Jeff Peterson: The Work in the Western Gulf, July 15, 2018

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jeff Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 9 – July 20, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 15, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: 2018/07/18

Time: 16:05:45

Latitude: 30 05.44 N

Longitude: 085 52.76 W

Speed over ground: 05.3 knots

Barometric pressure: 1015.62 mbar

Relative humidity: 81%

Air temp: 27.6 C

 

Science and Technology Log

At the time of writing, we’ve completed the “stations” (i.e., the appointed stops where we trawl to collect specimens) in the western Gulf of Mexico, and are headed to the Florida coast, where we’ll conclude the 3rd leg of the Summer Groundfish Survey. Sometime tonight we’ll arrive and resume work, trawling and identifying fish. What follows is my attempt to furnish a detailed description of where we are and what we’re doing.

Stations: Where We Stop & Why

As I explained in my previous blog post, “Learner at Sea: Day 1,” the survey work being performed on this cruise contributes to a larger collective enterprise called SEAMAP, the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program. The “sample area” of SEAMAP is considerable, ranging from Texas-Mexico border to the Florida Keys.

image 1 SEAMAP - coverage
Spatial coverage of SEAMAP Summer and Fall Trawl Surveys in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Fisheries biologist Adam Pollack tells me that the total trawlable area–that is, excluding such features as known reefs, oil rigs, and sanctuaries–consists of 228,943.65 square kilometers or 88,943.65 square miles. That’s a piece of ocean of considerable size: nearly as big as Louisiana and Mississippi combined.

SEAMAP divides the sample area into a series of statistically comparable “zones” (there are two zones within each of the numbered areas in the diagram above), taking into account a key variable (or stratum): depth. It then assigns a proportionate number of randomized locations to every zone, arriving at 360-400 stations for the sample area as a whole. Statisticians call this method a “stratified random design.”

While Louisiana, Mississippi,  Alabama, and Florida participate in the SEAMAP, the lion’s share of stations are surveyed by NOAA.

These are the 49 stations we sampled during the first half of the cruise, off the shore of Louisiana:

leg 3 west
Stations covered in the western Gulf during the 3rd leg of the Summer Groundfish Survey

The data from the Summer Survey is analyzed in the fall and available the following spring. NOAA’s assessments are then passed along to the regional Fisheries Management Councils who take them into account in setting guidelines.

The Trawl: How we Get Fish Aboard

NOAA Ship Oregon II brings fish aboard using an otter trawl. As described in “Mississippi Trawl Gear Characterization,” “The basic otter trawl is the most common type of trawl used in Mississippi waters to harvest shrimp. The otter trawl is constructed of twine webbing that when fully deployed makes a cone shape. Floats on the head-rope (top line) and chains on the foot rope (bottom line) of are used to open the mouth of the trawl vertically. To spread the mouth of the trawl open as large as possible, each side (wing) is attached to trawl doors” (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/strategy/ms_trawl_gear.pdf). Positioned by chains so that their leading edges flare out, those doors are sizable and heavy, 40 inches high and 8 feet long, and help not only to spread the net open (and ‘herd’ fish in) but also to keep it seated on the ocean floor.

An otter trawl deployed
An otter trawl deployed

To mitigate environmental harm–and, in particular, to help save inadvertently caught sea turtles—trawling time is limited to 30 minutes. The trawl is 40 feet wide and is dragged over 1.5 miles of ocean bottom.

Here are the trawl’s technical specifications:

Trawl schematic
Trawl schematic, courtesy of NOAA fishing gear specialist Nicholas Hopkins

It should not go without saying that deploying and retrieving gear like this is mission critical, and requires physical might, agility, and vigilance. Those tasks (and others) are performed expertly by the Deck Department, manned on the day watch by Chief Boatswain Tim Martin and Fisherman James Rhue. Fisherman Chris Rawley joins them on the swing shift, coming on deck in the evening.

The process of bringing the trawl aboard looks like this:

doors up
Trawl doors on their way up toward the starboard outrigger
separating
Seizing the “lazy line” with the hook pole
orange section
The “elephant ear” (orange section) secured
cod end at the rail
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin brings a catch over the rail

The bottom of the trawl is secured with a special knot that permits controlled release of the catch.

knot
Among other names, this piece of handiwork is known as the “double daisy chain” or “zipper knot”

 

The catch emptied into baskets
The catch emptied into baskets

CTD

Before every trawl, the CTD is deployed from the well deck (port side) to collect data on, as its acronym suggests: Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. According to NOAA’s Ocean Explorer website, “A CTD device’s primary function is to detect how the conductivity and temperature of the water column changes relative to depth. Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity. Conductivity is directly related to salinity, which is the concentration of salt and other inorganic compounds in seawater. Salinity is one of the most basic measurements used by ocean scientists. When combined with temperature data, salinity measurements can be used to determine seawater density which is a primary driving force for major ocean currents” (https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html).

The CTD secured on deck
The CTD secured on deck

 

CTD in the water
The CTD suspended at the surface, awaiting descent

During daylight hours, a scientist assists with the deployment of the CTD, contributing observations on wave height and water color. For the latter, we use a Forel-Ule scale, which furnishes a gradation of chemically simulated water colors.

 

Forel-Ule scale
Forel-Ule scale

 

The Wet Lab: How We Turn Fish into Information

Once in baskets, the catch is weighed and then taken inside the wet lab.

the wet lab
The wet lab: looking forward. Fish are sorted on the conveyor belt (on the right) and identified, measured, weighed, and sexed using the computers (on the left).

Once inside the wet lab, the catch is emptied onto the conveyor belt

Fish ready for sorting
Fish ready for sorting
Snapper on the belt
A small catch with a big Snapper

Next the catch is sorting into smaller, species-specific baskets:

Emily McMullen sorting fish
Emily McMullen sorting fish

 

batfish face
Say hello to the Bat Fish: Ogecephalus declivirostris
Calico Box Crab, Hepatus epheliticus
Calico Box Crab, Hepatus epheliticus

 

Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus
Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus

At this stage, fish are ready to be represented as data in the Fisheries Scientific Computing System (FSCS). This is a two-step process. First, each basket of fish is entered by genus and species name, and its number recorded in the aggregate.

Andre entering data
Andre DeBose entering initial fish data in FSCS

Then, a selection individual specimens from each basket (up to 20, if there are that many) are measured and weighed and sexed.

Andre and Emily measuring
Andre and Emily measuring and sexing fish

Occasionally researchers from particular laboratories have made special requests for species, and so we label them, bag them, and stow them in the bait freezer room.

requests
Special requests for specimens

 

IMG_8214
Red Snapper, Lutjanus campechanus, for Beverly Barnett

Once every animal in the trawl has been accounted for and its data duly recorded, it’s time to wash everything down and get ready to do it all over again.

porthole
Late afternoon view from the wet lab porthole

 

Personal Log

The key to enjoying work in the wet lab is, as I see it, the enduring promise of novelty: the possibility of surprise at finding something you’ve never seen before! For me, that promise offsets the bracing physical rigors of the work and leavens its repetitiveness. (Breathtaking cloudscapes and gorgeous sunsets do, too, just for the record. Out here on the water, there seem to be incidental beauties in every direction.) Think of the movie Groundhog Day or Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” and cross either of them with the joys of beach-combing on an unbelievably bounteous beach, and you’ll have a sense of the absurd excitement of identifying fish at the sorting stage. Life in the wet lab is a lot like Bubba Gump’s box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

At the next stage, data entry, the challenge for the novice is auditory and linguistic. Between the continual growl the engine makes and the prop noise of the wet lab’s constantly whirring fans, you’ve got the soundscape of an industrial workplace. Amid that cascade of sound, you need to discern unfamiliar (scientific) names for unfamiliar creatures, catching genus and species distinctions as they’re called out by your watch-mates. The good news is that the scientists you’re working with are living and breathing field guides, capable of identifying just about any animal you hold up with a quizzical look. It’s a relative rarity that we have to consult printed guides for IDs, but when we do and that task falls to me, the shell-collector kid in me secretly rejoices.

IMG_7825
I found it! Ethusa microphthalma (female)

I’m enjoying the camaraderie of my watch, led by Andre DeBose, and, as my posts suggest, I’ve had some good opportunities to pick Adam Pollack’s brain on fisheries issues. My partner in fish data-entry, Emily McMullen–an aspiring marine scientist who’ll be applying to graduate programs this fall–did this cruise last summer and has been an easy-going co-worker, patient and understanding as I learn the ropes. I’ve also had some wonderful conversations with folks like Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway, First Assistant Engineer Will Osborn, and Fisheries Biologist Alonzo Hamilton.

It’s been a busy week, as you’ll have gathered, but I’ve still managed to do some sketching. Here’s a page from my sketchbook on the CTD:

CTD
Sketch of the CTD. The main upright tanks, I learned, are Niskin Bottles

And here’s a page from my journal that pictures three species we saw quite often in the western Gulf:

Longspined Porgy - Butterfish - Brown Shrimp
Longspine Porgy (Stenotomus caprinus), Butterfish (Peprilus burti), and Brown Shrimp (Farfanepenaeus aztectus)

Had I the time, I’d sketch the rest of my “Top 10” species we’ve seen most commonly in the western Gulf. That list would include (in no particular order): the Paper Scallop, Amusium papyraceum; Lookdown, Selene vomer; Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus; Squid, Loligo; Lizardfish, Synodus foetens; Croaker, Micropogonias undulatus; and Red Snapper:

Red Snapper
Presented for your inspection: Red Snapper, Lutjanus campechanus

Did You Know?

Four of the species visible on the surface of this basket have been identified in the blog post you’ve just read. Can you ID them? And how many of each would you say there are here on the surface?

Basket of fish
Basket of fish

 

 Look for a key in my next blog post.

 

Samantha Adams: Day 6 – Testing… 1 – 2 – 3, July 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Samantha Adams

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

July 25 – August 3, 2017

Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station deployment (WHOTS-14)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean

Date: Saturday, 29 July 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude & Longitude: 22o 45’N, 157o 56’W. Ship speed: 1.3 knots. Air temperature: 27.8oC. Sea temperature: 27.0oC. Humidity: 72%.Wind speed: 14 knots. Wind direction: 107 degrees. Sky cover: Few.

Science and Technology Log:

The most difficult part of Thursday’s buoy deployment was making sure the anchor was dropped on target. Throughout the day, shifting winds and currents kept pushing the ship away from the anchor’s target location. There was constant communication between the ship’s crew and the science team, correcting for this, but while everyone thought we were close when the anchor was dropped, nobody knew for sure until the anchor’s actual location had been surveyed.

blog.4.Day6.image1
Triangulation of the WHOTS-14 buoy’s anchor location. Look at how close the ‘Anchor at Depth’ location is to the ‘Target’ location — only 177.7 meters apart! Also notice that all three circles intersect at one point, meaning that the triangulated location of the anchor is quite accurate.

To survey the anchor site, the ship “pinged” (sent a signal to) the acoustic releases on the buoy’s mooring line from three separate locations around the area where the anchor was dropped. This determines the distance from the ship to the anchor — or, more accurately, the distance from the ship to the acoustic releases. When all three distances are plotted (see the map above), the exact location of the buoy’s anchor can be determined. Success! The buoy’s anchor is 177.7 meters away from the target location — closer to the intended target than any other WHOTS deployment has gotten.


After deployment on Thursday, and all day Friday, the Hi’ialakai stayed “on station” about a quarter of a nautical mile downwind of the WHOTS-14 buoy, in order to verify that the instruments on the buoy were making accurate measurements. Because both meteorological and oceanographic measurements are being made, the buoy’s data must be verified by two different methods.

Weather data from the buoy (air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, etc.) is verified using measurements from the Hi’ialakai’s own weather station and a separate set of instruments from NOAA’s Environmental Sciences Research Laboratory. This process is relatively simple, only requiring a few quick mouse clicks (to download the data), a flashdrive (to transfer the data), and a “please” and “thank you”.

blog.4.Day6.image2
July 28, 2017, 5:58PM HAST. Preparing the rosette for a CDT cast. Notice that the grey sampling bottles are open. If you look closely, you can see clear plastic “wire” running from the top of the sampling bottles to the center of the rosette. The wires are fastened on hooks which, when triggered by the computer in the lab, flip up, releasing the wire and closing the sampling bottle.

Salinity, temperature and depth measurements (from the MicroCats on the mooring line), on the other hand, are much more difficult to verify. In order to get the necessary “in situ” oceanographic data (from measurements made close to the buoy), the water must be sampled directly. This is done buy doing something called a CTD cast — in this case, a specific type called a yo-yo. 

The contraption in the picture to the left is called a rosette. It consists of a PCV pipe frame, several grey sampling bottles around the outside of the frame, and multiple sets of instruments in the center (one primary and one backup) for each measurement being made.

blog.4.Day6.image3
July 28, 2017, 6:21PM HAST. On station at WHOTS-14, about halfway through a CDT cast (which typically take an hour). The cable that raises and lowers the rosette is running through the pulley in the upper right hand corner of the photo. The buoy is just visible in the distance, under the yellow arm.

The rosette is hooked to a stainless steel cable, hoisted over the side of the ship, and lowered into the water. Cable is cast (run out) until the rosette reaches a certain depth — which can be anything, really, depending on what measurements need to be made. For most of the verification measurements, this depth has been 250 meters. Then, the rosette is hauled up to the surface. And lowered back down. And raised up to the surface. And lowered back down. It’s easy to see why it’s called a yo-yo! (CDT casts that go deeper — thousands of meters instead of hundreds — only go down and up once.)

For the verification process, the rosette is raised and lowered five times, with the instruments continuously measuring temperature, salinity and depth. On the final trip back to the surface, the sampling bottles are closed remotely, one at a time, at specific depths, by a computer in the ship’s lab. (The sampling depths are determined during the cast, by identifying points of interest in the data. Typically, water is sampled at the lowest point of the cast and five meters below the surface, as well as where the salinity and oxygen content of the water is at its lowest.) Then, the rosette is hauled back on board, and water from the sampling bottles is emptied into smaller glass bottles, to be taken back to shore and more closely analyzed.

On this research cruise, the yo-yos are being done by scientists and student researchers from the University of Hawaii, who routinely work at the ALOHA site (where the WHOTS buoys are anchored). The yoyos are done at regular intervals throughout the day, with the first cast beginning at about 6AM HAST and the final one wrapping up at about midnight.

blog.4.Day6.image4
July 29, 2017, 9:43AM HAST. On station at WHOTS-13. One CDT cast has already been completed; another is scheduled to begin in about 15 minutes.

After the final yo-yo was complete at the WHOTS-14 buoy early Saturday morning, the Hi’ialakai traveled to the WHOTS-13 buoy. Today and tomorrow (Sunday), more in situ meteorological and oceanographic verification measurements will be made at the WHOTS-13 site. All of this — the meteorological measurements, the yo-yos, the days rocking back and forth on the ocean swell — must happen in order to make sure that the data being recorded is consistent from one buoy to the next. If this is the case, then it’s a good bet that any trends or changes in the data are real — caused by the environmental conditions — rather than differences in the instruments themselves.

Personal Log:

blog.4.Day6.image5
The Hi’ialakai’s dry lab. Everyone is wearing either a sweatshirt or a jacket… are we sure this is Hawaii?

Most of the science team’s time is divided between the Hi’ialakai’s deck and the labs (there are two; one wet, and one dry).  The wet lab contains stainless steel sinks, countertops, and an industrial freezer; on research cruises that focus on marine biology, samples can be stored there. Since the only samples being collected on this cruise are water, which don’t need to be frozen, the freezer was turned off before we left port, and turned into additional storage space.  The dry lab (shown in the picture above) is essentially open office space, in use nearly 24 hours a day. The labs, like most living areas on the ship, are quite well air conditioned. It may be hot and humid outside, but inside, hoodies and hot coffee are both at a premium!

Did You Know?

The acronym “CTD” stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. But the MicroCats on the buoy mooring lines and the CTD casts are supposed to measure salinity, temperature and depth… so where does conductivity come in? It turns out that the salinity of the water can’t be measured directly — but conductivity of the water can.

When salt is dissolved into water, it breaks into ions, which have positive and negative charges. In order to determine salinity, an instrument measuring conductivity will pass a small electrical current between two electrodes (conductors), and the voltage on either side of the electrodes is measured. Ions facilitate the flow of the electrical current through the water. Therefore conductivity, with the temperature of the water taken into account, can be used to determine the salinity.

