Beverly Owens: Science on Board NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow, June 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beverly Owens
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 24, 2013

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat: Ground-Truthing and Exploration in Deepwater Canyons off the Northeastern Coast of the U.S.
Geographical Area: Western North Atlantic
Date: June 18, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 13.50 oC (56.3 oF)
Wind Speed: 20.05 knots (23.07mph)

Science and Technology Log

Teacher at Sea Beverly Owens, and Dewey the Dragon at the Helm

Teacher at Sea Beverly Owens, and Dewey the Dragon at the Helm

On a research vessel such as NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, does the ship support the science? Or are the ship’s activities separate from those of the Science Crew?  I didn’t realize how much the Ship’s Crew and the Science Crew worked hand-in-hand until I toured the Bridge.

First off, the ship is what’s known as an FSV. What does FSV stand for? FSV stands for Fisheries Survey Vessel. The primary responsibility of the Henry B. Bigelow is to study and monitor the marine fisheries stocks throughout New England (the Northeastern section of the United States). There are many scientific instruments aboard the Henry B. Bigelow that allow crew members and visiting science teams to do this and other work.

The ship has multiple labs that can be used for many purposes. The acoustics lab has many computers and can be used for modeling data collected from multibeam sonar equipment.  The chemistry lab is equipped with plentiful workspace, an eyewash, emergency shower, and fume hood. Our TowCam operations are being run from the dry lab. This space has nine computers displaying multiple data sets. We have occupied the counter space with an additional eight personal laptops; all used for different purposes such as examining TowCam images or inputting habitat data. The wet lab is where the collection sorting, and filtering take place. It is used during fisheries expeditions to process and examine groundfish.  During our research expedition, the wet lab is used mostly for staging TowCam operations. We also process sediment and water samples that were collected from the seafloor.  Sediment is collected using a vacuum-like apparatus called a slurp pump; water is collected in a Niskin bottle.  The sediment is sieved and any animals are saved for later examination.  Water samples are also filtered there, to remove particulate matter that will be used to determine the amount of food in the water column.

Walking around the ship, I noticed a psychrometer set, which is used to monitor relative humidity, or moisture content in the air. There is also a fluorometer, which measures light emitted from chlorophyll in photosynthetic organisms like algae or phytoplankton. The CTD system measures physical properties of the ocean water including conductivity/salinity, temperature, and depth. Additionally, the ship has a thermosalinograph (therm = heat, salin = salt, graph = write). Saltwater is taken into the ship and directed toward this instrument, which records the sea surface salinity and sea surface temperature.

The crew of the Henry B. Bigelow not only supports the research efforts of the science team but is also actively involved in conducting scientific research. Their instrumentation, knowledge, and team work enable them to protect and monitor the western North Atlantic waters and its living marine resources.

 Personal Log

Dragon on the Bridge

Dewey the Dragon is plotting the course.

Dewey the Dragon, all the way from Crest Middle School, enjoyed getting a tour of the Bridge. Dewey the Dragon learned how to steer the ship, read charts, and monitor activity using devices such as the alidade. Thanks to Ensigns Katie Doster and Aras Zygas for showing us around.

Did You Know?

Teacher at Sea, Beverly Owens, using the Alidade on the FSV Henry B. Bigelow

Teacher at Sea, Beverly Owens, using the Alidade on the FSV Henry B. Bigelow

The alidade is a device that allows people on the ship to sight far away objects, such as land. The person on the ship spots three separate points on land uses these sighting to determine the location of the ship. Alidades can also be used as a tool when making and verifying maritime charts.

Beverly Owens: What Is That? June 23, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beverly Owens
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 24, 2013

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat: Ground-Truthing and Exploration in Deepwater Canyons off the Northeastern Coast of the U.S.
Geographical Area: Western North Atlantic
Date: June 23, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 17.23 oC (63.014 oF)
Wind Speed: 6 knots (6.90 mph)

Science and Technology Log:

We’ve seen amazing and beautiful animals living in these deep water canyons, many of which I did not recognize. During the progression of each tow I find myself asking the scientists around me, “What is that?” But that is what science is all about: being curious and trying to obtain the answers.

