Anne Artz: August 8, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Artz
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 25 — August 5, 2011

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 8, 2011

Personal Log

I’m home now in Southern California but still reveling in the experience I had aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II.  When people ask me what it was like, I tell them it was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.  It was also one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had since I left the biotech industry some 23 years ago.  It reminded me of why I enjoy science in general and research in particular.  I tell my students each year that I love science simply because it’s always new.  I hope I can pass along my enthusiasm for learning to my students and share with them the importance of ongoing research.

One of the final thoughts I wanted to share was about the people who choose to do this kind of work on a daily basis.  I met people who were into it for the science, people who just loved being at sea, and those people who had a real aptitude for mechanics and physics.  There were people who could repair just about any piece of equipment on the ship — the mechanical and the electronic.  There were people who had an excellent sense of the ocean and its movements, currents, and the life it holds.  I was impressed by the friendliness of all the people on board the Delaware II and their willingness to answer all my questions and share with me about their daily jobs.

As promised, I’ve included here on my final blog the interview I had with one of the NOAA Commissioned Corps officers, ENS Hefferan.  I intend to have my students do a project investigating the careers available through NOAA as soon as school begins.  I realize not everyone is cut out to work in a lab doing experiments but maybe there is a student out there who will recognize that some of the best science, the most exciting science, is taking place on ships like the Delaware II.

Anne Artz: August 4, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Artz
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 25 — August 5, 2011

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Location:  41 10.239 N; 67 36.023 W
Conditions:  Foggy in the morning giving way to partly cloudy skies; warming up, water calm.

Science and Technology Log

Today at approximately 11 am we finished our last dredge of this leg of the clam survey.  We just completed station #371.  There are approximately 500 stations scheduled for the entire clam survey with the final 2-week leg still left to complete.  We return to Woods Hole tomorrow morning and the Delaware II is expected to leave for the final leg on Monday morning, returning to Georges Bank to complete the final station dredges there.

Volunteer clam counters on the Delaware II

The past two days we have encountered some mechanical problems which the very capable crew repaired, and the past 12 hours we have collected large quantities of quahogs and surfclams in our final ten dredges.  We will spend the remainder of today cleaning up the deck, the wet lab, the dry lab, and putting away all the equipment we’ve been using.  The trip home will take approximately 12 hours.  We anticipate arriving in Woods Hole at 7 am in the morning.

Personal Log

It’s been an incredible trip for me — I’ve really come to appreciate what life at sea is like for the men and women who do this day in and day out all year long.  We were fortunate to have excellent weather and relatively calm seas and I can’t imagine what it would have been like to do this type of work in cold, windy rain, rough seas, or even with ice covering the deck and its equipment.  There are two teams or shifts: the day shift (noon to midnight) and the night shift (midnight to noon).  Each shift has a Watch Chief who coordinates the work of the science crew, enters all the data of all the clams and other things we bring up, and communicates with the bridge and Chief Scientist.

Watch Chief Jonathan Duquette

Watch Chief Nicole Charriere

Jonathan Duquette is the day shift Watch Chief and Nicole Charriere is the night shift Watch Chief, both of whom do an excellent job not only coordinating the work in the lab but also keeping the science crew (mostly us volunteers) informed of what we’re doing, where we’re going, and what we can do to help.  They are extremely hard-working and it’s been a privilege to work alongside both of them.

Anne Artz: August 2, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Artz
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 25 — August 5, 2011

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 30, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Location:  Georges Bank off the New England coast
Latitude: 42.634N
Longitude: 68 00.801 W
Conditions: Cloudy today, somewhat cooler but with sun most of the day

Science and Technology Log

This being the beginning of a new month we all did our safety drills on August 1 – that means everyone, including all the crew.  First we did the fire drill then the “Abandon ship” drill where we had to put on our “gumby” suits in one minute.  I did much better this time!  We’ve moved away from the New York-New Jersey coast and are now on the Southern Georges Bank.  We ran into a problem this morning when the cable that runs the pump for the dredge got tangled around the dredge during one of the drops.