Nichia Huxtable: Life on board, you won’t be bored!, May 6, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Nichia Huxtable

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

April 28-May 9, 2016

Mission: Mapping CINMS                                                                                                           Geographical area of cruise: Channel Islands, California                                                 Date: May 6, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 2-3 ft swells; storm clouds over land, clear at sea

Science and Technology Log

Dismantling the REMUS 600 AUV for its trip home
Goodbye, AUV. Until we meet again.

The AUV is no longer my favorite thing on Shimada. As I write this, it is being dismantled and packed into shipping boxes for its return trip home to Maryland. To keep a long, sad story short, the AUV had a big electrical problem that was fixed, but when the scientists turned it on for a test run, a tiny $6 lithium battery broke open and oozed all over the motherboard. Game over for the AUV. So now my favorite thing on Shimada is the ice cream.

Personal Log

Enough about science and technology for now. I bet you’re really wondering what it’s like day in and day out on board Shimada. Well, my intrepid future NOAA crew members, this blog post is for you! We’ll start what’s most important: the food.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all served at the same time everyday. The food is prepared in the galley and everyone eats in the mess. Beverages, cereal, yogurt, fruit, snacks, the salad bar, and ice cream are available 24 hours a day, so there is no need to ever be hungry. Not all ships are the same, however. In one of the many anecdotes told to me by master storyteller Fabio Campanella, an Italian research ship he once worked on served fresh bread and authentic pizza everyday…sign me up for that cruise!

DSC_0470[1]
Unlike the AUV, the ice cream freezer never disappoints

Next, you’re probably wondering where everyone sleeps. Sleeping quarters are called staterooms and most commonly sleep two people, although larger staterooms might sleep four. Each stateroom has its own television and a bathroom, which is called a head. As you can see in the photo, the bunks have these neat curtains that keep out the light in case your roommate needs to get up at 1 a.m. for the night-shift.

"Working
Working in the Acoustics Lab on Shimada

The Shimada has lots and lots of work and storage rooms, each serving a different function. There is a wet lab, dry lab, chem lab, and acoustics lab for doing SCIENCE (woohoo!), as well as a tech room for the computer specialist (called an ET), storage lockers for paint, cleaning supplies, and linens, plus other rooms full of gear and machinery. There’s also a laundry room, so you can take care of your stinky socks before your roommate starts to complain!

Trash on board is separated into recyclable bottles and cans, food waste, and trash. The food waste is ground up into tiny pieces and dumped in the ocean outside of the sanctuary, while the trash is INCINERATED! That’s right, it’s set on fire…a really, really, hot fire. Ash from the incinerator is disposed of onshore.

"<em
Shimada‘s incinerator

Another important part of the ship is the bridge. Operations occur 24 hours a day, so the ship never sleeps. Officers on the bridge must know what is happening on the ship, what the weather and traffic is like around the ship, and they must make sure to properly pass down this information between watches. The bridge has radar to spot obstacles and other ships, a radio to communicate with other ships, and a radio to communicate with the crew and scientists.

"Looking
Looking for wildlife on the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
"Bride
Bridge on the Shimada

Last, but not least, is the lounge that comes complete with surround-sound, a big screen TV, super-comfy recliners, and about 700 movies, including the newest of the new releases.

"Lounge
Wish this was my living room!

Did you know? 

A female elephant seal was once recorded diving underwater for two continuous hours (they usually stay underwater for 1/2 hour); the deepest recorded dive was by a male and was 5,141ft.

Stay tuned for the next post: Multibeam? You Mean Multi-AWESOME!

Mary Murrian: Working at Sea on the Oscar Dyson! July 11, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mary Murrian

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 4 – 22, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Bering Sea North of Dutch Harbor

Date: Friday, July 11, 2014

Weather Data fro the Bridge:

Wind Speed: 17.02 kt

Air Temperature: 8.9 degrees Celsius

Barometric Pressure: 1004.3

Latitude: 5903.6745 N

Longitude: 17220..4880 W

noaa iphone pictures july 5 and 6 2014 1109
I’m sorting the jellyfish (Chrysaora Melanaster) from the pollock.

Science log:

I participated in my first live trawl, catch, sort and data collection survey. In my last blog, I talked about how we located and caught the pollock.  This blog will talk about what happens when the fish are unloaded into the wet lab and processed.  A wet lab is a science lab that is capable of handling excess water and houses the equipment need to to process the catch.

Fresh catch proceeding down the conveyor belt. Time to sort.
Fresh catch proceeding down the conveyor belt. Time to sort.

Once the crew off loads the fish, from the net to the short conveyor belt, into the wet lab or sometimes called the slime lab, (it really lives up to its name), I help the scientists sort the pollock from the other species caught in the net. A small sample of marine life, that is not a pollock, gets sorted, weighed and measured for data collection purposes. They are not the main target of our survey, however, they are interesting to see. Large quantities of jellyfish usually make the mix, but I have seen a variety of other animals, such as crabs, starfishes, clams, salmon, flatfishes, Pacific herring, Atka mackerel, and Yellow Irish Lord. The main character, the pollock, are weighed in batches and then placed on a small table to be sexed. In order to sex the fish, I had to cut across the side of the fish with a small scalpel. Next, I inserted my fingers into their guts and pulled out either the gonads (male) or ovaries (female). The gonads look like stringy romaine noodles and the ovaries look like whitish-pinkish oval sacs. Female pollock are placed in a bin labeled sheila’s and the male pollocks are placed in a bin labeled blokes. Sheila’s and blokes are Australian terms for female and male. Cute.

A female pollock full of eggs
A female pollock full of eggs
Sexing the pollock.  This one is a female.  You can see it oval shaped ovaries.
Sexing the pollock. This one is a female. You can see it oval shaped ovaries.

Once sexed and sorted, the fish are measured for their length. Two very ingenious scientists (one who is working on my trip, Kresimir Williams, and Rick Towler), invented an electronic measuring device. The device allows us to measure quickly and accurately while at the same time automatically recording the measurement on the computer. It looks like a cutting board with a ruler embedded in the center. Of course, all measurements used are metric, the primary form of measurement for scientists across the world.  I to place the fish’s mouth at the beginning of the board and line the back tail of the fish along the ruler. Next, a special tool (a stylus) embedded with a magnet (it’s small, white,and the front looks like a plastic arrowhead) is placed arrow side forward on the end of the tail fin. Once the tool touches the board (it makes a noise which sounds similar to “ta-da” to let you know it captured its measurement), it automatically records the length in the data program, on the computer. I wish I had one for my classroom. Oh, the fun my students could have measuring!  The device streamlines the data collecting process allowing scientists more precise data collection and more time for other research.

I’m measuring the pollock on the electronic scale called the Ichthy Stick

That was a lot to absorb, but there is more. If you tend to get squeamish, you might want to scroll past the next paragraph.

Although, I did not work hands on with the next data collection, I closely observed and took pictures. I will try it before my trip ends. The next step is the aging process. Aging a pollock is a vital part of determining the health and welfare of the species. Aging a pollock is similar to the method of aging a tree.  The Russian scientist, Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko, who has been surveying pollock for over twenty years and is part of the NOAA science team, has it down to a science. First, he cuts the pollock’s head off exposing the ear bones called Otoliths (Oto–means ear; liths–means stone).  He removes the tiny ear bones (about the size and shape of a piece of a navy bean), rinses them, and places them in a small vial labeled with a serial-numbered bar code. The bar code gets scanned and the code is assigned to the specific fish in the computer data base, which also includes their sex, weight and length. Once back at the lab, located in Seattle, Washington, the otoliths can be observed under a microscope and aged based on the number of rings they have: pollock otoliths have one ring for every year of age.  Only twenty fish from each trawl have their otoliths extracted.

Looking inside the pollock.  The little white bones are the ear bones or otoliths.
Looking inside the pollock. The little white bones are the ear bones or otoliths.
Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko placing the otoliths (ear bones) in the vial to be sent to the lab.
Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko placing the otoliths (ear bones) in the vial to be sent to the lab.
Mikhail Stepanenko or we call him Meesha
Mikhail Stepanenko or we call him Meesha

Once all data are collected, there is still more work to be completed. All of the fish that we sampled, were thrown back into the ocean for the sea birds and other carnivores (meat-eaters) to enjoy. Who wouldn’t enjoy a free meal? Then the equipment and work space must be sprayed down to get rid of all the fish particles (slime). It’s important to clean up after yourself to ensure a safe and healthy environment for everyone. Besides, the smell would be horrible.  I also had to spray myself down, it gets very messy.  I had fish guts and jellyfish slime all over my lab gear (orange outer wear provided by NOAA). Unfortunately, the guts occasionally get splattered on my face and hair!  Yuck, talking about fish face.  Thankfully, a bathroom is nearby, where I can get cleaned up.

Starfish that fell from the net when being towed back on board.
Starfish that fell from the net when being towed back on board.
Part of the snail family
Whelks (snails) and anemones

When all is clean, the scientists can upload and analyze the data. They will compare the data to past and current surveys. The data is a vital step to determining the health and abundance of pollock in our ecosystem. I am amazed at all the science, math, engineering, and technology that goes on during a fish survey. It takes many people and numerous skills to make the survey successful.

Brittle Sea Star

This is one of many experiences, I have had trawling and collecting data at sea aboard the Oscar Dyson.  The process will repeat several times over my three week trip.  As part of the science crew, I am responsible to help with all trawls during my shift.  I could have multiple experiences in one day.  I cannot wait!

Personal Log:

What’s it like to be on a NOAA ship out at sea? 

The deck hands, NOAA Corps, and the people I work closest with, the science team, are wonderful and welcoming. I’m super excited and I have to restrain myself from overdoing my questions. They have a job to do!

The weather is not what I expected.  It is usually foggy, overcast, and in the high 40’s and low 50’s.  Once in a while the sun tries to peek out through the clouds. The Bering Sea has been relatively calm. The heaviest article of clothing I wear is a sweatshirt.  It is still early, anything can happen.

On my first day at sea, we had a fire drill and an evacuation drill. Thankfully, I passed.  With help from Carwyn, I practiced donning (putting on) my survival suit.  I displayed a picture of me wearing it in my last blog.  It makes for a hilarious picture!   All kidding aside, NOAA takes safety seriously. The survival suit will keep me alive for several days in case of an evacuation in the middle of sea until someone can rescue me. It will protect me from the elements like water temperature, heat from sun, and it has a flashlight attached. Hopefully, I will not have to go through the experience of needing the suit; but I feel safer knowing it is available.

Carwyn Hammond

Besides the people, the best amenity aboard the Oscar Dyson is the food. Food is available around the clock. That is important because we work 12 hour shifts from 4:00 to 4:00. That means I work the morning 12-hour shift and my roommate, Emily Collins, works the night 12-hour shift. Hungry workers are grumpy workers. For breakfast, you can get your eggs cooked to order and choose from a variety of traditional breakfast food: French toast, grits, cereal, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, etc…Hot meal options are served for lunch and dinner including a delicious dessert . Of course, ice cream is available always!  I hope I can at least maintain my weight while aboard.

The Galley
The Galley
Food Bar
Food Bar

If I get the urge, there is workout equipment including cardio machines and weights available to use. Other entertainment includes movies and playing games with the other crew members.  The Oscar Dyson also has a store where I can purchase sweatshirts, sweatpants, t-shirts, hats, and other miscellaneous souvenirs advertising the name of the ship. Who would have thought you could shop aboard a NOAA fishing vessel?  I am definitely going shopping.  One of my favorite things to do aboard the ship is to watch for marine life on the bridge, it is peaceful and relaxing.  For anyone that does not know, the bridge is where the Chief Commanding Officer, Chief Executive Officer, and crew navigate the ship.  It is the highest point in which to stand and watch safely out at sea and in my opinion, it has the best view on board.

Did you know?

Did you know when a marine animal such as a seal is close by during a trawl, the trawl process stops and is rerouted?   

The crew is very respectful of sea life and endeavors to complete their mission with the least negative impact on wildlife.  Also, while the ship is on its regular course, the officers on the bridge, sometimes with a deck hand who is available, keep an eye out for seals, sea lions, whales, and sharks, in order to maneuver around them and keep them safe.

NOAA Corps LT Greg Schweitzer, Executive Officer or XO
NOAA Corps LT Greg Schweitzer, Executive Officer or XO
NOAA Corps Ensign Ben VanDine, Safety Officer
NOAA Corps Ensign Ben VanDine, Safety Officer

 

Did you know you can track the Oscar Dyson and its current location?

Check out this link: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/

Make sure you find the Bering Sea and click on the yellow dot; it will tell you our coordinates!

 

Meet the Scientist:  Emily Collins

Emily holding a Yellow Irish Lord

Title: Fisheries Observer (4 years)

Education:  Bachelor’s Degree in Biology, Marine Science, Boston University

Job Responsibilities: As an observer, Emily works aboard numerous fishing vessels, including the Oscar Dyson.  She collects data to find out what is being caught so that we can send the information to NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Services), a division of NOAA.  They use the data she collects to complete a stock assessment about what type of fish are caught and how much.  She is helping, as part of the science team, survey the pollock for all three legs of the survey.  When I get back to port, she has a couple of days to rest up in Dutch Harbor and then she will complete the last leg of the trip.

Living Quarters:  As a full-time observer, her home is wherever the next assignment is located, mostly on the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska.  She is from Dundee, New York, where her family currently resides.

What is cool about her work?

She loves working at sea  and working with the marine life.  She especially loves it when the nets catch a species of fish she has not seen before.  Getting to know new people and traveling is also a plus.

The weirdest and definitely not her favorite experience, while working on a smaller fisheries boats, was having to use a bucket for the toilet.

Emily had a wonderful opportunity her senior year in high school, the chance to go on a National Geographic Expedition with her mom and then later while in college while taking classes abroad. She went to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador to study marine biology. These experiences and the fact that her mother is a veterinarian exposed Emily to the love of animals the ocean, and her career choice.

 

Nate is holding a snow crab.
A flat fish
Rock Sole (a type of flatfish)

 

Lots of crabs!
Lots of crabs!
Sorting through the bottom trawl
Sorting through the bottom trawl
Korean Horsehair Crab
Kresimir Williams holding a crab
Kresimir Williams holding a crab
Alex De Robertis working in the wet lab.
Alex De Robertis working in the wet lab.

Carol Schnaiter: Our First Day of Work, June 10, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Schnaiter

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 6 – 21, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Gulf of Mexico

June 10-11, 2014

South wind  10 to 15 knots

Seas (waves) 3 to 4 feet

Partly cloudy

My home away from home for a few weeks!
My home away from home for a few weeks!

Science and Technology Log

On June 9th we arrived at our first station. There are over 120 stations on this survey in the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately I was not able to participate in the first station. (More on that later)

When we arrive at the station the ship’s crew is very busy. The deck crew put trawling nets into the water and down to the bottom to catch fish, shrimp, and other organisms. Once these nets are back at the surface the crew uses cranes to lift them to the deck where the scientists can work on the catch. When the nets are in the water the ship must slow down, so the nets do not rip.

After the nets are raised the organisms collected in the nets are emptied into buckets. The scientists then weigh the buckets on a scale. To make sure they are only weighing the organisms, they first weigh the bucket when it is empty.

Weighing the catch
The basket must be weighed before we sort it.

Next everything goes into the “wet” lab. It is called a wet lab because this area has water available and it is where the organisms are poured out on to a long conveyor belt, sorted, and washed off.

Catch on the conveyor belt
Everything is poured onto the conveyor belt to be sorted.

First, everything is sorted by species. Then everything is counted, measured, weighed, and sometimes the gender and maturity are calculated. All of this is recorded into computers.

Some of the species are very tiny and others are large, but everything is counted.  Many of them look alike so the scientists need to be careful when sorting everything.

The scientists on the Oregon II know many of the names of what they catch, but they also use books, charts, and the computer to look up information to make sure.

Sometimes someone in the lab back on shore may be doing research on a certain species and if that species is found it will be tagged, bagged and sent back to the lab.

The CTD’s and bongo net tows are conducted from the forward well deck (check the first blog if you forgot what those do).

The bongo nets are used to collect ichthyoplankton and so the mesh on these nets is very tight, sometimes as small as 0.333 millimeters. These samples are placed into jars and will be examined back in the lab on land later.

Material from bongo net
This is what we collect using the bongo nets. Photo by Chrissy Stepongzi

By time everything is finished, it is time for the next station and everything starts over again.

The work that the Oregon II does is very important. This survey has been conducted twice a year since the early 1970’s and the information collected can show the scientists what is happening under the surface of the water.

The survey helps to monitor the population and health of everything, plus shows any interactions with the environment that may be happening.