No matter how many hours I’ve sat on watch, or how many TowCam images I’ve looked at on the computer monitor, it’s still exciting to be one of the few people who get to see images directly from the ocean floor! It’s incredible that a large metal apparatus with a camera can send images and data thousands of meters through a tiny cable back to computers on the ship. As the pilots navigate TowCam through the water, images are sent back to the ship every 10 seconds.

Image Highlights taken using TowCam during the Canyons CSI research expedition.

Image highlights taken using TowCam during the Canyons CSI research expedition.

So what do we see in the images that are being sent back? I’ve gotten to see amazing things living more than a mile below the ocean. These include octopods and squids,  skates, sea pens, anemones, delicate brittle stars, bivalves, and lush colorful coral gardens. All these organisms live on the  bottom of the ocean in cold, dark water and under extreme amounts of pressure.

Morphology: The structure of a corallum.

Morphology: The structure of a corallum.

How many different kinds of deep-sea corals are living at the bottom of the ocean? At least 71 species are known to occur  off the northeastern coast of the U.S.; and new species are likely to be discovered.  Many of the deep-sea corals look similar in color or structure. How do scientists tell them apart? They use taxonomic keys and DNA analysis to identify species.  Dichotomous keys are a systematic way of identifying organisms by making a series of choices based on an  organism’s characteristics. These keys are particularly useful if you don’t have instrumentation to conduct a DNA analysis.

Earlier this week, marine ecologist Dave Packer from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service taught me how to use a dichotomous key for deep-sea corals. Corals are actually animals, even though many of them look plant-like in shape, so they belong in the Kingdom Animalia, the Phylum Cnidaria, and the Class Anthozoa. We began by discussing animals in the four Orders of deep-sea corals within the Anthozoa that are found off our northeastern coast: Scleractinia (stony corals), Antipatharia (black corals), Alcyonacea (soft corals and sea fans), and Pennatulacea (sea pens). Compare  the corals shown below. You will notice that each group has a different style or appearance.

The Four Orders of Corals.

The Four Orders of Corals

Even though corals appear to be morphologically simple animals, they are highly detailed. Individual corals can be very small. Look at the image to the left to become familiar with some of the structures. Below are some additional features that may be found on different types of corals.

Some additional features that may be found in corals.

Some additional features that may be found in corals

Mr. Packer showed me a piece of coral that we would be “keying out.”  By looking at the surface of it, we could tell it was a stony coral and belonged to the Order Scleractinia. Stony corals are usually very hard to the touch.  Then, we examined its characteristics. Look at the picture to the right, and see if you can identify the characteristics that we examined on this coral:

Try your hand at Taxonomy

Try your hand at Taxonomy

  1. Is it solitary (grows alone) or is it colonial (grows with other coral polyps)?
  2. Are the septa (fins sticking out at the top) smooth or rough?
  3. Are the coral polyps only on one side, or scattered in a random pattern?
  4. Is the coenosteum (portion of the skeleton between the polyps that looks like tree branches) porous or smooth?
  5. Corals reproduce by “budding.” Do new corals bud inside an older coral (intratenticular) or are polyps added to the outside near older coral polyps?
  6. Does it have 24 septa?

Check your answers below to see if you got these questions correct!

Drum roll, please… This coral is Solenosmilia. Try pronouncing that one! Going through an actual dichotomous key requires answering many more questions and making more choices. Coral polyps and structures can be so small that often a microscope is necessary to look at some parts. Sometimes corals may look very similar, so DNA testing is conducted to confirm the identification.  Dichotomous keys can be used in identifying many other types of organisms as well, such as plants and fungi.

Want to try your hand at using a dichotomous key? Try this sweet activity using candy! Think about the characteristics of the candy pieces listed in the picture and key: Skittles, M & M’s, Gummy Bears, packaged Lemon Heads, unpackaged Lemon Heads, Dum Dum lollipops, Sugar Babies, Atomic Fireball, Mike and Ike’s, Tootsie Rolls, and Gobstoppers. What characteristics do they have in common? If you were going to sort them, how would you begin? We’re going to start with packaged versus unpackaged. Continue to follow along with the Candy Dichotomous Key until all the candy is sorted. How are the candy pieces similar? How do they differ?  You have now used  a dichotomous key to identify candy!

