Ruth Meadows, July 3, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ruth S. Meadows
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 
June 12 – July 18, 2009 

Mission: Census of Marine Life (MAR-Eco)
Geographical Area: Mid- Atlantic Ridge; Charlie- Gibbs Fracture Zone
Date: July 3, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 6.2oC
Humidity: 81%
Wind: 16.47 kts

This is one of the glass floats encased in plastic that can withstand the pressure of the deep waters.

This is one of the glass floats encased in plastic that can withstand the pressure of the deep waters.

Science and Technology Log 

High winds and high waves put a temporary stop to our fishing with the nets.  When the waves are too high, the safety of the crew comes first and we wait for the weather to clear before we can start using the trawl again. The waves finally calmed down enough for the net to be used today.  We are using a different type of net to fish the deep bottom (benthic trawling) than was used to fish the mid-water (pelagic trawling). This net is much simpler in design. It is a very large net lowered to the bottom of the ocean and then pulled behind the ship. The top part of the net is held open by floats. These floats were bought specifically for this cruise.  The pressure on the bottom of the ocean is so great that normal floats would collapse.  The new floats are made of glass spheres with a hard plastic covering. Only glass can withstand the amount of pressure that is found at these depths.

This is the net used for deep bottom trawling that has the yellow floats attached to it.

This is the net used for deep bottom trawling that has the yellow floats attached to it.

There are rubber tire-like rollers that move along the bottom to help prevent snags and also to stir up the sea floor and cause the fish and other organisms to move into the net where they are then funneled back into the narrow end of the net (cod-end). There are weights on the bottom section of the net to keep it on the ground.  Of course, there are always obstacles on the bottom of the ocean floor and occasionally the net will get caught on one of these. This is a particular problem here because of the mountainous terrain.  When the net gets hung up the crew works very carefully to release it from the obstacle.  Sometimes the ship moves backwards as the winches try to pull on the net to release it.  Sometimes the ship moves in a circle to try and pull the net clear.    

The full net after it’s been retrieved on deck.

The full net after it’s been retrieved on deck.

So far the benthic net has gotten caught twice but the crew successfully retrieved the net without damage. Once the net is on deck, the cod-end is opened and everybody comes out of the lab with foul weather gear (waterproof boots, overalls, jackets, life preserver and hardhats) on to collect the catch. We use lots of baskets to do a quick rough sort of the organisms caught.  If the net is full, it takes a while to complete the first sort.  Some of the fishes are large and some of the organisms have been torn. The organisms found on the floor of the deep floor are very different from the ones found in the mid-waters. They are much larger in size and very different in coloration.

Personal Log 

A bucket with squid and other fishes.

A bucket with squid and other fishes.

The scientific crew is divided into three groups.  We have a “day” shift, called a watch, that works from 12 noon to 12 midnight, and a “night” watch that works from 12 midnight to 12 noon, and then one group that works whenever a net comes up.  I am on the day watch and we have all gotten into a pattern of who does what in the lab.  My watch chief scientist is Dr. Shannon Devaney from Los Angeles.  She works at the Natural History Museum there.  Dr. Amy Heger from Luxembourg, Tom Letessier from Norway, CJ Sweetman from Connecticut and Randy Singer from Georgia rounds out our crew.  CJ takes DNA samples, Tom takes care of the crustaceans, Randy removes the ototliths (this helps the scientist figure out the age) from the fishes, and Amy and I use the computer to enter the data.  With some species we remove the stomach, liver and gonads from the fishes.   These body parts are then measured and either frozen or preserved for scientists that are not on the trip.  It has been fun relearning how to do some of the procedures.

The first sort of the catch.

The first sort of the catch.

Ruth Meadows, June 26, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ruth S. Meadows
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 
June 12 – July 18, 2009 

Mission: Census of Marine Life (MAR-Eco)
Geographical Area: Mid- Atlantic Ridge; Charlie- Gibbs Fracture Zone
Date: June 26, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 10.8oC
Humidity: 83%
Wind: 20.11 kts

Science and Technology Log 

We are collecting lots of specimens for the scientists to take back with them and study further.  Some of the animals are very abundant, showing up in every trawl, and others are rarer.  The most common fish collected is the Cyclothone.  This small fish (1 – 2 inches in length) is the most abundant vertebrate (has a backbone) in the world. We have caught them by the hundreds at all depths. It has a large mouth for such a small fish.