Personal Log:

You may have noticed that I mentioned I could not participate in most of the first day’s work, I was seasick and I spent a lot of time in my stateroom.

State Room
State Room

Thank goodness for the medics and Chief Steward on the ship. Walter, the Chief Steward, sliced up fresh ginger for me to suck on, while Officer Rachel Pryor gave me sugar coated ginger to chew on.

The two trained medics, Lead Fisherman Chris and Fisherman James, both were great help and were all very concerned. Kim, the lead scientist, and my bunk mate, Chrissy, checked in on me throughout the night. I am so grateful for everyone that helped. I am now drinking a lot of water and Gatorade to stay hydrated.

As soon as I felt better I was able to help in the wet lab by sorting, counting, weighing, and measuring organisms that were pulled up. We found some really cool things, like this Atlantic Sharpnose shark that Robin Gropp is holding.

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

The Atlantic Sharpnose Shark can grow to be 3.9 feet long and can live 10-12 years. It is a relatively small shark, compared to others.

The Common Terns (seabirds) follow the ship when we are trawling hoping to find a free meal. They sit on the ship’s rig that holds the nets waiting for food. The Common Tern is the most widespread tern and can be found by many large bodies of water. They are mostly white with a little black.

Common Terns waiting for dinner!
Common Terns waiting for dinner!

Taniya Wallace and Andre Debose are the two scientists on the night shift (midnight to noon) and they are extremely knowledgeable and explain everything to me. I am learning a lot of new words and I am even getting better at telling one fish from another.

Andre and Taniya holding the stingray.
Andre and Taniya holding the stingray.

The Southern Stingray that Andre is holding is just one of the amazing creatures we caught. We also brought up a Blackedge moray, a Texas Clearnose Skate, a sea hare, red snapper, jellyfish, pufferfish, sea horse, and many more. I can’t wait to share all of my photos next school year!

He may not look dangerous, but he could really hurt you!
He may not look dangerous, but he could really hurt you!

I am working the midnight to noon shift and it is strange to “wake-up” at midnight and eat supper (the cooks save a plate if you ask) and then go to work. Again, the food is wonderful. Last night I had the best prime rib and mashed potatoes!

Everyone on the ship is so helpful and friendly. I enjoy listening to where everyone is from and why they decided to make the Oregon II their home.

On the Oregon II
Here I am enjoying the beautiful view from the bow. Photo by Rebecca Rosado

Suzanne Acord: Cetaceans Are Among Us! March 26, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Suzanne Acord
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
March 17 – 28, 2014

Mission: Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: March 26, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge at 13:00
Wind: 6 knots
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Weather: Hazy
Depth in fathoms: 2,473
Depth in feet: 14,838
Temperature: 26.0˚ Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Cetaceans Are Among Us!

Our Marine Mammal Observation (MMO) crew was in for a treat today. Just after lunch, we spot a pod of sperm whales. We spotted them off the port side, off the starboard side, and eventually off the bow of the Sette. We frequently see Humpback whales in Hawaii, but sperm whales often evade us. Sperm whales can dive down to extreme depths and they feed on squid. These same squid feed on the micronekton that we are observing during the cruise. Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales. Their enormous size is obvious when they slap the ocean with their giant tails. Another unique characteristic of the sperm whale is their blow hole, which sits to the left rather than on top of the head. This feature allows our MMO team to easily identify them.

Our MMO lead, Ali Bayless, determines that we should take the small boat out for a closer examination of the pod. Within minutes, the small boat and three scientists are in the water following the pod. We think that a calf (baby) is accompanying two of the adult whales. Throughout the next few hours, our small boat is in constant contact with our flying bridge, bridge, and acoustics team to determine the location of the whales. We keep a safe distance from all of the whales, but especially the calf. While on the small boat, MMO scientists also identify spotted and spinner dolphins. We are essentially surrounded by cetaceans. The small boat is just one of the many tools we use to determine what inhabits the ocean. We also use an EK60 sonar, our Remotely Operated Vehicle, our hydrophone, and sonar buoys.

Our acoustics lead, Adrienne Copeland, is especially excited about our sperm whale sightings. Adrienne is a graduate student in zoology at the University of Hawaii. She earned her Bachelor’s of Science in biology with a minor in math and a certificate in mathematical biology from Washington State University. She has served on the Sette four times and is currently serving her third stint as acoustics lead. This is a testament to her expertise and the respect she has earned within the field.

Adrienne Copeland monitors our acoustics station during our 2014 IEA cruise.
Adrienne Copeland monitors our acoustics station during our 2014 IEA cruise.

Adrienne Copeland studies the foraging behavior of deep diving odontocetes (toothed whales). She shares that some deep diving odontocetes have been known to dive more than 1000 meters. Short finned pilot whales have been observed diving 600-800 meters during the day. During night dives we know they forage at shallower depths on squid and fish. How do we know how deep these mammals dive? Tags placed on these mammals send depth data to scientists. How do we know what marine mammals eat? Scientists are able to examine the stomach contents of mammals who are stranded. Interestingly, scientists know that sperm whales feed on histioteuthis (a type of squid) in the Gulf of Mexico. A 2014 IEA trawl operation brought in one of these squid, which the sperm whales may be targeting for food.

Notice the distinct blue and gray lines toward the top of the screen. These are the think layers of micronekton that migrated up at sunset. The number at the top of the screen expresses the depth to the sea floor.
Notice the distinct blue and gray lines toward the top of the screen. These are the thick layers of micronekton that migrated up at sunset. The number at the top of the screen expresses the depth to the sea floor.

Examine the acoustics screen to the left. Can you identify the gray and blue lines toward the top of the screen? These scattering layers of micronekton ascend and descend depending on the sun. Adrienne is interested in learning how these scattering layers change during whale foraging. Our EK60, Remotely Operated Vehicle, and highly prescribed trawling all allow us to gain a better understanding of the contents of the scattering layers. A greater understanding of whale and micronekton behavior has the potential to lead to more effective conservation practices. All marine mammals are currently protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Sperm Whales are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Interesting fact from Adrienne: Historical scientists could indeed see the scattering layers on their sonar, but they thought the layers were the ocean floor. Now we know they represent the layers of micronekton, but old habits die hard, so the science community sometimes refers to them as false bottoms.

Live Feed at 543 Meters! 

The ROV prior to deployment.
The ROV prior to deployment.

Our Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) deployment is a success! We deploy the ROV thanks to an effective team of crew members, scientists, and NOAA Corps officers working together. ROV deployment takes place on the port side of the ship. We take our ROV down to approximately 543 meters. We are able to survey with the ROV for a solid five hours. A plethora of team members stop by the eLab to “ooh” and “ahh” over the live feed from the ROV. Excitingly, the ROV is deployed prior to the vertical migration of the micronekton and during the early stages of the ascent. The timing is impeccable because our acoustics team is very curious to know which animals contribute to the thick blue and gray lines on our acoustics screens during the migration. In the ROV live feed, the micronekton are certainly visible. However, because the animals are so small, they almost look like snow falling in front of the ROV camera. Periodically, we can identify squid, larger fish, and jellies.

Did you Know? 

Kevin Lewand of the Monterey Bay Aquarium constructs a hyperbaric chamber for marine life on board the Sette.
Kevin Lewand of the Monterey Bay Aquarium constructs a hyperbaric chamber for marine life.

Mini hyperbaric chambers can be used to save fish who are brought to the surface from deep depths. These chambers are often used to assist humans who scuba dive at depths too deep for humans or who do not effectively depressurize when returning to the surface after SCUBA diving. The pressure of the deep water can be life threatening for humans. Too much pressure or too little pressure in the water can be life threatening for marine life, too. Marine life collector, Kevin Lewand, constructed a marine life hyperbaric chamber aboard the Sette. He learned this skill from his mentor. Be sure to say Aloha to him when you visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California.

 

 

 

 

Personal Log

Daily Life Aboard the Sette

There is never a dull moment on the ship. Tonight we have ROV operations, squid jigging, acoustics monitoring, and a CTD deployment. We of course can’t forget the fact that our bridge officers are constantly ensuring we are en route to our next location. Tonight’s science operations will most likely end around 05:00 (tomorrow). Crew members work 24/7 and are usually willing to share their expertise or a good story. If they are busy completing a task, they always offer to chat at another time. I find that the more I learn about the Sette, the more I yearn to know. The end of the cruise is just two days away. I am surprised by how quickly my time aboard the ship has passed. I look forward to sharing my new knowledge and amazing experiences with my students and colleagues. I have a strong feeling that my students will want to ask as many questions as I have asked the Sette crew. Aloha and mahalo to the Sette.

 

Sarah Boehm: Plankton, July 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 6, 2013

Weather at 21:21
Air temperature: 27°C (81°F)
Barometer: 1016 mb
Humidity: 82 %
Wind speed: 5 knots
Water temp: 26°C
Latitude: 30.13° N
Longitude: 87.96°  W

Science and Technology Log

cleaning up
The daily ritual of cleaning up the wet lab

We are steaming our way to port now after 14 days at sea. We will pull in to Pascagoula, Mississippi tomorrow morning. Research has finished and our last task today was to clean up the wet lab. Even though we haven’t had fish in the wet lab in days, a slight fishy smell lingers there and on the stern deck where the nets are stored. My nose must be fairly used to it by this point though, because it was far more noticeable the first days on the boat. A few students asked if the boat was smelly – I think at this point my shoes are the smelliest things on board, despite my efforts to wash off the fish slime and salty crust.

We finished all our trawling stations a few days ago and switched to plankton stations. So instead of pulling up big fish, we used smaller nets to pull up the tiny organisms that float about on ocean currents. We sample with two types of nets: the Neuston net skims the surface of the water and the bongo nets have a weight that pulls them down into deep water.

Neuston Net
The Neuston net gathering plankton at the surface
bongo nets
The bongo nets being lowered into the water.
jar of plankton
This batch of plankton has a lot of tiny shrimp and a few little fish

A lot of plankton is microscopic algae and protists that are the base of the ocean food web. This study is more interested in ichthyoplankton – baby fish. Most fish and marine invertebrates actually start life as plankton, floating about until they are big and strong enough to swim against the current. We collect plankton in the nets, transfer them over to glass jars and preserve them in alcohol. Back in the lab scientists will use microscopes to identify and study the little guys.

plankton
Tiny planktonic critters
sargassum
Sargassum floating by

Sometimes the Neuston goes through sargassum, a free floating seaweed. The sargassum sometimes floats as small clumps, and sometimes vast mats cover the water. I watched a few pieces float by with fish seeking protection by carefully positioning themselves directly underneath the seaweed. The sargassum is great refuge for little critters and we have to pick through it carefully to pull out all the plankton, many of which are well camouflaged in the tangle of orange.

sargassum critters
Tiny fish living in the protection of floating sargassum. Notice how well they camouflage with the orange/brown of the sargassum.

Personal Log

The folks on board the Oregon II are knowledgeable, professional, and a whole lot of fun. I’d love to introduce you to everyone – but I’m out of time, so let’s go with the day watch science team.

Day watch
The science day watch team – Mara, Joey, Andre, Sarah, and Caitlin
Andre and the sting ray
Andre measures a sting ray.

Andre, our watch leader, is a biologist with the groundfish survey at the NOAA Pascagoula lab. He can identify and give the scientific names for an impressive amount of fish and invertebrates we pull up in the nets. Joey is also a biologist at the labs and while he works mainly with reef fish, he also knows a lot about everything from plankton to sharks. Andre and Joey are also good teachers who helped us learn those scientific names through lots of jokes and nicknames (Celine Dion, Tom Hanks, and Burt from Sesame Street each are now associated with a specific species of fish in my mind, and Mel Gibson is a lovely crab with purple legs).

Mara and Caitlin
Mara and Caitlin filling a jar with plankton

Also on our watch are two interns. Caitlin graduates at the end of the summer from University of Texas at Corpus Christi and is on the groundfish survey as part of her summer internship with the Center for Coastal Studies.  As part of her internship she dissected a few larger fish to examine their stomach contents, determining if that partially digested thing was a squid, crab, fish, etc.  The other member of our team is Mara Castro, from Puerto Rico where she is a graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan working on her Environmental Health Masters degree. She is doing an internship at the Pascagoula labs this summer and came out for this leg of the groundfish survey. Her favorite part of being on the boat is working with the fish, especially trying to identify them. She also loves the unusual fish we pull up, from transparent plankton to large shark suckers.

I have loved being out at sea for two weeks, but sometimes I felt a little trapped in such a small space. Then I would go up to the top deck, the flying bridge, and enjoy the view and the wind. It is a great place to watch the water and clouds and look for dolphins and birds. On a regular day on land I would move my body a lot more through normal activities like walking around the grocery store or climbing the stairs to the 3rd floor office at school. When I found myself with pent up energy I’d drag out the rowing machine or yoga mat that are stored up on the flying bridge to get some exercise. I have mixed feelings about reaching port tomorrow. I am ready to be on land again, but will miss all the people I have gotten to know and the beauty of the sea.

CDCPS Science Students

Where do you think the bongo nets got their name?

What does ” ichthyo” mean? Two words that use this root are ichthyoplankton and ichthyologist.

Sherie Gee: Scalloping Across the Seafloor, June 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Sherie Gee
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 26 – July 7

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of Cruise:  Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:  June 28, 2013 

Science and Technology Log:

Dredging is the other method of collecting the data needed for this research.  First, I would like to mention that there are predetermined stations that are collected from. Chief Scientist Nicole explained that a computer selects the stations by random and then she basically connects the dots and sets the course.  This way there is no bias in the selection process of the stations and they won’t be used more than once.

Map Showing the Course of Stations
Map Showing the Course of Stations
The Dredge and Platform
The Dredge and Platform
Spare Dredge on Deck
Spare Dredge on Deck

The crew is in charge of bringing the dredge up after towing for 15 minutes at each station.  As soon as the dredge is up on the platform and all of the organisms are lying on the platform, the scientists head out with their rubber work boots, foul weather pants, and life jackets.  They grab two orange baskets, some white buckets and a smaller plastic container.  Everyone stands at the edge of the platform and starts sorting out the organisms.  The pace of sorting is fast and furious as the scientists are quickly placing the organisms in these baskets and buckets.  The organisms are sorted out into sea scallops, small skates, fish, and all other organisms.  The most abundant organisms on most of the dredges were a species of sea stars called the armored sea star, Astropecten americanus.  Some of the other dredges had mostly sand dollars in it.  The combination of these animals varied from station to station.

Once all of the organisms are placed into the baskets and buckets, they are then lined up by the wet lab.  Here is where everything is counted, weighed, and measured. Larry, our watch chief, is in charge of that process making sure everything is done correctly.  The groups of organisms are weighed on scales and entered into the computer with a very remarkable program  called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computing System). It is an application used by four science centers (NEFSC, NWFSC, AFSC, AND SEFSC) to collect at-sea information on the research vessels that go out. Each sea scallop is measured by placing one side next to a backboard and using a magnetic tool to touch the end of the scallop to the fish board which records the length automatically and entered into the computer. You can tell when the length has been recorded because a ringing sound will go off. Then the next scallop is processed. It usually takes two people during this process; one to measure and one to feed the person measuring more scallops from the baskets.

Fish Board In the Wet Lab
Fish Board In the Wet Lab

While this is being done with the sea scallops, the fish are measured in the same way.  It is a very quick way to get this quantitative data.  A sub sample is also taken on each dredge by taking a portion of each basket and compiling it into a smaller container and counted.  In these sub-samples I counted Astropecten americanus, crabs, and whelks.  The reason for counting these species is to look at the populations of the sea scallop’s predators.  This is a very important factor in analyzing the population of a species.

Basket of Goosefish
Basket of Skates
Basket of Sea Scallops
Basket of Sea Scallops

Once the entire process has been completed, all specimens are returned to the ocean to resume their niche in their habitat.

Organisms Seen:

Atlantic Sea Scallop, rock crabs, sand dollars, armored sea star, Asterias sea star, four spot flounder, monkfish (goosefish), ocean pout, gulf stream flounder, red hake, yellow-tailed flounder, little skate, waved wake, mermaid purses (skate egg cases), sea mouse, whelks, clams, hermit crabs, American lobster

Did you know:

The sea mouse is actually a polychaete which is a type of marine segmented worm.

Ventral View of a Sea Mouse
Ventral View of a Sea Mouse

Personal Log:

Being a part of this science team has had a tremendous impact on me.  The scientists prove to be very dedicated to their work, all working for a common goal.  I am amazed at the plethora of animals being dredged up in the Atlantic Ocean.  Of course I am very partial to the fish brought up on board.  I wish I had more time with them to observe them closer and in more detail.  The goosefish also called the monkfish is a type of angler fish with an adaptation that looks like a fishing pole and bait.  It reminds me of my little frogfish that is also a type of angler fish.  I was also excited to find so many skate egg cases also called mermaid purses.  They were empty which meant that the skates had already hatched.

