Lynn Kurth: Summer Adventure At Sea, July 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynn Kurth
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon  II
July 25th-August 9th, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date:  July 22, 2014

Personal Log

Hello, from the Badger State! My name is Lynn Schultz-Kurth. I am a 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Prairie River Middle School in Merrill, WI, a small town in the center of the state. Summer is an exciting time here in Wisconsin, but even more exciting this year as we survived one of the nastiest winters on record. As the rivers are finally warm enough to comfortably swim in and the black-eyed susans are in full bloom, I am going to be leaving my home on the Wisconsin River for Pascagoula, MS to be part of NOAA’s (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) Teacher at Sea program.

Black-eyed susans in my garden on the Wisconsin River

Black-eyed susans in my garden on the Wisconsin River

I am honored to be joining the crew aboard the Oregon II, a 170ft. national marine fishing vessel, for a Shark/Red Snapper longline survey, departing from Pascagoula, MS on July 26th and returning to port in Mayport, FL on August 9th. During my mission sharks will be caught, measured, tagged, and released in order to assess their abundance, distribution, and migrational patterns, and to examine their distribution with regard to oceanographic features. I had some experience aboard a research vessel in the summer of 2011, when I participated in Sea Grant’s week long workshop for teachers aboard the R/V Lake Guardian on Lake Superior. Based on that experience, I am expecting to learn a lot, meet amazing people, work long hours and have the experience of a lifetime that will enable me to share “real” science with my students now and in the years to come.

Crystal Davis, Female, Male? How do you tell? July 2, 2014

Common Octopus

This Common Octopus was found in a 7-Up can.

NOAA Teacher at Sea The fish board that measures the length of marine organisms

Crystal Davis

NOAA ship Oregon II

June 23-July 7, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Wednesday July 2, 2014

Weather: Clear and sunny with isolated showers and thunderstorms

Winds:   5-10 knots

Waves:   2-3 feet

Science and Technology Log:

Shortly after boarding the Oregon II, the science crew had orientation with the Operations Officer LTJG Thomas reviewing  basic procedures for emergencies on board. But what stuck out for me the most, was when Operations Officer LTJG Thomas said we were on a S.A.D. boat. It turns out that S.A.D. means no sex, alcohol or drugs are allowed on the Oregon II. This ensures that the boat is safe and reduces the number of accidents on board. This is the opposite of SAD and makes me feel much safer on board. But luckily for KISS fans, rock and roll is still allowed and is on consistently. Sometimes there’s so much rocking and rolling that I fall on the floor, but that’s happening less frequently as I’ve found my sea legs.

In the Groundfish Survey, after the organisms are separated by species, they are sexed. Overall, this gives the scientists an idea of what future generations will look like. Although all the organisms vary in the way you differentiate their gender, the following are some of the most common organisms found in the groundfish survey.

Sexing Shrimp

Brown Shrimp Female (top) Male (bottom)

Paneaus Aztecas Shrimp Female (top) Male (bottom)

As shown in the pictures on the left, male shrimp have a set of claspers (they look like an extra set of legs) called the petasma that is the equivalent of a penis. Females do not have a petasma.

In young (juvenile) shrimp, it can be difficult to identify the males from females as the petasma is very small and not easily visible. At this age they can easily be confused for females. When this is suspected, they are input into the computer as unknown so as not to generate inaccurate data.

Sexing Crabs

When you pick up a crab you have to be very careful to stay away their claws (cheliped). I have found that they like to grab onto you as soon as you pick them up. My roommate had a large blue crab grab her finger that would not let go and she still has bruises from it.

Shame Faced Crab

Shame Faced Crab

Mature female crabs are called a “Sook” and have a dome or bell shaped abdomen.  This is shown in the top row and looks like the U.S. Capitol Building.

Male crabs are called a “Jimmy” and have a T-shaped abdomen that looks like the shape of the Washington Monument.

To mate, the male crab will carry the female until her shell softens and she is able to mate. During mating, the female stores the males sperm to fertilize her eggs later. Once her shell hardens, the male releases her and she will fertilize her eggs later.

Female Lesser Blue Crab with eggs

Female Lesser Blue Crab with eggs

After fertilization, the eggs are stored outside the female’s abdominal area and look like a sponge. They’re very squishy when you touch them. Although this shows orange eggs, they can also be a gray or black color. I have been told that the darker the egg color, the closer to hatching the offspring are. I am not sure that this is scientifically valid and am still trying to verify this.

 

 

 

Sexing Flatfish

Photos courtesy of Robin Gropp

Photos courtesy of Robin Gropp

Flatfish include fish such as flounder, halibut and turbot. These fish begin their life swimming vertically in the water. However, as they get older they sink to the bottom and their eyes move to one side of their body. They then spend the rest of their life on the bottom of the ocean floor. Luckily their top half matches the ocean floor and they are easily camouflaged from predators. The bottom half of the flounder on the ocean floor is clear or white.

The easiest way to sex a flatfish is to hold them up to a bright light. When doing this you will see that the female has a long curved gonad while the male does not.

A Confused Flounder

A Confused Flounder (right) Normal Flounder (bottom left)

This Flounder is very confused. He should be a clear or light white on the bottom but as you can see his bottom half matches his top half. This could be due to a mutation but no one on the boat is exactly sure why he looks this way. This is one of the most interesting things I have seen so far. In fact, no one on the boat had seen this before.

 

 

 

 

Sea Jellies

Sea Jellies

Sea Jellies

Sea Jellies differ from most of the other marine organisms discussed so far. Sea jellies reproduce both sexually and asexually depending on what stage of life they are in. In an early stage of life sea jellies are called a polyp and they attach to a rock. The polyps reproduce asexually by cloning themselves and breaking off (budding). Imagine 300 people that came from you and look exactly like you. It’s actually pretty creepy.  But back to the sea jellies. Eventually the sea jelly will develop into an adult (medusa) that reproduces sexually with sperm and egg.

 

Personal Log:

I have a three day backpacking trip to Mt. Silliman scheduled almost immediately after my NOAA trip is over. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t worry, but after spending two weeks not hiking or training, I’m a little concerned. Luckily there are weights and a rowing and elliptical machine on board, so I have been able to do a bit of training. Being on a ship that’s moving has made working out even more intense. I have to stabilize every time the boat moves, so I don’t fall over. But even if I did, or have, how could I complain with this view.

Boat Personnel of the Day

Holland waiting for a trawl to come in

Holland on the stern

Holland McCandless-Lamier

Holland is my roommate on the Oregon II and is a member of the scientific party. She was contracted by Riverside in response to the Deep Water Horizon (BP) blowout in 2010. She attended the University of Mississippi and majored in marine biology. During college, Holland had an internship in Florida where she led students (from 4th grade to college) in marine science activities. This included snorkeling, visiting coral reefs and other hands on activities.

After college, Holland met an individual from the NOAA Corps at a job fair. They put her in touch with NOAA FIsheries MSLabs Groundfish Unit, where she began volunteering as a participant on surveys. This hands on experience led to her current job. Holland currently spends most of her time in the NOAA South East Fishery Science Center (SEFSC) Pascagoula lab where she works with plankton. Her current project is updating decapod (crustacean) taxonomy.

Did You Know?

A female sunfish can lay 300 million eggs each year. Each egg is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.

Crystal Davis, Bottom Trawl for Shrimp, June 27, 2014

Bringing in a trawl

Bringing in a trawl

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Crystal Davis

 NOAA ship Oregon II

June 23-July 7, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Friday June 27, 2014

Weather: Partly cloudy

Winds:  15-20 knots

Waves:  5-6 feet

 

 

Science and Technology Log: Bottom Trawling

The Oregon II is a participant and contributor to SEAMAP (The Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) which monitors the biodiversity of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. The primary way the Oregon II assists SEAMAP is by conducting bottom trawls with a 42 foot semi-balloon shrimp trawl net.The net is slowly lowered into the ocean until it reaches the bottom and is then dragged along the ocean floor for thirty minutes. The net has a tickler chain between the doors which scrapes the bottom of the ocean floor and flicks objects into the net. The net is then brought to the surface and all of the organisms inside are put into baskets (see video above). The total weight of the catch is massed on scales on the deck. If the catch is large (over 20 kilos), it is dumped onto a conveyor belt and a random sub-sample (smaller) is kept, along with any unique species while the rest of the catch is dumped overboard.

Shrimp Net

Shrimp Net

Once the sample has been selected, the marine organisms are sorted by species and put into baskets. Each species is then massed and counted while the data is recorded into a system called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System). To obtain a random sampling, every fifth individual of the species (up to twenty) is measured, massed and sexed (more on this later). Once the data has been verified by the watch manager, the marine organisms are put back into the ocean. The following are pictures of a sample on the conveyor belt and the organisms divided into a few species.

The sorting process for shrimp (white, brown and pink) differs slightly from that of the other marine organisms. Every shrimp (up to 200 of each species), is massed, measured and sexed.This data is then used by various government agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, etc… to determine the length of the shrimping season and to set quotas on the amount that can be caught by each issued license. States will not open the shrimping season until SEAMAP reports back with their findings from NOAA’s shrimp survey.

Types of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico

Types of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico

The shrimp trawl net used on the Oregon II differs from a shrimp net used on a commercial boat in two main ways. Commercial shrimping boats have BRD’s (Bycatch Reduction Devices) and TED’s (Turtle Excluder Devices). BRD’s and TED’s are federally required in the U.S. to reduce the amount of bycatch (unintentionally caught organisms) and sea turtles. Shrimping boats typically trawl for hours and turtles cannot survive that long without air. TED’s provide turtles and other large marine organisms an escape hatch so that they do not drown (see the video below). Unfortunately, larger turtles such as Loggerheads are too big to fit through the bars in a TED. Additionally, TED’s may become ineffective if they are clogged with sea debris, kelp or are purposefully altered.

     

Boat Personnel of the Week:

Warren Brown:

Warren Brown

Warren Brown

Warren is a gear specialist who is working as a member of the scientific party. He is contracted by Riverside for NOAA.  While aboard the Oregon II, Warren designs, builds and repairs gear that is needed on the boat. Unfortunately, on this leg of the trip either sharks or dolphins have been chewing holes in the nets to eat the fish inside. This means Warren has spent a large chunk of his time repairing nets.

Warren is not a crew member of the Oregon II  and actually works at the Netshed in Pascagoula where he spends his time working with TED’s. He has law enforcement training and will go out with government agencies (such as the Coast Guard or Fish and Wildlife Service) to monitor TED’s on shrimping boats. He also participates in outreach programs educating fishermen in measuring their nets for TED’s, installing them. Warren will bring TED’s and nets to make sure that every everyone at the training has a hands on experience installing them. While he regularly does outreach in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, his work has also taken him as far as Brazil.

Robin Gropp:

Robin playing his mandolin

Robin playing his mandolin

Robin will be a junior at Lewis & Clark College in the Fall. He is currently an intern aboard the Oregon II. Robin received a diversity internship through the Northern Gulf Institute and is one of eight interns for NOAA. For the first two weeks Robin worked at the NOAA lab participating in outreach at elementary school science fairs. He brought sea turtle shells and a shrimp net with a TED installed. The students were very excited to pretend to be sea turtle and run through the TED. They proclaimed, “we love sea turtles.”  After leaving the Oregon II, Robin will return to the NOAA lab to study the DNA of sharks.

 

Personal Log:

Overall I have had a hard time processing and accepting the groundfish survey portion of the trip. I am a vegetarian that does not eat meat, including fish, for ethical and environmental reasons. Yet here I find myself on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico surveying groundfish so that others can eat shrimp. A large part of me feels that I should be protesting the survey rather than assisting. Because of this I spent a lot of time talking to the other scientists on my watch and Chief Scientist Andre Debose. After many discussions (some still ongoing) I do realize how important the groundfish survey is. Without it, there would be no limits placed on the fishing industry and it is likely that many populations of marine organisms would be hunted to extinction more rapidly than they are now. This survey actually gives the shrimp species a chance at survival.

