the same thing 3 or 4 times!) and who tried to explain complex concepts to me at a level that I would understand and be able to take back to my students.

I am using the GER 1500 spectroradiometer

It makes me reflect again on everything I learned during my MEd classes in Multicultural/Multilingual Education — a good educator empowers students to ask questions, take risks, ask more questions, helps students access information at their level, is forever patient with students who are learning language at the same time that they are learning new concepts, provides plenty of hands-on experiments and experiences so students put into practice what they are learning about instead of just reading or writing about it.

A porthole on the R/V Walton Smith

As we sailed into Miami, a bottlenose dolphin greeted us – sailing between the two hulls of the catamaran and coming up often for air. It was so close, that I could almost touch it! Even though I was sad that the survey cruise was over, it was as though the dolphin was welcoming me home and on to the next phase of my Teacher at Sea adventure: I return to the classroom in September loaded with great memories, anecdotes, first hand-experiences, and a more complete knowledge of oceanography and related marine science careers to help empower my students so that they consider becoming future scientists and engineers. Thank you Teacher at Sea!

Survey cruise complete, returning to Miami

Caitlin Fine: Chemistry Is All Around Us, August 4, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Aboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 6, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 10:32pm
Air Temperature: 30°C
Water Temperature: 30.8°C
Wind Direction: Southeast
Wind Speed:  7.7knots
Seawave Height: calm
Visibility: good/unlimited
Clouds: clear
Barometer: 1012 nb
Relative Humidity: 65%

Science and Technology Log

As I said yesterday, the oceanographic work on the boat basically falls into three categories: physical, chemical and biological. Today I will talk a bit more about the chemistry component of the work on the R/V Walton Smith. The information that the scientists are gathering from the ocean water is related to everything that we learn in science at Key – water, weather, ecosystems, habitats, the age of the water on Earth, erosion, pollution, etc.

First of all, we are using a CTD (a special oceanographic instrument) to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll, and depth of the water. The instrument on this boat is very large (it weights about 1,000 lbs!) so we use a hydraulic system to raise it, place it in the water, and lower it down into the water.

CTD
Lindsey takes a CO2 sample from the CTD

The CTD is surrounded by special niskin bottles that we can close at different depths in the water in order to get a pure sample of water from different specific depths. Nelson usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean and at the surface and sometimes he closes others in the middle of the ocean if he is interested in getting specific information. For each layer, he closes at least 2 bottles in case one of them does not work properly. The Capitan lowers the CTD from a control booth on 01deck (the top deck of the boat), and two people wearing a hard hat and a life vest have to help guide the CTD into and out of the water. Safety first!

Once the CTD is back on the boat, the chemistry team (on the day shift, Lindsey and I are the chemistry team!) fills plastic bottles with water from each depth and takes them to the wet lab for processing. Throughout the entire process, it is very important to keep good records of the longitude and latitude, station #, depth of each sample, time, etc, and most importantly, which sample corresponds to which depth and station.

We are taking samples for 6 different types of analyses on this cruise: nutrient analysis, chlorophyll analysis, carbon analysis, microbiology analysis, water mass tracers analysis and CDOM analysis.

The nutrient analysis is to understand how much of each nutrient is in the water. This tells us about the availability of nutrients for phytoplankton. Phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients in order to live. The more nutrients there are in the water, the more phytoplankton can live in the water. This is important, because as I wrote yesterday – phytoplankton are the base of the food chain – they turn the sun’s energy into food.

Carbon
Sampling dissolved inorganic carbon

That said, too many nutrients can cause a sudden rise in phytoplankton. If this occurs, two things can happen: one is called a harmful algal bloom.  Too much phytoplankton (algae) can release toxins into the water, harming fish and shellfish, and sometimes humans who are swimming when this occurs.  Another consequence is that this large amount of plankton die and fall to the seafloor where bacteria decompose the dead phytoplankton.  Bacteria need oxygen to survive so they use up all of the available oxygen in the water. Lack of oxygen causes the fish and other animals to either die or move to a different area. The zone then becomes a “dead zone” that cannot support life. There is a very large dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River. So we want to find a good balance of nutrients – not too many and not too few.

The chlorophyll analysis serves a similar purpose. In the wet lab, we filter the phytoplankton onto a filter.

chlorophyll
I am running a chlorophyll analysis of one of the water samples

Each phytoplankton has chloroplasts that contain chlorophyll. Do you remember from 4th grade science that plants use chlorophyll in order to undergo photosynthesis to make their own food? If scientists know the amount of chlorophyll in the ocean, they can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in the ocean.

Carbon can be found in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) or in the cells of organisms. Do you remember from 2nd and 4th grade science that plants use CO2 in order to grow? Phytoplankton also need CO2 in order to grow. The carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it tells us the amount of CO2 in the ocean so we can understand if there is enough CO2 to support phytoplankton, algae and other plant life. The carbon analysis can tell us about the carbon cycle – the circulation of CO2 between the ocean and the air and this has an impact on climate change.

