Frank Hubacz: Unimak Pass, May 4, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Frank Hubacz
Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
April 29 – May 10, 2013

 

Mission: Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Mooring Deployment and Recovery

Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea

Date: May 5, 2013

 Weather Data from the Bridge (0300):

Partly cloudy, S Winds, variable, currently 3.71 knots
Air Temperature 2.8C

Relative Humidity 73%

Barometer 1025.1 mb

Surface Water Temperature 0.10 C

Surface Water Salinity 31.66 PSU

Seas up to 5 ft

Science and Technology Log

Once we completed our mooring work from Gore Point through to Pavlof Bay, we sailed on to Unimak Pass, nearly 400 miles away, and then entered into the Bering Sea.  Unimak Pass is a strait (wide gap) between the Bering Sea and the North Pacific Ocean in the Aleutian Island chain of Alaska.  Upon arrival at our first station, we started the process of deploying our CTD sampling unit at predetermined points as well as MARMap Bongo casts(discussed in my next blog) when specified, within a region forming a rectangular “box” north of the pass.  If you have been following my voyage using NOAA ship tracker, hopefully you now understand why we appeared to have been “boxed in” (I can hear the groans from my students even out here in the Bering Sea). It is important to understand the ocean waters of this region given that it is a major egress between the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea.  Therefore it serves as an important pathway between these two water bodies for commercially important fish stock as well as serving as a major commercial shipping route.

Unimak Pass

Unimak Pass

 A CTD (an acronym for conductivity, temperature, and depth) is an instrument used by oceanographers to measure essential physical properties of sea water.  It provides a very comprehensive profile of the ocean water to help better understand the habitat of important marine species as well as charting the distribution and variation of water temperature, salinity, and density.  This information also helps scientist to understand how variations in physical ocean properties change over time.  The  CTD is made up of a set of small probes attached to a large stainless steel wheel housing. The sensors that measure CTD are surrounded by a rosette of water sampling bottles (niskin bottles) that individually close shut by an electronic fired trigger mechanism initiated from the control room on-board the ship.  The rosette is then lowered on a cable down to a depth just above the seafloor.  The science team is able to observe many different water properties in real time via a conducting cable connecting the CTD to a computer on the ship. A remotely operated device allows the attached water sampling bottles to be closed (sample collected) at selective depths as the instrument ascends back to the surface.

 

CTD Unit

CTD Unit

Here I am in my hot rain pants helping to deploy the CTD

Here I am in my hot colored rain pants helping to deploy the CTD.  Notice the niskin bottles?

Monitoring the drop with Peter

Monitoring the drop with Peter

Monitoring the CTD deployment

Data screens in the lab

On this cruise, our CTD was equipped to collect real-time water column measurements of conductivity, temperature, density, dissolved oxygen, salinity, chlorophyll levels, and light as the unit traveled down through to a set point just above the ocean floor.  Additionally, water samples for determining concentrations of nutrients (nitrate (NO3-1), nitrite (NO2-1), ammonium (NH4+), phosphate (PO4-3), and silicates (SiO4-4), dissolved oxygen, dissolve inorganic carbon, and chlorophyll were measured at specified depths within the water column as the unit was raised back to the surface.  Replicate measurements of some chemical constituents measured on the ascent are completed to help support the reliability of  the dynamic measurements of these same species made on the drop.  All of the nutrient samples are then frozen to -80C and brought back to the lab on shore for analysis.  Dissolved oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon, and chlorophyll samples are also treated according to unique methods for later detailed analysis.

The sampling begins!

The sampling begins from a niskin bottle!

Filling the sampling vials to be stored for later analysis

Filling the sampling vials to be stored for later analysis

Peter placing samples in the freezer

Peter placing samples in the freezer

Scott preparing the chlorophyll samples

Scott preparing the chlorophyll samples

Our first CTD cast from the “Unimak Box” began with my shift, a bit after midnight, on May 3rd and ended 32 hours later on May 4th.  The science crew worked nonstop as they completed 17 different CTD casts. Again, it was impressive to see the cooperation among the scientists as each group helped one another complete CTD casts, launch and retrieve Bongo nets, and then collect the many different samples of water for testing as well as the samples of zooplankton caught in the bongo nets.  My task was to collect nutrient water samples from each CTD cast.  As the water depth increased so did the number of samples that were collected.  During our sampling water depths ranged from approximately 50 meters (5 samples) up to 580 meters (11 samples).  On our last cast the air temperature was -2.3o C with water temperature reading 2.90 C. Seas were relatively calm and we were able to see many different islands in the Aleutian chain.

Personal Log

It was rewarding to be able to help the team collect water samples for nutrient testing, especially given that we are able to sample many of these same nutrient species in our chemistry lab at Franklin Pierce.  I want my students to know that I practiced “GLT” when collecting nutrient samples making certain to rinse each sample bottle and sampling syringe at least three times before each collection.  Want to know what “GLT” references…ask one of my students!

My most “interesting” time on board ship happened during our first night of CTD testing along one of the lines of the Unimak Box.  At 2:45 am Peter, Douglas, and I were recording flow meter values from the previous bongo net tow on the side quarter-deck.  I was writing values down on a clip board as Peter read the values off to me.  I happened to glance over the deck towards the sea when I noticed an unusually large wave about 2 meters out from the boat traveling towards us.  Suddenly it crashed on top of us knocking us to the deck floor.  Water flooded all around us and through the doors of our labs.  I immediately grabbed onto one of the ship’s piping units and held on tight as the water poured back off the deck.  In an instant the sea was calm again after the “rogue” wave released its energy on our ship.  Because Peter and I fell onto the deck our clothes became completely soaked with icy cold seawater.  Upon standing, we checked on each other and then immediately began retrieving empty sampling bottles and other lab paraphernalia as they floated by in the water emptying off the deck.  Douglas was able to hold-on to the CTD and remained standing and dry under his rain suit.  This is the first, and I hope the last, “rogue” wave that I ever experience.  Fortunately, no one was lost or injured and we were able to retrieve all of our equipment with one exception…the clip board of data log entries that I was holding!

I must admit that I am disappointed at the limited internet access while on board ship.  I find it somewhat disheartening that I have not been able to write the consistent blogs promised to you telling of my adventures.  Hopefully this will improve as we change course and you will continue to follow along.

IMG_7099

View as I traveled to work!

Islands of the Aleutians.

Islands of the Aleutians.

IMG_7055

Island hopping!

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Not all islands are completely snow covered.

 

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Gina Henderson: Samples Aplenty, August 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Prof. Gina Henderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
August 19 – 27, 2012

Mission: Western Atlantic Climate Study (WACS)
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Thursday, August 23, 2012
Weather conditions: calm conditions overnight leading to widespread radiation fog immediately following sunset. Ship had to make use of foghorn for a couple of hours overnight. Today, cloudy with possible rain showers. Winds SW from 10-15 kts, with gust up to 20 in rain showers. Seas from the SW at 3-5 ft.

Science and Technology Log

WACS Field Campaign Update:

This morning we reached the 3-day mark for sampling at station 1, which was in the high chlorophyll concentration off of Georges Bank. During these 3 days, we have been continuously sampling aerosols using both the Sea Sweep and the Bubble Generator (see last post for descriptions of each of these methods).

Some issues that have cropped up throughout this time are linked to our extremely calm and settled weather. Although the calm winds have made for minimal seas, ideal conditions for the Sea Sweep, those scientists sampling ambient air have been picking up ship exhaust in their measurements, despite the bridge keeping our bow head-to-wind. However, during our transit this complication should not be an issue and ambient sampling can take place continuously.

Conductivity, Temperature and Depth:

CTD rosette

Conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) rosette after deployment. Niskin bottles can be tripped at different depths for seawater sampling at various levels.

We also took a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) profile using the CTD rosette on the 21st, collecting water near the bottom at 55m and other levels on the way to the surface.  These water samples were utilized by numerous scientists on board for experiments such as, testing for surface tension, biological testing and chlorophyll measurement.

The science plan for today involved one final CTD cast while at station 1, with all Niskin bottles being tripped at 5m. This large volume is necessary for a Bubble Generator experiment that will be run with this CTD water during the transit to station 2.

After the CTD cast was completed, the Sea Sweep was recovered and other necessary preparations for the transition to our new station. While underway for approximately 24 hours, intake hoses were switched to enable sampling of ambient aerosols along the way.

How to sample aerosols?

One of the tasks that I have been helping out with is the changing of aerosol impactors that are used to collect aerosol samples. These impactors consist of metal cylinders with various “stages” or levels (upper left photo below). Each level has different sizes of small holes, over which a filter is laid. During sampling, these impactors are hooked up to intake hoses where airflow is pumped through them and as the air is forced through the different “stages” or levels, the aerosols are “impacted” on the filters.

Filters being changed inside aerosol impactors (upper left). Picture of me unhooking impactors from inlet hoses for filter switching (upper right). Kristen just finished changing filters in a clean box (bottom).

This all seems simple enough…. However can be a little more cumbersome as the impactors are heavy, climbing up ship ladders with heavy things can be tricky depending on current sea state, and 2 of our impactor changes happen routinely in the dark, making things a little interesting at times!

Seawater sampling for chlorophyll:

Megan filtering raw seawater for chlorophyll extraction and measurement.

Another type of sampling I have helped out with involves the filtration of raw seawater to extract chlorophyll. This is done in the seawater van where we have a continuous flow of in situ water that is taken in at the bow at a depth of approximately 5m. This is done with two different types of filters, a couple of times a day. The photo below shows Megan running a sample through one type of filter, which will later be prepared with an acetone solution and after a resting period, be measured for chlorophyll concentration using a fluorometer.

Lots of sightings during transit:

As we headed south during our transit to station 2, we had an afternoon full of sightings! An announcement from the bridge informing us that we were now in “shark infested waters” sent an air of excitement around the ship as we all raced to the bridge for better viewing. Some loggerhead turtles were also spotted. Our final sighting of the day was a huge pod of porpoises riding the wake from our bow.

Pod of porpoises riding the bow wave during our transit south to station 2.

Everyone races to the bridge after an announcement about “shark infested waters!”

Gina Henderson: 30 Days of Science in 9 Days… August 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Prof. Gina Henderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
August 19 – 27, 2012

Mission: Western Atlantic Climate Study (WACS)
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Weather Data: Winds light and variable less than 10 kts. Combined seas from the SW 3-5 ft, lowering to 2-4 ft overnight. Into Wednesday 22nd, winds continue to be light and variable, becoming NE overnight less than 10 kts. 