Candy Dichotomous Key (click to enlarge)

Candy Dichotomous Key (click to enlarge)

Candy Dichotomous Key (click to enlarge)

Candy Dichotomous Key (click to enlarge)

Check your answers to the Coral identification:

  1.  Colonial
  2. The septa are rough
  3. The coral polyps  appear to be randomly scattered
  4. The coenosteum is smooth
  5. These corals are intratenticular – notice how some appear to be budding off from one another.
  6. No.

    Beverly Owens, Teacher at Sea, with coral sample of Solenosmilia

    Beverly Owens, Teacher at Sea, with coral sample of Solenosmilia

Personal Log:

One of my favorite marine organisms is the starfish. We have seen many brittle stars during the course of our research expedition. There have been many large white brittle stars, and many tiny pink brittle stars that live symbiotically with certain corals.

Did You Know?

Corals are actually animals? They belong in the Kingdom Animalia. Corals can live colonially, with other coral animals, or can be solitary and develop alone.

Beverly Owens: What Skills Are Important in Becoming a Scientist or Engineer? June 17, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beverly Owens
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 24, 2013

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat: Ground-Truthing and Exploration in Deepwater Canyons off the Northeastern Coast of the U.S.
Geographical Area: Western North Atlantic
Date: June 17, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 17.60 oC (63.68 oF)
Wind Speed: 13.41knots (15.43mph)
Water Depth of current dive: approximately 1800 m (5905 ft)

Science and Technology Log

I have been amazed in watching the Science Crew (scientists and TowCam engineers) operate this week.  With any challenge that is presented, they work as a team to make minor adjustments, troubleshoot, and correct any issues that may arise. That got me thinking…what skills or characteristics are important in becoming an engineer or a scientist?

I surveyed the Science Crew, and based on their responses, have developed a list of skills important for scientists and engineers:

  1. Have a positive attitude.
  2. Be an excellent student. Learn to think independently.
  3. Be a good writer.
  4. Communicate well with others.
  5. Develop analytical thinking skills.
  6. Volunteer or become familiar with resources, like labs, museums, or other scientific institutions.
  7. Develop strong math skills.
  8. Develop computer skills or computer programming skills.
  9. Perseverance: If you make a mistake you can’t get down about it. You have to pick yourself up and try again.
  10. Curiosity: If you are curious, you’ll be passionate about what you’re studying, and will be able to communicate that to others. If you’re passionate, you will persevere and work through the challenges.

Personal Log

During my Teacher at Sea experience, I have had the opportunity to observe the Science Crew during many different activities. Below are some skills or characteristics that I have seen exhibited by the scientists and engineers involved in this research expedition.

  1. Work as a team.
  2. Cooperate: Get along with others.
  3. Be tenacious and persevere; be steadfast, never give up.
  4. Look at things from different perspectives; think “outside of the box.”
  5. Listen to and respect other people’s ideas.
  6. Focus on the task at hand.
  7. Think things through before jumping in.
  8. Come up with hypotheses or solutions and test them. If the solution doesn’t work, try another one.

As science teachers, we try to instill these traits in our students in the classroom. Whether it is completing a group project, conducting a lab, or taking notes, there is always opportunity to improve our science and engineering skills.

Did You Know?

One feature of the deep ocean is that this region of ocean is subject to very high pressure due to the tremendous weight of the water above. So, how about a demonstration?

Take one Styrofoam cup, decorate it, and send it over a mile deep in the ocean. What happens to the Styrofoam cup?

It shrinks! Why? Pressure in the ocean increases about 1 atmosphere for every 10 m increase in depth. The increased pressure compresses the air inside the Styrofoam, and the cup condenses. It’s the same reason why your ears start “popping” when you drive to an area of higher elevation, like the mountains, or fly in an airplane. In that case, increase in altitude means a decrease in pressure

Increased pressure at the bottom of the ocean caused the Styrofoam cup to shrink.

Increased pressure at the bottom of the ocean caused the Styrofoam cup to shrink.