The microbiology analysis looks for DNA (the building-blocks of all living organisms – kind of like a recipe or a blueprint). All living things are created with different patterns or codes of DNA. This analysis tells us whose DNA is present in the ocean water – which specific types of fish, bacteria, zooplankton, etc.

The water mass tracers analysis (on this boat we are testing N15 – an isotope of Nitrogen, and also Tritium – a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen) helps scientists understand where the water here came from. These analyses will help us verify if the Mississippi River water is running through the Florida Coast right now. From a global viewpoint, this type of test is important because it helps us understand about the circulation of ocean water around the world. If the ocean water drastically changes its current “conveyor belt” circulation patterns, there could be real impact on the global climate. (Remember from 2nd and 3rd grade that the water cycle and oceans control the climate of Earth.) For example, Europe could become a lot colder and parts of the United States could become much hotter.

This is an image of the conveyor belt movement of ocean currents

The last type of analysis we prepared for was the CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter) analysis. This is important because like the water mass tracers, it tells us where this water came from. For example, did the water come from the Caribbean Sea, or did it come from freshwater rivers?

I am coming to understand that the main mission of this NOAA bimonthly survey cruise on the R/V Walton Smith is to monitor the waters of the Florida Coast and Florida Bay for changes in water chemistry. The Florida Bay has been receiving less fresh water runoff from the Everglades because many new housing developments have been built and fresh water is being sent along pipes to peoples’ houses. Because of this, the salinity of the Bay is getting higher and sea grass, fish, and other organisms are dying or leaving because they cannot live in such salty water. The Bay is very important for the marine ecosystem here because it provides a safe place for small fish and sea turtles to have babies and grow-up before heading out to the open ocean.

Personal Log

This cruise has provided me great opportunities to see real science in action. It really reinforces everything I tell my students about being a scientist: teamwork, flexibility, patience, listening and critical thinking skills are all very important. It is also important to always keep your lab space clean and organized. It is important to keep accurate records of everything that you do on the correct data sheet. It can be easy to get excited about a fish or algae discovery and forget to keep a record of it, but that is not practicing good science.

It is important to keep organized records

It is also important to stay safe – every time we are outside on the deck with the safety lines down, we must wear a life vest and if we are working with something that is overhead, we must wear a helmet.

I have been interviewing the scientists and crew aboard the ship and I cannot wait to return to Arlington and begin to edit the video clips. I really want to help my students understand the variety of science/engineering and technology jobs and skills that are related to marine science, oceanography, and ships. I have also been capturing videos of the ship and scientists in action so students can take a virtual fieldtrip on the R/V Walton Smith. I have been taking so many photos and videos, that the scientists and crew almost run away from me when they see me pick up my cameras!

Captain Shawn Lake mans the winch

The food continues to be wonderful, the sunsets spectacular, and my fellow shipmates entertaining. Tomorrow I hope to see dolphins swimming alongside the ship at sunrise! I will keep you posted!!

Did you know?

The scientists and crew are working 12-hour shifts. I am lucky to have the “day shift” which is from 8am to 8pm. But some unlucky people are working the “night shift” from 8pm to 8am. They wake-up just as the sun is setting and go to sleep right when it rises again.

Animals seen today…

zooplankton under the dissecting microscope

–       Many jellyfish

–       Two small crabs

–       Lots of plankton

A sampling of zooplankton

–       Flying fish flying across the ocean at sunset

–       A very small larval sportfish (some sort of bluerunner or jack fish)

Some moon jellyfish that we collected in the tow net

Caitlin Fine: Mississippi River Chasers! August 3, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Onboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 6, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 3, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 10:18pm
Air Temperature: 29.5°C
Water Temperature: 31.59°C
Wind Direction: North
Wind Speed: 3 knots
Seawave Height: calm
Visibility: good/unlimited
Clouds: Partially cloudy (cumulos and cirrus)
Barometer: 1011.0mb
Relative Humidity: 72%

Science and Technology Log

The oceanographic work on the boat can be divided into three categories: physical, chemical, and biological. In this log, I will explain a little bit about the part of the research related to the physics of light. Upcoming 5th graders – pay attention! We will be learning a lot about light in January/February and it all relates to this research project.

Brian and Maria are two PhD students who are working with the physical components. They are using several optical instruments: the SPECTRIX, the GER 1500, the Profiling Reflectance Radiometer (PRR), and the Profiling Ultraviolet Radiometer (PUV).

Bryan and Maria
Brian and Maria take optic measurements with the SPECTRIX and GER 1500

The SPECTRIX is a type of spectroradiometer that measures the light coming out of the water in order to understand what is in the water. For example, we can measure the amount of green light that is reflected and red and blue light that is absorbed in order to get an idea about the amount of chlorophyll in the water. This is important because chlorophyll is the biggest part of phytoplankton and phytoplankton are tiny plant-like algae that form the base of the food chain on Earth.