Science and Technology Log

WACS Field Campaign Update

Greetings from Georges Bank off the coast of New England! This is our first of 2 sampling stations during the Western Atlantic Climate Survey (WACS) field campaign, over the next 9 days. Our current location was chosen due to its high chlorophyll values, indicating productive waters. Shortly after our arrival here approximately 0700 on the 20th, the Sea Sweep instrument was deployed, and aerosol collection began (see picture below). However, for many of the scientists onboard, data collection began almost immediately after disembarking Boston, on the 19th.

The Sea Sweep

Photographs showing the Sea Sweep (top left), deployment of the Sea Sweep (bottom left), and Sea Sweep underway with bubble generation and aerosol collection taking place (right).

Upon my arrival to the ship in Boston, I quickly learned that this field campaign is a little unusual due to the sheer volume of equipment being utilized, and the short nature of the cruise itself. As we disembarked the Coast Guard pier in Boston, a running joke being echoed around the ship was, “30 days of science in 9 days…. ready, set, and GO!”

Science vans on deck

Looking from the bow towards the bridge, not visible in this photograph due to the mobile lab vans that have been installed on the deck for this cruise.

Over 9 mobile research vans were loaded onto the Ron Brown in preparation for this campaign making for a “low-riding ship”, joked our captain at our welcome meeting on the 19th. Each van contains multiple instruments, computers, ancillary equipment and supplies, and they also serve as research labs for the science teams to work in.

During the past two days, I have been making the rounds to each of these lab vans to hear more about the science taking place in each. With the help of the Chief Bosun, Bruce Cowden, I have also been able to shoot some video of these visits. With the assistance of Bruce, I am learning how to stitch these clips together into some fun short video pieces, so stay tuned for more to come!

A Little about the Sea Sweep

The Sea Sweep instrument consists of floating pontoons that hold a metal hood. The hood is mounted on a frame that protrudes below the water line when deployed, with two “frizzles” or “bubble maker” nozzles that air is pumped through to produce freshly emitted sea spray particles. These particles are then collected through two intake pipes attached to the hood, and are piped into the AeroPhys van. From there, samples are collected and also the intake is drawn into other vans for additional measurements.

Comparison of Sea Sweep Data with “the Bubbler”

Aerosol generator

Scientist Bill Keene from University of Virginia talking to me about “the bubbler”.

Sea spray particles are also being produced and collected via another method onboard, allowing for comparison with the Sea Sweep data. The picture below shows bubbles being generated in seawater that is fed into a large glass tower. This is an aerosol generator (a.k.a. “the bubbler”) brought on board by the University of Virginia. Through sampling with both the Sea Sweep and the bubbler, a greater size range and variety of aerosols can be sampled throughout the cruise.

Personal Log

After waiting a day or so for things to settle down and instruments to get up and running, I was eager to dive right in and be put to work on board. After an announcement made by the chief scientist, Trish Quinn, during our first evening meeting I was quickly solicited by a few different people to help with a range of tasks. So far these have included helping change impactor filters necessary for aerosol sampling 3 times a day (1 of these switches has been happening at 0500, making for some early mornings but pretty sunrises), getting raw sea water samples every 2 hours from different sampling points on board, preparing sea water samples for different analysis such as surface tension, and measuring samples for chlorophyll, dissolved organic carbon and particulate organic carbon.

Amongst all the sampling taking place however, it has been nice to take a break every once in a while to enjoy the extremely calm and settled weather we are having. A very memorable moment yesterday occurred when an announcement over the ship’s intercom alerted all aboard to a pod of whales off the port bow. It was nice to see the excitement spread, with both crew and science team members racing to the bow in unison with cameras in tow!

fun pics aboard

Early morning sky after an impactor filter change (left). All hands rush to the bow after whale sighting is announced (right).

Bhavna Rawal: Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) and Water Testing, August 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bhavna Rawal
Aboard the R/V Walton Smith
August 6 – 10, 2012

Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey, South Florida
Geographic area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 7, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Station: 6.5
Time: 21.36 GMT
Longitude: 080 17’ 184
Latitude: 250 3’ 088
Water temp: 29.930 oC
Wind direction: East
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea wave height: 3 ft

Science and Technology log:

Hello students! We know how to do water testing in our lab class using the testing kit. Today, I am going to explain to you the way ocean water is sampled and tested in the South Florida coastline.

Our 5 day cruise consists of over 80 stations along the Atlantic and Gulf coast of Florida.  At each station we take water samples, and at about 20 of the stations we tow nets to catch fish, seaweed or plankton and sometimes scuba dive to recover the instruments mounted on the seafloor.

Our journey begins at station #2 at Dixie shoal, which is near Miami; you can see this on the South Florida bimonthly Hydrographic survey map below (see fig).

South Florida Bimothly Hydrographic Survey map

South Florida Bimothly Hydrographic Survey map

At each station we performed CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) operations. The CTD is a special instrument to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll and the depth of water in the ocean. It is an electronic instrument mounted on a large metal cage that also contains bottles to collect samples.  These bottles are called niskin bottles and every oceanographer uses them.  They are made of PVC and are specially designed to close instantaneously by activation from the computer inside the ship. Collecting water samples at various depths of the ocean is important in order to verify in the lab that the instruments are working properly. Each bottle has an opening valve at the bottom and top to take in the seawater. The top and bottom covers are operated by a control system. Once a certain depth is reached, the person sitting at the control system triggers and it closes the bottles. You can control each bottles through this system to get a pure water sample from different depths. For example, when the ocean floor is 100 meters deep, water is sampled from the surface, at 50 meters deep, the very bottom.

Hard hat and life vest on and ready for CTD

Hard hat and life vest on and ready for CTD

The CTD instrument is very large, and is operated by a hydraulic system to raise it, to place it and lower down into the ocean. Rachel (another fellow member) and I were the chemistry team; we wore hard hats and life vests while we guided the CTD in and out of the water. This is always a job for at least two people.

Guiding CTD in and out of water

Guiding CTD in and out of water

The team usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean, in the middle layer and surface of the ocean. We closed the bottles in the middle layer because the characteristics of the water are different from at the bottom and the surface.  Remember, the ocean water is not all the same throughout, at different depths and locations it has different chemical characteristics. We closed two bottles per layer, just in case something happened with one bottle (it is not opened properly, for example) then the other bottle can be used.

Taking water sample out of CTD bottles

Taking water sample out of CTD bottles

Rachel and I took water samples from the CTD bottles and used them in the lab to conduct experiments. Before I explain the analysis, I want to explain to you the importance of it, and how a “dead zone” can happen. Remember phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients to live and survive. The more nutrients, the more phytoplankton can live in water. As you all know, phytoplankton are at the base of the food chain. They convert the sun’s energy into food. Too many nutrients mean too much phytoplankton.

  1. If certain species of phytoplankton increase, it increases the chance of a harmful algal bloom. Too much of one kind of plankton called the dinoflagellates can release toxins into the water which harms the fish and other ocean life and it can even cause people to feel like they have a cold if they swim in the water that has those plankton.
  2. Large amounts of plankton die and fall to the sea floor, where bacteria decompose the phytoplankton. Bacteria use available oxygen in water. The lack of oxygen causes fishes and other animals die. The zone becomes ‘the dead zone’.
    We prepare the sample for nutrient analysis to measure nutrients such as nitrate, nitrite, phosphate, ammonium and silicate in the water.
    We also prepare the sample for chlorophyll analysis. In the lab, we filter the phytoplankton out of the water. Phytoplankton contains special cells that photosynthesize (chloroplasts) which are made of chlorophyll. If we know the amount of chlorophyll, we can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in a given area of the ocean.
filtering the phytoplankton out of the water

Filtering the phytoplankton out of the water

Preparing the sample for nutrient analysis

Preparing the sample for nutrient analysis

Phytoplankton needs carbon dioxide to grow. Carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it provides an estimate of total carbon dioxide in the ocean.  It is also important in understanding the effects of climate change on the ocean.  If you increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (like when you drive cars), it enters into the ocean.  If you think about a can of soda it has a lot of CO2 dissolved into it to make it fizzy, and it also tastes kind of acidic.  This is similar to when CO2 dissolves into seawater.  When the ocean becomes more acidic, the shells of animals become weaker or the animals cannot produce the shells at all.

Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) analysis informs us where this water comes from.  The dissolved organic matter comes from decomposing plants, and some of these dead plants entered the water through rivers.  You can tell for example that water came from the Mississippi River because of the CDOM signal.  You can then follow its circulation through the ocean all the way to the Atlantic.

From the CTD instrument, we measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it on a computer (see figure) to analyze it.

Measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it

Measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it

Generally, I see that ocean surface water has high temperature but low salinity, low chlorophyll, and low oxygen. As we go deeper into the sea (middle layer), temperatures decrease, dissolved oxygen increases, chlorophyll and salinity increases. At the bottom layer, chlorophyll, oxygen, temp and salinity decrease.

Personal Log:

I arrived on the ship Sunday evening and met with other people on the team, tried to find out what we are going to do, how to set up, etc. Asked so many questions… I explored my room, the kitchen, the laundry, the science lab, the equipment, etc. Nelson (the chief scientist) gave me a really informative tour about the ship, its instruments and operations. He showed the CTD m/c, the drifter, the wet lab etc. He also gave me a tour of a very important instrument called the “flow-through station” which is attached to the bottom of the ship. This instrument measures temp, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM, when the boat drives straight through a station without stopping. I was really stunned by how precise, the measurements taken by this instrument are.

flow-through station

Flow-through station

The next morning, Nelson explained that if we have enough tide the ship would leave. We had to wait a bit. As soon as we got the perfect tide and weather, R/V Walton Smith took off and I said ‘bye bye’ to Miami downtown.

‘bye bye’ to Miami downtown

‘Bye bye’ to Miami downtown

I learn so much every day in this scientific expedition. I saw not only real life science going on, but efficient communication among crew members. There are many types of crew members on the ship: navigation, technology, engineering, and scientific. Chief scientists make plans on each station and the types of testing. This plan is very well communicated with the navigation crew who is responsible for driving the ship and taking it to that station safely. The technology crew is responsible for efficient inner working of each scientific instrument. 10 minutes before we arrive on a station, the ship captain (from navigation crew) announces and informs the scientific team and technology team in the middle level via radio. So, the scientific team prepares and gets their instruments ready when the station arrives. I saw efficient communication and collaboration between all teams. Without this, this expedition would not be completed successfully.
I have also seen that safety is the first priority on this oceanic ship. When any crew member works in a middle deck such as CTD, Net Tow etc, they have to wear a hard hat and life jacket. People are always in closed toe shoes. It is required for any first timer on the boat to watch a safety video outlining safe science and emergency protocol. People in this ship are very friendly. They are very understanding about my first time at sea, as I was seasick during my first day. I am very fortunate to be a part of this team.