Did You Know?

Countries that do not use TED’s are banned from selling their shrimp to the U.S.

Crystal Davis, Day Three at Sea, June 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Crystal Davis

NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 23 – July 7, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Wednesday June 25, 2014

Weather: Overcast and Cloudy

Waves:1.5 meters

Science and Technology Log:

Getting ready to lower the CTD

Getting ready to lower the CTD

CTD with Niskin Bottles and instument panels

CTD with Niskin Bottles and instrument panels

The Oregon II carries an instrument called a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) that is lowered into the ocean by a crane. On the bottom of the CTD are sensors that detect and relay information back to a computer onboard the Oregon II. On top of the sensors are Niskin (gray) bottles that are manually opened before the CTD is lowered into the water, and are tripped by the Watchleader (closing and trapping water inside) when it reaches the desired depth. Data from the CTD is sent to the ship where it is recorded and stored. After the CTD is back on board, the water from the Niskin bottles is used to check the amount of dissolved oxygen. This data is then combined with numerous stations/stops and used to create a real time map of the dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Real Time Dissolved Oxygen Map from the Oregon II

Real Time Dissolved Oxygen Map from the Oregon II

One of the missions of the SEAMAP cruise is to measure the amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) in the Gulf of Mexico. Dissolved oxygen is the amount of oxygen that is present in the water and is available for marine life. When the dissolved oxygen content drops below 2mg/L, the water is considered to be hypoxic and the area may be called a dead zone. Basically, what this means is that marine life cannot survive because they do not have enough oxygen.

If you can imagine living at the top of Mt. Everest without an oxygen tank, that is what living in hypoxia would be like to a fish.  While the majority of organisms cannot survive in a dead zone, those organisms that do survive have been found to have permanent changes in their reproductive systems, such as smaller ovaries and fewer eggs in female fish. Dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico are due to runoff from Nitrates and Phosphates that come from fertilizers, detergents and human/animal waste. Because of hypoxia, phosphate detergents have been banned in the Great Lakes and you may even notice that some of your household detergents say “phosphate free”.

Personal Log:

Overall I’m pretty exhausted both mentally and physically. While I have taught my Environmental Students about some of the things I am doing, it’s my first time putting these into practice myself. Although I am grateful for the experience, it is a bit much to take it all in and I feel slightly overwhelmed. Luckily, I will have the chance to perform these tasks over and over before the Oregon II returns to shore. And more importantly, I am working with an amazing team of scientists who are happy to answer all of my questions and walk me through procedures multiple times.

I’m slowly adjusting to being in a different time zone, but am definitely feeling the time change. I am on the night shift which means I start work at midnight and finish at noon. This is unusual for me since I like to be in bed by ten every night. On the bright side, my night shift means I get to beat the heat during the middle of the day when the temperatures are in the eighties.

Immersion Suit

Finally in my Survival Suit

 

Yesterday we had an emergency abandon ship drill where we had to don survival suits. You put them on as though you were getting into a sleeping bag. This meant a lot of rolling around on the floor for me, but I like to think I entertained the crew while I was doing it. My dad thinks I look like Sebastian from the Little Mermaid in my suit, but I’m confident that I will be a warm lobster until rescue arrives in the unlikely event I have to abandon ship.

 

 

Did You Know?

Male seahorses, not female seahorses, carry fertilized eggs and give birth to their young. They will also eat any of their offspring that don’t swim away quickly enough. It pays to be a female seahorse!

Carol Schnaiter, Near the End, June 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Schnaiter

NOAA ship Oregon II

June 7-21, 2014

Mission: Groundfish Survey

A beautiful day

A beautiful day!

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Friday, June 20, 2014

Weather: Partly cloudy. Winds 5-10 knots. Waves 1 meter

Science and Technology:

Collecting plankton is a very important activity for the scientists on the ship. Everyday and night they collect the very tiny plants and animals we refer to as plankton. Plankton is very important because it supplies the world with oxygen and it is the beginning of many food chains.

Plankton

This is what we collect using the bongo nets.

The bongo nets are used to collect the plankton from the water. There are two bongo drums connected together and lowered into the water. Each one has a cylinder container connected to the end of the net with holes covered with mesh so that the water can flow out, but the mesh catches the plankton.

Tiny plants and animals that drift in the ocean currents flow into the nets. When the nets are brought back onto the ship, they are rinsed so that nothing is lost. The material collected is then rinsed into sieves and into jars with preservatives. The scientists that use the plankton for research decide which preservatives will be added. Sometimes it is in ethanol and sometimes in formalin, it is up to the scientists at the lab. All of these jars are sent to the lab on land and sometimes the material may be sent to labs in Poland to be examined.

To know how far the nets need to be lowered the scientists work with the deck crew and the bridge. Everyone makes sure the nets go very deep into the water, but that the nets do not touch the bottom. If they did touch the ocean floor there is a good chance that the nets would be damaged.

They also need to monitor how much water flows through the nets while the nets are in the water. To do this there are small flow meters connected to the nets. Before the nets go into the water, the numbers on the flow meter are put into the computer. After the nets come back up the numbers are again entered into the computer. Looking at the difference between these two numbers let the scientist know how much water flowed through the nets.

Flow meter on bongo net

Here is the flow meter on the bongo net.

The main reason plankton surveys are conducted is to collect samples for estimating the number and place where fish larvae can be found.

When we are doing the CTD, we must give the weather conditions: cloud cover, height of waves, and the color of the water.

Here I am checking the sky and water.

Careers:  The people behind the scenes

The Chief Steward Walter Coghlan is a delightful person to watch in the kitchen and a lifesaver for me while I was under the weather. Walter has been with NOAA since 2008 and with his 21 years in the Navy, this Saturday, June 21st, will mark the 30th year at sea for him.

In the Navy, Walter was on various ships such as the USS Lexington and USS John F Kennedy. He even was a cook on a mine sweeper during the war. In the Navy he was a Culinary Specialist, he said that while on the USS John F Kennedy, President Ronald Reagan (everyone near Amboy and Dixon knows who that is) came aboard and asked for Walter to make fried chicken.
Walter also completed Finishing School for Chefs and for three years he served as the chef at the White House. This was when President George Bush was in office.

On the ship he has a budget of $10,000 per month to feed over thirty people three meals a day and provide snacks. His day starts around 4:30 AM and ends around 6:30 PM. He is certified as a Chief Cuisine and he is a superb chef. His future goal is to retire in one year and spend time with his family.

Chief Steward and 2nd cook

Chief Steward Walter and 2nd Cook Steve in the kitchen.

2nd Cook is Steve Daley. Steve is on his first trip on the NOAA Ship Oregon II. He is a augmenter, which means he is a sub and fills in where and when he is needed.

Steve is a Army veteran where he was a cook for eleven years. After the Army, Steve worked at the Pennsylvania Dept. of Correction where he taught culinary classes for 20 years.
Steve is also a wonderful chef and working in the small kitchen space must be difficult at times.

You can believe me when I say that eating on this ship was as good as eating at a fancy restaurant at home!

Engineers:
Sean Pfarrer is the Chief Marine Engineer on the NOAA Ship Oregon II. Due to my schedule the only time I saw Sean was when he was eating, so I was not able to interview him.

Richard Brooks

1st Engineer Richard Brooks

1st Engineer is Richard Brooks. He just joined the NOAA team on this trip and will be with NOAA for two years. Before that he was an engineer on the big oil tankers. He talked about being on the big oil tankers and pointed out the differences between them. He explained how some of the tankers are so big they can not go close to land and smaller tankers will either take fuel to them or from them. It is amazing how much information he has about the different ships.

Richard would sometimes make a trip through the wet lab after our catch to see  what we caught.

 

Down in the engine room.

Down in the engine room.

 

David Carlise

2nd Engineer David Carlise

2nd Engineer is David Carlise. David was in the Coast Guard for four years. He has traveled all over the world on ships and had many stories of his adventures to share with us. After leaving the Coast Guard, David was a Commercial Fisherman for 17 years where he was the captain. He was a Merchant Marine and was the engineer for a cargo boat, tub boat, and a tanker. He will be getting off in Galveston and flying to the state of Oregon for his next assignment on another ship.

 

 

Ship's electrical panel

Ship’s electrical

JUE Jerry Britt

JUE Jerry Britt

Junior Engineer (JUE) Jerry Britt joined NOAA in 2010, He was in the Navy for 20 years in charge of 40 guys as an engineer.On the NOAA Ship Oregon II, Jerry could be called the maintenance man, he fixes everything mechanic. He gave Robin and I a tour of the engine room, it is very noisy and very hot down there, but amazing to see what makes the ship sail! Jerry explained how everything works down below our feet. The electrical board is huge! And seeing the crank shaft of the engine was really cool!

Wiper Otha Hill

Wiper Otha Hill

Wiper Otha Hill, also known as OC, has been with NOAA since 1984. He has worked on the ship Oregon II for 18 years and worked on four other NOAA ships. One of the ships was a weather ship in Chile! He has also worked on Union Ships in the engineering dept., built ships for four years, was a welder and a Junior Engineer and spent six years working on big ships.

As the Wiper, Otha, cleans, paints, and assists with everything that needs something done to it in the engine room area.

These are the people that have very important jobs on this ship. When the shower drain is plugged or the air conditioning goes out, everyone is looking for these men!

Mike and Chuck

Mike and Chuck bringing in the nets.

Personal:

There are signs that my sea adventure is winding down. The water is green, I am seeing more oil rigs, and Ensign Laura Dwyer opened the ship’s store!

Ship's store

Ensign Laura Dwyer opens the ship’s store!

Even on the NOAA Ship Oregon II you can shop!

Today the dolphins were back following the ship. They came right up to the stern of the ship, it was amazing watching them slap the water to let the other dolphins know where the fish were!

 

 

Frigatebird

Frigate bird

The other night and again today we saw Frigate birds flying near the ship. Some say that seeing this bird will bring you good luck….hope so! The Frigate (Fregata) is a seabird that can have a wingspan of over 2 meters. They are a large bird, closely related to the pelicans. For more information check out this website: http://a-z-animals.com/animals/frigatebird/

I cannot wait to share my photos and everything that I have learned. The various species of fish, that you can only tell apart by looking at that one little dot on the bottom of their body or because their eyes are closer together that the other fish (that is the same shape and color and looks just like them) or the shrimp and crabs that are so numerous it has taken me this entire trip to look over the books in the dry lab with their names and information.

Chrissy and me

My bunkmate, Chrissy and me.

Even though my bunkmate, Chrissy Stepongzi and I did not spend a lot of time together (we worked opposite shifts), I can say she was there when I was sick and has a great sense of humor. She graduated with a Major in Biology and worked as a high school sub for two years. For Chrissy the best part of this job is being on the ship and when she is on land she likes to spend time with her cat and dog.

Yes, I have picked up fish of all sizes and shapes. Yes, I can tell if they are a boy or girl. Yes, I have taken the heads off of shrimp. Yes, I have had wet feet for over ten hours everyday. AND yes, I have survived. I do miss my family, my dog (Ginger) and all the students at Central, but I would come back to this ship in a minute!

The Night Shift

The Night Shift-Taniya, Andre, me, and Robin (Photo by Kim Johnson)

I feel so fortunate to have been selected for this and even more fortunate to have been able to sail on the NOAA Ship Oregon II with everyone. Kim Johnson went above and beyond to make sure I was involved and learning something new everyday….thanks! And Taniya, Andre, and Robin will forever make me laugh when I think back on how much time we spent together…the work, the songs, the stories, have all made lasting memories!

Andi Webb: Predeparture for the Oregon II

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Andi Webb

NOAA Ship Oregon II 

July 11-19, 2014

I leave on Tuesday for a trip to the South Pacific and when I return, I’ll be ready to leave for NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program on the Oregon II! School is out and it’s time for the adventures to begin. I’m looking very forward to making new friends and learning a lot! Thank you to NOAA for this amazing opportunity and thank you to Jenny Goldner Daftari for all of her help! I am a K-5 Instructional Coach at Alderman Road Elementary and love science! I am excited to work on the Oregon II in the Gulf of Mexico. ARES is a great school in Fayetteville, NC and I hope our students will learn a lot from this experience. Thank you to NOAA for making it possible!