Empty Mermaid Purses AKA Skate egg cases
Empty Mermaid Purses
AKA Skate egg cases

Rita Salisbury: Robots and Sound Waves, April 19, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Salisbury
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013

Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: April 19 2013 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Partly cloudy, winds ENE 10-15 knots, sunrise 603, sunset 1846
77 degrees F (25 degrees C)
Humidity 85%
Barometer 30.09” (1019.5 mb)
Dewpoint 72 degrees F (22 degrees C)
Heat Indes 78 degrees F (26 degrees C)
Visibility 10 miles

Science and Technology Log

We have been calibrating the acoustic equipment for a few days in order to be ready for our survey of bottomfish. It was a long process, but necessary. Four of us worked on moving a small titanium sphere under the boat by maneuvering it to different positions. A scientist working in the e-lab (electronics lab) used different frequencies from the transducers to locate the sphere and record the results. Graduate students and NOAA scientists worked until 1:00 in the morning to get the job done.

The ROV on it's first deployment
The ROV on it’s first deployment

While we were working on the acoustics, other scientists were working on a test run of the ROV. The currents were very strong when they deployed the ROV but it performed well and was successfully retrieved. Operating it is a lot like the controls to a video game, only the stakes are much higher. 

The AUV was deployed on Wednesday. The first step was to do a rehearsal of the procedures for deploying and retrieving the AUV. Everyone had a job to do and it was made clear who would be doing what and when. While it was obvious that certain people were in charge, they asked that if anyone thought they had a better idea of how to do something, or had a question, to speak up.  At one point, the captain, CO Koes, asked everyone who was not actually part of the procedure to move to one of the side of the deck so she could see who was  actually supposed to be working.

After the walk-through rehearsal, the AUV was lifted off the deck by a large crane and placed into the water off the fantail of the ship. At first it was tethered to the ship, but after awhile it was released and became independent of the ship. The scientists want to be as sure as they can be that the AUV will operate properly before letting it go so they run through a checklist. If everything is working correctly, they release the AUV.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The AUV being deployed.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The AUV going solo!

The AUV is pre-programmed for the mission so it is important to know about the underwater geography of an area. The AUV needs to be within 30 to 35 meters of the ocean floor in order to know where it is. Other than that, it follows the pattern that the scientists created. If the AUV doesn’t return to the ship, it’s a big deal. It’s very expensive and difficult to replace. The scientists designed it with that thought in mind.

In addition to the high-tech solutions programmed into the AUV, the scientists also included low-tech ideas into the equipment to retrieve the AUV in case something goes wrong and the AUV is submerged and unretrievable. There is a “drop weight” attached to a strand of zinc. Zinc corrodes quickly in salt water. Through testing the scientists have already determined how thick the zinc strand should be in order to corrode through in a given amount of time at a particular water temperature. The strand that they are using on this cruise is constructed to corrode through in 5 1/2 hours. Once it corrodes, the weight drops off and the AUV rises to the top of the water where it can be seen and picked up. The zinc strand is replaced and another weight is attached. All the weights are the same size and weight so they are interchangeable. Otherwise, the scientists would have to recalibrate the AUV every time they changed weights. I was really impressed to see that the scientists use a combination of high and low tech to make their AUV successful.

Heat-sealing the ground up squid and sardines for bait.
Heat-sealing the ground up squid and sardines for bait.

The scientists on the Oscar Elton Sette use some smaller boats to assist with their research. One thing that I do to help out is make bait for the small boats to use to attract fish. We take frozen squid and sardines out of the freezer a few hours before we need them and put them on a protected place on the deck. After they thaw, we put them in a commercial quality food processor and grind them up into marble-sized chunk. Then we put the chunky bait into plastic bags, seal them, and put them back in the freezer until they can be delivered to the boats that need them.

Personal Log

This ship is amazing! It’s big and packed with the scientific equipment. The “wet lab” has become the acoustics lab for this trip and the e-lab is above that. The mess is open 24 hours for snacks, (as long as you clean up after yourself), and serves three meals a day. The cooks are really talented and are always providing fresh new ways of serving something. Fortunately, there’s a gym a couple of decks beneath mine!

There’s a movie room, a laundry, a tv room with books and computers, and a ship’s store. There’s even a full-time medical officer on board. My stateroom is set up well. There are 6 spacious bunks, drawers under the bottom ones and lockers for everyone, built-in desks with ethernet access, and a large bathroom. Since everyone is on a slightly different schedule we do our best to be quiet and to keep the lights low.

Uli Uli Manu taking a break on my bunk.
Uli Uli Manu taking a break on my bunk.

 On Tuesday, we had emergency drills. Everyone has a specific place that have to go to when the alarms sound. If it’s a fire alarm or a man-overboard drill, I have to go to the Texas Deck. If it’s an abandon ship drill, I go to the boat deck and put on my orange gumby suit. That was a little tricky and very hot, but I’m glad they let us practice it.

One thing I’ve noticed on the ship is how everyone has a job to do, but they are always ready to pitch in and help someone else. Meals are really interesting. The mess is small and has several tables set up with 4 chairs at each table. People sit with different people all the time. It doesn’t seem to matter who is an officer, a crew member, or a scientist. Everyone sits with everyone else.

 The captain gave me a tour of the bridge on Tuesday. It was late and we ran out of time, so she has invited me to come back up and finish the tour

The Oscar Elton Sette as seen from a small boat off the coast of Maui.
The Oscar Elton Sette as seen from a small boat off the coast of Maui.

soon. I was impressed by the number of back-up plans in place. There didn’t seem to be one piece of equipment that didn’t have another piece doing the same job in a slightly different way. This allows the ship to continue working properly on the chance that something stops working. The bridge is the control center of the ship and has alarms and notifications for anything that might crop up–low fresh water levels, smoke, fire, and anything else you can think of.

Did You Know?

Sound is vibration transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas. The speed of the vibrations, or how quickly they cycle, determines the frequency. Frequency is measured in cycles per second, or hertz (Hz). Humans can hear certain frequencies, while bats and dogs can hear others. Whales and dolphins hear even more frequencies.

The sound waves we are using on the Oscar Elton Sette will bounce off the fish and reflect back to the ship, allowing the scientists to locate the fish and determine their shape, size, and movement.

 

Animals I Have Seen

Whale fluke off Maui
Whale fluke off Maui

Seen off the coasts of Maui, Molokai, and Lanai:

Needlefish
I thought they were barracuda at first, but someone explained the difference to me
Humpback Whales
Dolphins–too far away to identify the species

Stacey Jambura: The Adventure Begins, July 8, 2012

Stacey Jambura
July 6 – 17, 2012
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Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
(You can also view the NOAA ShipTracker here: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html)
Date: July 8, 2012

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Weather Details from Bridge: (at 18:45 GMT)
Air Temperature: 29.50 ◦C
Water Temperature: 30.70 ◦C
Relative Humidity: 66%
Wind Speed: 1.52 kts
Barometric Pressure: 1,017.82 mb
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Science and Technology Log

Virtual Tour of the Oregon II

I know many of you may have never been on a ship before and are probably curious to know what it is like to be aboard the Oregon II. I’m going to take you on a little virtual tour, but first you will need to know some common terms that are used to refer to certain areas on the ship.

Ship Term

What It Means

Bow The front of the ship.
Stern The back of the ship.
Starboard The right side of the ship when facing the bow.
Port The left side of the ship when facing the bow.
Forward The direction towards the bow of the ship.
Aft The direction towards the stern of the ship.
Bridge The location of the command center for the ship.
Galley The kitchen.
Mess Hall The dining area.
Head The bathroom.
Stateroom Where crew members sleep.

On Deck

The Bow

At the bow of the ship is where most of the scientific collection equipment is deployed/released. The CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth), the neuston net, and the bongo nets. (I will talk about each one of these in upcoming blogs.) There are several large cranes that help lift these up off the deck and swing them over the edge of the ship to be released into the water. When you are at the bow and the cranes are running, it is very important to keep yourself safe. Everyone who is at the bow when the cranes are operating is required to wear a hard hat and a PFD (personal floatation device). You never know if a cable will snap or the wind will swing the equipment towards you. There is a sensor on the PFD that is activated when large amounts of saltwater touches it, like if you were to fall overboard. Once salt water touches the sensor, the PFD will inflate and keep you afloat until you can be rescued.

Oregon II Bow
Oregon II Bow

The Stern

At the stern is where the samples from the neuston cod end and the bongo cod ends are collected and preserved in jars for scientists to examine at a lab. This is also where the large trawling net is deployed. The scientists spend most of their time at this part of the ship.

Stern of the Oregon II
Stern of the Oregon II

What Makes the Ship Sail?

Bridge

The bridge is where the officers of the Oregon II work. It is located toward the bow of the ship. The bridge has all of the navigation tools necessary to steer the ship to the next sampling station. There is also a lot of weather equipment that is monitored and recorded throughout the day. The bridge is where you’ll find the best views of the ocean because it is almost completely surrounded by windows and it’s higher than any other room on the ship.

At the Helm
At the Helm
Bridge
Bridge

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Chart Room

This room is where all of the maps are stored. While there are more technologically advanced methods used for navigation on the ship located in the bridge, it is important to have physical maps on hand to refer to, especially if the instruments stop working for any reason.

Chart Room
Chart Room

Engine Room

Before we untied our ship from the dock I received a full tour of the engine room. This is where the heart of the ship is. Everything in the engine room powers the ship. Our water is even purified down here using reverse osmosis (passing water through a membrane to filter the water). Because of this machine, we can filter salt water into fresh water to use on the ship.

Reverse Osmosis
Reverse Osmosis Machine

It was great to venture down to the engine room  before we set sail because I was told that it can get up to 110 degrees when the engines are running! It is a large space, but it feels small because of the large equipment. There are two of everything, which is especially important if something needs repair. Below is a picture of the two engines. The other is a picture of one of the generators.

Engine
Engine
Generator
Generator

Living on a Ship
Stateroom

My stateroom is compact, but its main purpose is for sleeping so size isn’t really an issue. There is a bunk bed, a sink with a mirror, latching drawers for clothes, and a hide-away desk. There is also a compact tv that is attached to the bottom of the top bunk and folds up when it is not in use. I only use the room to sleep and get ready for my shift because my bunkmate works the opposite watch shift as mine (midnight to noon), and I want to be the least disruptive as possible. After 12 hours shifts, sleep is really needed and helps reenergize you in time for the next watch.

Stateroom Bunks
Stateroom Bunks
Stateroom
Stateroom

The Head

The head is the same as a bathroom. On the Oregon II there are private and communal heads. The private heads are for the officers and are typically connected to their staterooms. The communal heads are open for any crew member to use. There are also communal showers for the crew to use. All of the toilets use salt water that is pumped onboard. The reason fresh water is not used is because it is a precious source on the ship and is not readily available from the ship’s surroundings. The sinks, showers, drinking fountains, and ice machines all use fresh water. Fresh water on the ship should never be wasted. Water for the sinks is timed so that there will never be a faucet that is accidentally left on. Showers are to be kept to a maximum of 10 minutes, though it is encouraged that they be even shorter.

Heads
Heads
Shower
Shower

Galley and Mess Hall

This is one of my favorite places. The galley is where our ship’s cooks prepare all of the wonderful food for the crew. The mess hall is where we all eat during meal times. During meal times it can be quite crowded in the mess hall as there are only 12 available seats and over 30 crew members onboard who are ready to eat. There is an “eat it and beat it” policy to help ensure that everyone who comes down to eat will be able to find a spot. Despite this, it is still a great way to converse with the crew and talk about events from the day before giving up your set to another hungry crew member.

Galley
Galley
Mess Hall
Mess Hall

Crew Lounge

This is the place where crew members who have some down time can gather and socialize, though down time can be rare. There is satellite tv, a couple of computers, and hundreds of movies to choose from. Some available movies haven’t even been released onto DVD for the common household yet, but they are available to the military. They do this because not everyone has access to current movies when they are away from home for extended periods of time. All of the DVDs are encrypted and can ONLY work on the machines aboard the ship. I was excited to find a copy of The Hunger Games and I plan on trying to watch it before my trip is over.

Lounge 1
Lounge 1
Lounge 2
Lounge 2

Labs on the Oregon II

The Wet Lab

The Wet Lab is where all of the samples from the groundfish trawls are sorted, counted, measured, weighed, and sexed (gender identified). Buckets filled with animals from the nets are dumped onto a large conveyor belt and spread out to make sorting the different species out into individual baskets easier. Everything in the wet lab can get wet except the sensors connected to the machines. We need to be cautious around the sensors when we are cleaning up after a sampling so as not to get water in them.

Wet Lab
Wet Lab

The Dry Lab

The Dry Lab is where all of the computers are located that record all of the data from the samplings. As the name of this lab states, everything in it is dry. Water should never come into contact with the equipment in here because it can seriously damage it. In between samplings, this is typically where the scientists gather to wait for arrival at the next sampling station.

Dry Lab
Dry Lab

The Chem Lab

This is where all of the plankton samples are stored. It is also where water samples taken from the CTD are tested for dissolved oxygen (DO). The CTD does have its own DO sensor, but it is always best to test something more than once to ensure you are collecting accurate data.

Chem Lab
Chem Lab
Personal Log
Day 1 – July 5th
I arrived in Gulfport/Biloxi, Mississippi late in the afternoon of July 5th. The chief scientist, Brittany Palm, met me at the airport and drove me over to the Port of Pascagoula where the Oregon II was docked. We met up with two college volunteers, Kayla and Andrew, and got a quick tour of the ship  (the air conditioning was out!) before we headed over to a wonderful local barbecue restaurant. We returned after dark and were welcomed with a fixed AC! I unpacked my belongs into my latched drawers and made up my bunk bed up so that everything would be in place when I was ready to hit the sack. It took a couple of nights for me to get use to the sounds of the ship, but now I hardly notice them.
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Day 2 – July 6th

Oregon II and IWhen I woke up the next morning, I decided to venture out into downtown Pascagoula which was only a 5 minute walk away from the ship. It is a quaint area with little shops and restaurants. I met up with the two volunteers and we picked a business that had the best of both worlds, a restaurant and a shop, to have a wonderful breakfast. We had to be back on the ship by 12:30 for a welcome meeting, but we took some time to snap a few pictures of our floating home for the next 12 days. We were underway shortly after 2 pm (1400 hours in military time). It was fun to watch our ship depart from the dock and enjoy the light breeze. It wasn’t long until we had another meeting, this time with the deck crew. We learned about the safety rules of working on deck and discussed its importance. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and getting my sea legs. The gentle rocking does require you to step carefully, especially when you have to step through the water tight doors!

Day 3 – July 7th
Our first day out at sea was slow to start. We didn’t reach our first sampling station until early in the morning on the 7th, even though we left the Oregon II’s port in Pascagoula mid-afternoon on the 6th. I was sound asleep when we arrived because my shift runs noon to midnight every day, so my first sampling experience didn’t happen until almost 24 hours after we set sail. This was nice because it gave me time to explore the ship and meet some of the crew.
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Right after lunch I got to jump right in and help finish bagging, labeling, and cleaning up the wet lab for the team that was just finishing up their shift. After we had finished it was time to conduct my first plankton sampling.  We went out on deck at the bow of the ship to prepare the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) device for deployment/release. After the CTD was released and brought back on deck, we deployed the neuston net to collect species samples from that same station. (I’ll explain the importance of this type of net in a later blog.) Once the collection time was complete, the neuston net was brought back on deck where we detached the cod end and placed it into a large bucket. Cod ends are plastic cylindrical attachments with screened holes to let water run through but keep living things inside during collection. The neuston cod end’s screens have 0.947mm sized openings.  We then deployed the bongo nets to collect samples of even smaller species like plankton. (I will describe the purpose of the bongo nets in a later blog.) When the nets were brought back on deck, we detached the cod ends from the two bongo nets and placed those into buckets as well. The screens on the cod ends for the bongo net are even smaller than the neuston’s at only 0.333mm. When all of the nets were rinsed to make sure nothing was still stuck to the inside of the nets, we brought the buckets back to the stern of the ship to further rinse the samples and place them into jars for further examination by scientists.