Beverly Owens: Vacation Cruise – June 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beverly Owens
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 24, 2013
 

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat: Ground-Truthing and Exploration in Deepwater Canyons off the Northeastern Coast of the U.S.
Geographical Area: Western North Atlantic
Date: June 13, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 16.70 oC (62.06 oF)
Wind Speed: 25.17 knots (28.96mph)

Science and Technology Log

Waypoints for TowCam expedition

Waypoints for TowCam expedition

“You get to go on a two-week cruise for vacation!”

This is the misconception that some people had, when I told them initially that I would be participating as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  On a vacation cruise and a research cruise, participants stay an extended period of time on the ocean, and they receive three meals a day.  That is pretty much the end of the similarities between these types of cruises.  During a scientific research expedition, there is a mission to accomplish. For example, this trip is examining sites that are known or predicted to be deep-sea coral and sponge habitats.

Many multibeam bathymetric maps are consulted to find the most suitable sites to investigate. Bathymetric maps are similar to topographic maps with the exception that bathymetry applies to the topography of the ocean floor. Most of the major structure-forming deep-sea corals are found on hard substrate. Thus, areas of soft sediment are not the most likely places to find the majority of coral species, however many other organisms like brittle stars and anemones, may be found there.

There is a lot of preparation that goes into planning and coordinating a research “cruise.” The Chief Scientist must put in a request for a research vessel, and must assemble a science crew that has the skills and research interests that align with the research mission. In the months leading up to the research trip, the science party will discuss specific science objectives, protocols and potential study sites. Every participant must receive medical clearance, which includes having a TB (tuberculosis) test, and a recent tetanus vaccination.

The Chief Scientist, with input from the science team, determines which areas of the ocean to examine, and what type of technology to use to explore the ocean. Weather and waves may prevent some of the “dives” from taking place. Safety first – the conditions must be safe enough for the TowCam operators and deck crew to be outside during deployment as they lower TowCam safely into the ocean.

This bathymetric map displays the topography of the ocean floor.

This bathymetric map displays the topography of the ocean floor.

During TowCam deployments, many things must be done to make the dive successful. The Chief Scientist selects several points (waypoints) along a survey line within a canyon. These points help guide the ship during the TowCam deployment.  To get TowCam into the water requires a lot of communication and coordination of efforts. The winch operator and deck crew are responsible for getting TowCam into the water. The winch operator is in constant contact with the TowCam pilot and  controls the wire that lowers TowCam into the water. At a certain depth, the control is passed to the TowCam pilot in the lab who uses a joystick to lower the camera to the ocean floor.  The pilot and the Bridge are in constant communication during the dive. The Bridge controls the ship and follows the track for the survey. The TowCam pilot analyzes data displayed on several computer monitors in order to make the most informed decisions as they guide the camera through the water column by moving TowCam and up and down in the water column.  In addition, a variety of data are collected during the deployment.  I have been logging data during the night shift deployments. I help keep track of variables  such as depth, winch wire tension, latitude, longitude, and altimeter readings along the survey track.  All this information will be invaluable to scientists examining the data collected during this research cruise.

 Personal Log

At Crest Middle School, we try to teach our students critical thinking skills: think for themselves, make informed decisions, gather data, predict, and draw conclusions. This research trip is a prime example of how skills that students acquire in school will be beneficial for them in the future. When completing a task such as logging data, I have to decide what the important events are that have occurred in the TowCam dive, and to phrase those items in a way that others will understand.

TAS Beverly Owens logging data

TAS Beverly Owens logging data

 Did You Know?

TowCam is about the size of a refrigerator. It has one large high-resolution camera that takes pictures every 10 seconds. It also has a CTD, which records conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth. TowCam also carries several Niskin bottles, used for water collection at depth and a slurp pump that pulls sediment from the ocean floor into a container for later analyses.

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Beverly Owens: The Tenacity of a Scientist, June 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beverly Owens
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 24, 2013

Mission: Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat: Ground-truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical Area: Western North Atlantic
Date: June 11, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature:18.4 oC (65.12 oF)
Wind Speed: 24.56 knots (28.26 mph)

 

Science and Technology Log

The Tenacity of a Scientist

The science crew has been divided into two teams – the day watch (noon to midnight), and the night watch (midnight to noon). Those who are on “watch” are expected to be around the science labs while on duty. When TowCam is deployed, members of the science party on watch should be in the Dry Lab to monitor images and record data.