TAS Items

I was so excited to receive a package with NOAA TAS stuff! It had a shirt, hat, water bottle, fanny pack, and book in the box!

School's Out

This is me in front of my school marquee wearing my NOAA TAS gear!

Carol Schnaiter, At Sea, June 14, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Schnaiter

NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 7-21, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Gulf of Mexico

June 14, 2014

Weather: Partly cloudy. Winds 10 to 15 knots. Waves 1 to 2 feet.

Science and Technology Log:

We have been very busy with stations. The catch on Thursday included a variety of shrimp.  There are many different kinds of shrimp and a lot of them can be found in the Gulf of Mexico. Did you know that most shrimp have a short lifespan, maybe only two to three years?

Some of the ones we caught were the Rose Shrimp (Parapenaeus politus), Roughback Shrimp (Rimapenaeus constrictus), Brown Rock Shrimp (Sicyonia brevirostris stimpson) and the Spiny Rock Shrimp (Sicyonia barkenroadi). Since the scientist use the proper names for each species, I am trying to learn those names too!

 

shrimp in Gulf of Mexico

Can you identify this species of shrimp?

NOAA is one of the primary agencies that watches over the aquaculture or farming in the water. With surveys such as the one the NOAA Ship Oregon II is conducting they are able to calculate the amount of fish, shrimp, and other organisms that can be taken out each year. It is similar to the hunting season we have for deer at home. This protects the industry and allows for the species to grow and not be overfished.

Red snapper is a species that was being overfished for many years and because of this they were not growing to maturity. Now with limits on how many red snapper can be caught, it is making a comeback.

Red Snapper

Huge red snapper caught in our net. Photo by Chief Scientist Kim Johnson

 

Another way that the scientist collect species on the NOAA Ship Oregon II is by using the Neuston nets. These large nets float half in the water and half under the water. They are designed to collect the tiny organisms that float on the top of the water or live right under the surface of the water.

Neuston tow

Here are the Neuston nets being towed at night.

When the nets are being brought back to the ship, we must rinse everything down into the bottom collection container. The material is then placed into jars and chemicals are added to preserve everything.

neuston net

Me washing the neuston net. Photo by Robin Gropp

 

Plankton transfers

. Photo by Robin Gropp

Later the material collected must be transferred into other chemicals and then sent back to the lab on land to be identified.

In the photo I am helping Scientist Andre Debose prepare the samples for transfer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Careers

It takes many people doing many different jobs to keep a ship like the NOAA Ship Oregon II running smoothly.
One job is the ET or Electrical Technician. The ET is a person that helps maintain and repair the electronic components and equipment or devices that use electricity. The NOAA Ship Oregon II is very fortunate to have Brian Thomas as their ET. Brian is ready to work on anything from the radar of the ship to my laptop that I am using to write my blog.

He has been with NOAA as an independent Federal worker since 2006. Before that he was in the Navy for 20 years working with sonar, so Brian knows his way around the ship! He also worked at the shipyards before joining the crew.

He said he had training for three years to learn his present job and because so much of the ship’s equipment works with electricity, Brian is on call 24 hours a day. Normally he said ships have rotating ET’s, but he is the only one on this ship.

Brian said it is a very interesting job and the best part is when everything is going well!

ET Brian Thomas

ET Brian Thomas ready for his next call.

Internship:

NOAA has two college students doing an internship on the NOAA Ship Oregon II this season. One of them is Robin Gropp who will be a sophomore at Lewis and Clark College in the state of Oregon in the fall.

Robin is a biology major and his future goal is to be a marine scientist and maybe work with alternative energy, mainly tidal power, also called tidal energy. This is a form of hydropower that using the tides to make energy. (Kind of like how we have the wind mills that use wind near Amboy to make energy)

Robin is working for NOAA this summer to learn more about the sea turtles and study why they sometimes get stranded or caught on piers. He is also studying the sharks and rays that we might catch while on the Groundfish Survey.

The best part of being involved with a NOAA internship to Robin is the hands-on research that he is conducting.

Robin Gropp and the CTD

Robin helping with the shrimp net at night.

 

Personal:

Today the Lead Fisherman, Chris alerted me to the fact that there were bottlenose dolphin swimming behind the ship. The dolphin were following the nets in hopes of snagging a free meal. I quickly grabbed my camera and headed out to watch the dolphins!

The bottlenose dolphins are the most common and well-known members of the marine family. They can live up to 50 years and can be found in temperate and tropical waters around the world. For more information, go to this link:

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/bottlenosedolphin.htm

The dolphins were amazing to watch as they slapped the water with their tails and followed the net right up to the ship. I have included a video and a picture, but this really does not show the true beauty it was to watch them live. I am so lucky to be out here in the Gulf of Mexico aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Dolphin

Bottlenose dolphin following the ship!

 

Click this link to watch my video of the dolphins!

There is such a wide variety of species living in the Gulf of Mexico. I have included some photos of just a few of the ones we have caught in the nets.

anchovies

Sometimes people like these on their pizza…anchovies!

lesser electric ray

Here I am holding the Lesser Electric Ray. Photo by Chief Scientist Kim Johnson

Atlantic flying fish

Atlantic flying fish

 

 

 

 

The Atlantic flying fish uses its pectoral fins to “catch” the air currents and moves it’s tail back and forth to move forward.

 

 

I am feeling much better now that we have been out to sea for seven days. Walking around on the ship can be tricky somedays, but I am getting better at it everyday!

Crystal Davis, Introduction, June 1, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Crystal Davis

(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 23 – July 6, 2014

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey 
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 1, 2014

Personal Log

Hello from gorgeous and sunny Southern California. My name is Crystal Davis and I am finishing my tenth year of teaching and my fifth year at Hawthorne Math and Science Academy. I currently teach Advanced Placement Environmental Science, Anatomy and Physiology and Biology.

Backpacking in the Sierras

Backpacking in the Sierras

As an environmental science teacher it is important that I make connections between the classroom and current events that are occurring on our planet. For this reason I chose to apply to become a NOAA Teacher at Sea. My students spend a significant portion of their year studying the ocean and atmosphere and the various ways humans impact these systems. I want to bring current research into my classroom and encourage my students to develop an interest in pursuing careers in research as they deepen their understanding of their actions on our planet.

I am excited to begin my cruise in three weeks when I set sail on June 22nd on NOAA Ship Oregon II. We will be conducting bottom trawls to survey the abundance and distribution of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico.  This method of sampling is something I teach in class and I am so happy to take part in the action and get an up front view of what it entails.

Being onboard a ship will be a significant difference from a normal day of rock climbing and backpacking with my friends in WTC and hiking with my two chihuahuas (Comet and Dasher).

Dasher and Comet hiking Mount Wilson

Dasher and Comet hiking Mount Wilson

Spencer Cody: Sea of Life, June 4, 2014

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico
Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Date:  June 4, 2014
 

Observational Data:

Latitude:  27˚ 51.464 N
Longitude:  93˚ 17.745 W
Air Temp: 27.1˚C (80.8˚F)
Water Temp: 24.5˚C (76.1˚F)
Ocean Depth:  141.5 m (464 ft.)
Relative Humidity:  81%
Wind Speed:  14.8 kts (17.0 mph)
Barometer:  1,012.3 hPa (1,012.3 mbar)
 

Science and Technology Log:

The degree to which the Gulf of Mexico is rich in sea life is truly stunning.  The Gulf produces more fish, shrimp, and shellfish than the waters of New England, the Chesapeake, mid- and south-Atlantic combined; consequently, the SEAMAP survey area includes a wide variety of sea life with great abundance.  A lot is riding on our ability to understand and manage the Gulf of Mexico.  According to a 2010 National Marine Fisheries Service report, the five U.S. Gulf states harvested 1.3 billion pounds of commercial shellfish and fish.  In that same year, the Gulf produced 82% of the U.S. shrimp harvest, and 59% of the U.S. oyster harvest, and over a billion pounds of fish.  Maintaining the Gulf as a productive fishery for years into the future is essential to the U.S. economy and its food production.  So, what is going on with reef fish in the Gulf?  In general, many commercially valuable species in the Gulf are showing signs of strain due to over harvesting and various environmental factors.  However, compared to waters in some parts of the neighboring Caribbean that have had commercially valuable reef fish devastated by lax regulation and enforcement, some parts of the Gulf appear relatively pristine.

This is a picture of me taking measurements of one of our target commercial fish species.  Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

This is a picture of me taking measurements of one of our target commercial fish species. Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

One area of concern is our red snapper stocks.  It can be a difficult population to maintain since major swings in reproduction occur from year to year.  This can give both recreational and commercial fishermen a false sense that a population is doing well; however, with red snappers one thirty-year-old female lays more eggs than 30 one-year-old females.  Therefore, it is in our best interests to ensure some older fish survive for reproduction. This same trend can be applied to other commercial fish in the Gulf further complicating management efforts.

The populations of both red snapper and vermillion snapper are showing signs of recovery since setting harvesting restrictions. Red snapper still has a ways to go to get to the targeted sustainable population.  Currently, the red snapper population is only 13% of the target population level while the vermillion snapper is now at 92% of its target population.  Both populations are well below levels documented early in the 20th century. We see a similar problem with some of the grouper in the Gulf.

Species such as the gag grouper and red grouper have faced similar declines due to overfishing, and both have shown signs of recovery while the gag grouper is still under a population rebuilding plan.  While the bandit reels are targeting fish stocks that often have commercial or recreational value, the camera array reveals the context to the rest of the story about the habitat that is up to several hundred feet below our feet.

Just as freshwater fish back home are often attracted to some sort of structure, reef fish exhibit the same tendencies.  Survey areas where we catch few, if any, fish using the bandit reels often appear as barren, flat muddy or sandy bottoms.  This stands in stark contrast with the rich communities that congregate around structure.

Areas in the Gulf that have structure often have a remarkable array of fish and an even wider ranging variety in invertebrates.  So far on this cruise, we have viewed dozens of species of fish representing groups as diverse as snapper, grouper, sharks, eels, triggerfish, pufferfish, anglefish, damselfish, jacks, porgies, and tilefish.

The invertebrate diversity at these sites spans many phyla including sea fans, sea sponges, crabs, brittle stars, sea lilies, shrimp, tunicates, and various types of algae.  One may wonder why structure is found in these places.  In many cases these communities thrive on ancient coral reefs.  These reefs are no longer living themselves since the 150 to 300 feet we often find them in is too deep for the colonial animals that make up coral to have symbiotic algae living with them.  There is simply not enough light at that depth for the types of algae normally associated with coral to carry out photosynthesis.  Then how did corals get to such depths in the first place?  Twelve thousand years ago large ice sheets existed across much of the northern hemisphere.  These continental glaciers locked up approximately 100 feet of ocean sea level into ice at the peak of glaciation.  Therefore, many of our survey sections are directly over where the Gulf coast once was in very recent geological time.  Once the global climate warmed, the glacial ice sheets collapsed and filled the ocean basins to their present day sea levels leaving the existing coral reefs in near darkness.

Personal Log:

In addition to all of the sea life that I have seen directly relating to the survey, I have seen numerous species as a result of incidental catches or just from casual observations from the ship.  The Gulf is home to more than a dozen shark species.  A hammerhead and possibly a bull shark were spotted from the Pisces during the cruise.  Several unidentified sharks were attracted to the mackerel that we were using for bait on our bandit reels and the fish that we were reeling in on our lines.  Trying to reel in your catch and pull off ten hooks from your line before the sharks get a hold of it really adds a whole new element of excitement to fishing that I had never had to deal with before.  Other sea life that I have seen include barracuda, a wahoo, a bottlenose dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphins, large mats of brown algae called Sargassum, and the many living things that live among the Sargassum, which I will talk more about in future posts.