The food on the ship is delicious. Melissa, the chef prepares hot served breakfast, lunch and dinner for us. Her deserts are very delicious, and I think I am going to have to exercise more once I come back to reduce the extra weight gained from eating her delicious creations!

Watch TV, play cards and have dinner together

Watch TV, play cards and have dinner together

My shift is from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. and I work with Rachel and Grant. After working long hours, we watch TV, play cards and have dinner together. I am learning and enjoying this expedition on the ship Research Vessel Walton Smith.

Question of the Day:

Why we do water testing in different areas of river and ocean?

New word:

Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM)

Something to think about:

How to prevent dead zone in an ocean?

Animals Seen Today:
Two trigger fishes
Three Moon Jelly fishes
Five Crabs

Did You Know?
In ship, ropes called lines, kitchen called galley, the place where you drive your ship is called bridge or wheel house.

Dave Grant: Horse Latitudes, February 22, 2012


NOAA Teacher at Sea

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

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 22, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position:26.30 N – 75.42 W
Windspeed: 0
Wind Direction: Calm
Air Temperature: 29 C
Water Temperature: 24 C
Atm Pressure: 1025
Water Depth: 4,410 meters
Cloud Cover: 0
Cloud Type: Slight haze

Science/Technology Log:

We are becalmed and even the veteran sailors onboard are remarking on how flat the sea has become. At about 30 degrees North and South Latitude, moist, low pressure air that was heated and lifted from the surface at the Equator has cooled and is now plunging back down to Earth, forming a line of light winds in a band across the sea. This dry, high pressure air becomes the Trade winds as it is drawn back towards the Equator along the sea surface in what is called a Hadley Cell (After its discoverer). We seem to be on the edge of this meteorological milepost, which was more than a nuisance in the days of sail. If stranded in its pattern too long, food and especially drinking water became an issue, and the first to suffer would be animals being transported from the Old World to the New. Legend has it that subsequent voyagers would come across their carcasses…hence the name Horse Latitudes.

While observing ships returning to port near his home, sixteen year-old future rock star Jim Morrison (The DOORS)  composed what is perhaps his most eerie ballot – Horse Latitudes.

“When the still sea conspires an armor
And her sullen and aborted
Currents breed tiny monsters
True sailing is dead
Awkward instant
And the first animal is jettisoned
Legs furiously pumping”

However, the stable ship makes deck work easier and I am catching up on samples under the microscope, including some of my own tiny “monsters” that the currents have bred.

It is the astonishing variety of life that makes the sea such a fascinating
hunting ground. Get a tow-net, dredge and simple microscope,
and a new world is yours – a world of endless surprises.”

(Sir Alister Hardy)

The chief survey technician set me up  with his  flow-through seawater system and I can leave a net under it to continuously gather plankton. I have noticed some patterns already.
One: Phytoplankton is scarce compared to temperate waters off of New Jersey, and this helps account for the clarity and
brilliant blue color of the water. The absence of large rivers here adding nutrients to the system, and little coastal
upwelling,  means that there is little to fertilize plantlife.
Two: More accumulates in the nets at night, confirming that Zooplankton rises to the surface at in the dark. This diurnal
pattern of the plankton community has been well documented ever since biologists and fishermen went to sea.
Three: Also, there is much more plankton at the surface than in deeper water. This is no surprise since sunlight is the
key ingredient at the surface of this ocean ecosystem.
Four: Creatures from offshore tend to have a more feathery look about them than inshore species. This added surface
area may use the turbulence to help support them near the surface  and increase their buoyancy.

It is said:  “Turn off the sun, and the oceans will starve to death in a week.”  It is assumed that among other stresses on the Biosphere that accompany disastrous impacts of large asteroids, dust and ash from these rare collisions block out enough sunlight to stifle photosynthesis, causing Phytoplankton (The “Pasture of the Sea”) to waste away, and setting the stage for the collapse of the Food Chain and mass extinction events. Fortunately we have plenty of brilliant sunshine here and no celestial catastrophes on the horizon.

Some of the most interesting Zooplankton are the Pteropods, the Sea Butterflies.

   
Empty shell and live pteropod specimen
(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

The renowned oceanographer Alister Hardy used them as indicators of different water masses flowing around the British Isles; and New England’s great oceanographer, Alfred Redfield correlated their drifting with the anti-clockwise circulation of water in the Gulf of Maine. Although most are small and less than an inch long, they feed on a variety of creatures and in turn become food for many others. In surface waters they gather phytoplankton, some utilizing cilia and mucus to sweep food to the mouth; but in deeper waters, others are carnivorous.

I am informed by our English colleagues that on Europe’s fishing grounds, they are sometimes fed upon by herring, cod and haddock; which is bad news for British fishermen, whose catch rapidly decays and is not marketable. Such fish are referred to as “black gut” or “stinkers.”

How concentrated are pteropods? Whales and seabirds that we hope to encounter later in the cruise are sustained by them, and in the warmer waters of the Atlantic, at relatively shallow depths and on the tops of submerged peaks at around 2,000 meters, R.S. Wimpenny reports considerable deposits of “pteropod ooze” from their descending shells, covering an estimated 1,500,000 square kilometers of the bottom of the Atlantic (An area the size of the Gulf of Mexico.). Like the Foraminifera, in deeper waters the aragonite in their shells (a more soluble form of calcium carbonate) dissolves, and other sediments like silicates from diatoms accumulate instead. Check out any oceanography text and you are likely to find a picture of this biogenic pteropod mud, as well as other types of deposits.

At least 90% of the animals in the ocean are meroplankton – spending time in this itinerant stage before becoming adults. This phase may vary from a few days to over a year, depending on the creature. (European eels larva are the long distance champions; for over a year, drifting from below us in their Sargasso Sea breeding grounds, all the way to rivers in Britain and France.)

Drifting larvae are cheap insurance for a species, filling the surrounding habitat with individuals of your own kind, settling in new areas and expanding ranges, and particularly, not lingering around their birthplace and competing with the parent stock. However, most individuals simply end up as food for other creatures that are higher on the food chain.

Not surprising, there are copepods, the “cattle of the sea” grazing on smaller organisms.

  
(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Calanus finmarchicus is sometimes called the most abundant animal in the world and is found throughout the oceans, sustaining many types of marinelife; even right whales and basking sharks off the coast of New England.

Other sea soup and children of the sea that author David Bulloch likes to call them, drift by me and swim circuits trapped by surface tension in the water drop under the microscope.

  
Radiolaria are single cell Protozoa that not only ensnare food with mucous, but harbor mutualistic algae
among their spines. (100 x’s)


More live pelagic snails. (Pteropod means winged foot.)

  
An empty shell with  copepod sheltered inside. Other skeletons filled with Paramecia, and a mixed sample of shells
and dust particles.  (Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Now that is calm, everyone seems to have their sea legs and are comfortable talking about their bouts of mal de mer.
Here is the worst story about sea sickness I have come across:

 From Dave Grant’s collection of sea stories:
The world’s worst tale of seasickness.
As told by Ulysses S. Grant in his Memoirs

One amusing circumstance occurred while we were lying at anchor in Panama Bay. In the regiment there was a Lieutenant Slaughter who was very liable to seasickness. It almost made him sick to see the wave of a table-cloth when the servants were spreading it. Soon after his graduation [from West Point] Slaughter was ordered to California and took passage by a sailing vessel going around Cape Horn. The vessel was seven months making the voyage, and Slaughter was sick every moment of the time, never more so than while lying at anchor after reaching his place of destination. On landing in California he found orders that had come by way of the Isthmus [Panama], notifying him of a mistake in his assignment; he should have been ordered to the northern lakes. He started back by the Isthmus route and was sick all the way. But when he arrived back East he was again ordered to California, this time definitely, and at this date was making his third trip. He was sick as ever, and had been so for more than a month while lying at anchor in the bay. I remember him well, seated with his elbows on the table in front of him, his chin between his hands, and looking the picture of despair. At last he broke out, “I wish I had taken my father’s advice; he wanted me to go into the navy; if I had done so, I should not have had to go to sea so much.”

Poor Slaughter! It was his last sea voyage. He was killed by Indians in Oregon.

Dave Grant: The Ship Was Cheered, the Harbor Cleared…, February 15, 2012

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

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 15, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South/Southeast
Air Temperature: 23.9 deg C/75 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.5 deg C/76 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1016.23 mb
Water Depth: 4625 meters/15,174 feet
Cloud Cover: less than 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

Crew and scientists are reporting for duty and everyone is to be onboard by sunset for a scheduled departure tomorrow morning. There are many boxes of equipment to unload and sampling devices to assemble, so everyone is busy, even during meal times.

Tall ships had miles of rope and lines for handling enormous amounts of sail.
The Brown is also carrying miles of line and cable too, but not for sailing. This is coiled neatly on reels and will be used to anchor moorings of monitoring equipment that will record water temperatures and salinities for an entire year until they are recovered on the next cruise. These moorings are anchored with ship recycled chain and old railroad wheels and their long lines of sensors rising to the surface from 5,000 meters form the electronic “picket fence” spaced between Florida and Africa across the 26.5 degree North Latitude line we are sailing.

On our last night ashore we went downtown to enjoy dinner at one of the many nice restaurants in the historic district. It was a good time to update each other on different projects and make any last minute purchases. Everyone is anxious to get started. As captains like to say:

 “Ships and sailors rot at port.”
(Horatio Nelson)

Day 3 
We are leaving the dock on schedule and heading down river.

Old sailors’ superstitions say that a small bird or bee landing on the deck of a departing vessel foretells good luck on a voyage, and a tangled anchor line forecasts bad luck. Glancing around, I observe our noisy grackles preparing to depart neighboring ships at dock –  so I hope they qualify as small birds. And huddled out of the wind on deck is a crane-fly – not a bee, but a harmless bug that looks like a giant mosquito. Perhaps no guarantee of good luck, but since all our lines and chain are neatly stowed, I am confident that an old “salt” – seeing how ship-shape the Brown is – would concur that we shouldn’t unnecessarily envision any bad luck on our cruise.