Day 4 – July 8th
Blowfish
Holding a blowfish collected from a trawling
Today was a lot of fun because I completed my first groundfish trawl. The net for this trawl is located at the stern of the ship. When the net was brought back up on deck, it was emptied into a large box. There was quite the commotion when the fish were emptied out of the net. Not only were the fish flopping around like crazy and splattering water everywhere, their scales flew everywhere and it looked like shiny confetti! Anyone who was in a 6 foot radius was bound to be covered in scales. By the end of the day I thought I was part mermaid with the amount of scales that had stuck to me!
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There were so many fish in one of our trawls that we had to use large shovels to place the fish into more manageable sized baskets. The baskets were brought inside the wet lab to be sorted, weighed, measured, and labeled.
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The coolest animals I saw today were sea urchins, a sharpnose shark, and a blowfish. It was also fun to observe the different crab species, so long as I kept my fingers away from their claws!
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Question of the Day
There is only one right answer to this question. ? You’ll be able to find it at one of the links I placed in my blog. Can you find the answer?
Good Luck!

Andrea Schmuttermair: Out to Sea, June 24, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 24, 2012

Ship Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 2858 N
Longitude: 9310.96 W
Speed:  10 mph
Wind Speed: 6.77
Wind Direction: N/NE
Surface Water Salinity: 30.9
Air Temperature: 28.5 C
Relative Humidity: 79%
Barometric Pressure: 1009.84 mb
Water Depth:  24.3 meters

 Personal Log

About ready to set sail!
About ready to set sail!

And the journey has begun! I arrived in Houston on Thursday afternoon, only to be whisked away by Chief Scientist Andre DeBose to meet a few of the other scientists and crew for dinner. I had a great time getting to know a few of the people I will be working with over the next couple of weeks. We arrived to the port at Galveston about 10pm, where I got a quick tour of the Oregon II, my home for the next 2 weeks. Exhausted from traveling, I made myself at home in my stateroom before turning in for the evening.

Because we weren’t scheduled to set sail until 1400, I had a bit of time in the morning to explore Galveston. Being the adventurous type , I took this time to explore the land I would soon be leaving. The Oregon II is docked at Pier 21, located on “The Strand”, a strip filled with historic buildings and tourist shops.  I spent most of my morning snapping photos, checking out the shops, and tracking down a good breakfast burrito at one
of the many Mexican food places that don the strip.

The pier in Galveston
The pier in Galveston

Once back at the ship, we were briefed on the “Do’s and Don’ts” while on board, and what our shifts would look like. I am on the night watch, which means I will be working from midnight until noon each day. This will be a tough schedule to get used to, but I’m hoping we’ll see some neat things at night, and that it will be a little cooler out. I knew I should get to sleep as soon as we set sail, however I couldn’t help hanging out on deck for a little while as we left the port. I was rewarded for this opportunity by watching the pelicans and dolphins seeing our ship out of the port. I snapped a few more photos, enjoyed the cool breeze, and then headed down for bed.

I had quite a blast on my first night shift. I think keeping busy was a good thing, even though it was exhausting. I enjoyed getting to know my team a little better, and of course, checking out all the critters! Some of my favorites were the squid, sharp-nose and dogfish sharks, lizardfish, and my all-time favorite so far – the bashful crab.

Why do you think he is called the "bashful crab"?
Why do you think he is called the “bashful crab”?

Science and Technology Log

I am always under the mindset that if you want to learn something, you need to throw yourself in head first. Well, that’s exactly what I did on my very first shift on the Oregon II. We are split up into 2 shifts — midnight to noon or noon to midnight. On my watch, I am working with our watch leader, Alonzo, 2 scientists, Lindsey and Alex, and a volunteer, Renee. Our Field Party Chief Scientist (FPC), Andre, had to leave unexpectedly. Our new FPC, Brittany, was with us a bit of this first watch to make sure we understood our tasks, as I had lots of questions! Not only did I get the privilege to work the nightshift (I know you’re probably wondering why I said privilege  — I’ll explain soon), but we also had one of the busiest shifts we’re anticipated to have for the length of this cruise. Just after midnight on Saturday morning, we pulled up our first trawl and conducted our first CTD.

The CTD warming up just below the water's surface
The CTD warming up just below the water’s surface
Rinsing out the CTD with freshwater
Rinsing out the CTD with freshwater

A CTD, if you remember from my first blog, stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. We put the device overboard in the front of the ship (the bow), and let it sit just below the surface for about 3 minutes so the sensors can warm up before we drop it to its scheduled depth. Then we lower it so it is as close to the ocean floor as possible. We do this at every station to collect important information about the oxygen level in the water in these areas. This information is important because we want to find out what the optimal conditions (temperature, salinity and oxygen levels) are for the specimens we collect. Knowing what environmental conditions suit each species allows us to see how shifts in the environment can impact populations. The data from the CTD is displayed on the computer in our dry lab, where the data points are plotted on a graph.

The dry lab is where we process a lot of our data both from the CTD and the sampling. We can monitor our CTD casts and find the weather information here. It is also the area where scientists go when there is a bit of downtime to relax before the next catch is brought in.

Bringing up the trawl- this was a big catch!
Bringing up the trawl — this was a big catch!
Working in the dry lab

Over in the back of the ship, also known as the stern, the trawl picks up all sorts of critters from the ocean bottom. When we’re ready, the deck crew helps us bring up the trawl and dump our catch into large buckets on deck.  We had so much on the first catch that they dumped it out on the floor and we shoveled it into buckets like we were shoveling snow. We then weighed our catch before bringing it in and sorting it. Our first few catches were quite large — we had 6 or 7 baskets full of critters! Each basket can hold roughly 25kg. So, mathematicians, about how many kilograms were our first couple of catches? The nighttime brings on some interesting animals, and there is a certain excitement to staring out at the pitch black ocean.

Our troughs full of the catch, waiting to be sorted
Our troughs full of the catch, waiting to be sorted

With these large catches, jumping in head first was exactly what I had to do. I got a quick crash course in how to identify and sort the fish. I had no idea there would be so many different types! From the entire catch, we were to pull out red snapper, shrimp (pink, white and brown only), blue crabs, and anything unusual. We did this by dumping all the fish in a large trough, which we would then dig through to find our samples and place them in separate baskets.

We are pulling out samples primarily of shrimp because that is one of the main focuses of our survey this summer. The estimated abundance of shrimp, calculated from the trawl catches, is used to set limits for the commercial fishermen.

In addition to sorting out these important critters, we would also take what we call a subsample, the size of which is determined by the size of our total catch. Of this subsample, we sorted out everything in this section of the catch. We often had over 20 different types fish or crustaceans! Once the subsample was sorted, Alonzo would then weigh the total weight of a certain species and enter the data into our computer system. From here the fun part really began.

Lindsey is measuring, weighing and sexing the catch while I enter the data into the computer.
Lindsey is measuring, weighing and sexing the catch while I enter the data into the computer.
Weighing the lizardfish
Weighing the lizardfish

We would measure the length of each critter on our measuring board, which uses a magnetic wand to capture the data and send it directly to the computer database. For most of the species, we would also take the weight of the first fish and every fifth fish thereafter, and, if possible, also determine its sex and stage of maturity. All this information was entered in the database. We typically worked in teams of 2 with one person measuring and weighing the fish and the other entering information into the computer. We were a bit slow to start, but after the first catch we had a system down. Once we had all of our data, we bagged up some of the fish that people have requested for samples while the rest headed back to the ocean. Fish from our survey will go to scientists in lab across the country to study further.

Because all the stations were about 2-5 miles apart on our first watch, we were working nonstop from midnight until about 11am. We pulled up about 7 catches, and almost always had a catch waiting to be sorted on deck.

Hard at work measuring my lizardfish
Hard at work measuring my lizardfish

Got Questions?

Don’t forget, you can leave your questions in the “Comments” section below, and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Critter Query:

Students: Don’t forget to put your name in your response.  Remember, the first one to respond correctly will receive a prize in the fall!

Critter Query #1: What’s the biggest commercial shrimp found in the Gulf of Mexico and what is its scientific name?

Critter Query #2: Name 3 types of shark found in the Gulf of Mexico.  (more than one correct response — all correct responses will receive a prize providing there are no repeats)

Lindsay Knippenberg: A Tour of the Oscar Dyson, September 8, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lindsay Knippenberg
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4 – 16, 2011

Mission: Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: September 8, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 54.14 N
Longitude: -166.57 W
Wind Speed: 27.33kts
Wave Height: up to 17 ft
Surface Water Temperature: 8.4 °C
Air Temperature: 7.7 °C

While hiding from the storm in Dutch Harbor for the past two days, I had plenty of time to explore my new home onboard the Oscar Dyson. The Dyson is 209 ft in length and is like a small city. Everything that I would need during my two-week cruise, including a laundry room, would be available to me onboard. To show you what life is like onboard a ship, I decided to go on a little tour of the Dyson and take some pictures of the different areas of the ship. If you are interested in  more in-depth specifications of the ship, check out the Oscar Dyson’s website.

Science and Technology Log

Let’s start in the scientific areas of the ship. I have been spending most of my time working with the fisheries team in the fish lab. When we are done trawling and the fishermen bring in the net, they dump our catch onto a large conveyor belt. As the conveyor belt slowly moves, we sort our catch by species. Once we are done sorting, we also process the catch by weighing, measuring, and taking samples of the organisms. To learn more about this process, see my blog post from September 4th.

The Fish Lab. This is where the fish are brought in and processed.
The Fish Lab. This is where the fish are brought in and processed.

Next to the fish lab is a wet lab. A lot goes on in the wet lab. Some scientists are identifying plankton under microscopes, other scientists are dissecting fish stomachs to see what the fish are eating, and some scientists are filtering water from different depths of the ocean looking for chlorophyll.

The Wet Lab. Scientists study the ocean water, use microscopes, and dissect fish stomachs in this lab.
The Wet Lab. Scientists study the ocean water, use microscopes, and dissect fish stomachs in this lab.

When you pass through yet another door, you end up in another lab called the dry lab. There are several computers and other pieces of machinery that control the instruments that are lowered over the side of the ship at our sampling stations. This room is where a lot of the oceanography data is collected. I will talk about what they do and the data that they are collecting in another blog.

The Dry Lab. Jeanette is watching the data come in from one of the instruments.
The Dry Lab. Jeanette is watching the data come in from one of the instruments.

The last lab is across the hall and it is called the acoustics lab. This room is mostly composed of computers and lots of large screens to track where the fish are underneath the boat. Stay tuned for more on acoustics later.

The Acoustics Lab. Paul is using acoustics to watch the fish swim under the boat.
The Acoustics Lab. Paul is using acoustics to watch the fish swim under the boat.

Personal Log

I know that many of you have been wondering…Where do I sleep? What do I eat? What do I do when I am not playing with fish? And do I get to take a shower after playing with fish all day? Hopefully these pictures will help you to get a better idea of what life is like on the ship. It is no cruise ship, but I’m not “roughing it” by any means.

Let’s start with my room. The rooms are actually a lot larger than I thought that they would be. Everyone has a roommate and I am sharing a room with the Chief Scientist, Ellen Martinson. Each room has two bunks, a desk with an internet connection, two lockers for storing gear, a refrigerator, drawers for more storage, and a bathroom.

Mine and Ellen's room.
Mine and Ellen's room.

Ahh…the bathroom. Each room has its own bathroom with a sink, shower, and toilet. Before I got here I had imagined having one large bathroom for each floor or group of rooms, so this was a pleasant surprise. Even better was that it was much larger than any bathroom I have ever seen on a boat. The shower even has a bar to hold onto when you are trying to shower in rough seas, which I have found quite useful.

My Bathroom...it's so huge for a boat.
My Bathroom...it's so huge for a boat.

So what do I eat? It is more like what have I not eaten. The food has been excellent and there is always a variety of choices to choose from. Breakfast is from 07:00 – 8:00 and consists of eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes or french toast, oatmeal, and today there was even quiche. I’m not a big breakfast person so I have been eating cereal and fruit for most breakfasts. Lunch is from 11:00 – 12:00 and is my favorite meal of the day. The cook makes amazing soups and there is usually a good sandwich to pair it with. If you don’t want soup and sandwich, there is usually burgers, quesadillas, or chicken fingers to choose from. If you don’t think that you can make it until 17:00 (or 5pm) when dinner is served again, don’t worry. There are usually fresh-baked cookies in the galley at around 15:00. If you still are hungry at dinner time, then you are in for a treat. So far for dinner I have had pork chops, spaghetti, leg of lamb, steak, and chicken ala king. Of course you would have to finish dinner with dessert and coffee. How about homemade chocolate cake and a scoop of ice cream? And you can’t just serve a regular cup of coffee. How about a mocha latte made from the espresso machine in the galley?

The Galley. Lots of good food can be found here.
The Galley. Lots of good food can be found here.

What happens if you eat too much and get sick? Don’t worry, the ship has a medical officer and infirmary if you need medicine. We have had some pretty rough seas during our cruise so it is nice to know that there is somewhere that I can go if I am feeling sick or if I need more medicine.

Not feeling well. Don't worry, the ship has a medical officer and infirmary.
Not feeling well? Don't worry, the ship has a medical officer and infirmary.

What do I do when I’m not playing with fish in the fish lab? Well, there are lots of things to do to keep yourself busy. You could workout in one of two workout rooms. You could choose from over 500 movies to watch in the lounge. You could clean your fish-smelling clothes in the laundry room. My personal favorite is to go up to the bridge and check out what is going on outside. From here you can see for miles and there are usually lots of seabirds to see and if you are lucky you can even see a whale or porpoise passing by.

Wash your dirty clothes at the ship's laundry room.
Wash your dirty clothes at the ship's laundry room.
Relax in the lounge and watch a movie.
Relax in the lounge and watch a movie.
Eat too many cookies today? Work off those extra calories in one of the ships two workout rooms.
Eat too many cookies today? Work off those extra calories in one of the ships two workout rooms.
Check out the bridge to look for sea birds and whales.
Check out the bridge to look for sea birds and whales.

Heather Haberman: Groundfish Surveying, July 7, 2011 (post #2)

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: Thursday, July 07, 2011

Weather Data from  NOAA Ship Tracker
Air Temperature:  29.2 C      (84.6 F)
Water Temperature:  29.3 C    (84.7 F)
Relative Humidity:  72%
Wind Speed:  2.64 knots

Preface:  There is a lot of science going on aboard the Oregon II, so to eliminate information overload, each blog I post will focus on one scientific aspect of our mission.  By the end of the voyage you should have a good idea of the research that goes into keeping our oceans healthy.

In case you’re new to blogging, underlined words in the text are hyperlinked to sites with more specific information.

Science and Technology Log

Topic of the day:  Groundfish Surveying

To collect samples of marine life in the northern Gulf of Mexico, NOAA Ship  Oregon II is equipped with a 42-foot standard shrimp trawling net.  NOAA’s skilled fishermen deploy the net over the side of the ship at randomly selected SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) stations using an outrigger.  The net is left in the water for 30 minutes as the boat travels at 2.5 to 3 knots (1 knot = 1.15 mph).

Shrimp trawl net attached to an outrigger. Notice the large wooden “doors” that help spread the net as it is lowered into the water.

Bottom trawling is a good method for collecting a random sample of the biodiversity in the sea because it is nonselective and harvests everything in its path.  This is excellent for scientific studies but poses great problems for marine ecosystems when it is used in the commercial fishing industry.

One problem associated with bottom trawling is the amount of bycatch it produces.  The term bycatch refers to the “undesirable” fish, invertebrates, crustaceans, sea turtles, sharks and marine mammals that are accidentally brought up to the surface in the process of catching commercially desirable species such as shrimp, cod, sole and flounder.  At times bycatch can make up as much as 90% of a fisherman’s harvest.  To address this problem, NOAA engineers have designed two devices which help prevent many animals from becoming bycatch.

Bycatch photo: NOAA

All sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed under the Endangered Species Act and are under joint jurisdiction of NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  In an effort to reduce the mortality rate of sea turtles, NOAA engineers have designed  Turtle Exclusion Devices (TED).  TEDs provide these air-breathing reptiles with a barred barrier which prevents them from going deep into the fishing net and guides them out of an “escape hatch” so they won’t drown.  TEDs have also proven to be useful in keeping sharks out of  bycatch.

Loggerhead sea turtle escaping a trawling net through a TED.

Another device that was introduced to the commercial fishing industry is the Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD).  BRDs create an opening in a shrimp trawl net which allows fishes with fins, and other unintended species, to escape while the target species, such as shrimp, are directed towards the end of the capture net.

Notice the location of the TED which prevents the turtle from entering into the net and the BRD that allows swimming fish to escape. Illustration provided by the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service
This is a very small catch we harvested from 77 meters (253 feet).