Did You Know?

Fish stocks throughout the ocean are threatened by over-harvesting and environmental issues.  You can learn more about the status of key marine species and issues relating to our seafood supply at the NOAA FishWatch.gov site.

Carol Schnaiter: Leaving the Midwest!, May 26, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carol Schnaiter
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 6 – June 21, 2014

In just a little over two weeks, I will be leaving the green, flat fields of the Midwest to board the NOAA ship Oregon II and sail out of Pascagoula, MS! This is a wonderful opportunity to work with a scientific research team to learn what lives below the water and to bring this back to my students. I am honored to have been selected as part of the 2014 NOAA Teacher At Sea class and look forward to this exciting adventure. While on the ship we will be doing a summer groundfish survey. I am really looking forward to finding out more about this groundfish survey. We have been learning about the food web, so my students will be interested in learning about this too!

Nab the Invader

Learning about invasive species of the Great Lakes

Presently I am finishing my thirty-fourth year of teaching, with the past fourteen years being the kindergarten through fourth grade science teacher at Amboy Central School in Amboy, IL. Amboy is a beautiful, rural town of about 2400 people in Northern Illinois and no matter what direction you leave Amboy, you will see farms and fields. I have lived in Amboy for the past thirty-four years with my husband, Jeff. We have two daughters; Amanda who is married to Jeremy and they live in MA and Jessica who will be leaving for OK in the fall, and our faithful dog, Ginger. The Midwest has been my home for my entire life and after this long, cold winter we just survived, I am looking forward to being in the Gulf for two weeks.

Working together to clean up at the Amboy Marsh!

Being the elementary science teacher is a very rewarding, dream job and I am grateful that the school board and administration continue to support this program. I am able to see every student in our school, plus having a science room full of experiments, live animals, and technology is great. There is never a dull moment in our room as we are always finding new ideas to learn about. Right now the third and fourth grade students are just finishing their units on invasive species, so I will be keeping my eyes out for anything that should not be in the Gulf! I am also a NOAA Climate Steward and I am hoping to learn how the changing climate is affecting the Gulf and to add this information to our unit in fourth grade.

Family at daughter Amanda's wedding

Family at daughter Amanda’s wedding

I enjoy traveling to visit family and friends and learning about new things-you can never know too much! I will post to this blog while at sea, so please be sure to check back after June 7th!

Louise Todd, From the Bridge, September 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 26, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1012.23mb
Sea Temperature: 28.4˚C
Air Temperature: 29.6˚C
Wind speed: 6.43knots

Science and Technology Log:

This morning I went up to the bridge to learn about how the NOAA Corps Officers and the Captain navigate and maneuver the Oregon II.  Ensign Rachel Pryor, my roommate, and Captain Dave Nelson gave me a great tour of the bridge!

The Oregon II is 172 feet long and has a maximum speed of 11 knots.  It was built in 1967.  It has two engines although usually only one engine is used.  The second engine is used when transiting in and out of channels or to give the ship more power when in fairways, the areas of high traffic in the Gulf.  The Oregon II has a draft of 15 feet which means the hull extends 15 feet underneath the water line.  My stateroom is below the water line!  Typically the ship will not go into water shallower than 30 feet.

The bridge has a large number of monitors that provide a range of information to assist with navigation.  There are two radar screens, one typically set to a range of 12 miles and one typically set to a range of 8 miles.  These screens enable the officer navigating the ship to see obstructions, other ships and buoys.  When the radar picks up another vessel, it lists a wealth of information on the vessel including its current rate of speed and its destination.  The radar is also useful in displaying squalls, fast moving storms,  as they develop.

Radar Screen

The radar screen is on the far right

Weather is constantly being displayed on another monitor to help the officer determine what to expect throughout the day.

The Nobeltec is a computerized version of navigation charts that illustrates where the ship is and gives information on the distance until our next station, similar to a GPS in your car.  ENS Pryor compares the Nobeltec to hard copies of the chart every 30 minutes.  Using the hard copies of the charts provides insurance in case the Nobeltec is not working.

Charts

Navigation charts

When we arrive at a station, the speed and direction of the wind are carefully considered by the Officer of the Deck (OOD) as they are crucial in successfully setting and hauling back the line.  It is important that the ship is being pushed off of the line so the line doesn’t get tangled up in the propeller of the ship.  While we are setting the line, the OODis able to stop the engines and even back the ship up to maintain slack in the main line as needed.  Cameras on the stern enable the OOD to see the line being set out and make adjustments in the direction of the ship if needed.  The same considerations are taken when we are hauling back.  The ship typically does not go over 2 knots when the line is being brought back in.  The speed can be reduced as needed during the haul back.  The OOD carefully monitors the haul back from a small window on the side of the bridge.  A lot of work goes into navigating the Oregon II safely!

Personal Log:

I was amazed to see all the monitors up on the bridge!  Keeping everything straight requires a lot of focus.  Being up on the bridge gave me a new perspective of all that goes into each station.  We wouldn’t be able to see all of these sharks without the careful driving from the OOD.

The water has been very calm the past few days. It is like being on a lake.  We’ve had nice weather too!  A good breeze has kept us from getting too hot when we are setting the line or hauling back.

Did you Know?

The stations where we sample are placed into categories depending on their depth.  There are A, B and C stations.  A stations are the most shallow, 5-30 fathoms.  B stations are between 30 and 100 fathoms.  C stations are the deepest, 100-200 fathoms.  One fathom is equal to 6 feet.  A fathometer is used to measure the depth.

Fathometer

The fathometer is the screen on the left

Louise Todd, CTD and Samples, September 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 25, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1008.6mb
Sea Temperature: 28.3˚C
Air Temperature: 26.3˚C
Wind speed: 8.73knots

Science and Technology Log:

After we set the line, the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) is deployed at each station.

CTD

CTD ready to be deployed

This instrument provides information a complete profile of the physical characteristics of the water column, including salinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen.  The CTD is deployed from the bow of the boat using a winch.

Deploying the CTD

Deploying the CTD

When it is first lowered in the water it calibrates at the surface for three minutes.  After it is calibrated it is lowered into the water until it reaches the bottom.  The CTD records data very quickly and provides valuable information about the station.  Conductivity is used to measure the salinity, the amount of salt dissolved in the water.  The CTD also measures the dissolved oxygen in the water.  Dissolved oxygen is an important reading as it reveals how much oxygen is available in that area.  The amount of oxygen available in the water indicates the amount of life this station could be capable of supporting.  Dissolved oxygen is affected by the temperature and salinity in an area.  Higher salinity and temperature result in lower dissolved oxygen levels.  Areas of very low dissolved oxygen, called hypoxia, result in dead zones.  NOAA monitors hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico using data from CTDs.

The otoliths and gonads are taken from all of the commercially and recreationally important fish like Snapper, Grouper and Tilefish.  Otoliths are used to age fish.  Aging fish provides information on the population dynamics for those species.  The otoliths are “ear bones” of the fish and are located in their heads.  It takes careful work with a knife and tweezers to remove the otoliths.

Removing otoliths

Removing otoliths

Once the otoliths are removed, they are placed in small envelopes to be examined in the lab in Pascagoula, MS.  Otoliths have rings similar to growth rings in trees that have to be carefully counted under a microscope to determine the age of the fish.

Otolith

Otolith

The gonads (ovaries or testes) are removed and the reproductive stage of the fish is determined.  The weights of the gonads are also recorded.  Small samples of the gonads are taken in order for the histology to be examined in the lab.  Examining the gonads closely will confirm the reproductive stage of the fish.  Gathering information about the reproductive stage of the fish also helps with understanding the population dynamics of a species and aids in management decisions.

Personal Log:

Taking the otoliths out of the fish was harder than I anticipated, especially on the larger fish.  It takes some muscle to get through the bone!

Otolith

Otolith removed from a Red Snapper

We have had a few very busy haul backs today.  One haul back had over 50 sharks!  My favorite shark today was a Bull Shark.  We caught two today but were only able to get one into the cradle long enough to get measurements on it.  We tagged it and then watched her swim away!  I can’t believe we are halfway through my second week.  Time is flying by!  I can’t wait to see what is on the line tomorrow!

Did you Know?

Yellowedge Grouper are protogynous hermaphrodites.  They start their lives as females and transform into males as they age.  Yellowedge Grouper are the only species of grouper we have caught.

Animals Seen

Here are a few of the animals we’ve seen so far!

Tilefish

Tilefish (Photo credit Christine Seither)

Sandbar

Sandbar shark in the cradle

Red Snapper

Red Snapper (Photo credit Christine Seither)

Yellowedge Grouper

Yellowedge Grouper (Photo credit Christine Seither)

Louise Todd, Haul Back, September 23, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 23, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1009.89mb
Sea Temperature: 28˚C
Air Temperature: 28.2˚C
Wind speed: 8.29knots

Science and Technology Log:

The haul back is definitely the most exciting part of each station.  Bringing the line back in gives you the chance to see what you caught!  Usually there is at least something on the line but my shift has had two totally empty lines which can be pretty disappointing.  An empty line is called a water haul since all you are hauling back is water!

After the line has been in the water for one hour, everyone on the shift assembles on the bow to help with the haul back.  One crew member operates the large winch used to wind the main line back up so it can be reused.

Line on the winch

Winch holding the main line

The crew member operating the winch unhooks each gangion from the main line  and hands it to another crew member.  That crew member passes it to a member of our shift who unhooks the number from the gangion.  The gangions are carefully placed back in the barrels so they are ready for the next station.  When something is on the line, the person handling the gangions will say “Fish on”.

Nurse Shark on the line

Nurse Shark on the line

Everyone gets ready to work when we hear that call.  Every fish that comes on board is measured. Usually fish are measured on their sides as that makes it easy to read the markings on the measuring board.

Measuring Grouper

Measuring a Yellowedge Grouper (Photo credit Christine Seither)

Measuring a Sandbar

Christine and Nick measuring a Sandbar Shark

Each shark is examined to determine its gender.

Sexing a shark

Determining the sex of a sharpnose shark (Photo credit Deb Zimmerman)

Male sharks have claspers, modified pelvic fins that are used during reproduction.  Female sharks do not have claspers.

Claspers

Claspers on a Blacktip

Fin clips, small pieces of the fin, are taken from all species of sharks.  The fin clips are used to examine the genetics of the sharks for confirmation of identification and population structure, both of which are important for management decisions. 

Shark Fin Clip

That’s me in the blue hardhat taking a fin clip from a Sandbar Shark(Photo credit Lisa Jones)

Skin biopsies are taken from any dogfish sharks  in order to differentiate between the species.  Tags are applied to all sharks. Tags are useful in tracing the movement of sharks.  When a shark, or any fish with a tag, is recaptured there is a phone number on the tag to call and report the location where the shark was recaptured.

Some sharks are small and relatively easy to handle.

Cuban Dogfish

Small Cuban Dogfish (Photo credit Christine Seither)

Other sharks are large and need to be hauled out of the water using the cradle.  The cradle enables the larger sharks to be processed quickly and then returned to the water.  A scale on the cradle provides a weight on the shark.  Today was the first time my shift caught anything big enough to need the cradle.  We used the cradle today for one Sandbar and two Silky Sharks.  Everyone on deck has to put a hardhat on when the cradle is used since the cradle is operated using a crane.

Silky Shark

Silky shark coming up in the cradle

Sandbar Shark

Sandbar Shark in the cradle

Personal Log:

I continue to have such a good time on the Oregon II.  My shift has had some successful stations which is always exciting.  We have had less downtime in between our stations than we did the first few days so we are usually able to do more than one station in our shifts.  The weather in the Gulf forced us to make a few small detours and gave us some rain yesterday but otherwise the seas have been calm and the weather has been beautiful.  It is hard to believe my first week is already over.  I am hopeful that we will continue our good luck with the stations this week!  The rocking of the boat makes it very easy for me to sleep at night when my shift is over.  I sleep very soundly!  The food in the galley is delicious and there are plenty of options at each meal.  I feel right at home on the Oregon II!