Cranefly

Dolphin "X"

Sailing down river we receive a great treat and are guided to the sea by small groups of dolphins surfing underwater in our bow wave. These are Tursiops – the bottle-nosed, the most common and well-known members of the dolphin family Delphinidae. Tursiops is Latin for “dolphin-like.”  Their comradeship is another reassuring sign of good luck to suspicious sailors. It is a remarkable spectacle and entertainment to everyone, even the veteran crew members, who, like the ancient mariners, have reported it many times. Although they seem to be taking turns at the lead, one dolphin that keeps resurfacing has a small cross-shaped scar on the port side (Left) of the blowhole; proving that at least one member of the pod has kept pace with us for the entire time.

Ship mates. (Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Curiously, they know to abandon us near the river mouth to join other “bow riders” that have caught the wave of a freighter that is entering the river and heading upstream. Noteworthy is the bulbous bow protruding in front of the freighter. Reminiscent of the bottle nose of a dolphin, the bulb modifies the way the water flows around the ship’s hull, reducing drag – which increases speed, range, fuel efficiency and stability – things dolphins were rewarded with through evolution. And what a show the dolphins make riding the steeper bow wave! Actually launching out of the vertical face of it like surfers.

Bow rider!

Passing historic Ft. Sumter we receive an impromptu lecture by some of the crew on Charleston’s rich history from the days of Blackbeard the pirate, up through the Civil War. There is an interesting mix of people on board, from several countries and with extraordinary backgrounds. There is also a great assortment of vessels using the bay – freighters, tankers, tugs, patrol boats, cranes, sailboats and a huge bright cruise ship. I am reminded of Walt Whitman’s Song for All Seas, All Ships:

Of ships sailing the seas, each with its special flag or ship-signal,
Of unnamed heroes in the ships – of waves spreading and spreading
As far as the eye can reach,
Of dashing spray, and the winds piping and blowing,
And out of these a chant for the sailors of all nations…

        

     

 I note a transition here from the river to bay ecosystems reflected in the birdlife observed. Grebes and mergansers are replaced by pelicans and gulls.

The bay mouth is protected from wave action by low rip-rap jetties, and outside of them in a more oceanic environment are loons, scoters, and our first real seabirds – northern gannets. Loons spend the summer and nest on pristine northern lakes like those in New Hampshire (Reminding me of the movie On Golden Pond) but migrate out to saltwater to winter in ice-free coastal areas.

Scoters (Melanitta) are stocky, dark sea ducks that winter over hard bottoms like the harbor entrance, where they can dive down and scrape mussels and other invertebrates from the rocks and gravel.

Gannets are cousins of the pelicans but much more streamlined. They too dive for food but from much greater heights, sometimes over 100’. They also plunge below the surface like javelins to snare fishes. They are wide-ranging visitors along the East and Gulf coasts, wintering at sea, and returning to isolated cliff nesting colonies known as a “gannetry”  in Maritime Canada

The ship was cheered, the harbor cleared,
Merrily did we drop,
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

(Coleridge)
 Sullivan Island lighthouse
Latitude: 32.75794
Longitude: -79.84326

The odd triangular shaped tower of Sullivan Island lighthouse originally had installed the second brightest light in the Western Hemisphere. (Said to be so powerful that keepers needed to wear asbestos welding gear when servicing the light)
At 163 feet, its unusual flash pattern is tricky to catch on camera, but it is our last visual link to the mainland, and it will be the only land feature we will see until we are off the lighthouse at Abaco, Bahamas, after ten days at sea. A lighthouse keeper at the lens room, watching us sail away, could calculate at what distance (in miles) we will disappear over the horizon with a simple navigator’s formula:

The square root of 1.5 times your Elevation above se level.
Try it out:  √1.5E’ = _____ Miles 

√1.5 x 163′  = _____ Miles  to the horizon

(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)
 

Dave Grant: Going “Blue Water”
, February 17, 2012

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

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 17, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South/Southeast
Air Temperature: 23.9 deg C/75 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.5 deg C/76 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1016.23 mb
Water Depth: 4625 meters/15,174 feet
Cloud Cover: less than 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Science/Technology Log

Sailors used to describe their trips as short-haul or coastal,
or “long seas” which also was described as going “Blue Water”


We are off to a great start after passing the harbor lighthouse and breakwater, and the seas are calm and winds gentle. The Low Country and barrier islands of South Carolina disappear quickly over the horizon, and the most striking change for me is the color of the water. As we have transited from the sediment rich waters upriver, to the estuary, and out to the ocean, its color has gone from grayish, to green to blue.

Bay/Estuary water in Charleston

Gulf Stream water

As a rapid indicator of what’s going on within it biologically, oceanographers use the color of the water. To quantify their observations for other scientist to compare results, a white secchi disc is lowered just below the surface and the observer compares the ocean’s color with tinted water in a series of small vials – the Forel-Ule Scale. (Francois Forel was an oceanographer and his end of the scale is the bluest; and Willi Ule was a limnologist and his end of the scale is darker, reflecting the fresh waters he studied.) The 21 colors run the gambit of colors found in natural waters and modified by the plankton community and range from brownish-to-green-to-blue. This gives you a quick measure of productivity of the waters and the types of phytoplankton predominating. For example: Diatom blooms are brownish and Dinoflagellate blooms form the notorious red tides. Clear, less productive waters look blue, and we are sailing into waters that are a deeper blue with every league we sail.

I lack a secchi disk and we can’t stop the ship to lower one anyway, so I am using instead a scupper on the side as a photographic frame to document this well-studied and interesting phenomenon.

“Being on a boat that’s moving through the water, it’s so clear.
Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important, and what’s not.”
(James Taylor)

Before departing on the trip I came across Richard Pough’s bird map of the Atlantic. On it he divides the ocean into 10-degree quadrants and indicates the average water temperature and number of birds he sighted daily. The good news is we are heading southeast into warmer waters. The bad news is, he does not indicate a very productive hunting ground for bird watching. For example, Cape Hatteras, NC, where the Gulf Stream skirts North Carolina, shows 40 birds. Off the highly productive sub-polar regions like Iceland where there are great breeding colonies of seabirds like gannets, he indicates scores of birds. Regardless, I am hopeful we will find some true seabirds to photograph on our voyage; and perhaps have some migrating songbirds drop in for a rest.

Gulf Stream sunset

Today, as our colleague Wes Struble discusses on his blog, we retrieved our first samples with the CTD rosette. Water is retrieved from predetermined levels between the surface and 4,500 meters sealed in bottles for salinity and dissolved oxygen analysis. These two physical features, along with temperature, are the benchmarks physical oceanographers rely upon to track the ocean circulation.

For an understanding of this process and an overview of the project, I met with Molly Baringer in her office – a large bench that the ship’s carpenter built on deck. It seats three and is similar to a lifeguard stand, so it can give a view of the water and fit over the [dis]array of equipment constantly being shifted around the fantail by various scientists and deck hands. With the calm seas and sunny weather, it is the perfect spot on the ship to sit with a laptop to outline daily assignments for all of us, review the mass of data streaming in, and relax to watch the sunset.

“When I am playful,
I use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude for a seine,
and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales!”

Mark Twain

Scientists and crew prepare to retrieve a mooring before the next big wave!

Chief scientist Dr. Baringer is a physical oceanographer and so is interested less in the creatures moving around in the ocean and more about the water currents that are moving them around, and particularly the vast amount of heat that is transferred from the Equator to the Polar Regions by “rivers in the sea” like the Gulf Stream.

 Currents and storms in our atmosphere produce our daily weather patterns, which of course change seasonally too. Ocean currents work on a much longer time scale and the text book example of the turnover time of warm water moving Pole-ward, cooling and returning to the Tropics as “centuries.” This timeframe infers that dramatic fluctuations in climate do not occur.

However, by analyzing ice cores from Greenland, scientists recently have detected evidence of abrupt changes in climate – particularly a significant cooling event 8,200 years ago – that could be associated with vacillations in the Gulf Stream. Although lacking a blackboard at her impromptu lecture hall on deck, a patient Dr. Baringer was artful in walking me through a semester of climatology and modeling to highlight the implications of an oscillating Gulf Stream and its deepwater return waters – the Deep Western Boundary Current.

Surface water is driven from the southern latitudes towards the Poles along the western side of the Atlantic, constantly deflected in a clockwise pattern by the Earth’s rotation. Bathing Iceland with warm and saltier water and keeping it unusually mild for its sub-polar latitude, the Gulf Stream divides here with some water flowing into the Arctic Sea and the rest swirling down the Eastern Atlantic moderating the climate in Great Britain, France and Portugal. (This explains the presence of a rugged little palm tree that I once saw growing in a Scottish garden.)

Perturbations in the northward flow of heat by meanderings of the Gulf Stream or the smothering of it of it by lighter fresh waters from melting ice in Greenland and Canada appears play a significant role in occasionally upsetting Europe’s relatively mild and stable climate – which is bad enough. What is more alarming is new evidence that these changes don’t necessarily occur gradually over centuries as once assumed, but can take place rapidly, perhaps over decades.

There is more bad news. The surface of the sea is dynamic and even without wind and waves, there are gentle hills and valleys between areas. I remember my surprise when our physical oceanography teacher, Richard Hires, pointed out that because of warmer water and displacement by the Earth’s rotation, Gulf Stream waters are about a meter higher than the surrounding ocean…that to sail East into it from New Jersey, we are actually going uphill. If these giant boundary currents are suppressed in their movements, it will exasperate an ongoing coastal problem as those hills and valleys of water flatten, resulting in rising sea levels and erosion along northern coastlines.

This explains why we are “line sailing” at 26.5 North, sampling water and monitoring sensors arrayed on the parallel of latitude between Africa and the Bahamas. To measure change, it is necessary to have baseline data, and the stretch of the Atlantic is the best place to collect it.

Snap shots of the water column are taken using the CTD apparatus as we sail an East-West transect, but at $30-50,000. Per day for vessel time, this is not practical or affordable. Here is where moorings, data recorders and long-life Lithium batteries come into play. By anchoring a line of sensors in strategic locations and at critical depths to take hourly readings, year-long data sets can be recorded and retrieved periodically. Not only does this save time and money, it is the only way to generate the ocean of data for researchers to analyze and create a model of what is happening over such a vast region – and what may occur in the future.

For more specific details, check out the project overview.

Deep Western Boundary Current Transport Time Series to study:
-the dynamics and variability of ocean currents;
-the redistribution of heat, salt and momentum through the oceans;
-the interactions between oceans, climate, and coastal environments; and
-the influence of climate changes and of the ocean on extreme weather events.
Information at:  http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/phod/wbts/ies/index.php

We hear that “The package is on deck” and it is time to collect water samples from the 24 different depths the Niskin bottles were fired (Remotely closed). As any aquarist will assure you, as soon as seawater is contained it begins to change, so we always start with the bottom water and work around to the top water since dissolved oxygen levels can drop with rising temperatures and biological activity from planktonic creatures trapped along with the water samples.