A Cyclothone, commonly known as a bristlemouth or anglemouth

A Cyclothone, commonly known as a bristlemouth or anglemouth 

Chauliodus sloani, commonly known as a viperfish, is larger than the Cyclothone.  It normally lives in deep water from 1000 to 2000 meters but it can migrate to shallower water during the night. We try to collect samples both at night and in the daytime so we can compare the depths the organisms are found.  As you can see these fish have very large teeth.  This one had a copper color to most of its body.  My finger is at the bottom of the jaw so you can have an idea of the size of the teeth.

Chauliodus sloani, commonly known as a viperfish

Chauliodus sloani, commonly known as a viperfish

One of the most interesting fish caught so far is an anglerfish. We have only caught three since they are not as abundant as many of the other types of fish. When the first one was brought out of the net, Dr. Mike Vecchione immediately knew it was a female.  I asked how he knew so quickly because the sex of the other types of fish we previously caught could not be identified by just looking at it. The male angler fish is very small when it is young.  When he finds a female, he attaches to her side and most of his organs disintegrate so he is totally dependent on the female for food.  When the female is ready to lay her eggs, the male is right there ready to fertilize them.

An anglerfish—see the bioluminescent tip of the lure located at the top of the head? (photo by David Shale)

An anglerfish—see the bioluminescent tip of the lure located at the top of the head? (photo by David Shale)

She has her own “fishing pole” and lure located at the top of her head.  The tip of the lure has a bioluminescent organ that glows with a blue- green light. The fish uses this like a fishing lure, waving it back and forth to attract its next meal.  The jaw can be extended to an incredible size and the fish can swallow prey twice as large as it is.  Food in this area of the ocean can be scarce at times, so the anglerfish can stock up on food when she finds it.

Dr. John Galbraith looks for animals.

Dr. John Galbraith looks for animals.

Personal Log 

It took five days of travel to arrive at our first sampling location.  During this time we had a chance to get to know each other and to rest up for the work to come. Everybody enjoys the outdoors and when the sun is shining there are usually at least some people on deck looking for animals or just enjoying the day.

A nap in a hammock is just what Zach Baldwin needs

A nap in a hammock is just what Zach Baldwin needs

Reading and enjoying the fresh air at sea on the flying bridge

Reading and enjoying the fresh air at sea on the flying bridge

Ruth Meadows, June 19, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ruth S. Meadows
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 
June 12 – July 18, 2009 

Mission: Census of Marine Life (MAR-Eco)
Geographical Area: Mid- Atlantic Ridge; Charlie- Gibbs Fracture Zone
Date: June 19, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 9oC
Humidity: 95%
Wind: 4.36 kts

Scientific and Technology Log 

We are currently working in the pelagic zone of the ocean.  Pelagic refers to the open ocean away from the bottom. The word pelagic comes from a Greek word that means “open ocean”.  The pelagic area is divided by depth into subzones.  .

  • The epipelagic , or sunlit zone, is the top layer where there is enough sunlight for photosynthesis to occur. From 0 – about 200 meters (656 feet)deep
  • The mesopelagic, or twilight zone, receives some light but not enough for plants to grow.  From 200 – 1000 meters (3281 feet)
  • The bathypelagic, or midnight zone, is the deep ocean where no sunlight penetrates. From 1000 – 4000 meters(13,124 feet)
  • The abyssal zone is pitch black, extremely cold and has very high pressure.  From 4000 – 6000 meters.(19,686feet)
  • Hadalpelagic zone is the deepest part of the ocean. These zones are located at trenches where one tectonic plate is being subducted under another plate. 6,000 meters to over 10,000 meters. (35, 797 feet)
Setting up the net that will collect organisms

Setting up the net that will collect organisms

Today we are using a special trawling net to capture organisms that live in the mid-water area around 3000 meters deep. The closed net is lowered slowly from the rear of the ship until it arrives at the correct depth. The length of the wire released is measured by the winches as they unwind. A timer is used to open the cod-ends (containers at the end of the net).  It is then pulled underwater very slowly. The five cod-ends are set to open and close at different times so there will be samples of organisms from different depths.  After a specific amount of time the net is slowly reeled in. It takes about 8 hours to fully deploy and retrieve the trawl.  Each cod-end should have samples from different depths. Once the net is back on board the ship, it is very important that the material collected from each cod-end be kept separate and labeled correctly.