Did You Know?

Flying fish are active around the boat, especially when the spotlights are on during a haul back at night.  Flying fish are able to “fly” using their modified pectoral fins that they spread out.  This flying fish flew right onto the boat!

FlyingFish

Flying Fish

Louise Todd, Setting the Line, September 19, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 19, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1017.17mb
Sea Temperature: 28.8˚C
Air Temperature: 27˚C
Wind speed: 18.05 knots

Science and Technology Log:

Those of you following our progress on the NOAA Ship Tracker might have noticed some interesting movements of the ship.  We had some rough weather that forced us to skip a station, and the current by the mouth of the Mississippi River also forced us to skip a station.  The safety of everyone on board comes first so if the seas are too rough or the weather is bad we will skip a scheduled station and move to the next one.  Now we are off the coast of Florida and hope we can get some good fishing done!

This survey is being done using longlines.  Longlines are exactly as their name describes, long stretches of line with lots of hooks on them.  The line we are using is 6,000 feet long, the length of one nautical mile.  From that long line, there are 100 shorter lines called gangions hanging down with hooks on the end.  Each gangion is 12 feet long.

Gangions

Gangions in the barrel

When we arrive at a sampling station, everyone on our shift helps to set the line.  In order to set the line, we have to bait each one of the hooks with mackerel.

Baited gangions

Baited gangions ready to go

Once the hooks are baited, we wait for the Officer of the Deck (OOD), driving the ship from the bridge, to let us know that we are in position at the station and ready to start setting the line.  The first item deployed is a high flyer to announce the position of our line to other boats and to help us keep track of our line.

High Flyers

High flyers ready to be deployed

This is a bottom longline survey so after the high flyer is deployed, the first weight is deployed to help pull the line to the bottom of the ocean just above the seabed.  After the first weight is deployed, it is time to put out the first 50 hooks.  This is typically a three person job.  One person slings the bait by pulling the gangion from the barrel and getting ready to pass it to the crew member.  Another person adds a number tag to the gangion so each hook has its own number.

Numbers for hooks

Number clips are attached to each gangion

A member of the deck crew attaches each gangion to the main line and sends it over the side into the water.  The gangions are placed 60 feet apart.  The crew members are able to space them out just by sight!  The bridge announces every tenth of a mile over the radio so they are able to double check themselves as they set the line.  Another weight is deployed after the first 50 hooks.  A final weight is placed after the last hook.  The end of the line is marked with another high flyer.  Once the line has been set, we scrub the gangion barrels and the deck.  The line stays in the water for one hour.

Once the line has soaked for one hour, the fun begins!  Haul back is definitely my favorite part!  Sometimes it can be disappointing, like last night when there was absolutely nothing on the line.  Other times we are kept busy trying to work up everything on the line.  When the line is set and brought back in, everything is kept track of on a computer.  The computer allows us to record the time and exact location that every part of the line was deployed or retrieved.  The touchscreen makes it easy to record the data on the computer.

Computer

Computer ready to document what is on each hook

Personal Log:

It is nice to be doing some fishing!  There have been some long distances in between our stations so my shift has not gotten the opportunity to set the line as much as we would like.  I’m hopeful that the weather holds out for us so we can get a few stations in on our shift today.  Being able to see these sharks up close has been amazing.  I am enjoying working with the people on my shift and learning from each one of them.  Before we haul back the line, I ask everyone what their guess is for number of fish on the line.  My number has been 45 the past few haul backs and I’ve been wrong every time!  Christine was exactly right on one of our last haul backs when she guessed two.  I know I’ll be right one of these stations.  It is hard to get pictures of what comes up on the line because we get so busy processing everything.  I’m going to try to get more pictures of our next stations.

The views out in the Gulf are gorgeous.  I never get tired of them!

Moon Rising

Can you see the moon?

Sunset over the Gulf

Sunset over the Gulf

Did You Know?

When we arrive at a sampling station, the officer on watch must be aware of other ships and rigs in the area.  At times the bridge watchstander will make the decision to adjust the location of our sampling station based on large ships or rigs in the area.

Rig and Ship

Rigs and other ships in the area of a sampling station can force us to move the station

Louise Todd, Underway, September 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 16, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1014.01mb
Sea Temperature: 28.8˚Celsius
Air Temperature: 29.9˚C
Wind speed: 19.22 knots

Science and Technology Log:

Oregon II

Oregon II (Photo Credit NOAA)

We left Galveston a little before 2pm on Sunday, September 15.  We were in transit to our first sampling location and should arrive there around 8pm tonight.  Depending on the conditions we might actually be able to do some fishing tonight!

Today we went through our abandon ship drill.  The ship’s alarm is used to alert everyone on board in the event of an emergency.  Abandon ship is indicated by 7 short rings followed by one long ring of the alarm.  When the alarm sounds with the abandon ship signal, we must carry our survival suits, personal flotation devices (PFDs), long pants, a hat and a long-sleeved shirt to the well deck, at the bow (front) of the ship.  My survival suit and personal flotation device (PFD) are kept in cabinets in my room.  The survival suit is tricky to get on and it gets very, very warm when you are wearing it!

Survival Suit

In my survival suit (Photo Credit Lisa Jones)

Personal Log:

During this initial transit, there hasn’t been much for me to do.  I spent a lot of time sleeping on Sunday.  The way the waves rock the ship back and forth makes me very sleepy!  I have taken a few short naps today in order to be ready in case we do any fishing on the later part of my shift tonight.  I am on the day shift which means I will work noon to midnight.  I think it will take me some time to get used to staying up that late but I think these naps will help!  As we start fishing the days will be much busier for me so staying awake will be easy I hope.  The views off of the ship are amazing.  I was surprised to see how blue the water gets.

View off the ship

View off the Oregon II

My stateroom is very comfortable and I have plenty of space in drawers and cabinets for everything I brought with me.  I am getting used to latching doors and drawers behind me so they do not slam back and forth as the ship rocks.  On the ship there is always someone sleeping so everyone works hard to be courteous and stay quiet.

My stateroom

My stateroom

My roommate is an officer on the ship so we are usually in the room at different times.  Officers on NOAA ships are part of the NOAA Corps.  Roommates are usually assigned based on the shifts people are working so each person has some time alone in the room.  As we start fishing more I will bring my computer and other items I might want throughout the day into one of the labs on the ship so I won’t have to go in and out of the room when my roommate might be sleeping.  The curtains are helpful in blocking out any light that might prevent you from sleeping.  The showers are right next to my room which is convenient and the common head (bathroom) is just around the corner.

There are plenty of food choices in the galley on the ship and everything has been delicious.  In the mornings you can even get eggs made to order!  I certainly don’t think I will be going hungry!

Did You Know?

Even in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, hypothermia is risk due to the difference in water temperature and our body temperatures.  The survival suit helps to protect our bodies from the difference in temperature.

 

Louise Todd: Ready to Go! September 9, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 9, 2013

Welcome to my NOAA Teacher at Sea Blog!

Personal Log

Sea Pork

On Jekyll Island, GA with a Sea Pork

I am thrilled that in just a few days I will be aboard NOAA ShipOregon II as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I have been eagerly waiting for this week to arrive and now it is almost here!  On Friday, September 13, I will fly from New Orleans to Houston and then drive to Galveston.  I will be aboard the Oregon II from Galveston, Texas until we dock in Pascagoula, Mississippi on September 29.

I am the Education Coordinator at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, Louisiana.  I manage our education animal collection, those animals that are used in programs at the aquarium and in our outreach programs, and I coordinate the AquaKid program.  Our animal collection includes a range of animals from saltwater invertebrates like horseshoe crabs to large reptiles like a red tail boa.  Caring for these animals is one of the best parts of my job.  I love interacting with them each day and ensuring they receive quality care.  Our program animals are an important part of our mission to connect our audiences to nature.  Inviting our guests to interact with these animal ambassadors helps demonstrate just how awesome animals can be!  The AquaKids are youth volunteers who enter our program when they are in 7th-9th grades.  AquaKids go through a training session during the month of July that covers basic marine biology and prepares them to serve as educators at the Aquarium for the next school year.  Some of my favorite parts of the summer training session with the AquaKids are the field trips we take every week and the dissection of spiny dogfish that we do in the last week of training.  I am ecstatic to be aboard the Oregon II and to be able to bring back new research and information to share with the AquaKids during our summer training.

Shark Disection

AquaKids dissecting a spiny dogfish

Audubon Youth Volunteers at the Sorting Table

Audubon Youth Volunteers at the sorting table on a summer field trip

Science and Technology Log

I will be aboard the Oregon II participating in the fourth and final leg of a shark and red snapper longline survey.  These longline surveys are crucial in assessing the populations of sharks and red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic Ocean.  You will be able to track the progress of the Oregon II as we move through the Gulf of Mexico using NOAA’s ship tracker.  I will be participating as a member of the science crew working a 12 hour shift each day.  I cannot wait to see what we catch during this leg of the survey!  This will be an amazing opportunity for me to see population research in action and to share that research with my blog readers and visitors to the Audubon Aquarium when I return from this experience.

I have had a great summer with trips to the barrier islands of Georgia for vacation and New York for my sister’s wedding.  This time aboard the Oregon II will be an exciting end to my summer.  I hope you will continue reading as I post about my experience and ask any  questions you might have in the comments section!

Liz Harrington: Let’s Go Fishing! August 17, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 17, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly cloudy, scattered showers and thunder storms
Lat. 27.19 °N  Lon. 84.38 °W
Temp. 92 °F ( 33.4° C)
Wind speed   10-15 knots
Barometer  30.1 in  (1015 mb)
Visibility  10 mi
Sea temp  83 ° F   (28.8  ° C)

Science and Technology Log

We have arrived at the survey sites, the fishing has begun and I’m having the time of my life! The process is a collaborative effort between the science team and the crew of the ship.  In upcoming blogs I’ll focus on all the different people on board the ship and their roles, but I’d like to first tell you about the fishing from my perspective as part of the science team. The science team consists of four scientists and seven volunteers. We are divided into day shift (noon to midnight) and night shift (midnight to noon). I am assigned to the day shift.

I was told that about a mile of line with 100 hooks would be let out and weighted to stay close to the bottom.  I was interested to see how they could let the line out and haul it back in again without all those hooks getting tangled. Well, I learned that the hooks are removable.  The hooks are attached to one end of a 12 foot section of line. The other end holds a snap. This set up is called a gangion.  The gangions are snapped onto the longline as it is let out and taken off the line as it is reeled in.  They are stored in a very orderly way to avoid tangles, although an occasional tangle does occur.  As the ship is approaching a designated site we prepare for setting the line. This is done from the rear of the ship, called the stern.

gangion

Parts of a gangion

baited gangions

Gangions baited and ready to set

We bait the hooks and decide on job assignments.  The jobs that need to be done while setting the line are “Data” (manning the computer to keep a count of the gangions that are put on the line); “High Flyer” (throwing out the buoys that will mark the beginning and end of the line); “Slinger” (throwing the baited hook over the edge of the ship and holding the other end of the gangion to receive a numbered tag); and “Numbers” (snapping numbered tags on to the gangions).  The weather conditions and the speed of the current must be checked before the final approval is given to set the line.  When the signal is given our team gets to work.

high flyer

Skilled fisherman Chuck Godwin and I get ready to put out the high flyer

High Flyers mark each end of the longline

High Flyers mark each end of the longline

slinging

Lead scientist for this trip, Kristin Hannan, slinging while we set out the line. The bait is Atlantic Mackerel.

After the line is set and the work station is cleaned up (that bait can get a little messy!), a CTD is deployed to gather data on the water – Conductivity (a measure of salinity), Temperature and Depth. The CTD also measures the dissolved oxygen in the water – remember that fish breathe by absorbing oxygen from the water as it runs over their gills.