My watch is midnight to noon. Did I mention that my normal bedtime is 9:00? It will take a little while to get adjusted to this new schedule.

While the TowCam is in the water, the “Dry Lab” is bustling with activity. The TowCam operators, and some of the ship’s crew, ensure that the equipment is safely deployed. After lowering TowCam to a specified depth, control of TowCam is passed from the Bridge to the TowCam pilots. It is interesting to see how this large piece of machinery is operated. The pilot uses a joystick to raise or lower TowCam to the correct depth just above the ocean floor. In addition to the joystick controller, the pilot must also interpret data that is being recorded by TowCam or the ship. Knowing the wind speed, tension of the winch wire, altimetry, and depth are all variables that help the pilot to make the most informed decisions about the placement of TowCam.

Even with the best planning and most precise implementation, sometimes things go awry. For example, a cable may break, or the altimeter may not be registering correctly. During a research cruise such as this, spare parts, tools, and other materials must be packed for the voyage. There are no trips to the hardware store when you’re out in the middle of the ocean!

After yesterday’s practice dive, the engineers made some adjustments to TowCam so that it could work to its optimum capability. After adjustments have been made, a series of tests are run on TowCam to ensure that everything is working properly. After testing is complete, TowCam will be deployed again, allowing us another glimpse of the ocean floor.

Beverly Owens: Scientist Spotlight – Dr. Liz Shea, June 11, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beverly Owens
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 24, 2013

Mission: Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat: Ground-truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical Area: Western North Atlantic
Date: June 11, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 18.4 oC (65.12 oF)
Wind Speed: 24.56 knots (28.26 mph)

Science and Technology Log

Dr. Liz Shea, recording data during the first TowCam dive

Dr. Liz Shea, recording data during the first TowCam dive

Dr. Shea is from Wilmington, Delaware, where she is the Curator of Mollusks at the Delaware Museum of Natural History. In this role, Dr. Shea manages collections and conducts research. There are over 250,000 mollusks in collections including snails, clams, and cephalopods. She received her Bachelor’s degree from William and Mary, her Master’s from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and her Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr College.

While working on her Master’s degree, Dr. Shea conducted her research on squid paralarvae (very small hatchlings), but recently has been more involved in collecting deep-sea squids and octopods. Her recent work includes using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology to examine morphological characters that will help distinguish between species.   Through Dr. Shea’s research, scientists are now able to identify cirrate octopod hatchlings to the genus level.

Dr. Shea has always been interested in the ocean. While at the beach as a child, she enjoyed looking at creatures from the ocean. As an undergraduate student, Shea held an internship at the Smithsonian Institution, and worked with several scientists who studied cephalopods, mollusks such as octopus, squid, and Nautilus. During her internship, her mentors impressed upon her that there is still much left to learn about cephalopods, and plenty of research still to be done.

Additionally, Dr. Shea has volunteered in the past to lead 5th grade students in a squid dissection. One unique thing Dr. Shea liked to teach the children is that there are many ways in which an organism’s body might be organized.

Dr. Shea tries to go on one research cruise per year. For Dr. Shea, these types of cruises are, “Always the highlight of my year.”

Beverly Owens: Getting ready to Cruise! June 7, 2013

The Dragon, Crest Middle School's Mascot

The Dragon, Crest Middle School’s Mascot

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beverly Owens
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 24, 2013

Getting ready! I’ll be headed to Rhode Island, and leaving on the NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow very soon. Today, I showed my 8th grade students a picture of the ship and told them about the research that would be taking place. I brought a bandana to school and asked all of the my students to sign it. Our school’s mascot is a dragon, so I will be bringing Dewey the Dragon along with me on my Teacher at Sea trip. Dewey will be wearing the bandana my students signed (as seen in the photo). I will be taking pictures of Dewey during the trip, so that students will be able to see him in the lab, and will provide some idea of scale in many pictures.

I am looking forward to this research experience, and am excited about the opportunity to share this information with my students, school, family, and local community. What an exciting adventure awaits!