All the blue buckets contain various organisms

All the blue buckets contain various organisms

The second trawl came in around 4:30 in the afternoon. We were really excited to see the organisms that were collected in each of the cod-ends. Each container was emptied into a large bucket and a picture was taken to record the catch. One set of material was left out to begin sorting and the other containers were put into the freezer to remain cold.  David Shale, the professional photographer for the cruise, selected the best samples to use for his photographs. Then the actual sorting began. Several of us would do a rough sort, all the crustaceans (different types of shrimp-like animals) in one container, fishes in another, and jellyfishes in another. After the rough sort then the final sort is started (dividing all the organisms into groups by specie or family). 

Certain types of organisms were abundant – hundreds of them, others were rarer – only one or two of each species. As soon as we are finished with one species, information about them is entered into the computer (number, length, mass) and then the organism is saved for later investigations by either freezing or placing in a preservative.  A printed label is included in all samples so they can be identified by name, depth and location of trawl.

Personal Log 

A viperfish

A viperfish

Everyone on board the ship is always interested in any sightings of marine mammals.  The officer on the bridge will often announce to the lounge area if he spots any type of animal, “Whales off the bow.”  As soon as the announcement comes on, we bolt out of the lounge to the outside as fast as we can.  Sometimes you are fast enough and sometimes you aren’t. The dolphins usually are the easiest to spot as they swim in groups and surface frequently as they are swimming.  The whales, however, are a little more difficult to see.  They are usually far off so the distance makes them difficult to spot.  When they surface, the spray from the blowhole is usually your first indication of where they are.  After that, most of them dive again and you may not get a second chance to see them.  So far the type of whales spotted have been pilot whales, sei whales and a sperm whale.  They knew it was a sperm whale because the spray from the blowhole was at an angle. It is much more difficult to see these animals than I thought it would be. It is like trying to find a needle in a haystack – a very big haystack…

Did You Know? 

The Mola mola is the heaviest known bony fish in the world.  It eats primarily jellyfish which doesn’t have a lot of nutrition in is so they have to eat LOTS of them.  It looks like a fish with only a head and a tail, no middle part.

Dr. Mike Vecchione took this picture of a Mola mola, a very large ocean sunfish, at the beginning of the cruise off the coast of Rhode Island.

Dr. Mike Vecchione took this picture of a Mola mola, a very large ocean sunfish, at the beginning of the cruise off the coast of Rhode Island.

Ruth Meadows, June 17, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ruth S. Meadows
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 
June 12 – July 18, 2009 

Mission: Census of Marine Life (MAR-Eco)
Geographical Area: Mid- Atlantic Ridge; Charlie- Gibbs Fracture Zone
Date: June 17, 2009

Iceburg from a distance

Iceberg from a distance

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 10o C
Humidity: 74%
Wind: 10 kts

Scientific and Technology Log 

As we left St. John’s, Newfoundland, our course went through an area where icebergs were located. By the middle of the afternoon, we had several icebergs in sight.  From a distance they appear to be very small white objects, but as you get closer you begin to realize how large they really are. Using equipment on the bridge, they know where the large icebergs are located well before we can see them.  As we circled around them, the captain made sure we didn’t get too close.

Iceberg up close.

Iceberg up close.

Icebergs are masses of ice that break off of a glacier and fall into the ocean. North Atlantic icebergs originate from Greenland and are carried by the Labrador Current south until they melt.  Although they look really large, you can only see a small part. The part you can see is only about 1/5th to 1/10th of the entire iceberg. Occasionally we could see seabirds on the iceberg. The weather cooperated with our viewing with clear skies and somewhat warmer temperatures.  Most of the viewing was done from the flying bridge which is the top most level of the ship. It is located directly on top of the bridge which is where the navigation of the ship takes place.

Here I am in front of the iceberg.

Here I am in front of the iceberg with my roommate, Meredith, who works with NOAA.

Personal Log 

As we were approaching the icebergs, most of the crew came up on the deck to see them.  We could see them in a distance but it took almost an hour before we reached them.  Of course, everyone had their cameras out. This is really one iceberg. The blue section in the middle is under water so it has a shallow pool in the middle.  Waves break over the top and erode the ice.  As the iceberg breaks up, their name changes based on the size of the chunks. Bergy bits rise 1-4 meters out of the water. Very small chunks of ice that rise only about 1 meter out of the water are called growlers.

Another view of the iceberg

Another view of the iceberg 

On clear days like this, the sunsets over the ocean are amazing.

On clear days like this, the sunsets over the ocean are amazing.