An hour after the last high flyer is set, the line is hauled in. This is done from the bow (the front deck of the ship). During this part of the process I am full of anticipation as we wait to see what each hook holds. It might be a light catch with a couple of fish or it might be a very busy catch.  When the crew yells “fish on”, the action begins. Anything that is caught is brought on board and data is collected (more on this later). If it is too big to be pulled in, then it is lifted into a cradle and worked on along the side of the ship. The crew will determine if cradling is needed and will shout out “hard hats”, as we all need to be wearing hard hats when the crane is being used to move the cradle. In our first two days of fishing, the day shift has cradled five sharks. It is so exciting to be next to such a big, beautiful creature.

The final step to the fishing process is clean up. Our gear is put away, the deck is hosed down (using salt water, as fresh water is in precious on a ship), numbers are checked for proper order and damaged gangions are repaired. If there were fish caught that require dissection, this would be done now as well. In the meantime, Oregon II steams on to the next survey site.  So, you can see that the ship is a busy place 24 hours a day.

repairing or replacing worn gangions

Members of the day shift science team repair gangions after a recent haul. Foreground- Micayla and Cliff, volunteers. Background – Amy Schmidt, scientist.

Personal Log

I am having so much fun on the Oregon II. The work is really interesting and the people have been fantastic.  Not only has everyone on board been very friendly and helpful, but they have really made me feel like a member of the team. Right from the start we were trained for the various jobs and expected to do them, with lots of help and encouragement always available. I initially thought I’d be more of an observer, but that is not the case at all.  All of the volunteers are actively involved in every aspect of the fishing routine.

sharpnose shark

Here I am taking measurements on a Sharpnose Shark

I find it fascinating that people from all over the country have come together to cross paths here aboard a ship in the Gulf of Mexico. In future blogs I’d like to highlight some of their stories, but for now there is work to be done (although I’m not to the point where I can call this work. It’s way too much fun!)

New Terms

Shark Burn – the abrasion received when a wiggling shark rubs against your skin.

Water Haul – nothing at all is caught during a set.

night shark

Daniel, volunteer, prepares to release a Night Shark

removing hook

Removing a hook from a cradled Sandbar shark

CTD

Micayla and Cliff stabilize the CTD during deployment.

data collection

Micayla logs hook numbers as line is let out.

Julie Karre: Back to My Reality, August 12, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013  

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Range of Cruise: Atlantic
Date: Monday August 12, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sadly, I don’t know because I’m not there anymore.

The sunset on the last night. Exquisite. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

The sunset on the last night. Exquisite. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

Post-Cruise Log

I have been back on land for three days now and all I want to talk about are my adventures aboard the Oregon II. I miss everyone I met and hope that we all remain friends. But now that I am not in the moment and experiencing the adrenaline rush of handling sharks, I have time to think about all that I have learned and how I will make this experience valuable to my students. Because, while it was a true honor and privilege to have been aboard the Oregon II for two weeks, the real honor and privilege of my life is spending 10 months with students of Baltimore City Public Schools. And they matter the most right now.

I begin school in two weeks. Two weeks from now I will be standing in my classroom setting up what I hope to be a remarkable year of learning with 40 or so 7th graders and 40 or so 8th graders. Just picturing their faces coming through the door and the hugs and the squeals of delight as we get excited about seeing each other makes me the happiest version of myself.

My Armistead Gardens 7th graders received homemade cookies as a New Years Gift. I look forward to seeing them for a new year beginning August 26th.

My Armistead Gardens 7th graders received homemade cookies as a New Years Gift. I look forward to seeing them for a new year beginning August 26th.

IMG_0914

So what am I going to do with this experience? How will I make two of the most meaningful weeks of my life meaningful for kids who were not involved? How will I make what was mine, theirs?

Those are the questions that bounce around in my head all of the time now. No amount of blog writing and sharing pictures on Facebook matters if I don’t do this justice to those kids. And in the meantime, I would really like to make the people who made this possible proud. From the NOAA employees who run Teacher at Sea to the crew and scientists on the Oregon II to the volunteers who cheered me on and supported me to my parents who watched my dog, I want to make them proud.

So the brainstorming begins and this is where it starts. Over the course of the cruise, I kept track of our latitude and longitude at 11am each day and at each of our stations. During a 1-2 week unit during my Ecosystems In and Out of Balance semester of study, we will be using the research from my cruise to celebrate Shark Week – Armistead Gardens Style. We will begin by plotting the course of the Oregon II from July 26 to August 8. We will study the written descriptions of the shark species I encountered and see if we can match them with pictures. We will hypothesize how the flow of energy works in the marine ecosystems where these sharks are found – will the students guess that some of the big sharks eat some of the little sharks? I didn’t know that. Then we will begin to study what struggles these species encounter in an out-of-balance ecosystem – things like fishing and hypoxia and oil spills.

Beyond the marine science, we will look at who makes marine science possible. I cannot wait to share with these students the opportunities that abound in marine careers, from becoming a scientist like Kristin to driving a ship like Rachel.

This is just a beginning and I look forward to sharing the final product as I continue to develop it.

Thank you so much to everyone who followed my adventure. Thank you so much to everyone who made this possible. I will not let you down.

The volunteers from the first leg take their leave of the Oregon II and head back to their other lives. Photo Credit: Amy Schmitt

The volunteers from the first leg take their leave of the Oregon II and head back to their other lives. Photo Credit: Amy Schmitt

And now I am home with my lovely dog, Maddox.

And now I am home with my lovely dog, Maddox.


Animals Seen Over Two Weeks

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

I handle an Atlantic Sharpnose in one of my last hauls aboard the ship. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

I handle an Atlantic Sharpnose in one of my last hauls aboard the ship. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

Blacknose Shark

Nurse Shark

Scalloped Hammerhead

Bull Shark

Sandbar Shark

Night Shark

Silky Shark

Ribbonfish

IMG_0977

A ribbonfish makes an appearance. Quite the face it has.

A ribbonfish makes an appearance. Quite the face it has.

Grouper

Red Snapper

Black Sea Bass

A black sea bass makes a guest appearance in one of the final hauls on the Oregon II's first leg.

A black sea bass makes a guest appearance in one of the final hauls on the Oregon II’s first leg. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

Sea Turtles

Dolphins

Pilot Whales

Mahi Mahi

Mahi Mahi swim along as the night shift brings in the line. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

Mahi Mahi swim along as the night shift brings in the line. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

Sea stars

Jelly fish

Sea Pansy

Liz Harrington: The Adventure Begins – Setting Sail! August 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 13, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly Cloudy
Lat. 24.24 ° N  Lon. 81.17 ° W
Temp.  86.9° F ( 30.5 °C)
Wind speed 12.1 knots
Barometer 1017 mb
Visibility 10 mi

Science and Technology Log

I’m very excited to finally be aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II.  Everyone I have met has made me feel very welcome.  I know I’m going to have a fantastic time.

Oregon II

Oregon II docked in Mayport, FL

The Oregon II set off from Mayport, Florida (near Jacksonville) Saturday at 1:30 pm (which is 13:30 our time since the crew uses the 24 hour time system).

24-hour Clock

24-hour Clock

We will travel along the entire eastern coast of Florida, around the Florida Keys and into the Gulf of Mexico where the fishing will begin.  I am on the second leg of a four leg Shark/Red Snapper survey.  This is a yearly survey with the purpose of gathering data on a number of shark species and Red Snapper, a popular commercial and recreational fish.  The majority of the sharks caught are weighed, measured, tagged and released.  A few are dissected, with tissue samples being taken for further studies.  The focus on the Red Snapper is to assess the health of the population.  With this information the fishing regulations are revised to ensure a sustainable Red Snapper stock.

The general public is beginning to understand that sharks don’t deserve their reputation as vicious killers but are actually an important link in the marine food web.  The data collected from the surveys will be used to better understand the various shark species and to inform those responsible for updating the fishing regulations.

The Oregon II is a beautiful ship with a friendly and welcoming crew.  One thing that stands out to me is the focus on safety.  Upon arriving at the ship I immediately noticed the bright red message stenciled upon her.  The commitment to that message is evident throughout the ship with safety equipment readily available, briefings for the new people arriving, life raft assignments and safety drills carried out.

Safety is an important practice on the Oregon II.

Safety is an important practice on the Oregon II.

Yesterday we participated in two safety drills.  The first was a Spill Drill.  When the alarm sounded people went to their assigned stations.  Members of the Science Team went to the dry lab and were all accounted for. Other members of the crew reported to the spill area with the appropriate gear to contain and clean up the mock spill.  A second drill we performed was an Abandon Ship drill.  In this drill we all needed to report to the foredeck with our survival suit, our PFD (personal flotation device or life jacket) and a set of clothing to protect against sun exposure (hat, long pants and long-sleeved shirt). We all had to demonstrate putting on our PFD as well as our survival suit. It may not surprise you to hear that I had plenty of room inside my survival suit and it was very easy to get into.

Fire fighting gear ready to go.

Fire fighting gear ready to go.

However, I did have to concentrate to zip the suit with my big, mitted hand. You may have thought, as I had, that survival suits were for the chilly northern waters.  But the ocean temperature here is close to 80° F while our body temperature is 98.6°.  It wouldn’t take long to chill and become hypothermic.  It is very comforting to know that safety plays such an important role on this ship and the captain and crew follow the saying “plan for the worst, hope for the best”.

survival suit

Abandon ship drill requires putting on a survival suit.

This morning we are located just south of the Florida Keys.  Our latitude is 24.24° N.  We are close to the Tropic of Cancer, but we won’t be crossing it.

sunrise off Florida Keys

Sunrise off the Florida Keys

Once around the Keys we’ll begin to head north again.  We may begin fishing this evening or early tomorrow morning, as soon as we reach our first survey point.  I’m looking forward to learning how the fishing is done and especially seeing what we catch.

storing suit

Survival suit is properly stored so it is always ready for use.

PFD

Easy access to PFDs stored in our rooms.

life raft

Self-inflating life raft. I am assigned to Life Raft #1.

Julie Karre: A Day of No Fishing is Not a Day of Rest, July 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013 

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic
Date: July 27

Weather Data from the Bridge
W TO NW WINDS 5 TO 10 KNOTS
SEAS 1 TO 2 FT.

We departed Pascagoula yesterday with calm winds and steamy temperatures. Our team decided that with storms developing in and around the Gulf, it was best for us to head out to the Atlantic. So we’re all loaded in to hang out for a few days before the fishing begins.

Science and Technology Log

It would be easy to think of these traveling days as days of rest. But they are far from it. The ship’s crew and fishermen are hard at work each day keeping the ship running as it should. One of the tasks the fishing crew is responsible for is dealing with the rust that builds up on the ship. (Ok, seventh and eighth graders – why is rust such a problem for a ship?)

Because of the constant moisture, rust is a persistent problem on the ship, exacerbated by the salt. Whenever docked, the crew works tirelessly to get the ship into prime condition. Any of the deck equipment that can be removed gets taken to a workshop where it is sanded down to raw metal again and then galvanized. This increases the life of the equipment because galvanized steel doesn’t rust. That leaves all the parts that cannot be removed to be touched up piecemeal, as Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols said. On a day like today – calm sea, light wind, and no fishing – the guys set to work on designated areas of the ship. Once an area of rust is identified, the rust must be removed. After removing the rust and vacuuming up all the dust and particles, the area gets primer painted twice and then its topcoat. The end result is a nice clean look to the boat.

Opening on the starboard side of the ship getting its rust removal makeover.

Opening on the starboard side of the ship getting its rust removal makeover.

Removing rust from the railing on the starboard side.

Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway removing rust from the railing on the starboard side.

In addition to keeping the ship in tip-top shape, it is essential to make sure all of the equipment used during the survey works appropriately. Around 9:40am, the Oregon II stopped moving and deployed a CTD unit (conductivity, temperature, depth). These cylinder shaped units carry tanks that bring water samples back to the ship from designated depths while the sensors read the water for its temperature, depth, and salinity.