PUV
Brian lowers PRR into the water

The PRR and the PUV measure light at different depths to also understand what is in the water and at what depth you will find each thing in the water. The light becomes less bright the further down you go in the water. Most of light is between 0-200 meters of depth. The light that hits the water also becomes less bright based upon what is in the water. For example, you might find that chlorophyll live at 10 meters below the surface. It is important to understand at what depth each thing is in the water because that tells you where the life is within the ocean. Most of the ocean is pitch-black because it is so deep that light cannot penetrate it. Anything that lives below the light level has to be able to either swim up to get food, or survive on “extras” that fall below to them.

Personal Log

These few days have been very fun and action-packed! I arrived on the ship on Sunday afternoon and helped Nelson and the crew get organized and set-up the stations for the cruise. Several other people had also arrived early – two graduate students who are studying the optics of the water as part of their PhD program, one college student and one observer from the Dominican Republic who are like me – trying to learn about what NOAA does and how scientists conduct experiments related to oceanography.

On Monday morning, we gathered for a team meeting to discuss the mission of the cruise, introduce ourselves, and get an updated report on the status of the Mississippi River water. It turns out that the water is going in a bit of a different direction than previously projected, so we will be changing the cruise path of the ship in order to try to intersect it and collect water samples.

CTD
I am helping lower the CTD into the water

Monday we all learned how to use the CTD (a machine that we use to collect samples of water from different depths of the ocean) and other stations at the first several stops. It was a bit confusing at the beginning because there is so much to learn and so many things to keep in mind in order to stay safe! We then ate lunch (delicious!) and had a long 4-hour ride to the next section of stops. When we arrived, it was low tide (only 2 ft. of water in some places) so we could not do the sampling that we wanted to do. We continued on to the next section of stops (another 3 hour ride away!), watched a safety presentation and ate another delicious meal. By this time, it was time for the night shift to start working and for the day shift to go to bed. Since I am in the day shift, I was able to sleep while the night shift worked all night long.

Today I woke up, took a shower in the very small shower and ate breakfast just as we arrived at another section of stops. I immediately started working with the CTD and on the water chemistry sampling. We drove through some sea grass and the optics team was excited to take optical measurements of the sea grass because it has a very similar optical profile to oil. The satellites from space see either oil or sea grass and report it as being the same thing. So scientists are working to better differentiate between the two so that we can tell sea grass from oil on the satellite images. The images that Maria and Brian took today are maybe some of the first images to be recorded! Everyone on the ship is very excited!

Several hours later, we came to a part of the open ocean within the Florida Current near Key West where we believe water from the Mississippi River has reached. Nelson and the scientific team believe this because the salinity (the amount of dissolved salt) of the surface water is much lower than it normally is at this time of year in these waters. Normally the salinity is about 36-36.5 PSUs in the first 20 meters and today we found it at 35.7 PSUs in the first 20 meters. This may not seem like a big difference, but it is.

The water from the Mississippi River is fresh water and the water in the Florida Keys is salt water. There is always a bit of fresh water mixing with the salt water, but usually it is not enough to really cause a change in the salinity. This time, there is enough fresh water entering the ocean to really change the salinity. This change can have an impact on the animals and other organisms that live in the Florida Keys.

Additionally, the water from the Mississippi River contains a lot of nutrients – for example, fertilizers that run off from farms and lawns into gutters and streams and rivers – and those nutrients also impact the sea life and the water in the area. Nelson says that this type of activity (fresh water from the Mississippi River entering the Florida Current) occurs so infrequently (only about ever 6 years), scientists are interested in documenting it so they can be prepared for any changes in the marine biology of the area.

For all of these reasons and more, we took a lot of extra samples at this station. And it took almost 2 hours to process them!

In the evening, we stopped outside of Key West and the director of this program for NOAA, Michelle Wood, took a small boat into the harbor because she cannot be with us for the entire cruise.

Key West
Sunset over Key West - a beautiful way to end the day

She asked me if I’d like to go along with the small boat to see Key West, since I have never been there before, and of course I agreed! I got some great pictures of the R/V Walton Smith from the water and we saw a great sunset on the way back to the ship after dropping her off with Jimmy Buffet blasting from the tourist boats on their own sunset cruises.

We will be in the Mississippi River plume for most of tonight. Everyone is very excited and things are pretty crazy with the CTD sampling because we are doing extra special tests while we are in the Mississippi River plume. We might not get much sleep tonight. I will explain in my next blog all about the chemistry sampling that we are doing with the CTD instrument and why it is so important.

Did you know?

On a ship, they call the kitchen the “galley,” the bathroom is the “head,” and the bedrooms are called “staterooms.”

One interesting thing about the ship is that it does not have regular toilets. The ship has a special marine toilet system that functions with a vacuum and very thin pipes. If one of the vacuums on one of the toilets is not closed, none of the toilets work!