Ruth Meadows, June 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ruth S. Meadows
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 
June 12 – July 18, 2009 

Mission: Census of Marine Life (MAR-Eco)
Geographical Area: Mid- Atlantic Ridge; Charlie- Gibbs Fracture Zone
Date: June 16, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 12o
Humidity: 75%
Wind: 11 kts

The Port of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada

The Port of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada

Science and Technology Log 

Sometimes circumstances make you change your plans.  When we were about half way to the ridge, Internet reception went down.  After much thought and consideration, Captain Lynch decided to make port at St John’s, Newfoundland so a new part could be installed.  It is important for the ship to have accurate and up to date weather reports that are accessible through the Internet and the scientists plan to use the internet for their work.  So today when I woke up there was land in sight….. The sky is blue with cirrus clouds overhead.  The sea is calm with low swells. Off to the left of the ship is an iceberg!!!! It is a long distance away, but you could still see it. We are staying outside the harbor for the day waiting to see if the part will be delivered to us.  If it does not arrive until tonight, then we will dock at St. John’s for the night, install the part in the morning and then leave for our first sampling. 

Personal Log 

Waiting to enter the harbor

Waiting to enter the harbor

The part for the computer was not scheduled to arrive before 11:00 pm.  A harbor pilot from the town came onto the ship to take us to our “parking” place in the harbor.  Around 7:00, we went into the harbor to dock for the night.   Everyone’s passports were checked and we were cleared to go ashore.  All the science crew and part of the ship’s crew went ashore to see the town of St. John’s. There are large stone cliffs that surround the harbor.  Houses are built into the cliffs.  One of the scientists said it reminded him of Norway.  The boats in the harbor were brightly painted and were built for fishing. It was nice to be walking on solid ground after a few days at sea. We are hopeful that the part will work so we can continue on our trip.

St. John’s lovely harbor

St. John’s lovely harbor

While on shore, fresh produce was picked up so we will be able to enjoy fresh food for a few days more.  The food has been really good with a wide variety being served.  Each day for lunch and dinner there are usually two choices for the main dish, seafood and a meat with vegetables each day. So far we have had duck, rabbit, and filet of sole, salmon, scallops, fish stew, vegetable lasagna, ribs and many more different items. We even had a cookout with grilled sausages and hamburgers.

St. John’s lovely harbor

Boats in the harbor

Grilling on the back of the ship.  One of the crew made the grill from an old barrel and installed the handle and the base.

Grilling on the back of the ship. One of the crew made the grill from an old barrel and installed the handle and the base. 

Ruth Meadows, June 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ruth S. Meadows
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 
June 12 – July 18, 2009 

Mission: Census of Marine Life (MAR-Eco)
Geographical Area: Mid- Atlantic Ridge; Charlie- Gibbs Fracture Zone
Date: June 15, 2009

NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 54o F
Humidity: 76%
Wind: 10 kts

Science and Technology Log 

In addition to the scientists on board, we have an entire crew of NOAA personnel to run the ship and all the equipment.  The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration is a part of the United States Department of Commerce.  CDR (Commander) Anne Lynch is in charge of the Henry B. Bigelow. She joined the NOAA Corp after graduating from college and has worked her way up to Commander during her 18 years of service. She has been on many different ships and has traveled as far away as Antarctica. ENS (Ensign) Kyle Sanders is new to the NOAA corps. He graduated from college and became a part of NOAA about 9 months ago.  He has been on the Henry B. Bigelow for at least 6 cruises. He majored in meteorology in college so he has a science background and is learning about piloting the ships of NOAA.

CDR Anne Lynch and ENS Kyle Sanders on the bridge of the Bigelow

CDR Anne Lynch and ENS Kyle Sanders on the bridge

The Henry B. Bigelow is a fairly new ship. It was commissioned in July, 2007 and has many technical features that make it a wonderful ship for doing scientific research.  In the lab there are computers set up to take data from many different types of organisms.  There are microscopes to dissect tissue samples or view very small organisms.  When the nets are towed behind ship, they will be on 6000 m (about 5 miles) ENS Kyle Sanders of wire and will go down almost 3000 m. Then they will be brought back up to the ship’s deck. Of course, someone has to be able to operate and repair all the equipment.  The crew on board has expertise in all type of mechanical engineering to make sure the equipment the scientists are using works properly.  

The state-of-the art lab

The state-of-the art lab

In each cabin, the lounge, on the bridge and in the acoustics room, there are computers that allow everyone to communicate and transfer information.  The bridge has specialized computers that help navigate the ship and conserve fuel for long distance travel. The computer screens can show the depth of the water, temperature of sea and air, wind speed, ship speed and other necessary data that makes the ship run smoothly.  Information technology helps the ship travel safely even when it is too foggy to see very far ahead of you. One of the most important jobs on the ship is the Information Technology specialist. It is his job to make sure all the computers are working so that the trip will run smoothly.