A damaged power cable on the dredge

It necessitated cutting the cable that was twisted around the dredge then reconnecting it.  The cable itself is a series of copper wires twisted into 6 coils, surrounded by a neoprene “skin”, then surrounded by a Kevlar sleeve, and finally a synthetic woven casing.  It will take somewhere of 6-8 hours to repair the cable during which time we cannot do any dredging.  I’m going to use the down time to introduce you to some of the crew here on the Delaware II.

LCDR Richard Hester and ENS Carl Noblitt

There are three groups of workers: the NOAA Commissioned Corps which run the ship, the crew members who perform day-to-day work on board, and the science crew who are responsible for performing the scientific experiments for each expedition.  The NOAA Commissioned Corps on the Delaware II consists of the Commanding Officer (CO), LCDR Richard Hester, Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Sean Cimilluca, LT Fiona Matheson in charge of operations, ENS Shannon Hefferan, the Navigations Officer, and ENS Carl Noblitt, Junior Officer.

LCDR Sean Cimilluca

I interviewed Ensign Hefferan and asked her how she got into the NOAA  Commissioned Corps and what her job was like.  I’ll be posting that interview once we are back in Woods Hole since internet connections are not that good out at sea.

Personal Log

I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to our outstanding cooks on the Delaware II.  Both of the men who work in the galley do an amazing job.  Other than the first day I haven’t made it for breakfast but lunch and dinner have been wonderful.

Top chefs Jonathan Rockwell and James White on the Delaware II

We’ve had everything from BBQ chicken, lasagna, a full turkey dinner, scallops, shrimp, and lots of different kinds of fish.  Besides all that, they cook vegetables that even my husband might eat and he won’t eat anything but a baked potato!  They feed all 30 of us every day and it’s a good thing we work so hard otherwise I’d definitely have to be dieting when I get home!

Anne Artz: July 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Artz
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 25 — August 5, 2011

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 30, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Location:  Off the coast of New York (Long Island)
40 36.212 N; 72 07.159 W
Conditions: Warm, sunny with very few clouds, very little wind, calm water

Science and Technology Log

The process of sampling the ocean bottom for surfclams and quohogs isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Both of these animals live below the surface of the ocean bottom and that ocean bottom can be sand, mud, or contain a large number of rocks.   To get to the clams the dredge is lowered into the water using a large crane and cable.  Once on the ocean floor, a pump directs the edge of the dredge into the sand/mud and at the same time blows back anything collected into the back of the dredge.  The entire time the ship is moving, dragging the dredge along the bottom.  The idea is for the clams and other larger samples to remain in the dredge while mud and sand wash out the sides and the back.  This works most of the time but occasionally we have brought up the dredge filled with grey sticky mud or large amounts of sand and rocks.  We can put the dredge back into the water off the stern (rear) of the ship and wash away some, but the sticky grey mud has caused problems and we keep our fingers crossed each time the dredge comes up.

The dredge that is lowered to the ocean floor to collect samples

Before sending the dredge down, three sensors are loaded onto the top and side.  These are similar to flash drives that collect certain data such as water depth, temperature, and tilt. This data is retrieved and downloaded into the computer after each “event” (the term used for each sample).  I’ve been trained on setting up the event using the computer in the bridge.  It requires communicating with the NOAA Corps officers who are on the bridge navigating the ship.  These people work closely with the winch operator who is lowering the dredge into the water at designated points.

NOAA Lead Fisherman Todd Wilson is responsible for operation of the winch that lowers the dredge.

The winch operator is also in direct communication with the crew on the deck who assist in lowering and raising the dredge and providing for a safe working environment for the volunteers and scientists.  Because of  all the heavy equipment on the deck, we are all required to wear hard hats when on the deck.  Of course, we also wear our life jackets.  The process of lowering and raising the dredge in specific areas is highly technical and one that is worked out well in advance of each sea trip.  Once at sea, it is the job of the Chief Scientist (Jakub Kircun) to monitor our sampling sites.

The Chief Scientist of the Delaware II Jakub Kircun

Occasionally we have to make adjustments, such as yesterday when the blade assembly of the dredge was damaged by rocks.