Animals seen today…

  • Zooplankton that live in the sargassum (a type of seaweed that usually floats on the water) –baby crab, baby shrimp, and other zooplankton. The sargassum is a great habitat for baby crab, baby shrimp, and baby sea turtles.
  • Baby flying fish
  • Two juvenile Triggerfish

    Triggerfish
    We caught a young triggerfish in our tow net

Caitlin Fine: Introduction, July 26, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Onboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 6, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida
Date: July 26, 2011

Personal Log

Hola! My name is Caitlin Fine and I teach science at Escuela Key (Francis Scott Key School), a dual-language immersion elementary school in Arlington, VA. I am a Virginia native and my heart is constantly torn between the lively activities of the Washington, D.C. area and the peaceful beauty of the Shenandoah Valley. I left Virginia for college and graduate school, but returned 4 years ago to begin my teaching career for Arlington County Public Schools.

Caitlin Fine
On top of Aspen Mountain during a recent trip to Colorado

Although I majored in Political Science and Spanish Literature and I have graduate degrees in Spanish Literature and Multicultural Education, I have always been interested in science. During college, I worked on an organic farm in Andalucia, Spain that practiced permaculture (this is a way of using the land that is sustainable so that the soil does not use-up all of its nutrients). I also traveled around the Southern Cone of South America (Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil) studying the geology of the region. As you can see, I have some experience with farming and the mountains. But I have never really spent an extended time at sea — I have never slept on a boat or studied the marine ecosystems up close and personal over a period of time. I hope that I am not seasick!

My interest in science mixed with my love of cooking has created a current obsession — the health of our national and global food and water supplies. Did you know that every time we take medicine or use pesticides on our plants, a small amount of it enters the water supply and some of it ends up in the rivers and oceans nearby where fish and water plants are trying to live?

The science program at Key is a bit different from traditional elementary schools in that there are three science teachers who teach all 630 students. For the past two years, I have taught the Kindergarteners, the 2nd graders and half of the 5th graders. Key kids are amazing scientists — they are full of questions about how the world works and they are not afraid to get busy trying to figure things out on their own through hands-on inquiry and cooperative learning. I cannot wait to return to Key with new knowledge of oceanography, ocean-related careers and ways to monitor the health of the ocean to share with my students and colleagues!

I am so excited to be a Teacher at Sea for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s 2011 Field Season! Teacher at Sea is a program that provides allows Kindergarten through college-level teachers to live and work alongside scientists on research and survey ships. The goal of the program is to help teachers understand our ocean planet, environmental literacy, and maritime work so that they can return to the classroom and share information with their students about what it is like to be a real scientist who studies the ocean.

I will be on a 5-day cruise on the R/V Walton Smith in south Florida.

R/V Walton Smith
This is the R/V Walton Smith

From what I understand, we will be taking measurements across the south Florida coastal marine ecosystem (the southwest Florida shelf, Biscayne and Florida Bays, and the Florida Keys reef tract). The program is important because the research has helped scientists keep an eye on the sensitive marine habitats, especially when the ecosystem has had to deal with extreme events, such as hurricanes, harmful algal blooms or potential oil spill contaminants. We will test the circulation, salinity, water quality and biology of the ecosystem.

Drainage Basin
The currents might move some of the Mississippi River water toward south Florida

During this cruise, I have been told that we might be able to measure Mississippi River water because it might enter our survey track.

Scientists are also going to be trying out new optical measurement tools! It sounds as though I will have a lot to report back to you about!

Please leave me a comment or any questions you have about the cruise.

Please take a moment to take my poll:

Heather Haberman: Gulf Water Health, July 12, 2011 (post #4)

  • NOAA Teacher at Sea
    Heather Haberman

    Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
    July 5 — 17, 2011

Mission:  Groundfish Survey
Geographical Location:  Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Tuesday, July 11, 2011

Weather Data from  NOAA Ship Tracker
Air Temperature: 29.5 C   (85.1 F)
Water Temperature: 29.8 C  (85.6 F)
Relative Humidity: 76%
Wind Speed: 2.09 knots

Preface:  Scroll down the page if you would like to read my blog in chronological order.  If you have any questions leave them for me at the end of the post.

Question of the Day:  Are you seeing any oil rigs on your trip?

Answer:   There are so many oil rigs out here in the Gulf of Mexico that I can’t recall a time when I couldn’t see one.  Some are small and some are enormous.  I never realized that there were so many different engineering designs for oil rigs.  At night they are all lit up and it looks like a city in the sea out here.  All of the bright lights do pose some problems for migrating birds especially during bad weather when the are attracted to the lights.  The birds will often circle the lights to exhaustion or hit the structure so hard that it kills them.

Science and Technology Log

Topic of the Day:  How do researchers determine the health of the Gulf waters?

Science and Technology log:

You wake up in the morning and you don’t feel well.  What do you do?  Some people may stick a thermometer in their mouth to see if they have a fever.  Body temperature is a good indicator of illness or infection.  If you still don’t feel well after a few days you could visit a doctor who may check your eyes, ears, throat, blood pressure, etc.   Doctors can often figure out what’s making you sick by using certain tools and running tests.  Researchers do the same thing with the ocean.  In order to see how “healthy” the ocean is, measurements need to be taken.  Can you tell which trawl was from healthy water and which was from “sick” water?