Once the trawl net is brought back on board the Oregon II, its contents are emptied onto the deck of the ship.  The catch is placed into baskets and each basket gets weighed for a total weight. The catch then goes to the “wet lab” for sorting.  If the yield is too large we randomly split the harvest up into a smaller subsample.

Each species is separated, counted, and logged into the computer system using their scientific names.  Once every species is identified, we measure, weigh, and sex the animals.  All of this data goes into the computer where it gets converted into an Access database spreadsheet.

My team and I sorting the catch by species.
Amy entering the scientific name of each species into the computer.
I measure while Amy works the computer. Collecting data is a team effort!

When the Oregon II ends its surveying journey, NOAA’s IT (Information Technology) department will pull the surveying data off the ship’s computers.   The compiled data is given to one of the groundfish survey biologists so it can be checked for accuracy and consistency.  The reviewed data will then be given to NOAA statisticians who pull out the important information for SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) and SEDAR (Southeast Data and Review)

SEAMAP and SEDAR councils publish the information.   State agencies then have the evidence they need to make informed decisions about policies and regulations regarding the fishing industry.  Isn’t science great!  Most people don’t realize the amount of time, labor, expertise and review that goes into the decisions that are made by regulatory agencies.

Personal Log

Day crew from left to right: Chief Scientist Andre, college intern Brondum, myself, Team Leader Biologist Brittany and Biologist Amy

During our “welcome aboard” meeting I met the science team which consists of a Chief Scientist, four NOAA Fisheries Biologists, three volunteers, one college intern, one Teacher at Sea (me) and an Ornithologist (bird scientist).

I was assigned to work the day shift which runs from noon until midnight while the night shift crew works from midnight until noon.  This ship is operational 24 hours a day in order to collect as much information about the northern Gulf fisheries as possible.  The Oregon II costs around $10,000 per day to operate (salaries, supplies, equipment, etc.) so it’s important to run an efficient operation.

I am learning a lot about the importance of random sampling and confirming results to ensure accuracy.   Amy and Brittany taught me how to use the CTD device (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth), set up plankton nets as well as how to sort, weigh, identify and sex our specimens.

The food has been great, the water is gorgeous and I love the ocean!  Stay tuned for the next blog post about some of the most important critters in the sea!  Any guesses?

Species seen (other than those collected)

Birds:  Least Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Laughing Gull, Neotropical Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Magnificent  Frigatebird

Go to http://www.wicbirds.net for more information about the various bird species seen on this trip.

Mammals: Common bottlenose dolphin

Margaret Stephens, May 28, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Margaret Stephens
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Fisheries, bathymetric data collection for habitat mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States continental shelf waters from Cape Hatteras, NC to St. Lucie Inlet, FL
Date:  May 28, 2011 (Last day!)

NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo credit: Richard Hall
NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo credit: Richard Hall

Weather Data from the Bridge
As of 06:43, 28 May
Latitude 30.15
Longitude 80.87
Speed 7.60 knots
Course 285.00
Wind Speed 10.77 knots
Wind Direction 143.91 º
Surface Water Temperature 25.53 ºC
Surface Water Salinity 36.38 PSU
Air Temperature 24.70 ºC
Relative Humidity 92.00 %
Barometric Pressure 1011.10 millibars
Water Depth 30.17 m
Skies: clear

r at Sea Margaret Stephens and Scientist David Hoke in Pisces attire.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Margaret Stephens and Scientist David Hoke in Pisces attire.

Science and Technology Log

These scientists are not only smart, but they are neat and clean, too! After completing final mapping and fish sampling on the second-to-last day, we spent the remainder of the time cleaning the wet (fish) lab, packing all the instruments and equipment, and carefully labeling each item for transport. We hosed down all surfaces and used non-toxic cleaners to leave the stainless steel lab tables and instruments gleaming, ready for the next research project. The Pisces, like other NOAA fisheries ships, is designed as a mobile lab platform that each research team adapts to conform to its particular needs. The lab facilities, major instruments and heavy equipment are permanent, but since research teams have different objectives and protocols, they bring aboard their own science personnel, specialized equipment, and consumable supplies. The primary mission of NOAA’s fisheries survey vessels, like Pisces, is to conduct scientific studies, so the ship’s officers and crew adjust and coordinate their operations to meet the requirements of each research project. The ship’s Operations Officer and the Chief Scientist communicate regularly, well before the project begins and throughout the time at sea, to facilitate planning and smooth conduct of the mission.

Gag grouper (top, Mycteroperca microlepis) and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) specimens, labeled for further study Photo credit: David Berrane
Gag grouper (top, Mycteroperca microlepis) and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) specimens, labeled for further study Photo credit: David Berrane

“Wet” (fish) lab aboard Pisces, cleaned and ready for next research team
“Wet” (fish) lab aboard Pisces, cleaned and ready for next research team

We made up for the two days’ delay in our initial departure (caused by mechanical troubles and re-routing to stay clear of the Endeavor space shuttle launch, described in the May 18 log), thanks to nearly ideal sea conditions and the sheer hard work of the ship’s and science crews. The painstaking work enabled the science team to fine tune their seafloor mapping equipment and protocols, set traps, and accumulate data on fish populations in this important commercial fishing area off the southeastern coast of the United States. The acoustics team toiled every night to conduct survey mapping and produce three dimensional images of the sea floor. They met before sunrise each morning with Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler to plan the daytime fish survey routes, and the fish lab team collected two to three sets of six traps every day. The videographers worked long hours, backing up data and adjusting the camera arrays so that excellent footage was obtained.  In all, we obtained ten days’ worth of samples, brought in a substantial number of target species, red snapper and grouper, recorded hours of underwater video, and collected tissue and otolith samples for follow-up analysis back at the labs on land.

Models

Scientists and engineers often use models to help visualize, represent, or test phenomena they are studying. Models are especially helpful when it is too risky, logistically difficult, or expensive to conduct extensive work under “live” or real-time conditions.

Divers exploring hardbottom habitat Photo Credit: Douglas E. Kesling, UNCWilmington, CIOERT
Divers exploring hardbottom habitat Photo Credit: Douglas E. Kesling, UNCWilmington, CIOERT

As described in previous logs, this fisheries work aboard Pisces involves surveying and trapping fish to analyze population changes among commercially valuable species, principally red snapper and grouper, which tend to aggregate in particular types of hardbottom habitats.  Hardbottom, in contrast to sandy, flat areas, consists of rocky ledges, coral, or artificial reef structures, all hard substrates. By locating hardbottom areas on the sea floor, scientists can focus their trapping efforts in places most likely to yield samples of the target fish species, thus conserving valuable time and resources. So, part of the challenge is finding efficient ways to locate hardbottom. That’s where models can be helpful.

The scientific models rely on information known about the relationships between marine biodiversity and habitat types, because the varieties and distribution of marine life found in an area are related to the type of physical features present. Not surprisingly, this kind of connection often holds true in terrestrial (land) environments, too. For example, since water-conserving succulents and cacti are generally found in dry, desert areas, aerial or satellite images of land masses showing dry environments can serve as proxies to identify areas where those types of plants would be prevalent. In contrast, one would expect to find very different types of plant and animal life in wetter areas with richer soils.

Recovering ROV aboard Pisces Photo source: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/pc/visitor/photos‐a.html
Recovering ROV aboard Pisces Photo source: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/pc/visitor/photos‐a.html

Traditional methods used to map hardbottom and identify fish habitat include direct sampling by towing underwater video cameras, sonar, aerial photography, satellite imaging, using remotely operating vehicles (ROV’s), or even setting many traps in extensive areas. While they have some advantages, all those methods are labor and time-intensive and expensive, and are therefore impractical for mapping extensive areas.

This Pisces team has made use of a computer and statistical model developed by other scientists that incorporates information from previous mapping (bathymetry) work to predict where hardbottom habitat is likely to be found. The Pisces scientists have employed the “Dunn” model to predict potential hardbottom areas likely to attract fish populations, and then they have conducted more detailed mapping of the areas highlighted by the model. (That has been the principal job of the overnight acoustics team.) Using those more refined maps, the day work has involved trapping and recording video to determine if fish are, indeed, found in the locations predicted. By testing the model repeatedly, scientists can refine it further. To the extent that the model proves accurate, it can guide future work, making use of known physical characteristics of the sea floor to identify more areas where fish aggregate, and helping scientists study large areas and develop improved methods for conservation and management of marine resources.

Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke
Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke
Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke
Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke

Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) Measurements

Another aspect of the data collection aboard Pisces involves measuring key physical properties of seawater, including temperature and salinity (saltiness, or concentration of salts) at various depths using a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD)  device.

Salinity and temperature affect how sound travels in water; therefore, CTD data can be used to help calibrate the sonar equipment used to map the sea floor. In other instances, the data are used to help scientists study changes in sea conditions that may affect climate. Increases in sea surface temperatures, for example, can speed evaporation, moisture and heat transfer to the atmosphere, feeding or intensifying storm systems such as hurricanes and cyclones.

Pisces shipboard CTD, containing a set of probes attached to a cylindrical housing, is lowered from the side deck to a specified depth. A remote controller closes the water collection bottles at the desired place in the water column to extract samples, and the CTD takes the physical measurements in real time.

Fresh Catch

Of all the many species collected, only the red snapper and grouper specimens were kept for further study; most of the other fish were released after they were weighed and measured. A small quantity was set aside for Chief Steward Jesse Stiggens to prepare for the all the ship’s occupants to enjoy, but the bulk of the catch was saved for charitable purposes. The fish (“wet” lab) team worked well into overtime hours each night to fillet the catch and package it for donation. They cut, wrapped, labeled and fresh froze each fillet as carefully as any gourmet fish vendor would. Once we disembarked on the last day, Scientist Warren Mitchell, who had made all the arrangements, delivered over one hundred pounds of fresh frozen fish to a local food bank, Second Harvest of Northern Florida. It was heartening to know that local people would benefit from this high-quality, tasty protein.

Careers at Sea

Crewmen Joe Flora and Vic Pinones
Crewmen Joe Flora and Vic Pinones

Many crew members gave generously of their time to share with me their experiences as mariners and how they embarked upon and developed their careers. I found out about many, many career paths for women and men who are drawn to the special life at sea. Ship’s officers, deck crew, mechanics, electricians, computer systems specialists, chefs and scientists are among the many possibilities.

Chief Steward Jesse Stiggens worked as a cook in the U.S. Navy and as a chef in private restaurants before starting work with NOAA. He truly loves cooking, managing all the inventory, storage and food preparation in order to meet the needs and preferences of nearly forty people, three meals a day, every day. He even cooks for family and friends during his “off” time!

First Engineer Brett Jones
First Engineer Brett Jones

Electronics specialist Bob Carter, also a Navy veteran, is responsible for the operations and security of all the computer-based equipment on board. He designed and set up the ship’s network and continually expands his skills and certifications by taking online courses. He relishes the challenges, responsibilities and autonomy that come along with protecting the integrity of the computer systems aboard ship.

First Engineer Brent Jones has worked for many years in the commercial and government sectors, maintaining engines, refrigeration, water and waste management, and environmental control systems. He gave me a guided tour of the innards of Pisces, including four huge engines, heating and air conditioning units, thrusters and rudders, hoists and lifts, fresh water condenser and ionizers, trash incinerator, and fire and safety equipment. The engineering department is responsible for making sure everything operates safely, all day and night, every day. Brent and the other engineers are constantly learning, updating and sharpening their skills by taking specialized courses throughout their careers.

Chief Boatswain James Walker
Chief Boatswain James Walker

Chief Boatswain James Walker is responsible for safe, efficient operations on deck, including training and supervising all members of the deck crew. He entered NOAA after a career in the U.S. Navy.  The Chief Boatswain must be diplomatic, gentle but firm, and a good communicator and people manager. He coordinates safe deck operations with the ship’s officers, crew, and scientific party and guests.

NOAA officers are a special breed. To enter the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree with extensive coursework in mathematics or sciences. They need not have experience at sea, although many do. They undergo an intensive officers’ training program at a marine academy before beginning shipboard work as junior officers, where they train under more experienced officers to learn ship’s systems and operations, protocols, navigation, safety, personnel management, budgeting and administrative details. After years of hard work and satisfactory performance, NOAA officers may advance through the ranks and eventually take command of a ship.

Operations Officer, Lt. Tracy Hamburger
Operations Officer, Lt. Tracy Hamburger
Junior Officer Michael Doig
Junior Officer Michael Doig

All the officers and crew aboard Pisces seem to truly enjoy the challenges, variety of experiences and camaraderie of life at sea. They are dedicated to NOAA’s mission and take pride in the scientific and ship operations work. To be successful and satisfied with this life, one needs an understanding family and friends, as crew can be away at sea up to 260 days a year, for two to four weeks at a time. There are few personal expenses while at sea, since room and board are provided, so prudent mariners can accumulate savings. There are sacrifices, as long periods away can mean missing important events at home. But there are some benefits: As one crewman told me, every visit home is like another honeymoon!

Personal Log

One size fits all?
One size fits all?

Navy Showers

I had expected that life aboard Pisces would include marine toilets and salt water showers with limited fresh water just for rinsing off.  I was surprised to find regular water-conserving flush toilets and fresh water showers. Still, the supply of fresh water is limited, as all of it is produced from a condensation system using heat from the engines. During our ship orientation and safety session on the first day, Operations Officer Tracy Hamburger and Officer Mike Doig cautioned us to conserve water.  They explained (but did not demonstrate!) a “Navy” shower, which involves turning the water on just long enough to get wet, off while soaping up, and on again for a quick rinse. It is quite efficient – more of us should adopt the practice on land. Who really needs twenty minute showers with fully potable water, especially when more than one billion people on our “water planet” lack safe drinking water and basic sanitation?

One size fits all?
One size fits all?

“Abandon Ship!”

One size fits all?
One size fits all?

The drill I had anticipated since the first pre-departure NOAA Teacher at Sea instructions arrived in my inbox finally happened. I had just emerged from a refreshing “Navy” shower at the end of a fishy day when the ship’s horn blasted, signaling “Abandon ship!” We’d have to don survival suits immediately to be ready to float on our own in the sea for an indefinite time. Fortunately, I had finished dressing seconds before the alarm sounded. I grabbed the survival suit, strategically positioned for ready access near my bunk, and walked briskly (never run aboard ship!) to the muster station on the side deck. There, all the ship’s occupants jostled for space enough on deck to flatten out the stiff, rubbery garment and attempt to put it on.  That’s much easier said than done; it was not a graceful picture. “One size fits all”, I learned, is a figment of some manufacturer’s imagination. My petite five foot four frame was engulfed, lost in the suit, while the burly six- foot-five crewman alongside me struggled to squeeze himself into the same sized suit. The outfit, affectionately known as a Gumby, is truly designed for survival, though, as neoprene gaskets seal wrists, leaving body parts covered, with only a small part of one’s face exposed. The suit serves as a flotation device, and features a flashing light, sound alarm, and other warning instruments to facilitate locating those unfortunate enough to be floating at sea.

Thankfully, this was only a test run on deck. We were spared the indignity of going overboard to test our true survival skills. I took advantage of the opportunity to try a few jumping jacks and pushups while encased in my Gumby.

Fish bet ‐‐ Rigged results? Photo credit: Jen Weaver
Fish bet ‐‐ Rigged results? Photo credit: Jen Weaver

Bets Are On!

These scientists are fun-loving and slightly superstitious, if not downright mischievous. On the last day, Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler announced a contest: whoever came closest to predicting the number of fish caught in the last set of traps would win a Pisces t-shirt that Nate promised to purchase with his personal funds. In true scientific fashion, the predictions were carefully noted and posted for all to see.  As each trap was hauled in, Nate recorded the tallies on the white board in the dry lab. Ever the optimist, basing my estimate on previous days’ tallies, I predicted a whopping number: 239.

I should have been more astute and paid more attention to the fact that the day’s survey was planned for a region that featured less desirable habitats for fish than previous days. Nate, of course, having set the route, knew much more about the conditions than the rest of us did. His prediction: a measly 47 fish. Sure enough, the total tally was 38, and the winner was………Nate!   Our loud protests that the contest was fixed were to no avail. He declared himself the winner. Next time, we’ll know enough to demand that the Chief Scientist remove himself from the contest.