Alongside the crew hard at work, the science team is busy doing work on sharks that came with us from Pascagoula. According to scientist Lisa Jones, some of these sharks are from surveys done to collect sharks following the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf in 2010. Others are sharks that needed further identification and information from surveys like the one I am on. Each shark is weighed and measured, sexed, and then internal organs are removed for further analysis, tissue samples are taken, and the remains of the shark are thrown overboard to reenter the food chain.

Mike recording data as Lead Scientist Kristen Hannan dissects a Gulper Shark from a previous survey.

Scientist Mike Hendon recording data as Lead Scientist Kristin Hannan dissects a Gulper Shark from a previous survey.

During this down time I was treated to a visit to the bridge, where officers steer the ship, among other things. NOAA Corps Officer LTjg Brian Adornato was on duty and offered me a glimpse of the technology that keeps us headed in the right direction. The Oregon II has one propeller controlled by two engines, which are both running while we steam across the Gulf. The boat was on its version of autopilot while I was visiting, which means the navigational heading is programmed and the boat is steered on that heading automatically. Whether steered by hand or computers, the ship is rarely perfectly on its heading. (Come on seventh and eighth graders – what factors are also influencing the ship’s movement?)

All of the navigation equipment driving the Oregon II.

All of the navigation equipment driving the Oregon II.

The wind and water are factors in how close the ship’s course over ground is to its heading. The waves, currents, and wind are all pushing the ship.

Personal Log

While the ship is buzzing with work, there is also lots of time to sit and share stories. I feel very lucky to be aboard the Oregon II at all, but to be aboard with such welcoming and friendly people feels like I hit the jackpot.

I share a room with NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor. She is on duty from 8 am – noon and from 8 pm to midnight. During those hours it is her job to drive the ship. I am on duty from noon to midnight, but during these days prior to fishing, I have a lot of free time. I have been reading, taking pictures, and hanging out with the others. The sleeping on the ship is easy and comfortable. And the food is delicious. Chief Steward Walter Coghlan is an excellent cook.

Some of the things that have caught me off guard should make perfect sense to my lovely seventh and eighth graders, like why I had a blurry camera. (Ok, kiddos – the ship is an air-conditioned vessel kept at cool temperatures to relieve the crew and scientists from the heat of the Gulf. What happens if you keep your camera in your room and bring it out onto the hot deck to take pictures?)

CONDENSATION! The cool glass of the lens becomes immediately foggy with condensation from the high temperatures outside.

It only took me one time of making that mistake and missing some great pictures because of it to learn my lesson. I now keep my camera in a room closer to the outside temperature so it’s always ready to take pictures – like this one of me in my survival suit! I’m also thrilled I didn’t miss the sunset.

The Abandon Ship drill requires everyone on board to get into a survival suit. It's not easy.

The Abandon Ship drill requires everyone on board to get into a survival suit. It’s not easy. – Photo Credit: Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin.

A beautiful sunset on my first night out at sea.

A beautiful sunset on my first night out at sea.

The sunset glistening on the calm water the second night.

The sunset glistening on the calm water the second night.

Did You Know?

Fathoms are a unit of measurement commonly used to measure the depth of a body of water. One fathom is exactly six feet.

Animals Seen

Flying Fish

Pilot Whales

Christina Peters: Update on Our Plankton Survey, July 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Peters
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 10 – 19, 2013

Weather and Location:
Time: 21:24 Greenwich Mean Time (5:24 p.m. in Rockville, MD)
Latitude:  29.1970
Longitude:  -85.9904
Speed (knots):  3.00
Water temperature:  28.10 degrees Celsius
Salinity (PSU = Practical Salinity Units): 34.07
Air temperature:  29.00 degrees Celsius
Relative Humidity:  68%
Wind Speed (knots):  17.15
Barometric Pressure (mb): 1018.96
Depth (m) = 187.2

As you can see if you have been following the Ship Tracker website, we have been making our way back towards Pascagoula.  We still have some stations to work, and won’t be reaching the dock until Friday morning, but we will continue to head in that direction.  The weather has gotten a bit windier, with much larger swells over the last couple of days.  This has made collecting the plankton even more interesting.  With the wind frequently above twenty knots, handling the equipment becomes much more dangerous.  Some procedures need to be changed a bit for the sake of safety.  Luckily, the deck crew, Tim, James, and Chuck, are on top of things.  They are pretty funny to work with, too!

Our deck crew

Our deck crew – James, Tim (chief boatswain), and Chuck

Science and Technology Log

Water Titrations to Check Cissolved Oxygen Levels

The plankton stations have continued, with the biggest changes being how much sargassum (seaweed) we have needed to rinse out and go through, and the different kinds of tiny animal life we have observed.  I mentioned in an earlier blog that the scientists must periodically do water titrations to verify that the readings taken from the CTD are correct and nothing is malfunctioning.  I had an opportunity to perform some real chemistry as Kim Johnson, the chief scientist, walked me through the water titration steps.

First we had to collect the water samples from the CTD.  Remember, we are testing the oxygen levels, so it is important to collect the water samples without allowing bubbles to form, which might add oxygen to the sample.  You would be surprised at how hard this is!  A flexible tube is attached to one of the three Niskin Bottles on the CTD tank, and before any water is put into the jars, all of the air bubbles in the tube must be squeezed out.  This is an art!  Then the water can be transferred to the jars through the tube, holding the end of the tube against the side of the beaker to avoid making bubbles.  The stoppers are then gently put into the glass jars, again to avoid the addition of oxygen to the samples.  It is important to keep the water samples from getting too hot if you are not going to do the titrations right away.  Can you think of why heat might create a problem when doing a titration?  Also, we test three samples.  Why do you think testing three beakers is important?

Now we are ready to start the mad chemist part!  The chemicals used, and their amounts, are very specific, and the directions are posted in the lab so that you can always check your memory.  First, two milliliters of manganous sulfate is added to each sample.  The stopper is replaced after adding each substance, and the jars are turned upside down and back several times to mix the solution. The second substance added is two milliliters of azide-iodide solution.  After the solution is gently mixed, the jars need to stand for ten to twenty minutes.  When you come back after twenty minutes, you will see that there is a cloudy substance in each jar.  This first part of the process causes the chemical bond between the hydrogen and the oxygen to break, and the oxygen forms new bonds with the added chemicals.

Adding chemicals

Using the pipettes to add the chemicals to the water

After initial chemicals are added

A cloudy substance forms after the manganous sulfate and azide-iodide are added and mixed.

At this point, the oxygen is fixed and we don’t need to worry about introducing more oxygen to the samples.  Next, we added two milliliters of sulfuric acid to each jar.  This must be done very carefully because sulfuric acid is very harmful.  However, once it is added, the sulfuric acid is neutralized and the solution in the sample jars is not harmful.  (Remember the acid/neutral/base tests we did in class with lemon juice, vinegar, and Alka Seltzer, using a pH scale?)

Sulfuric acid

The sulfuric acid changes the color, and after mixing, causes the cloudiness to disappear.

Now we have a yellowish liquid and I will be adding phenylarsine oxide, drop by drop. This is the titration part. When the color turns clear, we can look at how much phenylarsine oxide was needed and that will tell us how much dissolved oxygen was present in the sample. This new chemical will bond with the oxygen molecules and cause a color change. However, because the change from yellow is hard to see, I added one milliliter of a starch solution for the only purpose of turning the sample blue.  This way the color change back to clear is easier to see.

Starch is added

Notice the color change after the starch is added (the blue beaker).

The sample is poured into a wide-mouthed beaker and a magnetic stirrer is added to the beaker.  This is a small, magnetic bar that spins when it is on the metal stand.  Drops of the phenylarsine oxide are allowed to slowly drip from a burette into the sample.  A burette is a very tall, thin, glass pipe-like container that allows easy adjustment of the flow of liquid, and allows for easy reading of very small amounts.

Titration 1

The burette is allowing the phenylarsine oxide to mix with the water solution, one drop at a time.

Once the sample starts to lose its color, you know you are close. One or two more drops and you will shut the valve on the burette and read the amount that was mixed into the sample.

Titration 2

Notice the color change towards the end of the titration.

Titration complete

Once the color change is complete, the titration is finished, and the burette is read for the dissolved oxygen content.

My samples showed dissolved oxygen amounts of 6.4, 6.5, and 6.5 milligrams per liter.  The CTD showed dissolved oxygen of 6.4 mg/l.  Since our results were very close, we are confident that the CTD is working well.

Remember, levels below 2% are considered hypoxic.  6.4% is a very healthy dissolved oxygen reading. This is what we expect as we move further from developed land, but it is still reassuring to see the healthy levels.

Later I tried another titration without supervision and found consistent readings of 4.9 mg/ mg/l oxygen.  However the CTD reading was 4.35 mg/l.  I guess I need more practice! 

Buoy Rescue Mission

 Yesterday we had the opportunity to participate in a buoy rescue mission.  Another organization had deployed a wave buoy, or a wave runner, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico that had been damaged, and was no longer able to give correct readings on things like current and wave height.  We were in the area, and agreed to retrieve the buoy.  As we got closer to the GPS signal, we spotted a large orange ball with an eight foot (about) antenna sticking out of it.  Oregon II’s small motor boat was launched and we set about collecting the buoy.

As we reached it, the deck crew and the CO noticed some things about the buoy that were inconsistent with the description.

Wrong buoy

Wrong buoy!

After making a telephone call, the CO told the crew to come back to the ship.  We had come across the wrong buoy!  Off we went in search of the correct one, which we found about half a mile away.  This one looked more like a surfboard and was fairly easy to get aboard the ship, using the crane.  That mission was accomplished, but we all marveled at the odds of finding two wave buoys within half a mile of each other in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico!

Weather buoy rescue

Using the crane to lift the wave runner onto the deck.

Chuck Godwin and Officer Matt , who helped rescue the wave runner

Chuck Godwin and LTJG Matthew Griffin, who helped rescue the wave runner

Both parts of the wave runner

The part of the wave runner that looks like a surfboard sits on top of the water and has solar panels. It is attached to the slatted part that acts as a glider, and uses wave energy as it rises and falls to propel the board through the water.

Personal Log

 A Week at Sea

While I am still enjoying the cruise and the work, I have had a few days of queasiness.  Taking the seasick medicine helps a lot, so I am sticking with that for a few days.  Nights have been fine, and the rocking of the ship really is like being rocked in a cradle.  I hope I’ll be able to sleep when I am in a stationary bed back home!

Being on a cruise on a small ship brings me back to my days of living in a college dormitory.  You are living in very close quarters, eating every meal together, spending large amounts of time together, and really getting to know the people who are on your watch.  I have had a great group to work with – people with a lot of knowledge, and great senses of humor!  Victoria, a college intern, has been a newbie with me.  We have learned a lot from the other scientists, Andre and Joey, on our watch, as well as from our chief scientist, Kimberley Johnson.  Tim, James, and Chuck are the deckhands on our watch, and they do most of the heavy work, like lifting the equipment and running the J frame, winches and cranes.  Sometimes we are working with the equipment for forty-five minutes at a time.  The deckhands, while very serious about safety, keep us laughing the entire time.  As I am finishing this entry, we are heading towards home.  It will be nice to be on land again, but I will also miss the many different personalities I was lucky enough to get to know. 

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico covers an area that is about 615,000 square miles.

An area named “Sigsbee Deep” is located in the southwestern part of the Gulf.  It is more than 300 miles long and more than 14,383 feet deep at its deepest point.  It is often referred to as the “Grand Canyon under the sea”.

Sigsbee Deep

The Sigsbee Deep is the darker blue area in the Gulf of Mexico.
Photo credit to http://www.worldatlas.com/aatlas/infopage/gulfofmexico.htm

The Gulf’s coastal wetlands cover over five million acres, which is an area equal to about one-half of the area of the U.S.  It is the home to twenty-four endangered and threatened species and critical habitats.