0.5 kg (1.1 lbs) is all we got from this 30 minute trawl
Over 500 kg (1,100 lbs) of fish were collected in this 30 minute trawl.

Why aren’t we seeing a lot of marine life in certain parts of the Gulf of Mexico?  You don’t have to be a doctor to answer this question, but you do have to have some scientific tools to diagnose the problem.

On the Oregon II, a device called a CTD is used to take measurements such as conductivity (salinity), temperature, chlorophyll concentration, and dissolved oxygen (DO).  These water quality measurements let researches know what’s happening in the water just like a doctor would look at your test results to gage your health status.  Sometimes a doctor may need to do a second test just to confirm the results.  NOAA’s fisheries biologists do the same thing with their water quality assessments.  Winkler titrations and a hand-held Hack Dissolved Oxygen meter are used to confirm the dissolved oxygen readings from the CTD.  Scientists need to make sure the data they collect is accurate and the more tests they perform the better their data will be.

This large piece of equipment is a CTD sensor. The top portion of the machine contains three gray vertical cylinders which are used to collect water samples. Under the machine are sensors that test the water quality while it is submerged. Here I am washing out the sensors once it was brought back on board from a test.
When comparing data from this device to our trawl samples, it’s obvious that water with low levels of dissolved oxygen can not support much life.

Dissolved Oxygen: Marine animals need oxygen to survive just like land animals do.  The main difference is that most marine animals have gills which are able to diffuse oxygen molecules from the water directly into their blood.  Diffusion is the process of a molecule moving from an area of high concentration to low concentration.

Have you ever sprayed air freshener and noticed how the smell moves from where you sprayed it (high concentration) throughout the entire room (low concentration) until the smell is equally distributed throughout the room (equilibrium)?  That’s how diffusion works.

It’s very important to understand that the amount of dissolved oxygen MUST be higher in the water then inside of the animal’s body or diffusion of oxygen into the blood won’t take place.  This means the animals will either have to move or die.  This is what’s happening in the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

The reason levels of oxygen are so low in the Gulf of Mexico are due in part to human actions.  The overuse of fertilizers that are high in nitrates and phosphates are one of the major problems.  When it rains or floods, these extra nutrients wash off of our lawns and into storm drains which then drain into the rivers.  Most of the Mississippi watershed consists of agricultural land in the breadbasket of the Midwest where a lot of fertilization takes place during the spring and summer months. All of the nutrients from the rivers in the Mississippi watershed eventually empty out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Mississippi Watershed: The area of land that drains into the Mississippi River and out into the Gulf of Mexico.

These nutrients help the aquatic plants grow, just as they helped our lawns and crops grow.  Now you may be thinking “In the last blog you talked about how important aquatic plants are when it comes to oxygen production.”  Indeed they do make oxygen, but as all of these plants die and sink to the bottom of the sea, bacteria feed on (decompose) their remains and use up the available oxygen in the process.  More oxygen is consumed by these aerobic bacteria than was made by the plants which is why oxygen levels can get so low.

Hypoxia is the term used when dissolved oxygen is below 2 mg/l or 2 parts per million.  That means for every one million molecules, only two of them are oxygen molecules.  Most marine life try to avoid water that’s this low in oxygen because they will become stressed or die.  The hypoxic zone in the Gulf occurs in one of the most important commercial fishery zones in the United States during the spring and summer months.  Why during the spring and summer?  There are a couple of answers to this question.  One is because of the fertilizer runoff which I mentioned earlier.  The other has to do with water temperature.

As water temperature increases, it naturally looses it's ability to hold gas molecules like oxygen. Cooler water naturally holds more oxygen. Source: Koi Club of San Diego
This is a map of the data we have been collecting during the Groundfish Survey. Our data gets sent in everyday and the maps are updated weekly. Check back at http://www.ncddc.noaa.gov/hypoxia/products/ for a complete map of Bottom Dissolved Oxygen after July 17th 2011.

When the data collection is complete you will notice that the “dead zone” is larger than the state of New Jersey.  It is bigger this year than in previous years due to the flooding that’s occurred in the Great Plains and Midwest this spring and summer.

Salinity (salt level):  This measurement is extremely important to the fish that live in the ocean because each species has an optimal salinity level that it requires.  Remember osmosis?  Osmosis is how cells move water in or out depending upon their environment.  If a fish ends up in an environment that’s too saline (salty), the water will begin to leave the cells of the fish through osmosis and they could “dehydrate”.  If they are in water that’s too fresh, then their cells will start to fill with water and they could “bloat”.  All of this cellular work is done by the body in order to maintain homeostasis.  Homeostasis refers to the ability of a living thing to keep its body in balance with the ever-changing environment in which it lives.

Salinity also affects the levels of dissolved oxygen in the water.  The saltier the water, the lower the oxygen levels will be.  It also creates a problem with waters ability to “mix”.

Notice how the heavier salt water settles to the bottom of the sea. The red dots represent the amount of dissolved oxygen during a hypoxia event. Notice that due to a lack of water mixing, the concentration of oxygen is much lower in the saltier bottom layer of water.