Although as oceanography students we read that most ocean water is quite cold (~3.5C)  because only the top 100 meters soaks up the warmth from sunlight, it is still an awakening for me to fill the sample bottles with even colder bottom water. After a half hour of rinsing and filling bottles, my hands are reminded of the times I worked in an ice cream parlor restocking containers from the freezer and filling soft-serve cones. It is a delight to get to the last several bottles of warm (25C) surface water.

Once the DO and salinity bottles are filled, they are removed to the chemistry lab and the Niskins are all mine. By holding a small plankton net under them as they drain excess water, I try my luck at catching whatever has almost settled to the bottom. There is an extra bonus too. A patch of floating Sargassum weed that tangled in the rosette was retrieved by the technician and set aside for me to inspect.

Windrows of Sargassum weed drift past the Ron Brown

Here is what I found under the microscope so far:

From depth:

The bottom water is absolutely clear with no obvious life forms swimming around. However a magnification of 50x’s and the extra zoom of my handy digital camera set-up reveals a number of things of interest I am sorting into AB&C’s:
Abiotic: Specks of clear mineral crystals. Are these minute sediments washed from the mainland or nearby Caribbean islands? Or is it possible they are quartz grains carried from much greater distances, like the Saharan dust that satellite images have proven are swept up by desert winds and carried all the way across the Atlantic?

Biotic: Although I can not find anything living, the silica dioxide skeletons (frustules) of at least two species of diatoms are present. These fragile fragments of glass accumulate in deep sediments below highly productive zones in the sea and different species are useful to paleontologists for determining the age of those deposits. On land, fossil diatom deposits are mined for diatomaceous earth – used as an abrasive and cleaner, pool filter material, and even in nanotechnologyresearch applications. There is other detrital material in the samples, but nothing identifiable.

Celestial(?): One tiny round particle caught my attention under the microscope. It looks like the images I’ve seen of microtektites – glassy and metallic meteor particles that have been molded by the heat of entry into the atmosphere. The Draxler brothers, two science students in Massachusetts, collect them and I hope they will confirm my identification when I see them again.

Dust particle (Right) and foraminifera (Center)

From the surface:

The warm, sunlit surface water here is covered with Sargassum weed, a curious algae that sustains an entire ecosystem in the waters mariners named the Sargasso Sea. On board the Brown it is simply called “weed” in part because it can be a minor nuisance when entangled with equipment. The Sargassum’s air bladders that support it at the surface reminded Portuguese sailors of their sargazagrapes and they named the gulfweed after them.

Can you spot the two Sargassum shrimp next to the air bladder?

Floating Sargassum weed harbors a great variety of other creatures including baby sea turtles, crustaceans and especially bryozoan colonies. The film of life encrusting the weed is sometimes called aufwuchs by scientists and is a combined garden and zoo.

A quick rinse in a plastic bag revealed two species of bryozoan and numerous tiny crustaceans. The Phylum Bryozoa is the “moss animals” a puzzling colonial creature to early biologists. Bryozoans are an ancient group with a long fossil record and are used by paleontologists as an “index” species to date sediments.

Byozoan colony

To my delight there were also some foraminifera in the samples. “Forams” as they are called by researchers, are single celled protozoa with calcium carbonate skeletons. They are abundant and widespread in the sea; having had 330 million years to adjust to different habitats – drifting on the surface in the plankton community and on benthic habitats on the bottom.

It is not necessary for you to go to sea with a microscope to find them. I have seen their skeletons imbedded in the exterior walls of government buildings in Washington, DC; and our own lab building at Sandy Hook, NJ has window sills cut from Indiana limestone – formed at the bottom of the warm Mesozoic seas that once covered the Midwest. In the stone, a magnifying glass reveals pin-head sized forams cemented among a sea of Bryozoan fragments. Some living forams from tropical lagoons are large enough to be seen without a magnifier, and  are among the largest single-celled creatures on the planet. With a drop of acid (The acid test!) our Geology students confirm that our window sills are indeed made of limestone as the drops fizzing reaction releases carbon dioxide sequestered when the animal shell formed.

Living foraminifera eat algae, bacteria and detritus and are fed upon by fishes, crustaceans and mollusks. Dead forams make contributions to us by carrying the carbon in their skeletons to the bottom where it is sequestered for long geological periods.

Geologists also use different species of forams as “index” species to fix the date of strata in sediment cores and rocks. The appearance and demise of their different fossil assemblages leave a systematic record of stability and change in the environment; and paleoclimatologists use the ratios of Carbon and Oxygen isotopes in their skeletons document past temperature ranges.

Our first plankton samples extracted from the deepest samples retrieved from the Niskin bottles at 4,000 meters (2.5C) did not produce any forams. This may be because in deep, cold water, calcium carbonate is more soluble and the skeletons dissolve. Presumably why we identified only the glassy tests of diatoms.

Foraminifera shell at 100x’s

Tiny Paramecia swarm over the detritus in my slide and taking a closer look at that and the growth associated with the weed I am reminded of Jonathon Swifts jingle:

Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite ‘em
And little fleas have lesser fleas

And so, ad infinitum 


Sunset over the Sargassum Sea

The Chief Scientist:

A day in the life of our chief scientist involves: checking with her staff to evaluate the previous day’s collections, consulting with visiting scientists on their needs and any problems that might arise, checking with the deck hands and technicians about equipment needs and repairs, advising the ship’s officers of any issues, and making certain we are on course and schedule for the next station.

And then rest? Hardly!

Even when off duty there are inquiries to field from staff, scientists and crew; equipment repairs to be made; and software that needs to be tweaked to keep the data flowing.

How does one prepare for a career like this?
Physically: the capacity to function on little sleep so you can work 12-hour shifts and be on-call the other twelve. (And there is little escape at mealtimes either, where the conversation never stays far from the progress of the cruise.)Mentally: the capability to multi-task with a variety of very different chores.
Emotionally: the flexibility to accommodate people with many different personalities and  needs, while staying focused on your own work.
Also, excellent organizational skills, since months of planning and preparation are crucial.
And perhaps most importantly, a sense of humor!

 

 “Lock-and-Load!
Midnight shift.
Chief Scientist Dr. Molly Baringer prepares to fire the XBT
off the stern for an 800 meter profile of temperature and pressure.

Elizabeth Bullock: Day 5, December 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Bullock
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
December 11-15, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: December 15, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 3:15pm
Air Temperature: 23.6 degrees C
Wind Speed: 15.8 knots
Relative Humidity: 56%

Science and Technology Log

Liz takes a water sample

Here I am taking a water sample from the CTD.

Let’s talk about the flurometer!  The flurometer is  a piece of equipment attached to the CTD which is being used on this cruise to measure the amount of chlorophyll (specifically chlorophyll_a) in the water being sampled.  It works by emitting different wavelengths of light into a water sample.  The phytoplankton in the sample absorb some of this light and reemit some of it.  The flurometer measures the fluorescence (or light that is emitted by the phytoplankton) and the computer attached to the CTD records the voltage of the fluorescence.

The flurometer can be used to measure other characteristics of water, but for this research cruise, we are measuring chlorophyll.  As you know, chlorophyll is an indicator of how much phytoplankton is in the water.  Phytoplankton makes up the base of the marine food web and it is an important indicator of the health of the surrounding ecosystem.

At the same time that our cruise is collecting this information, satellites are also examining these components of water quality.  The measurements taken by the scientific party can be compared to the measurements being taken by the satellite.  By making this comparison, the scientists can check their work.  They can also calibrate the satellite, constantly improving the data they receive.

Combined with all the other research I’ve written about in previous blogs, the scientists can make a comprehensive picture of the ecosystem with the flurometer.  They can ask: Is the water quality improving?  Degrading?  Are the organisms that live in this area thriving?  Suffering?

Nelson records data from the CTD

Nelson records data from the CTD.

Collecting data can help us make decisions about how better to protect our environment.  For example, this particular scientific party, led by Nelson Melo, was able to inform the government of Florida to allow more freshwater to flow into Florida Bay.  Nelson and his team observed extremely high salinity in Florida Bay, and they used the data they collected to inform policy makers.

Personal Log

Today is my last full day on the Walton Smith.  The week went by so fast!  I had an amazing time and I want to say thank you to the crew and scientific party on board.  They welcomed me and taught me so much in such a short time!

Thank you also to everyone who read my blog.  I hope you enjoyed catching a glimpse of science in action!

Answers to Poll Questions:

1)      In order to apply to the Teacher at Sea program, you must be currently employed, full-time, and employed in the same or similar capacity next year as

a. a K-12 teacher or administrator

b. a community college, college, or university teacher

c. a museum or aquarium educator

d. an adult education teacher

2)      The R/V Walton Smith holds 10,000 gallons of fuel.  By the way, the ship also holds 3,000 gallons of water (although the ship desalinates an additional 20-40 gallons of water an hour).

Lindsay Knippenberg: Oceanography Day! September 11, 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 11, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 58.00 N
Longitude: -166.91 W
Wind Speed: 23.91 kts with gusts over 30 kts
Wave Height: 10 – 13ft with some bigger swells rolling through
Surface Water Temperature: 6.3 C
Air Temperature: 8.0 C

Science and Technology Log

On a calm day letting out the CTD is easy.

On a calm day letting out the CTD is easy.

Today Jeanette and Florence took me under their wing to teach me about the oceanographic research they are conducting onboard the Dyson. At every station there is a specific order to how we sample. First the transducer, then the CTD, then numerous types of plankton nets, and then we end with the fishing trawl. The majority of the oceanographic data that they collect comes from the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth). The CTD is lowered over the side of the ship and as it slowly descends to about 100 meters it takes conductivity, temperature, and depth readings. Those readings go to a computer inside the dry lab where Jeanette is watching to record where the pycnocline is located.

The results from the CTD. Can you spot where the pycnocline is?

The results from the CTD. Can you spot where the pycnocline is?

The pycnocline is a sharp boundary layer where the density of the water rapidly changes. The density changes because cold water is more dense than warm water and water with a higher salinity is more dense than water that is lower in salinity. So as the CTD travels down towards the bottom it  measures warmer, less salty water near the surface, a dramatic change of temperature and salinity at the pycnocline, and then colder, saltier water below the pycnocline. Once Jeanette knows where the pycnocline is, she tells the CTD to collect water at depths below, above, and at the pycnocline boundary. The water is collected in niskin bottles and when the CTD is back on deck Florence and Jeanette take samples of the water to examine in the wet lab.