The broken blade apparatus that had to be removed from the dredge and replaced.

We had to stop our work for almost two hours while the crew removed the damaged part and replaced it with a new one.  This happens with some regularity so the ship carries extra blades and blade assemblies.  There are only two more assemblies left (of the part we replaced yesterday) and approximately three more weeks of sampling.  I asked what would happen if we ran out of blades and/or blade assemblies and was told the last leg (the last two weeks of sampling) may have to be cut short.  If possible, the crew may try to repair the broken part.

Personal Log

I’ve gotten to know my fellow team (those of us on the noon-midnight shift) through our long hours on deck and in the lab.  Two of the volunteers are like me – here for this particular leg.  Brenna O’Neill  is a graduate student at the Florida Institute of Technology and works in marine sciences.  Henry Hope is a NOAA employee who usually works in a lab in Woods Hole, MA but volunteered for this trip to see what kind of science we did at sea.  The other members of our team are all NOAA employees – either working continuously on the ship for all the science expeditions or part time on the ship and part time in a lab.  I was surprised to find out that there are various science expeditions carried out all year long – including in the middle of winter.  One of the crew told me of working on deck having to chip away ice from the equipment before it could be used.  It’s been so warm and humid on this trip I can’t imagine being that cold.  In fact, I brought several sweatshirts and jeans with me thinking it might be cool out at sea but haven’t even looked at them since I arrived.  It’s been all t-shirts and shorts even at midnight.  Last night we had another 2-hour delay because of a lightning storm – this time we DID hear the thunder!

Anne Artz: July 27, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Artz
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 25 — August 5, 2011

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 27, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Location:  40 08.301N; 72 07.278 W
Direction:  1140
Wind:  NW @ 10
Conditions:  Breezy, choppy water but warm and sunny, very few clouds

Science and Technology Log

We had an interesting night last night – quite a show from the lightning all around us.  We had to stop working on deck due to lightning concerns and the water was definitely choppy.  Shortly after midnight we resumed our survey dredging

A little history and information about the ocean quahog is in order, since we’ve been spending most of our time the last few days collecting, counting, weighing, and measuring them (along with a few other things we dredge up – more about those later).

The ocean quahog, or Artica islandica, is a marine bivalve member of the phylum Mollusca.  It is native to the North Atlantic (where we are right now) and is commercially harvested as a food source.  The ocean quahog lives in deeper water than the more common clam (the ones you can dig up along the beach) and are collected in much the same way as we are doing on the Delaware II, by dredging the bottom, rinsing off the mud, and throwing away all the other things brought up.

We bring up any where from one to three baskets of ocean quahogs with each dredge.

One of the unique characteristics of the ocean quahog is its longevity.  They are known to live over 100 years.  They are extremely slow-growing and as adults, may take years to add any measurable length to their shells.  Both water temperature and population density appear to play a role in their growth.  From previous NOAA studies, some of the fastest growing populations occur at the Georges Bank region off the coast of Massachusetts.  The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) uses the data collected from this survey to advise policy makers on the best way to protect and ensure the survival of the ocean quahog populations.

So what do we know so far about the ocean quahog’s populations?  Besides the fact that they grow slowly, we know they are suspension feeders of phytoplankton and they themselves are food for a variety of other invertebrates including crab, sea stars, urchins, and some fish such as cod.  The dredging process damages some ocean quahogs making them susceptible to other predators such as sculpin, skates, and flounder.  Every three years the populations in the Northern Atlantic are surveyed and past results indicate the populations are stable despite the dredging methods of collection.  The ocean quahog is not considered endangered at this time and is not considered overfished.

Personal Log

The lightning storm was beautiful to watch – the only  thing missing was the thunder!  Our ship never stops so the engines run continuously, making hearing anything on deck almost impossible.  We’ve brought up some incredibly interesting animals – some I’ve never seen or heard of.  For example, we’ve brought up numerous “sea mouse” samples.

Sea Mouse

A sea mouse, or Aprodita aculeata (member of phylum Annelida)

They are actually carnivorous worms who live on the ocean floor and are covered with long hair-like threads, or setae.  The ones we’ve brought up are 4-6 inches long. Creepy!