Chlorophyll Concentrations:  As the last blog mentioned, chlorophyll is a green pigment that phytoplankton and other aquatic plants have.  By calculating the concentration of chlorophyll in an a region, researchers can determine how productive the area may be for fishing.  Remember that zooplankton eat phytoplankton and bigger fish eat zooplankton, which are then eaten by bigger fish. A good general rule of thumb is that if the water is clear and blue then there won’t be as much living in it as green cloudy (turbid) water. Areas of hypoxia can also be predicted if the levels of chlorophyll get too high.

Now that you know some of the basics about ocean health, try to do your part.

*   If you must use fertilizer, do so sparingly.

*  Purchase soaps and detergents that are labeled phosphate free.

*  Be sure to make sustainable choices when purchasing seafood (visit Seafood Watch)

Personal Log

Today I found out why fishermen do not like dolphins.  A pod of dolphins were following us on a trawl and when we brought up the catch there were holes in the net.  We had to dump the sample back into the sea and try again after the holes were patched.  We went back to do a second trawl in the same area and the dolphins did the same thing.  We decided to try to “outrun” the dolphins on our way to the next station.

The reason we can’t collect data on the trawls with net holes is because we won’t get an accurate representation of the actual number of species living in that area.  In science it’s very important to make sure we collect good data.

A pod of dolphins following our ship.

Heather Haberman: Plankton, July 9, 2011 (post #3)

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Heather Haberman

Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 5 — 17, 2011


Mission:  Groundfish Survey
Geographical Location:  Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Saturday, July 09, 2011

Weather Data from  NOAA Ship Tracker
Air Temperature:  30.4 C   (86.7 F)
Water Temperature: 29.6 C   (85.3 F)
Relative Humidity: 72%
Wind Speed: 6.69 knots   (7.7 mph)

Preface:  Scroll down the page if you would like to read my blog in chronological order.  If you have any questions leave them for me at the end of the post.

Science and Technology Log

Topic of the Day:  Plankton, the most important organisms on the planet.

Say the word plankton to a class full of students and most of them will probably think of a small one-eyed cartoon character.  In actuality plankton are some of the most important organisms on our planet.  Why would I so confidently make such a bold statement?  Because without plankton, we wouldn’t be here, nor would any other organism that requires oxygen for life’s processes.

Plankton are a vital part of the carbon and oxygen cycles.  They are excellent indicators of water quality and are the base of the marine food web, providing a source of food and energy for most of the ocean’s ecosystem’s.  Most plankton are categorized as either phytoplankton or zooplankton.

Question:  Can you identify which group of plankton are the plants and which are the animals based on the prefix’s?

Simple marine food web. Image: NOAA

Phyto comes from a Greek word meaning “plant” while planktos means “to wander”.  Phytoplankton are single-celled plants which are an essential component of the marine food web.  Plants are producers meaning they use light energy from the sun, and nutrients from their surroundings, to photosynthesize and grow rather than having to eat like animals, which are consumers.   Thus producers allow “new” energy to enter into an ecosystem which is passed on through a food chain.

Because phytoplankton photosynthesize, they also play an important role in regulating the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere while providing oxygen for us to breathe.  Scientists believe that the oceans currently absorb between 30%-50% of the carbon dioxide that enters into our atmosphere.

Did you know:  It is estimated that marine plants, including phytoplankton, are responsible for 70-80% of the oxygen we have in our atmosphere.  Land plants are only responsible for 20-30%.

Diatoms are one of the most common forms of phytoplankton. Photo: NOAA

Question:  Since phytoplankton rely on sun and nutrients for their energy, where would you expect to find them in greater concentrations, near the coast or far out at sea?

Red and orange indicate high concentrations of phyoplankton. Concentrations decrease as you go down the color spectrum. Image from NASA's SeaWiFS mission

Notice the greatest concentration of phytoplankton occur near coastal areas.  This is because they rely on nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus for their survival.  These nutrients are transferred to the sea as rains wash them from our land into the rivers and the rivers empty the nutrients into the sea.  We’ll address the problems this is causing in my next blog.

Did you know:  The ocean is salty because over millions of years rains and rivers have washed over the rocks, which contain sodium chloride (salt), and carried it to the sea.

It is easy to identify water that’s rich in phytoplankton and nutrients because the water is green due to the chlorophyll pigment plankton contain.  The further away from the nutrient source you get, the bluer the water becomes because of the decrease in the phytoplankton population.

This tool is called a Forel/Ule scale. It is used to obtain an approximate measurement of surface water color. This helps researchers determine the abundance of life in the water.

Let’s go up a step in the marine food web and talk about zooplankton.  Zoo is Greek for animal.  Most zooplankton are grazers that depend on phytoplankton as a food source.  I’ve learned that larval marine life such as fish, invertebrates and crustaceans are classified as zooplankton until they start to get their adult coloration.  After hatching from their eggs marine larva are clear and “jelly like” which is an adaptation that helps them avoid being eaten by predators.  Camouflage is their only line of defense in this stage of development.