Something to think about when on a ship this size are the doors. The outside openings are equipped with watertight doors that must be closed before entering or after leaving an area. As you can see, the locking mechanism looks like a wheel. This turns the lock for the door to seal.

One of the doors on the ship

One of the doors on the ship

Personal Log 

Last night’s weather was really rough.  The waves were 10 – 12 feet in height and it was a little more difficult to sleep.  You had to make sure you had something blocking the end of the bed so you didn’t fall out. This morning the weather improved a lot and by afternoon, the sun and blue skies were finally visible.  We took advantage of the good weather to go outside for the next part of the Bigelow Olympics – golfing !! I scored better on this event than this first one.  You had to putt the ball into the hole from 4 different places, while the wind blew and the ship rocked back and forth. It was a good way to have fun with others on the ship as we travel to the area of sampling.  It was nice to see the sun and blue skies for a change. 

Left: Tom Letessier, a PhD student from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. His concentration is in zooplankton. Center: CJ Sweetman tries for a hole in one. He is a PhD student from Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Right: This is Zach Baldwin, another PhD student from New York City. His concentration is in mid-water fishes.

Left: Tom Letessier, a PhD student from the University of St. Andrews. His concentration is in zooplankton. Center: CJ Sweetman tries for a hole in one. He is a PhD student from VA Institute of Marine Science. Right: Zach Baldwin, another PhD student from NYC. His concentration is in mid-water fishes.

Ruth Meadows, June 14, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ruth S. Meadows
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 
June 12 – July 18, 2009 

Mission: Census of Marine Life (MAR-Eco)
Geographical Area: Mid- Atlantic Ridge; Charlie- Gibbs Fracture Zone
Date: June 14, 2009

A viperfish—see its huge teeth?

A viperfish—see its huge teeth?

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature 7.6o C
Humidity  94%
Wind  17.3 kts

Science and Technology Log 

We are about half way to our location on the Mid-Atlantic ridge.  Before we get there, we will do a comparative sampling over practice catch on the abyssal plain (a vast flat area on the bottom of the ocean). This will give us an idea of what lives in the deep open ocean away from the mid-ocean ridge for comparison with what we catch in our main study area. There has been very little sampling of the deep open ocean with large nets and not much is known about the animals that swim high above the bottom in such areas, even though they make up the largest living space on earth.

Various species that will have data recorded about them

Various species that will have data recorded about them

All the scientists were divided into two groups.  Each group will work a 12 hour shift. I will be working the 12 noon to 12 midnight shift.  We met with our work group today to learn how to use some of the scientific equipment on board.  The lead scientist for my group is Shannon DeVaney from Los Angeles, California.  Her area of expertise is in mid-water fishes.  We will be using a specialized computer program to record the data from the organisms that are caught in the nets. All the organisms will be at the end of the net in a special removable container called a cod-end.  

This mid-water fish, a viperfish (Chauliodus sloani ), was 225 cm in length and had a mass 0.0230 kg. It was caught in an earlier tow test. Until today, I had only seen this fish in books. The teeth are really sharp and large for such a small fish. To learn more about the viperfish. Once the organism is measured and the information is recorded in the computer.  A label can be printed and the animal will be either frozen or preserved for further investigation.  Then it will be on to the next one.   

Here I am chucking my potato!

Here I am chucking my potato!

Personal Log 

Everyone is participating in the “Bigelow Olympics”.  This is a fun competition for both the scientists on board as well as the crew. Today was the first event, a potato chucking competition.  We each had 5 potatoes that we loaded one at a time to in a large slingshot to shoot at a target off the back of the boat. Each “hit” earned you 20 points for a possible total of 100 points – I only hit the target twice so I got 40 points.  The event is open for 24 hours since some people will be working nights and some are working days.  This is one of my attempts.  Some people hit the target 5/5. There will be several more competitions, so maybe I will do better on the next one. If you look carefully, you can see my potato as it sails out to sea. 

 Here’s my potato as it flies toward the target!

Here’s my potato as it flies toward the target!

The temperature has dropped some since yesterday, so it is difficult to stay outside for any length of time.  Of course the wind is always blowing but sometimes you can find a place that is protected from the wind to enjoy some outdoor time.  We all want to see icebergs and we may be in the area by Monday or Tuesday.

Did you know? 

Did you know that icebergs are composed of fresh water?  The density of fresh water is less than the density of seawater which is why the iceberg floats.