Filtering out the chlorophyll from the CTD water samples.

Filtering out the chlorophyll from the CTD water samples.

Back in the lab, Jeanette and Florence run several tests on the water that they collected. The first test that I watched them do was for chlorophyll. They used a vacuum to draw the water through two filters that filtered out the chlorophyll from the water. As the water from the CTD passed through the filters, the different sizes of chlorophyll would get stuck on the filter paper. Jeanette and Florence then collected the filter paper, placed them in labeled tubes, and stored them in a cold, dark freezer where the chlorophyll would not degrade. In the next couple of days the chlorophyll samples that they collected will be ran through a fluorometer which will quantify how much chlorophyll is actually in their samples.

Jeanette collecting water from the CTD.

Jeanette collecting water from the CTD.

Besides chlorophyll, Jeanette and Florence also tested the water for dissolved oxygen and nutrients like nitrates and phosphates. All of these tests will give the scientists a snapshot of the physical and biological characteristics of the Eastern Bering Sea at this time of year. This is very important to the fisheries research because it can help to determine the health of the ecosystem and return of the fish in the following year.

Personal Log

One of the high points for me so far on the cruise has been seeing and learning about all the new fish that we catch in the net. We have caught lots of salmon, pollock, and capelin. The capelin are funny because they smell exactly like cucumbers. When we get a big catch of capelin the entire fish lab smells like cucumbers…it’s so weird. We have also caught wolffish, yellow fin sole, herring, and a lot of different types of jellyfish. The jellies are fun because they come in all different shapes and sizes. We had a catch today that had some hug ones and everyone was taking their pictures with them.

Now that is a big jelly fish.

Now that is a big jelly fish.

Today we also caught three large Chinook or king salmon. Ellen taught me how to fillet a fish and I practiced on a smaller fish and then filleted the salmon for the cook. What is even cooler was that at dinner we had salmon and it was the fish that we had caught and I had filleted. Fresh salmon is so good and I think the crew was happy to get to enjoy our catch.

The catch of the day was a 8.5 kg Chinook salmon.

The catch of the day was a 8.5 kg Chinook salmon.

Salmon for dinner, filleted by Lindsay.

Salmon for dinner, filleted by Lindsay.


What else did we catch?
Walleye Pollock

Walleye Pollock

A juvenile Wolffish

A juvenile Wolffish

Yellow Fin Sole

Yellowfin Sole

 A squid

A squid

Herring

Herring

Lots of little Capelin

Lots of little Capelin

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

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

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

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

Science and Technology Log

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

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

CTD

Lindsey takes a CO2 sample from the CTD

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

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

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

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

Carbon

Sampling dissolved inorganic carbon

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

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

chlorophyll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Log

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

It is important to keep organized records

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

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

Captain Shawn Lake mans the winch

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

Did you know?

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

Animals seen today…

zooplankton under the dissecting microscope

-       Many jellyfish

-       Two small crabs

-       Lots of plankton

A sampling of zooplankton

-       Flying fish flying across the ocean at sunset

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

Some moon jellyfish that we collected in the tow net

Caitlin Fine: Mississippi River Chasers! August 3, 2011

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

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

Weather Data from the Bridge

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

Science and Technology Log

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

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

Bryan and Maria

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

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

PUV

Brian lowers PRR into the water

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

Personal Log

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

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

CTD

I am helping lower the CTD into the water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key West

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

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

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

Did you know?

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

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

Animals seen today…

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

    Triggerfish

    We caught a young triggerfish in our tow net

Becky Moylan: Preliminary Results, July 13, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Becky Moylan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
July 1 — 14, 2011


Mission: IEA (Integrated Ecosystem Assessment)
Geographical Area: Kona Region of Hawaii
Captain: Kurt Dreflak
Science Director: Samuel G. Pooley, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist: Evan A. Howell
Date: July 13, 2011

Ship Data

Latitude 1940.29N
Longitude 15602.84W
Speed 5 knots
Course 228.2
Wind Speed 9.5 knots
Wind Dir. 180.30
Surf. Water Temp. 25.5C
Surf. Water Sal. 34.85
Air Temperature 24.8 C
Relative Humidity 76.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1013.73 mb
Water Depth 791.50 Meters

Science and Technology Log

Results of Research

Myctophid fish and non-Myctophid fish, Crustaceans, and gelatinous (jelly-like) zooplankton

Crustaceans

Chief Scientist guiding the CTD into the ocean

Chief Scientist guiding the CTD into the ocean

Beginning on July 1st, the NOAA Integrated Ecosystem Assessment project (IEA) in the Kona region has performed scientific Oceanography operations at eight stations.  These stations form two transects (areas) with one being offshore and one being close to shore. As of July 5th, there have been 9 CTD (temperature, depth and salinity) readings, 7 mid-water trawls (fish catches), over 15 acoustics (sound waves) recordings, and 30 hours of marine mammal (dolphins and whales) observations.

The University of Hawaii Ocean Sea Glider has been recording its data also.The acoustics data matches the trawl data to tell us there was more mass (fish) in the close to shore area than the offshore area. And more mass in the northern area than the south. This is evidence that the acoustics system is accurate because what it showed on the computer matched what was actually caught in the net. The fish were separated by hand into categories: Myctophid fish and non-Myctophid fish, Crustaceans, and gelatinous (jelly-like) zooplankton.

Variety of Non-Myctophid Fish caught in the trawl

Variety of Non-Myctophid Fish caught in the trawl

The CTD data also shows that there are changes as you go north and closer to shore. One of the CTD water sample tests being done tells us the amount of phytoplankton (plant) in different areas. Phytoplankton creates energy by making chlorophyll and this chlorophyll is the base of the food chain. It is measured by looking at its fluorescence level. Myctophids eat phytoplankton, therefore, counting the amount of myctophids helps create a picture of how the ecosystem is working.

The data showed us more Chlorophyll levels in the closer to shore northern areas . Phytoplankton creates energy using photosynthesis (Photo = light, synthesis  = put together) and is the base of the food chain. Chlorophyll-a is an important pigment in photosynthesis and is common to all phytoplankton. If we can measure the amount of chlorophyll-a in the water we can understand how much phytoplankton is there. We measure chlorophyll-a by using fluorescence, which sends out light of one “color” to phytoplankton, which then send back light of a different color to our fluorometer (sensor used to measure fluorescence). Myctophids eat zooplankton, which in turn eat phytoplankton. Therefore, counting the amount of myctophids helps create a picture of how the ecosystem is working.   The data showed us more chlorophyll-a levels in the closer to shore northern areas.

Bringing in the catch

The Sea Glider SG513 has transmitted data for 27 dives so far, and will continue to take samples until October when it will be picked up and returned to UH.

Overall the mammal observations spotted 3 Striped dolphins, 1 Bottlenose dolphin, and 3 Pigmy killer whales.  Two biopsy “skin” samples were collected from the Bottlenose dolphins. A main part of their research, however, is done with photos. They have so far collected over 900 pictures.

Looking at all the results so far, we see that there is an area close to shore in the northern region of Kona that has a higher concentration of marine life.  The question now is why?

We are now heading south to evaluate another region so that we can get a picture of the whole Eastern coastline.

Personal Log

In the driver's seat

In the driver's seat

Krill

Krill

And on deck the next morning we found all kinds of krill, a type of crustacean. Krill are an important part of the food chain that feed directly on phytoplankton. Larger marine animals feed on krill including whales. It was a fun process finding new types of fish and trying to identify them.Last night I found a beautiful orange and white trumpet fish. We also saw many transparent (see-through) fish with some having bright silver and gold sections. There were transparent crabs, all sizes of squid, and small clear eels. One fish I saw looked like it had a zipper along the bottom of it, so I called it a “zipperfish”. A live Pigmy shark was in the net, so they put it in a bucket of water for everyone to see. These types don’t ever get very big, less than a foot long.

I have really enjoyed living on this ship, and it will be sad to leave. Everyone treated me like I was part of the group. I have learned so much about NOAA and the ecosystem of the Kona coastline which will make my lessons more interesting this year. Maybe the students won’t be bored!

Sunrise over Kona Region

Sunrise

Sunrise

Heather Haberman: Science and Life at Sea, July 16, 2011 (post #5)

  • NOAA Teacher at Sea
    Heather Haberman

    Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
    July 5 — 17, 2011

Mission:  Groundfish Survey
Geographical Location:  Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weather Data from  NOAA Ship Tracker
Air Temperature: 28.5 C   (83 F)
Water Temperature: 27.2 C  (81 F)
Relative Humidity: 82%
Wind Speed: 9.58 knots

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

Science and Technology Log

Question of the day:  When I view your travels aboard the Oregon II on NOAA’s Ship Tracker website it looks as though you go as far as the continental shelf and then turn back towards the shore again.  Why don’t you go into the deep water?

Our groundfish survey course.

Answer:  If you were studying animals in the rainforest you would want to make sure to stay in that specific area.  You wouldn’t want to include Arctic animals in your report which are from a completely different biome.  The same goes for ocean life.  As depth, temperature, and amount of light change in the ocean so do the habitats and the animals that live in them.  On this groundfish survey we are focusing on offshore species that live in “shallow” waters up to 60 fathoms (361 feet).  If we were to go out into the deep water then our reports wouldn’t be as accurate.

Topic of the Day:  Science

What is science?  Can you come up with a good definition?  Difficult isn’t it.  There are many definitions that refer to science as the study of the natural world, systematic knowledge, etc. but something that’s often left out of the definition is that it can be used to make predictions.

We have all been conducting scientific experiments since we were old enough to formulate questions about our environment: “Will this ball bounce?”,  “Can I get it to bounce higher?”,  “Will ball #1 bounce higher than ball #2?”  The knowledge we have collected from these experiments allow us to make accurate predictions.  “I think ball #2 would be better for playing tennis than ball #1.”  Now keep in mind, the more we know about a subject, the better our predictions will be.

The more information we have the better our predictions become. Image: http://www.exploratorium.edu/baseball/bouncing_balls.html

Did you know that the ocean covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface but more than 95% of it remains unexplored.  This means we have a lot to learn if we want to accurately predict the relationships between the ocean, the atmosphere and the living things on our planet. To address these gaps in our knowledge, thousands of people working for the government, universities and private industries, are trying to collect the information we need to make the most accurate predictions possible.  Perhaps by expanding our knowledge we will be better equipped to formulate some solutions to the problems we have created in the seas such as  pollution (particularly plastics), climate change and overfishing.  These issues are drastically changing oceanic ecosystems which in turn affect the life on our planet.