We are currently at survey site 229 which for you students translates to trial number 229.  No more complaining to me about having to repeat your experiment 25 times!

Anne Artz: July 26, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Artz
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 25 — August 5, 2011

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 26, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Location: 40 32.672 N070 43.585 W
Temperature: 18.5 C
Winds:  Easterly at 3-4 knt
Conditions:  Sunny today, some clouds, ocean calm

Science and Technology Log

Our first full day at sea (and at work)!  We left the dock at Woods Hole, MA yesterday at 2 pm and headed out past Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.  While steaming towards our sampling site, we practiced two very important safety drills — a fire drill and the abandon ship drill.  The abandon ship drill was unique in that we had to don our survival suits (supposedly in a minute but I think I took longer than that) that protect us in the water from hypothermia and also help keep us afloat.

Survival Suit

Anne Artz in her survival suit

Around 6 pm we reached our first sample location and the “day team” (that’s me and some fellow volunteers) started our work.  The testing protocol is fairly simple: sample sites have been predetermined by computer.  Survey sites are selected based on depth and location (latitude and longitude).  When we reach those locations, a large sled-like cage called a dredge is lowered into the water and dragged along the ocean floor for a prescribed amount of time (generally 5 minutes).

Sampling dredge on the Delaware II

This cage goes on the ocean floor scooping up samples for our analysis.

The dredge is then brought up and the contents emptied onto the deck.  Our work then takes 10-15 minutes to sort through what is brought up, keeping those items we are surveying or counting, and throwing the rest back into the water.  We attempt to identify organisms we bring up and we count all live bivalves, any gastropods, hermit crabs, starfish and all fish.  Species we identify and measure are the surfclam, the ocean quahog, the southern quahog, and sea scallops.  Once we’ve separated out what we need, we weigh the catch then measure the size of each item collected.  We throw everything back into the water and clean up the deck while heading to our next location.  The procedure is repeated about twice each hour.  For our work on the deck we wear protective clothing, hard hats, and of course, a life vest.

Personal Log

There are seven volunteers aboard this trip, including myself.  They are a varied group from all over but are all very interested in ocean science.  Some of them are college graduates, some are still in college and we are all first-timers on this type of research vessel.  We were assigned a 12-hour shift, either noon to midnight or midnight to noon.  I feel fortunate to be on the noon-midnight shift as that means I don’t have to alter my sleeping pattern much.  It’s tiring work but the good part is there are breaks between each haul so most of us have our books with us on the deck (so handy to have a Kindle!).  The crew here is as varied as the volunteers, from all over the country and they are all very good at what they do.  I initially thought having 4 girls sleeping in a room the size of a walk-in closet would be difficult but it’s not.  At any given time two of us are on deck, on duty, so the room is available for sleeping, changing, showering, etc.  We all respect quiet below deck because at any given time, someone is always trying to sleep!

Interesting Things Seen Yesterday

A shark with a rather large fin above the water was following us from a distance for a while — maybe curiosity?  We brought up several skates (they look like rays) the largest being about 12 inches long.  They are incredibly beautiful up close, looking almost angelic.  It seems a shame they have such a bad reputation!

Anne Artz: Introduction, July 14, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Artz
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 25 — August 5, 2011

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 14, 2011

Personal Log

I’ve spent most of my life on the west coast, about a mile from the beach.   I teach Environmental Science and Biology to high school students and we frequently visit the Pacific Ocean to collect data.  This summer, I am doing research on the east coast leaving from Woods Hole, MA aboard the NOAA Ship Delaware II as part of NOAA‘s Teacher at Sea Program.

NOAA Delaware II

NOAA Ship Delaware II

I’m excited about our experiment – collecting data about the Sea Clam and Ocean Quahog.  My students already have a summer reading project about the particular species we are looking for and I hope to be able to share some new information with them when school begins in August.

I love the outdoors and am looking forward to a new adventure at sea in the Atlantic Ocean. I’m guessing it’s going to be different seeing the sun rise over the ocean instead of setting.