A zooplankton sample we collected aboard the Oregon II using a neuston net. Notice the small juvenile fish and all of the clear "jelly like" larva.

When plankton samples are collected two different methods are used.  One method uses a neuston net which skims the surface of the water for 10 minutes.  See the video below to watch a sample being collected.

I am securing the neuston net to the metal frame by lacing it with a line (rope for all of you land lovers)..

The second method is using the bongo nets which are deployed at a 45 degree angle until they are a meter shy of the ocean floor, then they are brought back up.  This method collects samples from the vertical water column rather than just the surface.  The samples we collect with the bongo net look much different from the samples we collect with the neuston net.  Bongo samples are filled with more larva and less juveniles.

Bongo nets getting ready to be lowered into the water column. They are called bongo nets because they resemble bongos. Photo: SEFSC

Plankton surveys are done in an effort to learn more about the abundance and location of the early life stages of fish and invertebrates.  All of the samples we collect are preserved at sea and are then sent to the Sea Fisheries Institute in Poland.  This is where all of the identification of fish larva and other zooplankton takes place.  This information is then used by researchers to study things such as environmental quality requirements for larva, mortality rates, population trends, development rates and larval diets.

On the right is the "cod end", or plankton collection chamber, which attaches to the end of the nets. We then sieve the contents of the cod end and funnel it into a jar along with some preservative.

Personal Log:

My last log mentioned bycatch as one of the bad things about bottom trawling.  Another problem associated with bottom trawling is the destruction of habitats as the net and “doors” sweep along the ocean floor.  So far we have had two nets tear as a result of this collection method.  It’s a good thing they keep ten extra nets onboard as back ups!

Here are some of the extra nets that are kept on deck.

Aside from the nets tearing off there has also been a problem with the wire that deploys the net.  It has been twisting which prevents the “doors” from opening the net wide enough for a good sample collection.  The crew has tried extending all of the wire off of the reel in an effort to untwist it.  It seems to be working well, but we still need to keep a close eye on it.

I have also had the opportunity to be the hottest I have ever been in my entire life.  We had an abandon ship drill where everyone had to get into their immersion suits.  Picture yourself in the Gulf of Mexico, standing on a black deck, in the middle of the day, in July, while putting on a full body jump suit made of neoprene.  Hopefully we won’t have to use them at any point during the cruise.

Kathleen Harrison: Shumagin Islands, July 9, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Harrison
Aboard NOAA Ship  Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011

Location:  Gulf of Alaska
Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Date: July 9, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
True wind direction:  59.9°, True wind speed:  11.44 knots
Sea Temperature:  9°C
Air Temperature:  8.9°C
Air pressure:  1009.74 mb
Foggy with 1 mile visibility
Ship heading:  88°, ship speed:  11 knots

Science and Technology Log

The Shumagin Islands are a group of about 20 islands in the Gulf of Alaska, southwest of Kodiak Island.  They were named for Nikita Shumagin, a sailor on Vitus Bering’s Arctic voyage in 1741.  They are volcanic in origin, composed mostly of basalt.

Shumagin Islands
Bold and mountainous, the Shumagin Islands rise from the sea in the Gulf of Alaska.

Several islands even exhibit hexagonal basaltic columns.  There are about 1000 people who reside in the islands, mostly in the town of Sand Point, on Popof Island.  According to the United States Coast Pilot (a book published by NOAA with extensive descriptions about coastlines for ship navigation), the islands extend out 60 miles from the Alaskan Peninsula.  They are bold and mountainous.

hexagonal basalt
When this island formed, volcanic lava cooled into basalt hexagonal columns.

The shores are broken in many places by inlets that afford good anchorages.  The shores are rockbound close to.  Fishing stations and camps are scattered throughout the group, and good fishing banks are off the islands.  Fox and cattle raising are carried on to some extent.

long range view of SI, Alaskan Peninsula
Shumigan Islands to the left, snow covered peaks of Alaskan Peninsula in background. An amazing sight on a rare sunny day in the Gulf of Alaska.

Sea water quality is very important to the scientists on the Oscar Dyson.  So important, that it is monitored 24 hours a day.  This is called the Underway System.  The sea water comes through an intake valve on the keel of the bow, and is pumped up and aft to the chem lab.  There, it goes through 4 instruments:  the fluorometer, the dissolved Oxygen unit, the Thermosalinograph (TSG), and the ISUS (nitrate concentration).

The fluorometer measures the amount of chlorophyll and turbidity in the sea water once every second.  A light is passed through the water, and a sensor measures how much fluorescence (reflected light) the water has. The amount of chlorophyll is then calculated.  The measurement was 6.97 µg/L when I observed the instrument.  The amount of  phytoplankton in the water can be interpreted from the amount of chlorophyll.  Another sensor measures how much light passes through the water, which gives an indication of turbidity.  Twice a day, a sample of water is filtered, and the chlorophyll is removed.  The filter with the chlorophyll is preserved and sent to one of the NOAA labs on land for examination.

chem lab
Here are all of the water quality instruments, they are mounted to the wall in the chem lab. Each one has a separate line of sea water.