The beautiful Pacific Ocean. Image: Universe Today

A new venture into deep ocean exploration. Image: ZD Net

One thing that sets science apart from other arenas is that is it based on verifiable evidence.  We are not talking about video footage of bigfoot or pictures of UFO’s here, we are talking about evidence that is easily confirmed by further examination or research.  I don’t think many people consider all of the expertise that goes into collecting this kind of scientific data–it’s not just scientists.

Not all evidence is verifiable.

Onboard the Oregon II there are engineers that make sure the ship and all its parts are functional, skilled fishermen that operate the cranes and trawling equipment, officers from the NOAA Corps that navigate and assist the captain in commanding the ship, cooks that feed a hungry crew and the scientists.  Conducting scientific research is a team effort that requires a variety of skilled personnel.

NOAA Corps member Ensign Brian Adornado with a nautical chart that's used for navigating our ships course.

Too often people underestimate the amount of time and labor that actually goes into collecting the information we have about our planet and its inhabitants.  In fact, many people dismiss scientific evidence as unimportant and trivial when in actuality it is based on the most technologically advanced methods that are available.  Scientific data, and conclusions derived from the data, are peer-reviewed (looked at by others in the field) before it is published or presented to the general public.

This is why it is so important to take heed to the reports about the changes taking place in the ocean’s waters. Without the data from NASA’s satellites in the sky,  NOAA’s ships on the sea and other sources too numerous to mention, we wouldn’t know the extent of the damage that’s being done to the ocean.

Chlorophyll concentrations in the ocean. Image: NASA satellite SeaWIFS

NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program has clearly demonstrated how good science is done.  I experienced first hand the importance of random sampling, scientific classification of organisms, repeating trials to ensure the accuracy of results, team work, safety, publishing data for the public to review and always having backup equipment.  I’m looking forward to sharing these experiences with my students.  Thank you NOAA!

Personal log:

My time aboard the Oregon II is coming to an end.  We have finished up our last stations and cleaned up the workrooms.  Now its back to Pascagoula, Mississippi.  It has been a wonderful experience!  For those of you that are wondering what I did each day on the ship it was pretty routine.

9:00 AM : Go to the galley for some juice and coffee.  Hot breakfast ends at 8:00 AM but they always have cereal and fresh fruit to eat.  In the galley there are two tables that each seat six people.  At the end of each table is a small TV so we can watch the news, our anything else that happens to be on DirectTV.

This is a picture of my room. I have the bottom bunk and my roommate sleeps on the top. The curtains are very nice for privacy since we work different shifts.

There is a bathroom (head) that my roommate and I share with our two neighbors. Each room has its own entry door to the bathroom.

This is the galley where all of our meals are served. It's also stocked with lots of yummy snacks and drinks!

9:30 AM:  After some coffee, juice and conversation I head upstairs to the lounge so I can check my e-mail and work on my blog.  The lounge has some comfortable seats, a big TV, lots of 8mm movies, two computers for the fishermen, and an internet cord for laptops.  Usually David, the ornithologist (bird scientist), is here working when I arrive so we usually chat for a while.

This is the lounge.

11:00 AM:  Lunch time!  everyday the chefs make amazing food for us to eat.  They’ve served bbq ribs, prime rib, turkey, quail, crab cakes, shrimp, mahi-mahi, ham, crab legs, pork loin, steaks and lots of other amazing side dishes and desserts.  Both chefs are retired from the Navy where they were also cooks.

12:00 noon: Head to the dry lab to start my shift.  At the start of every shift Brittany, our team leader, writes down all of the stations we will be going to as well as how many miles it takes to get there.

This is the "dry lab" where we spend our time waiting for the next trawl or plankton station. In this room there are computers dedicated to navigation, depth imagery and fisheries data.

5:00 PM:  Supper time!  Back to the galley for some more excellent food!

12:00 midnight:  Night crew comes in to relieve us from our 12 hour shift.  I quietly enter my room so I don’t wake up my roommate and hit the shower.  Then it’s to the rack (my bunk bed) with some ear plugs to block out the sounds of the engine.  The slow rocking of the waves makes a person fall asleep quickly after a long day at work.

Kathleen Harrison: Shumagin Islands, July 9, 2011

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

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

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

Science and Technology Log

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

Shumagin Islands

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

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

hexagonal basalt

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

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

long range view of SI, Alaskan Peninsula

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

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

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

chem lab

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

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

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

instrument to measure

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

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

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

New Species Seen today:

Whale (unknown, but probably grey or humpback)

Horned Puffin

Dall’s Porpoise

Krill

Chum Salmon

Eulachon

monitor shows current data

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

Personal Log

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

bracket holds copier

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

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

hallway hand rails

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

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

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

binoculars on the bridge

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

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

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

Steven Wilkie: July 3, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
STEVEN WILKIE
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OREGON II
JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico Date: July 3, 2011 Ship Data

Latitude 29.27
Longitude -94.39
Speed 9.30 kts
Course 298.00
Wind Speed 6.70 kts
Wind Dir. 281.88 º
Surf. Water Temp. 29.90 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 24.88 PSU
Air Temperature 29.30 ºC
Relative Humidity 75.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1015.75 mb
Water Depth 15.70 m

Science and Technology Log

One of the first expeditions devoted to the study of the world’s oceans was that of the H.M.S. Challenger.  This voyage covered a distance of more than 68,000 nautical miles.   Although other expeditions prior to the Challenger expedition would periodically collect data about the ocean environment, none were devoted solely to the exploration of the chemical, biological and physical attributes of the oceans.

The Voyage of the HMS Challenger

The HMS Challenger’s voyage spanned 4 years and covered close to 70,000 nautical miles.

A sounding device used by the Challenger expedition. This weighted line would be lowered over the side of the ship and the amount of line let out would indicate depth.

If you have read my previous posts, you know how important monitoring the abiotic factors are.  This was no different aboard the Challenger expedition.

And remember it took 23 years to process and publish all of the data, well with the help of computers and the internet, the Oregon II’s data is available in hours.

Michael Hendon (lead scientist) performs a winkler titration to determine dissolved oxygen content. See wet chemistry skills are still important!

Michael Hendon (lead scientist) performs a winkler titration to determine dissolved oxygen content. See wet chemistry skills are still important!

Although technology plays a pivotal role in collecting and analyzing the data, computers still need to be cross referenced against tried and true scientific processes.  In order to ensure that all of the CTD equipment is accurate, random water samples are pulled using the CTD’s sample bottles.  A chemical titration, known as the Winkler titration is used to determine the amount of dissolved oxygen present in the water samples.

The method for sampling the living organisms along the bottom of the seafloor has not changed much since the Challenger expedition.  Trawl nets are still the name of the game, although the way they are deployed might vary a bit!

Mike and Cliff bring the Oregon II's trawl aboard complete with catch.

Once the catch is on board, the process begins to collect data (remember that is why NOAA is out here) to better understand how populations are changing in order to set catch limits and analyze human impact.  In the day’s of the Challenger expedition, the work of analyzing samples and collecting their would have been done in a lab aboard ship, and we rely on similar if not more automated facilities onboard the Oregon II.  Follow this link to take a virtual tour of the Challenger’s “Wet lab”. The wetlab onboard the Oregon II is where I spend the majority of my 12 hour watch.   It is here that the catch is brought after we bring it on deck, we sort the catch, count and measure a subsample of what is brought on board.  If we had to measure everything that came up with the net we would never get finished.  By taking a subsample we can split the catch into percentages depending on the weight of the entire catch and count a smaller sample of the catch.  This subsample’s diversity can then be used as a basis for the entire catch.  This saves time and effort on our part and still provides an accurate representation of what was in the net.  A few species are selected to be counted in their entirety, that includes all commercially important shrimp (brown shrimp, pink shrimp and white shrimp) and all red snapper.  We will also pull organisms into our subsample that are unique to the catch such as sharks, rays, skates etc.

Now I am not quite sure how the Challenger expedition determined where it would sample and when, perhaps if they saw something interesting they would simply drop their nets in the water, but with the Oregon II, the sampling sites are predetermined and the method to set up those sites is quite sophisticated.  In order to ensure that the cruise covers the majority of the Gulf of Mexico NOAA uses a method known as independent random sampling.  This method uses a computer program to randomly select stations based on depth data, and spatial area.  By choosing random samples independently, the scientists can rest assured that they haven’t purposefully singled out an area with “good fishing” or “bad fishing” and that the data they collect will represent a more accurate count of the actual fish populations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Steven Wilkie: June 26, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
STEVEN WILKIE
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OREGON II
JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 26, 2011

Ship Data:

Latitude 26.56
Longitude -96.41
Speed 10.00 kts
Course 6.00
Wind Speed 4.55 kts
Wind Dir. 150.72 º
Surf. Water Temp. 28.30 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 24.88 PSU
Air Temperature 29.20 ºC
Relative Humidity 78.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1012.27 mb
Water Depth 115.20 m

Before getting down to work, it is important to learn all precautionary measures. Here I am suited up in a survival suit during an abandon ship drill.

Science and Technology Log

After two days of travel we are on site and beginning to work and I believe the entire crew is eager to get their hands busy, myself included.   As I mentioned in my previous post, it is difficult if not impossible to separate the abiotic factors from the biotic factors, and as a result it is important to monitor the abiotic factors prior to every trawl event.  The main piece of equipment involved in monitoring the water quality (an abiotic factor) is the C-T-D (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) device.  This device uses sophisticated sensors to determine the conductivity of the water, which in turn, can be used to measure salinity (differing salinities will conduct electricity at different rates).   Salinity influences the density of the water: the saltier the water the more dense the water is.  Density measures the amount of mass in a specific volume, so if you dissolve salt in a glass of water you are adding more mass without much volume.  And since Density=Mass/Volume, the more salt you add, the denser the water will get.   Less dense objects tend to float higher in the water column than more dense objects, so as a result the ocean often has layers of differing salinities (less salty water on top of more salty water).  Often you encounter a boundary between the two layers known as a halocline (see the graph below for evidence of a halocline).

Temperature varies with depth in the ocean, however, because warm water is less dense than cold water. When liquids are cold, more molecules can fit into a space than when they are war; therefore there is more mass in that volume.   The warm water tends to remain towards the surface, while the cooler water remains at depth.  You may have experienced this if you swim in a local lake or river.  You dive down and all of a sudden the water goes from nice and warm to cool. This is known as a thermocline and is the result of the warm, less dense water sitting on top of the cool more dense water.