 

Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler and red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus Photo credit: David Hoke
Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler and red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus Photo credit: David Hoke

 

Crewman Kirk Perry with Mahi‐mahi
Crewman Kirk Perry with Mahi‐mahi

Catching Mahi-mahi

Once the day’s deck work was over, a fish call came over the ship’s public address system. Kirk Perry, one of the avid fishermen among the crew, attached a line baited with squid from the stern guard rail and let it troll along unattended, since a fishing pole was unnecessary. Before long, someone else noticed that the line had hooked a fish. It turned out to be a beautiful mahi-mahi, with sleek, streamlined, iridescent scales in an array of rainbow colors, and quite a fighter. I learned that the mahi quickly lose their color once they are removed from the water, and turn to a pale gray-white once lifeless. If only I were a painter, I would have stopped everything to try to capture the lovely colors on canvas.

Goodbyes

We entered Mayport under early morning light. An official port pilot is required to come aboard to guide all ships into port, so the port pilot joined Commander Jeremy Adams and the rest of the officer on the bridge as we made our way through busy Mayport, home of a United States Naval base. Unfortunately, the pier space reserved for Pisces was occupied by a British naval vessel that had encountered mechanical problems and was held up for repairs, so she could not be moved. That created a logistical challenge for us, as it meant that Pisces had to tie up alongside a larger United States naval ship whose deck was higher than ours.  Once again, the crew and scientists showed their true colors, as they braved the hot Florida sun, trekking most of the gear and luggage by hand over two gangplanks, across the Navy ship, onto the pier, and loading it into the waiting vehicles.

The delay gave me a chance to say farewell and thank the crew and science team for their patience and kindness during my entire time at sea.

These eleven days sailed by. The Pisces crew had only a short breather of a day and a half before heading out with a new group of scientists for another research project. To sea again….NOAA’s work continues.

All aboard!

A big “Thank you!” to all the scientists and crew who made my time aboard Pisces so educational and memorable!

 

Science team. Photo credit: NOAA Officer Michael Doig
Science team. Photo credit: NOAA Officer Michael Doig

Links & Resources

http://www.marinecareers.net/links_degrees.php

Literature cited:

Dunn, D, Halpin, P (2009) Rugosity-based regional modeling of hard-bottom habitat. Marine Ecology Progress Series 377:1-11

Safety! I hope I never have to use that fire axe!
Safety! I hope I never have to use that fire axe!
Sky view from Pisces. Photo credit: David Hoke
Sky view from Pisces. Photo credit: David Hoke
View from Pisces: United States Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship
View from Pisces: United States Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship
Engineers Abe Goldberg and Bob Carroll
Engineers Abe Goldberg and Bob Carroll
Loading gear with crane & hoist
Loading gear with crane & hoist
Loading gear with crane & hoist
Loading gear with crane & hoist
Commander Jeremy Adams looks out from Pisces’ bridge Photo credit: Richard Hall
Commander Jeremy Adams looks out from Pisces’ bridge Photo credit: Richard Hall

Barbara Koch, October 2, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Barbara Koch
NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 20-October 5, 2010

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Southern New England
Date: Tuesday, October 2, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude 41.31
Longitude -71.40
Speed 6.50 kts
Course 192.00
Wind Speed 11.29 kts
Wind Dir. 246.00 º
Surf. Water Temp. 18.81 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 31.87 PSU
Air Temperature 15.90 ºC
Relative Humidity 57.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1014.52 mb
Water Depth 35.81 m
Cruise Start Date 10/2/2010

Stacy Rowe, of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center
Stacy Rowe, of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Science and Technology Log

Stacy Rowe, of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts is the Chief Scientist for our cruise. I had a chance to talk with her about her background, experiences, and job while we were waiting to leave port today.

When working onshore, Rowe is responsible for pre-cruise preparations, such as ordering supplies for the trip and coordinating the collection of special samples for in-house and out-of-house scientists. She also works on testing a new version of FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System), which is the system we are using to collect data about the fish populations.

During the cruise, when serving as Chief Scientist, Rowe shoulders a lot of responsibility. She schedules the watch teams, works with both watch teams, and acts as a liaison between the scientists and the ship’s personnel on the bridge (the room from which the boat is commanded). Although the sampling stations are randomly selected via computer before the cruise, Rowe works with the bridge to determine in which order stations will be sampled. On this cruise she has consulted with the bridge often because the weather has impacted our travel so much. Rowe relates that the job of chief scientist is mentally tiring because she is really on call the entire cruise. After the cruise, Rowe works with post-cruise management. She makes sure the samples collected are distributed to the scientists, and she audits data to make sure there were no errors in data collection.

Rowe grew up in Florida and attended the University of Florida where she earned a BS in Natural Resource Conservation with a minor in Wildlife Ecology. During her undergraduate program, she studied sampling, and uses this information extensively in her job now. After she graduated from college, Rowe joined the Peace Corps. She spent over one year working in Congo, Africa on a fresh water project. Then, she spent two years on Palau in Micronesia working in marine resource management. Rowe has been with NOAA for eight years, now. She goes on five to six research cruises a year, which adds up to about sixty days for the entire year. She serves as Chief Scientist on the majority of her cruises, but still enjoys the rare cruise when she works as a scientist processing catches.

Rowe has some advice for young people thinking they might like a career like hers. First, get a degree in any science area. A marine science degree isn’t really necessary. Work experience is the really important key. Second, volunteer as much as you can. Volunteering to work on research cruises not only builds a resume, but it allows students to try it out early on in their school career to see if they like it.

Stacy Rowe has strong interpersonal and organizational skills that are important for her leadership position, and I’ve enjoyed working as a volunteer scientist under her direction.

Personal Log

Newport, Rhode Island is a great place to visit. It was a center for shipbuilding and trade during colonial times, and is the birthplace of the U.S. Navy. Some of the United States’ wealthiest families built summer homes overlooking the bay, and these homes are open for tours today. I spent a nice afternoon on the “Cliff Walk” which is a trail that skirts around the edge of the estates just above the water. I had been there twenty five years ago, so it was fun to revisit the area.

Narragansett Bay
Narragansett Bay.

After two days in port, we are heading back out to sea. It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining, and the waters are pretty calm. It’s hard to believe that we will be in rough waters once we leave Narragansett Bay. I’m riding up on the weather deck as we leave the bay, and I see many sailboats, two commercial cruise liners, Fort Adams (which has guarded Narragansett Bay since Colonial Times), Clingstone (a famous house built on a rock in the water), and the Newport (Pell) Bridge. I’m definitely putting Newport on my list of places to revisit.

In the Wet Lab

Processing an Atlantic Spicy Dogfish
Processing an Atlantic Spicy Dogfish
Processing an Atlantic Spicy Dogfish
Processing an Atlantic Spicy Dogfish

We have processed Atlantic Spiny Dogfish in the lab this week. This fish isn’t very popular for food in the United States, but it is exported to Europe for “fish and chips.” In 1998, this species was overfished, therefore, there were limits placed on the numbers fisheries could catch. Since that time, catch levels have been rebuilt.

The Atlantic Spiny Dogfish lives a long time: females up to 40 years and males up to 35 years. Females are larger than males and give birth to between two and fifteen live pups. During gestation (18-24 months) the pups have a yellow sack at their necks called a “yolk.” The Spiny Dogfish, processed here by TK, was a female with six pups. You can see the yolk on the two pups in the picture at right.

Barbara Koch, September 30, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Barbara Koch
NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 20-October 5, 2010

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Southern New England
Date: Tuesday, September 30, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude 41.53
Longitude -71.32
Speed 0.00 kts
Course 58.00
Wind Speed 16.00 kts
Wind Dir. 143.26 º Surf.
Water Temp. 18.79 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 31.45
PSU Air Temperature 21.50 ºC
Relative Humidity 91.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1014.67 mb
Water Depth 12.53 m
Cruise Start Date 9/27/2010

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow is now docked in Newport, Rhode Island due to a deep trough of moisture from the East Pacific and Tropical Storm Nicole in the Atlantic moving up the Atlantic coast towards New England. The National Weather Service has issued a gale warning, because winds associated with this weather system are causing rougher seas, and it is too dangerous for the ship to continue trawling the ocean floor. When ships are at sea conducting research, it is vitally important that NOAA monitors current weather and wave conditions to insure the safety of the crew and scientists aboard their vessels. Actually, NOAA provides current weather information for everyone in America, including commercial fishermen and all of us on land. Visit NOAA’s National Weather Service website at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/ to see what’s happening today.

Our ship is equipped with instruments that collect weather and water data.Data is collected for wind speed, wind direction, water temperature, surface water salinity, air temperature, relative humidity, and barometric pressure. The information listed above under “Weather Data from the Bridge” is information gathered from the weather station located on top of the ship. Weather information is posted hourly. NOAA also has buoys placed in the waters around the United States, the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans that collect data. Visit the National Data Buoy Center’s website at http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/ to see where they are located and to read current data.

Henry B. Bigelow
Henry B. Bigelow

Wind movement in the atmosphere and water movement in the ocean are interrelated. When wind blows across the surface of the ocean, friction causes water molecules to move in a circular motion. Energy built up from friction transfers from one molecule of water to the next as each molecule rotates into the next. This action causes a wave to form. The size of the wave depends on three factors; the strength of the wind gust, the distance it blows (fetch), and the length of time it gusts (duration). NOAA’s buoys and ships collect wave measurements over a twenty minute sampling period for wave height (WHGT), wave period (APD), and the period with the strongest wave energy (DPD). A “gale warning” is issued when wind speeds are expected to measure 39-54 mph causing waves to reach between 18-25 feet in height. So, we are here until the seas calm down, which may be Saturday. While at dock, we’ll have time to explore Newport.

Personal Log

Foul weather gear
Foul weather gear

I’m really sad that we had to go in to port because I was just getting my sea legs and starting to feel comfortable with my work in the wet lab.But, I am glad to have a little time to wash my clothes.Everything I wear in the lab smells like fish! We wear our regular clothes, but put “foul weather gear” on over them before going into the wet lab. Foul weather gear consists of rubber boots, suspendered waterproof pants, and a waterproof rain jacket. Here is a picture of the gear hanging in the room where we get into our gear, and a picture of me in my pants holding a large skate. We store the pants over the boots so we can just step right in and pull the pants up, just like fire fighters. We always spray all the fish remnants off before we come back into this room to take off our gear.

Converyor belt in the wet lab
Converyor belt in the wet lab

We also wear rubber gloves during all of our work. The scientists have been using the blue gloves like the ones John is wearing at right, but scientists from past cruises commented they had a hard time holding onto the fish, so we are testing two other types of gloves on this cruise. The two gloves are rubber, but one is thick like the blue gloves and one is thinner.Both gloves have ridges on all of the fingers to allow for better gripping. I’ve been wearing the thicker orange gloves. So far, these gloves have worked well for me. I am able to easily pick up flat fish like flounder, but the sharp point of a scup’s dorsal fin poked through my glove once. That hurt! I’m just glad I didn’t have the thinner gloves on. A lot of fish slime also collects on the ridges throughout the watch. That’s easily remedied with a quick rinse from the nearby hose. Now, I think I’ll try out the blue gloves, so I can make a valid comparison.I’ll let you know my results at the end of the cruise.

Gloves
Gloves

Richard Chewning, June 18th, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Chewning
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 4 – 24, 2010

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak) to eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)
Date: June 18, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Bering Sea, north of Dutch Harbor
Time: 1600 hours
Latitude: N 55 06.120
Longitude: W 166 33.450
Cloud Cover: Mostly cloudy
Wind: 10 knots from the west
Temperature: 7.1 C
Barometric Pressure: 1010.8

Science and Technology Log

In order to manage a public resource such as pollock, fisheries managers must develop a stock assessment. A stock assessment is a big picture overview of a certain population of fish. Fisheries managers use stock assessments to determine opening and closing dates for fishing seasons, catch limits (the number of fish that can be caught by a particular fisherman or boat), and the total allowable catch for the season. Stock assessments are developed from a combination of fishery dependant and independent data. Fishery dependant data includes catch records from commercial fishing boats and reports from processors dockside that prepare and package the fish for market. Combined with this information is fishery independent data. This information is gathered from sources not involved with commercial fishing.

Cod end filled with pollock
Unsorted catch entering wet lab

The Dyson’s acoustic trawl survey is one of the primary sources of fishery independent data for the pollock stock assessment. The Dyson’s transducers provide a wealth of acoustic data from each transect. These acoustic returns must first be identified or deciphered before being used in the stock assessment. Just like you need a key to decode the symbols on a road map or need a scale to interpret the colors on a weather map, the acoustic returns also need to be referenced with actual pollock specimens collected by trawling. By matching up the characteristics of the fish caught in the trawl with their acoustic returns, researchers can interpret all the acoustic data from the entire survey area.

Walleye pollock
My what sharp teeth you have! Arrowtooth flounder

Pollock specimens are collected with Aleutian wing trawls, or AWTs for short. An Aleutian wing trawl is a single large net deployed off the stern of the Dyson. Large metal fishbuster doors are used to open the mouth of the net in the water. The catch is collected in a bag located at the end of the net called the cod end. The cod end’s mesh size prevents anything larger than 0.5 inches from escaping. Once the net is hauled back on deck, the cod end is emptied in the wet lab, and the entire catch is sorted. Fish are identified, counted, weighed, and measured. The gender and maturity of a subsample of pollock are also recorded. Stomachs are collected to determine what the pollock are eating. Finally, otoliths, the ear bones of fish, are collected. Just like counting the rings of a tree, researchers will count the number of rings in the otolith to determine the age of the pollock. Notable bycatch (fish that were not targeted) include eulachon, arrowtooth flounder, Pacific cod, sturgeon poacher, and yellowfin sole. Misha told me Russians used to dry out eulachon whole and use them as candles because of their high oil content. In fact I learned that one of common names in the US for eulachon is candlefish!

Yellowfin sole
Eulachon

Why gather so much information on a single species of fish like pollock? Fisheries managers are responsible for the sustainable use of public resources. Without careful monitoring, fishing pressure, natural predation, and disease might remove pollock from the population faster than they can replace themselves. There is great demand for pollock both commercially and in the Bering Sea ecosystem. Walleye pollock is the largest US fishery by volume and third largest by value. Annual US catches can average 2.5 billion pounds. Pollock is also an important food source for Stellar sea lion, other marine mammals, birds, and other fish.

The Dyson in Dutch Harbor

Personal Log

On Thursday, I had the pleasure of joining two members of the deck crew, Joel Kellogg and Glen Whitney, to pick up a new addition of the science party in Dutch Harbor. Mike Sigler, a fish biologist with NOAA, is a project leader and principal investigator with the North Pacific Research Board’s Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (BSIERP). He is joining the Dyson for the last week of our survey. BSIERP is a six year long collaborative study with the National Science Foundation’s Bering Ecosystem Study (BEST). More than a hundred scientists from these two groups are investigating the organisms and physical forces that make up and influence life in the Bering Sea ecosystem.

Recovering the Peggy D.

To pick up Mike, the Dyson launched the Peggy D. Named for wife of Oscar Dyson, the Peggy D. is a small power boat used to ferry people to and from shore. Peggy Dyson is a famous Alaskan in her own right, serving as a National Weather Service ship to shore weather broadcaster. Her voice brought vital information and reassurance to Alaskan fisherman. She diligently performed these duties twice a day, seven days a week for 25 years. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to see the Dyson from the water as my only vantage point for the last two weeks has been from the Dyson looking out. I was surprised how quickly the Dyson shrunk on the horizon as we sped away and traveled into Dutch Harbor. Dutch Harbor felt like a true frontier town. The vehicles seemed to reflect the character of the town. While looking rough and weathered on the outside, the beat-up cars and trucks of Dutch Harbor revealed a resilience and gritty determination to keep moving forward and press on against an unforgiving environment. I loved hearing the cry of the bald eagles that were spotted everywhere you looked. While I enjoyed having solid ground under my feet for a few short minutes, I appreciated the sense of familiarity and belonging I felt upon returning to the Dyson.

Scute visits the Bering Sea

Scute, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center Mascot, was spotted visiting the Bering Sea today! Scute, a loggerhead sea turtle, travels the world promoting awareness of sea turtles. We know Scute was only visiting the Bering Sea as these waters are too cold for loggerhead sea turtles. Loggerhead sea turtles are the most abundant sea turtles in US coastal waters. Scute’s home is the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC) located on Jekyll Island, Georgia. The GSTC is a research, rehabilitation, and education center dedicated to helping sea turtles along the GA coast and around the world. Sea turtles released from the GSTC will often have a satellite transmitter attached to their shell just like Scute. The transmitters allow researchers to track their movements at sea. Only one of the seven species of sea turtles found worldwide can survive this far north – the leatherback sea turtle. The leatherback sea turtle is the largest species of sea turtle reaching six and a half feet in length and weighing as much as 2000 pounds! Leatherbacks have several adaptations such as high oil content in their large bodies that help them tolerate the cold waters of the southern Bering Sea. Leatherback sea turtles feed on jellyfish and can dive to great depths because the protection provided by their leathery shell (a hard shell would crack under the high pressure of the water). For more information about Scute and sea turtles, check out the GSTC website at http://www.georgiaseaturtlecenter.org !