The next instrument that the water passes through will measure the amount of dissolved oxygen every 20 seconds.  Oxygen is important, because aquatic organisms take in oxygen for cellular respiration.  From plankton to white sharks, the method of underwater “breathing” varies, but the result is the same – oxygen into the body.  The oxygen in the water is produced by aquatic plants and phytoplankton as they do photosynthesis, and the amount directly affects how much aquatic life can be supported.

The TSG will measure temperature, and conductivity (how much electricity passes through) every second, and from these 2 measurements, salinity (how much salt is in the water) can be calculated.  The day that I observed the TSG temperature was 8.0°  C, and the salinity was 31.85 psu (practical salinity units).  Average sea water salinity is 35.  The intense study of melting sea ice and glaciers involves sea water temperature measurements all over the world.  A global data set can be accumulated and examined in order to understand changing temperature patterns.

instrument to measure
This instrument measures the amount of nitrate in the sea water. It is called the ISUS.

The last instrument measures nitrate concentration in the sea water every couple of minutes.  It is called ISUS, which stands for In Situ Ultraviolet Spectrophotometer.  Nitrate comes from organic waste material, and tends to be low at the surface, since the wastes normally sink to the bottom.  The normal value is .05 mg/L, at the surface, at 8°C.  Values within the range of 0.00 to 25 mg/L are acceptable, although anything above 5 is reason for concern.

All of the data from these instruments is fed into a ship’s computer, and displayed as a graph on a monitor.  The Survey Technician monitors the data, and the instruments, to make sure everything is working properly.

New Species Seen today:

Whale (unknown, but probably grey or humpback)

Horned Puffin

Dall’s Porpoise

Krill

Chum Salmon

Eulachon

monitor shows current data
The current water quality data is shown on this computer screen beside the instruments.

Personal Log

Living on a ship is quite different from living at home.  For one thing, every item on the ship is bolted, strapped, taped, or hooked to the bulkhead (wall), or deck (floor).  Most hatches (doors) have a hook behind them to keep them open(this reminds me of when I put hooks behind my doors at home to keep little children from slamming them and crushing fingers).  Some hatches (around ladderways (stairwells)) are magnetically controlled, and stay open most of the time.  They close automatically when there is a fire or abandon ship situation or drill.  Every drawer and cabinet door clicks shut and requires moving a latch or lever to open it.  For some cabinet doors that you want to stay open while you are working in the cabinet, there is a hook from the bulkhead to keep it open.

bracket holds copier
The copier machine is held in place by a 4 post bracket that is bolted to the floor.

On every desk is a cup holder, wider on the bottom than the top, designed to hold a regular glass or a cup of coffee.  If one of those is not handy, a roll of duct tape works well for a regular glass.  All shelves and counters have a lip on the front, and book shelves have an extra bar to hold the books in.  Trash cans and boxes are lashed to the bulkhead with an adjustable strap, and even the new copier machine has a special brace that is bolted to the deck to hold it in one place (I heard that the old copier fell over one time when there was a particularly huge wave).  There are lots of great pictures on the bulkheads of the Oscar Dyson, and each one is fastened to the bulkhead with at least 4 screws, or velcro.  There are hand rails everywhere – on the bulkhead in the passageway (hallway) (reminds me of Mom’s nursing home), and on the consoles of the bridge.

hallway hand rails
This view down the hall shows the hand rail. It comes in handy during rough weather.

Desk chairs can be secured by a bungee cord, and the chairs in the mess (dining room)  can be hooked to the deck.

Another thing that is different from home is the fact that the Oscar Dyson operates 24-7 (well, in my home, there could easily be someone awake any hour of the night, but the only thing they might operate is the TV). The lights in the passageways and mess are always on.  The acoustics and water quality equipment are always collecting data.  Different people work different shifts, so during any one hour, there is usually someone asleep.  Most staterooms have 2 people, and they will probably be on opposite shifts.  One might work 4 am to 4 pm, and the other would work 4 pm to 4 am.  That way, only one person is in the room at a time (there is not really room for more than one).  There is always someone on the bridge – at least the Officer of the Deck (OOD) – to monitor and steer the ship.  During the day, there is usually a look out as well.

binoculars on the bridge
These binoculars are used by the look out to scan the surrounding area for anything in the water - whales, boats, islands, kelp, or anything else in proximity to the ship.

His job is to, well, look out – look for floating items in the water, whales, rocks, and other ships (called contacts or targets).  This helps the OOD, because he or she can’t always keep their eyes on the horizon.

I have thoroughly enjoyed living on the Oscar Dyson (we have had calm seas so far), and talking with the NOAA staff and crew.  They are ordinary people, who have chosen an extraordinary life – aboard a ship.  It has challenges, but also great rewards – seeing the land from a different perspective, being up close to sea life, and forging close relationships with shipmates, as well as participating in the science that helps us understand the world’s oceans.