Here is the fancy piece of technology that makes measuring water quality so easy: the CTD.

Temperature also influences the amount of oxygen that water can hold. The cooler the temperature of the water the more oxygen can dissolve in it.  This is yet another reason why the hypoxic zones discussed in my last blog are more common in summer months than winter months: the warm water simply does not hold as much oxygen as it does in the winter.

The CTD is also capable of measuring chlorophyll.  Chlorophyll is a molecule that photosynthetic organisms use to capture light energy and then use to build complex organic molecules that they can in turn be used as energy to grow, reproduce etc.  The more chlorophyll in the water, the more photosynthetic phytoplankton there is in the water column.  This can be a good thing, since photosynthetic organisms are the foundation of the food chain, but as I mentioned in my earlier blog, too much phytoplankton can also lead to hypoxic zones.

Finally the CTD sensor is capable of measuring the water’s turbidity.  This measures how clear the water is.  Think of water around a coral reef — that water has a very low turbidity, so you can see quite a ways into the water (which is good for coral since they need access to sunlight to survive).  Water in estuaries or near shore is often quite turbid because of all of the run off coming from land.

This is a CTD data sample taken on June 26th at a depth of 94 meters. The pink line represents chlorophyll concentration, the green represents oxygen concentration, the blue is temperature and the red is salinity.

So, that is how we measure the abiotic factors, now let’s concentrate on how we measure the biotic!  After using the CTD (and it takes less time to use it than it does to describe it here) we are ready to pull our trawls.  There are three different trawls that the scientists rely on and they each focus on different “groups” of organisms.

The neuston net captures organisms living just at the water's surface.

The neuston net (named for the neuston zone, which is where the surface of the water interacts with the atmosphere) is pulled along the side of the ship and skims the surface of the water.  At the end of the net is a small “catch bottle” that will capture anything bigger than .947 microns.  The bongo nets are nets that are targeting organisms of a similar size, but instead of remaining at the surface these nets are lowered from the surface to the seafloor and back again, capturing a representative sample of organisms throughout the water column.   The neuston net is towed for approximately ten minutes, while the bongo nets tow times are dependent on depth.   Once the nets are brought in, the scientists, myself included, take the catch and preserve it for the scientists back in the lab to study.

The bongo nets will capture organisms from the surface all the way down to bottom.

The biggest and baddest nets on the boat are the actual trawl nets launched from the stern (back) of the boat.  These are the nets the scientists are relying on to target the bottom fish.  This trawl net is often referred to as an otter trawl because of the giant heavy doors used to pull the mouth of the net open once it reaches the bottom.  As the boat moves forward, a “tickler” chain spooks any of the organisms that might be lounging around on the bottom and the net follows behind to scoop them up.  This net is towed for thirty minutes, and then retrieved and we spend the next hour or so sorting, counting and measuring the catch.

Here you can see the otter trawl net extending off the starboard side of the Oregon II. When lowered into the water the doors will spread the mouth of the net.

Personal Log
I thought that adjusting to a 12 hour work schedule would be tough, but with a 5-month old son at home I feel I am more prepared than most might be for an extended day.  I might go as far as to say that I have more down time now than I did at home!  Although the ship’s crew actually manages the deployment of the majority of the nets and C-T-D, the science team is always involved and keeping busy allows the hours to tick away without much thought.  Before you know it you are on the stern deck of the ship staring at a gorgeous Gulf of Mexico sunset.

As we steam back East, the sun sets in our stern every day, and we have been treated to peaceful ones thus far on this trip.

The sun has long since set.  As I write this it is well after midnight and my bunk is calling.

Kathy Schroeder, May 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathy Schroeder
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
May 5 – May 18, 2010

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: May 12, 2010

5/12 Mooring Buoy

Launching a mooring buoy

Launching a mooring buoy

Today we launched another type of buoy. It is called a Mooring Buoy. Its height is 5 meters above the surface (pictured on left) and 72 meters below the surface, which ends with a concrete dome that weighs 4110 (pictured on right). You can see the mooring being towed by the ship to get it into the right position. It has a barometer (measures atmospheric pressure), an anemometer (measures wind speed) and a thermometer on the top. There are sensors at different depths that measure salinity, chlorophyll, temperature, pressure, and nitrates.The information is transmitted to satellite Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (NOAA) that monitors the surface and subsurface of the Bering Sea. This piece of equipment costs $250,000. There are two other moorings already in this location. One measures ocean currents the other measures acoustic plankton. On one it has an underwater rain gauge. Can you figure out what that means? Headed to the Pribilof Islands today. On the way some crew saw sea ice. I’ll be looking! I love reading everyone’s comments. Keep them coming!

Kathy Schroeder, May 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathy Schroeder
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
May 5 – May 18, 2010

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: May 8, 2010

CTD Water Samples 5/8

Today I was able to see a different type of equipment deployed. It is called a CTD (conductivity temperature depth). The CTD went down 150 meters. On the metal frame that holds the CTD are 12 water bottles with caps at each end. The frame is lowered with both end caps open.

Once at its depth the end caps are closed to take a water sample. This is then repeated at 5 different depths on its return to the surface. The water is then put into plastic containers of known volume, which are then taken to a filter (about the size of a quarter) that separates the microscopic plants called phytoplankton from the seawater. The filters with the phytoplankton are then frozen in small plastic vials to be sent to a lab in Seattle where they determine how much chlorophyll was on each filter. The amount of chlorophyll tells us how much phytoplankton was in the water at each depth. Another water sample taken from the CTD is to verify the salinity values measured by the CTD. We haven’t found much pollock the last few hauls. We are now finding Pacific cod, and of course krill and arthropods such as copepods, amphipods, barnacle nauplii. Amber spotted a Minke whale this morning. I hope to see one soon!

Karen Matsumoto, April 25, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Matsumoto
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19 – May 4, 2010

NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette
Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is.
Date: Friday, April 25, 2010

Science and Technology Log

The Oscar Elton Sette is making its way to Wake Island, and we hope to be there by tonight. One of the research operations is to recover a HARP (High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package) that is in place on Wake Island and replace it with a new HARP unit.

This morning, I was on “CTD duty” at 4:30 a.m. A CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) station is deployed prior to the start of the visual survey effort, right at sunrise. The CTD data is collected using the ship’s SeaBird CTD shown below. The CTD is deployed to a depth of 1000 meters (depending on depth where we are) with a descent rate of about 30 meters per minute for the first 100 meters of the cast, then at 60 meters per minute after that. It takes three people, plus a winch driver to deploy the CTD, as well as the expert operation from the bridge to keep the ship steady and in one place during the entire operation!

Checking the CTD unit prior to launch.

Launching the CTD unit.

Background on CTDs

The CTD is a device that can reach 1,000 meters or more in depth, taking up to five water samples at different depths, and making other measurements on a continuous basis during its descent and ascent. Temperature and pressure are measured directly. Salinity is measured indirectly by measuring the conductivity of water to electricity.

Chlorophyll, a green photosynthetic pigment, is measured indirectly by a fluorometer that emits purple light and measures fluorescence in response to that light. These measurements are made continuously, providing a profile of temperature, salinity, and chlorophyll as a function of depth. The CTD unit is torpedo-shaped and is part of a larger metal water sampling array known as a rosette. Multiple water sampling bottles are often attached to the rosette to collect water at different depths. Information is sent back to the ship along a wire while the instrument is lowered to the depth specified by the scientist and then brought back to the surface.

Monitoring the CTD in the ship’s E-lab.

Data gathered from the CTD during its descent.

By analyzing information about the water’s physical parameters, scientists can make inferences about the occurrence of certain biological processes, such as the growth of algae. Knowledge like this can, in turn, lead scientists to a better understanding of such factors as species distribution and abundance in particular areas of the ocean.

I am continuing my acoustic work with the sonobuoys. Today I heard a Minke whale BOING! Below is what a Minke whale boing looks like on the computer. It sounds very much like someone blowing a low tonal whistle or a cell phone vibrating on the desk!

 

To hear an Atlantic minke whale call (which is different from those found here in the North Pacific, but really cool!) go to this website:

http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/vents/acoustics/whales/sounds/sounds_atlminke.html

Personal Log

I am making so many great friends among the Sette crew and the science team! I am getting spoiled from all the fantastic meals put together by Randy our cook, and no one ever wants to miss a meal! Our wonderful Doc Tran makes incredible Vietnamese dishes and delicious desserts. Today we had cream puffs for dinnertime dessert! Who would have ever guessed!

Marie Hill, our Chief Scientist and fearless leader was awarded the prestigious NOAA Team Member Award! We surprised her with balloons and decorations in her cabin, and Doc Tran and Lisa made a yummy cake in celebration! Congratulations Marie!!!

Marie Hill, Chief Scientist finding her cabin wildly decorated to congratulate her on her award.

We had a visitor today on the flying bridge-an exhausted juvenile red-footed booby! He sat on the mast, finding a place to rest in the middle of the ocean! It felt great to feel the warm wind hit my face and watch the sapphire blue water crash against the bow of the ship! What a great feeling!

Juvenile red-footed booby on the bridge

Deep blue Pacific ocean water!

Question of the Day: How can you figure out how much food to bring on a 2-week cruise? How do you keep the food fresh? What do you do with leftovers?

This is the situation that the Chief steward has to deal with on every cruise! How would you figure this out? Can you do the math?

New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: Beaufort Sea State is an empirical measure for describing wind speed based mainly on observed sea conditions. It is also called the Beaufort Wind Force Scale. We stop conducting our visual observations when wind/sea conditions reach Beaufort 7, as wind and sea conditions are too rough to accurately make observations (and its windy out there!).

Something to Think About:

This part of the North Pacific is often described as an ocean desert. We have not seen any whales, and have had only a couple sightings of dolphins since we left Guam. We have also seen migrating sea birds, but not in huge numbers. What do you think may account for the lack of sea life in this expanse of tropical waters?

Animals Seen Today:

  • Sooty tern
  • Red-footed booby (juvenile)

Did you know?

That the team of whale visual observers never discuss the numbers of animals they see among themselves. Some people consistently count high, others count low, others are spot on! By not discussing how many animals they observed, they don’t influence each others’ observations. Back at the lab, researchers compare each observer’s counts from their written observations, and can tell which observers tend to under or overestimate numbers of animals they see. They can then make adjustments to total numbers based on everyone’s observations! This is similar to calibrating thermometers or other scientific equipment!

Today’s sunset from the Sette.