Richard Chewning, June 5th, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Chewning
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 4 – 24, 2010

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak) to eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)
Date: June 5th, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Three Saints Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska
Time: 1000 hrs
Latitude: N 57 10.480
Longitude: W 153 30.610
Cloud Cover: overcast with light rain
Wind: 12 knots from NE
Temperature: 10.3 C
Barometric Pressure: 1001.1

Science and Technology Log

While taking on supplies and preparing for our cruise, the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson had the pleasure of welcoming six kids from the United States Coast Guard (USCG) 2010 Summer Program for a visit. These kindergarten through second graders were visiting from the USCG Integrated Support Command Kodiak, the largest Coast Guard base in the US. The Oscar Dyson’s medical officer ENS Amber Payne and I gave the students a firsthand tour of the Dyson.

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson tied up in Kodiak, AK.
The Bridge
The Bridge

Highlights of the visit included a tour of the bridge with Executive Officer Lieutenant Jeffrey Shoup. The students were impressed to learn that the propeller of the Oscar Dyson is 14 feet across and specially tooled to be as quiet as possible so as not to scare away any fish that the scientists onboard want to study. The students also enjoyed looking through the BIG EYES, two high powered binoculars located on the flying bridge (the highest point on the vessel above the bridge) of the Oscar Dyson that will be used to survey marine mammals. Scientist Suzanne Yin of the National Marine Mammals Laboratory told the students about how she and her colleagues wbe surveying for whales during the upcoming cruise

The Big Eyes
The Big Eyes
Safety onboard the Oscar Dyson
Safety onboard the Oscar Dyson

The highlight of the tour involved a demonstration by Safety Officer Ensign Russell Pate of one of the Dyson’s Damage and Control lockers. The students also enjoyed trying on the immersion suits with help of Ensign Payne. Immersion suits are designed to protect the wearer from exposure other frigid waters that the Dyson will soon be sailing The kids had great fun donning the firefighting equipment and helping Fisherman Glen Whitney test one of the Dyson’s fire hoses off the fantail. The USCG kids also learned how to tie a square knot with Glen’s help. With a little practice, they were able to join their individual lines into one large line by tying each line end to end using the square knot they just learned. Each student was able to take their line home to practice their newly acquired knot tying skills

Another fun activity was led by Senior Survey Technician Kathy Hough. After Kathy led the students through a tour of the Dyson’s dry and wet labs, the students acted as junior scientists by sorting an array of Alaskan fish and measuring and describing each species, just like the Oscar Dyson’s scientists will do later during the upcoming Pollock survey.

After lunch, the students received a fun science lesson using the property of water’s high surface tension. The students constructed two-dimensional boats out of plastic milk jugs and used soap to propel their boats over a tray of water. This is a very fun activity for younger students that you can easily do at home. The materials required include cleaned plastic milk jugs, scissors, markers, trays of water, and soap (a bar of Ivory soap cut into small cubes). After tracing the outline of a boat (as if looking from the top down) on the flat surface of a milk jug, the kids cut out their boats and made a small notch on the back of the boat to place a small block of soap to serve as the engine. The kids then enjoyed racing their boats against each other across the trays of water! If trying at home, you will need to replace the water in the tray after each race as the water becomes contaminated by the soap. This activity works because water molecules want to strongly stick to each other creating a strong but flexible surface. By disrupting the arrangement of the water molecules and causing the water molecules to push away from each other, the soap enables the boat to ‘power’ across the surface of the water.

Holding a Baby King Crab
Holding a Baby King Crab

After all equipment and supplies were loaded and crew members were boarded, the Dyson moved a short distance to take on diesel at the fuel dock. At 1820 hours, we departed St Paul Harbor and said goodbye to the Oscar Dyson’s home port of Kodiak. The Dyson then sailed about eight hours south to Three Saints Bay, a protected harbor south on Kodiak Island. Three Saints Bay will serve as a location to anchor so the science team can calibrate their acoustic equipment and will shelter the Oscar Dyson from an approaching low pressure system producing gale-force winds.

Personal Log

Hello Everyone! My name is Richard Chewning, and I have the honor to be a part of NOAA Teacher at Sea program sailing with NOAA ship Oscar Dyson. For those who do not know, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a federal government agency charged with studying all aspects of the ocean and atmosphere. As you can imagine, these are broad areas of study. While large in scope, the work of NOAA affects everyone, whether you live on a coast or not. Have you ever heard of The National Weather Service or The National Hurricane Center? Both are NOAA divisions.
Here I am holding a baby king crab.

NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program (TAS) aims to increase the public’s awareness and knowledge of NOAA science and career opportunities by having educators work alongside NOAA offices, ship’s crew, and shipboard scientists. NOAA’s TAS program invites both formal classroom teachers and non-formal educators alike to be a part of this amazing program. I myself am an environmental educator with the Jekyll Island 4-H Center. A Georgia 4-H program, the Jekyll Island 4-H Center is part of the University of Georgia. The Jekyll Island 4-H Center’s Environmental Education program welcomes 1st-12th grade students for environmental education field studies teaching coastal ecology using Jekyll Island as an outdoor classroom. I am the Environmental Education Program Coordinator and have enjoyed working for Jekyll 4-H for five years. For more information, visit http://www.jekyll4h.org .

I am very excited to be selected as a NOAA Teacher at Sea Participant and look forward to sharing my experiences with you through these logs.

Animals Seen Today

Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Kittiwakes (Genus Rissa)
Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba)
Magpie (Family Corvidae)

Justin Czarka, August 12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Czarka
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II (tracker)
August 10 – 19, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Date: August 12, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 

Sunrise: 06:25 a.m.
Sunset: 20:03 (8:03 p.m.)
Weather: isolated showers/patchy coastal fog
Sky: partly cloudy
Wind direction and speed: North 10-15 knots (kt)
Visibility: unrestricted to less than 1 nautical mile (nm) in fog
Waves: northwest 4-6 feet
Air Temperature: 17.3 °C
Water Temperature: 16.6 °C

Science and Technology Log 

Justin Czarka collects water samples to use in nutrient and chlorophyll research.  While on the deck during “ops” (operation) all personnel must wear a life jacket and hardhat.
Justin Czarka collects water samples to use in nutrient and chlorophyll research. While on the deck during “ops” (operation) all personnel must wear a life jacket and hardhat.

This log discusses the purpose behind the scientific cruise aboard the McArthur II. The cruise is titled, “Hydrographic and Plankton Survey.” The cruise is part of a larger study by many scientists to, in the words of chief scientist, Bill Peterson, “understand the effects of climate variability and climate change on biological, chemical and physical parameters that affect plankton, krill, fish, bird and mammal populations in Pacific Northwest waters.”  This specific cruise focuses on hydrology, harmful algal blooms, zooplankton, krill, fish eggs, fish larvae, and bird and mammal observations.

I will provide an overview of these aspects of the cruise. The McArthur II is set up with sensors for salinity, temperature, and fluorescence that provide a continuous monitoring of the ocean (hydrology) throughout the cruise.  In addition at various points along the transect lines (see the dots on the diagram of the cruise route on page 2), the CTD is deployed into the water column at specific depths to determine salinity (via measuring conductivity), water temperature, and depth (via pressure), and collect water samples (which we use to measure chlorophyll and nutrient levels at specific depths). The transects (predetermined latitudes that forms a line of sampling stations) have been selected because they have been consistently monitored over time, some since the late 1980s.  This provides a historical record to monitor changes in the ocean environment over time.

The dots represent planned sampling station. Due to sea conditions, these have been slightly modified.
The dots represent planned sampling station. Due to sea conditions, these have been slightly modified.

One scientist, Morgaine McKibben from Oregon State University, is researching harmful algal blooms (HAB). HABs occur when certain algae (the small plants in the ocean that are the basis of the food web) produce toxins that concentrate in animals feeding on them.  As these toxins move up the food web through different species, they cause harmful effects in those species, including humans.  Bill Peterson (NOAA/ Northwest Fisheries Science Center) and Jay Peterson (OSU/Hatfield Marine Science Center) are studying copepod reproduction. They are collecting data on how many eggs are laid in a 24 hour period, as well as how the copepod eggs survive in hypoxic (low oxygen) conditions.  Mike Force, the bird and marine mammal observer is keeping a log of all species spotted along the cruise route, which is utilized by scientists studying the species.

Personal Log 

Tiny squid collected in a vertical net and viewed under microscope on Crescent City transect line at 41 deg 54 min North.
Tiny squid collected in a vertical net and viewed under microscope on Crescent City transect line at 41 deg 54 min North.

Who said you never find the end of the rainbow? All you have to do is go out to sea (or become a leprechaun!). We have been going through patches of fog today, putting the foghorn into action.  When it clears out above, yet is foggy to the horizon, you get these white rainbows which arc down right to the ship. We have become the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Who knew it was the McArthur II! If you follow the entire rainbow, you will notice that it makes a complete 360° circle, half on top the ocean and half in the atmosphere near the horizon.

I enjoyed using the dissecting microscope today.

The water collected from the vertical net is stored in a cooler on the deck to be used in experiments.  I was able to collect a sample of the water, which contained a diverse group of organisms, from tiny squids to copepods to euphausiids.  These tiny organisms from the size of a pinhead to a centimeter long are critical to the diets of large fish populations, such as salmon.  Under magnification, one can see so much spectacular detail.  I have learned how essential it is to have an identification guide in order to identify the names of each copepod and euphausiid.  On the other hand the scientists tend to specialize and become very adept at identifying the different species.

Animals Seen Today 

Arrow worms (long clear, with bristles)
Shrimp Copepods
Tiny rockfish (indigo colored eyes)
Fish larvae

Justin Czarka, August 11, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Czarka
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II (tracker)
August 10 – 19, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Date: August 11, 2009

Weather data from the Bridge

Sunrise: 6:25 a.m.
Sunset: 20:03 (8:03 p.m.)
Weather: partly cloudy
Sky: patchy fog
Wind direction and speed: Northwest 5-10 knots
Visibility: unrestricted to less than 1 nautical mile (nm) due to fog
Waves: 5-7 feet
Air Temperature: 15° Celsius
Water Temperature: 12.92 °Celsius

Science and Technology Log 

The McArthur II took about six hours from leaving port in San Francisco to reach our first station at Bodega Bay. We arrived at Bodega Bay around midnight.  Bodega Bay, along with the next three stations, Point Arenas, Vizcaino Canyon, and Trinidad Head, California, will be sampled at only one station location each as we move up the coast to reach our first transect line of nine stations off Crescent City, California (Latitude: 41 deg 54 min). Due to leaving port later than expected, the science team has dropped some of the sampling sites at the southern end of the cruise. Still we are sampling as we head north in order to get an enhanced survey picture along a north-south line. At the stations, we are dropping the CTD into the water column, using the vertical net, and the bongo net.

Jennifer Menkel and Lacey O’Neal observe the CTD deployment.  The left screen display depth sounds on three different frequencies, the middle screen creates graphs based on the CTD sensors, and the right screen shows live video feed of the CTD deployment on the fantail (back deck) of the McArthur II.
Jennifer Menkel and Lacey O’Neal observe the CTD deployment. The left screen display depth sounds on three different frequencies, the middle screen creates graphs based on the CTD sensors, and the right screen shows live video feed of the CTD deployment on the fantail (back deck) of the McArthur II.

While I did not participate in the first sampling at Bodega Bay, my shift (read more about shifts below) began sampling at Point Arenas and then Vizcaino Canyon. Upon entering the dry lab, Jay Peterson and Jennifer Menkel, both of Oregon State University, Hatfield Marine Science Center (OSU/HMSC) in Newport, Oregon, were observing the data stream for the CTD on the computer monitors with McArthur II senior survey technician Lacey O’Neal.  Communication is essential.  The scientists are looking at the TV monitors for the CTD deployment outside, altimeter (measures the CTD’s height above the seafloor), depth below the surface, and communicating with both the ship’s officers on the bridge, who are navigating the boat, and crew who are working the winches. Everyone has to work together to ensure that the CTD is deployed and retrieved safely. Otherwise, it could potentially hit the ship, causing damage to the ship, crew, and/or CTD sensors.  I am appreciating the emphasis on collaboration that occurs for the benefit and safety of the scientific research occurring on the ship.

I will discuss the sample collection technique for the chlorophyll.  The main purpose for measuring the chlorophyll is to determine the chlorophyll composition and suitability for single celled algae to develop. These single celled organisms are the basis of the food chain.  By determining the amount of chlorophyll, you can look at the probability of organisms to develop at that location, such as plankton. Plankton succeed where there is enough light to allow photosynthesis to occur. Deni Malouf, a marine science technician from the U.S. Coast Guard, and I put on waders, boots, life jackets, gloves and hardhats. We headed out to the CTD to collect water samples from specific depths. After filling up brown bottles (which prevent exposure to sunlight) with water, we transferred the bottles to the wet lab to pour 100 mL through a filter that collects chlorophyll on top while allowing the water to flow through by utilizing a vacuum.  This procedure is done while ensuring that the equipment, filters, and water samples avoid contact with your hands, thus contaminating the sample.  After the water has been filtered the filter is placed in a centrifuge tube (vial) with tweezers, covered to avoid exposure to light, and stored in the freezer for lab analysis at a later date.  The sample is covered to prevent exposure to sunlight.  If not, sunlight could cause more chlorophyll to develop, which would be an inaccurate reading for how much chlorophyll was actually collected at specific depths in the water column at a sampling station.

I am measuring a 100 mL water sample to collect chlorophyll on a filter inside the black cups in the wet lab.  These containers have a filter that at the bottom.  A vacuum draws the water through white tube, leaving the chlorophyll behind on the filter.
I am measuring a 100 mL water sample to collect chlorophyll on a filter inside the black cups in the wet lab. These containers have a filter that at the bottom. A vacuum draws the water through white tube, leaving the chlorophyll behind on the filter.

Personal Log 

The work conducted aboard the McArthur II, as well as other ships in the NOAA fleet, revolves around a schedule of watches (a watch is a shift).  Crewmembers work on the McArthur II in four or eight hour watches. The time of day and length vary for different crewmembers.  As for the science team, Bill Peterson, our chief scientist (cruise leader) from NOAA/ Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWSC), Newport, Oregon, arranged us into 12-hour watches.  There is a day watch and night watch. I am part of the day watch, which commences at 7:00 a.m. and ends at 7:00 p.m.   You muster (show up) about a half hour before your watch begins so that the previous watch knows you are ready to begin work, and to assist as needed with the end of the previous watch. My watch is comprised of Jay Peterson, Jennifer Mendel, and myself.  There is a lot of teamwork and cooperation within the watches.  Even this morning, Deni Malouf, who had been working the night watch, stayed on for a portion of the day watch to assist me with the protocol for filling up the water samples from the CTD, for preparing chlorophyll samples, and for setting up the Niskin bottles on the CTD to be deployed at the next station.

Vocabulary 

Dry lab- in the back of the O-1 deck (one of the floors on the ship above the waterline) where the computer equipment is situated.   Used to monitor CDT deployment.
Dry lab- in the back of the O-1 deck (one of the floors on the ship above the waterline) where the computer equipment is situated. Used to monitor CDT deployment.
Wet lab-an indoor lab in the back of the O-1 deck connected where water samples are tested.  Contains sinks, freezers, refrigerators, and science equipment.
Wet lab-an indoor lab in the back of the O-1 deck connected where water samples are tested. Contains sinks, freezers, refrigerators, and science equipment.
Vertical net- a net deployed vertically through the water column at one specific location.  Has a weight on the bottom of it to maintain its shape on the way through the water column.
Vertical net- a net deployed vertically through the water column at one specific location. Has a weight on the bottom of it to maintain its shape on the way through the water column.
Bongo net- a net for collecting organisms, that appears to look like a set of bongo drums. Attached to a cable and the J frame, deployed off the side of the boat, and collects samples as the boat trawls at a specific speed to maximize the collection.
Bongo net- a net for collecting organisms, that appears to look like a set of bongo drums. Attached to a cable and the J frame, deployed off the side of the boat, and collects samples as the boat trawls at a specific speed to maximize the collection.