It is estimated that 50% of the Gulf’s inland and coastal wetlands have been lost and that up to 80% of the Gulf’s sea grasses have been lost in some areas.  The continual loss of wetlands (about a football field a year) around the Mississippi Delta, a large land area near where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, changes how hurricanes impact the coast of the Gulf.  With fewer wetlands to absorb the impact of the hurricane, the hurricanes hit the populated areas with much greater force.

For more facts about the Gulf of Mexico, visit http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2012/20120516_okeanusexplorer.html or

www.habitat.noaa.gov/media/news/pdf/gulf-of-mexico-review_final.pdf‎

Thank you for visiting my blog.  I hope you will check back in a few days for an update!

Christina Peters: Finding Plankton on Oregon II, July 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Peters
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 10 – 19, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico, leaving from Pascagoula, MS
Date: July 13, 2013 

Weather and Location:
Time: 23:24 Greenwich Mean Time (7:24 p.m. in Rockville, MD)
Latitude:  25.5340
Longitude:  -82.0215
Speed (knots):  9.30
Water temperature:  28.90 degrees Celsius
Salinity (PSU = Practical Salinity Units): 35.38
Air temperature:  31.20 degrees Celsius
Relative Humidity:  65%
Wind Speed (knots):  8.92
Barometric Pressure (mb): 1013.34
Depth (m) = 19.20

Science and Technology Log

Our Mission

In my introduction I explained that SEAMAP is a state, federal, and university program.  In fact, there is a managing unit called the SEAMAP- Gulf Subcommittee of the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Technical Coordinating Committee who manages the activities and operations, including collecting samples and interpreting data, of the Gulf participants, including the Mississippi Laboratory of NOAA and the states of Louisiana, Mississippi,Texas, Alabama, and Florida, as well as certain universities.  Parts of the program include bottom trawls, CTD deployment, and Bongo and Neuston tows.  The bottom trawls involve towing nets at randomly selected spots for ten to thirty minutes. The sea life caught in the nets, normally shrimp and other animals that live at the bottom of the Gulf, are sorted, identified and measured.  All of the data is recorded and helps to determine where the fish and shrimp are, and how much exists in the Gulf.  Because the NOAA Laboratory and the states have worked so well together on this project, most of the trawls were completed on earlier legs of the trip and on the state boats.  We have had opportunities, though, to observe and identify some of the fish from an earlier leg that had been put on ice.  We’ll come back to that process a bit later.

The first twenty-four hours underway were spent heading to our first station, off the southwest coast of Florida.  We have spent much of our time on this leg of the trip completing plankton collections.  My students should remember that plankton includes small and microscopic (too small to see with only your eyes) organisms. The organisms may be animals, plants and plant-like organisms, or bacteria.  The plankton found in the water can tell what the animal population looks like, or will look like if the conditions of the water do not change too much.  Plankton is also a source of food for certain animals, so looking at plankton can give us information about whether enough of a food source is present for those animals.  The purpose of the Bongo and Neuston tows is to collect plankton.  Before we do those tows at each station, however, we deploy the CTD to collect some important information.

Bringing in the CTD

A scientist and deckhand help bring in the CTD

Taking water samples from the CTD

The chief scientist, Kim Johnson, takes water samples from the CTD to verify it’s dissolved oxygen readings.

CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.  The machine collects data in those areas, as well as other data.  The conductivity data tells how much salt (salinity) is in the water because the amount of salt affects how well the water will conduct (allow to pass through) electricity.  The CTD also measures the oxygen content of the water.  Remember learning about algae bloom in the Chesapeake Bay, and how the algae sucks up all of the oxygen, leaving the plants and animals in the area to die?  When a body of water has an unhealthy level of oxygen, it is called hypoxic.  Scientists are worried about the same kind of thing happening in the Gulf of Mexico, so determining the oxygen content in the water provides important information.  In the stations we have tested so far, the oxygen content has been healthy.  However, we have been far from land and much closer to where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf.  To learn more about hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, visit NOAA’s hypoxia page.  Don’t forget to click on the links at the bottom that will take you to descriptions of the problems and causes of hypoxia in the Gulf.

After bringing the CTD back onto the deck, it is time to start a Neuston tow.  The Neuston net is very fine, and attaches to a one meter by two meter frame at the top.  The net gets narrower, and attaches to a “cod end”, a plastic cylinder with screened openings, at the bottom.  This is hoisted out of the boat and into the water by a crane.  It takes several people to launch the Neuston, as the frame is heavy, and it can be hard to manage in the wind.

Neuston net before deployment

The Neuston net is tied down to the boat until it is ready to be deployed.

The Neuston is pulled through the water, with about a foot above the surface, and the rest below.  The purpose is to collect plankton on or near the surface of the water.  Since sargassum, or seaweed, often floats on the surface of the water, sometimes the Neuston collects a lot of that.  We continue to tow the net for ten minutes, and then retrieve it into the boat, again using the crane.  While we did not do trawls and pull in large fish, we did see different kinds of baby fish at almost every station.

Neuston net

The Neuston net is dragged at the top of the water for five to ten minutes

The Bongo contains two 61 centimeter, circular, sturdy plastic frames, to which fine nets are attached.  These nets also narrow to a small area, to which cod ends are attached.  The Bongos are lowered off the port side by using the J frame. The bongos are towed from the surface to the bottom, but no deeper than 200 meters.  The bongo also has the flowmeters on it to calculate how much water passes through the net. The sample is used to estimate the populations, number, and location of animals in parts of the Gulf.  The Bongo also has instruments attached to it that measure temperature, salinity (salt), and depth.  In addition, the bongos have flowmeters attached to calculate how much water passes through the nets.

Bongo nets

The Bongo nets must be rinsed down before being brought into to boat to make sure no plankton is stuck at the top of the nets.

These are complicated tools, and some of the instruments are electronic.  If the instruments are not working correctly, the scientists and engineers must have a back-up plan.  In fact, at one station, the Bongo instruments were not giving accurate readings when the head of the watch (the scientist in charge) looked at the readings from inside.  The back-up plan was for the deckhands to use less accurate depth finding instruments when lowering the Bongo.  This can sometimes present a problem because if the instruments are off, and the Bongo drags on the bottom, a lot of mud can end up in the sample.  Fortunately, a little troubleshooting, in the form of tightening some connections, solved the problem.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget to check the obvious!

Once the Neuston and Bongo are up, we can detach the cod ends, and get to work preserving the plankton samples.  The plankton from the Neuston, and from each of the Bongo cod ends, are preserved and stored separately.  The Neuston and right Bongo plankton are rinsed through a very fine sieve with a chemical solution that is mostly ethanol, and then poured through a funnel into a jar, which is finally filled with the ethanol solution.  The left Bongo plankton is handled similarly, but instead of being stored in ethanol, it is stored in salt water from the Gulf, and a small amount of formalin.  Formalin contains a small amount of formaldehyde, and is used to preserve tissues.  It is a toxic chemical that is harmful to humans, and must be handled very carefully, always using gloves.  The samples are later sent to various laboratories to be sorted and counted.  In addition to providing information about amount and location of different species, scientists can also use the preserved plankton to determine the age, as specific as the number of days old, and genetics of the baby sea animal. The formalin helps preserve the otoliths a LOT better, where the ethanol helps preserve the tissue and/or DNA better.  The otolith is part of the inner ear of the animal and is the part that is used to determine age.

Work station at the stern of the boat

The work station at the stern of Oregon II is where we rinse the plankton and add the chemicals for preservation.

Rinsing the plankton

Sometimes we have to remove jellyfish from our samples. The plankton must be rinsed off the jellyfish before counting and discarding them.

With stations normally being about three hours apart, it would seem like we should have a lot of down time.  However, when there is a lot of sargassum in the Neuston, it must be rinsed to try to get the plankton out of it.  This can take quite a long time.  In addition, sometimes we do get small fish or other animals that need to be sorted, counted, measured and weighed.

Sargassum

There were over 300 of these file fish in one plankton sample. The color made them difficult to find in the sargassum.

A pipe fish from one of the Neuston samples.  What does it remind you of?

A pipe fish from one of the Neuston samples. What does it remind you of?

Plankton sample

This is a plankton sample from a Neuston tow after it has been preserved in ethanol.

Don’t forget to track our progress by visiting http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html and choosing Oregon II.  While you are there, don’t forget to check out the different types of maps available for tracking Oregon II.  Look in the upper left-hand corner (Streets, Topo, Imagery, NOAA Nautical Charts, and Weather).

Personal Log

Settling in and enjoying the ride

The first three days of the trip had us motoring through incredibly calm waters and sunny days.  Some of the veteran crew members commented that they had never seen the Gulf so calm.  As we traveled further from Pascagoula, the water started getting bluer and bluer.  It is hard to describe the deep blue that we sailed through and the camera just doesn’t seem to capture it.  As we left the waters around Pascagoula, we saw many large ships, possible oil tankers, and quite a few oil rigs.  However, once we passed them, we’ve barely seen another boat.  It is something to look out from the bow of the boat and see nothing but water in every direction.

A calm day in the Gulf of Mexico

A calm day in the Gulf of Mexico

As promised, the food on board is delicious. The cooks take great pride in the food they serve, and there are always choices at every meal.  We’ve had beef tenderloin, veal parmesan, omelets, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, pasta, Mexican, chocolate custard pie, cookies, pecan pie – all homemade!  The galley is also well-stocked with snacks.  Meals are served on a strict schedule – about an hour and a half for each meal.  However, if you know you will miss a meal, the cooks are happy to set some food aside for you, nicely wrapped in the refrigerator.  Luckily for me, I have the day shift, and if I miss a meal, it is normally breakfast.

Everyone on the ship has been very encouraging and helpful.  Some of the guys did a dive and brought me back some interesting shells to share with my students.  The other scientists have been incredibly patient and helpful.  Kim, the chief scientist, is a great teacher and is always looking for opportunities for me to learn something new, or practice something I just learned!

Did you know?

The starboard side of the ship is the right side, and the port side is the left side.  Starboard comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word, “steorbord” because the steering oar was on the right side of the boat.  Because of this, the ship would pull up to the dock, or port, on the left side. This would avoid damaging the steering oar.

Questions for my students:

What unit of measurement do you think we use to measure the small fish found in the Neuston and Bongo tows?

Can you think of any sea animals that use plankton as their main source of food?  It is okay to research this before you answer!

Thank you for visiting my blog.  I hope you will check back in a few days for an update!

Julie Karre: I’m Going Out to Sea! July 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013 

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Location: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 15, 2013

Pre-cruise Log

My dad can often be heard saying “it takes so little to amuse you.”

I’m generally excited about everything – a vacation to Hood River, Oregon, a night in watching reruns of The West Wing, a perfectly delicious homemade lasagna, watching Danny MacAskill’s Imaginate videos. There is really no limit to the things that make me happy and excited. It should come as no surprise then that when I was accepted to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program, I first called my parents and excitedly yelled into the phone “I’m going out to seeeaaaaaa!”

I love science and exploration so much I was Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus for Halloween!

I love science and exploration so much I was Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus for Halloween!

I am early in my teaching career and to have such an incredible opportunity at this time is something to truly be excited about. I began teaching Language Arts in Baltimore City Public Schools five years ago. I currently teach seventh and eighth Language Arts at Armistead Gardens Elementary/Middle School. One of my favorite things about being a Language Arts teacher is that it means I can do so many different things with my students as we grow in reading, writing, and thinking critically.

Some of you may be wondering “What the heck is a Language Arts teacher doing on this science research cruise?” I have many passions and environmental science is one of them. Two years ago I began teaching a semester-long unit on human impact and climate change. We started with water. For a few days, we became the water cycle so we could understand how water works, whether humans are here on Earth or not. And then we looked at how humans change the water cycle by changing the landscape and adding cities. Then we studied groundwater and water contamination by heading to the science lab and building groundwater models. Following water we went on land – looking at landforms, the most common land uses, and looking deeply at the costs and benefits of industrial vs. organic agriculture. After that, we took some time to really understand plastic – how it is used and how it breaks down. We spent a week looking deeply at what plastic is doing to our oceans, reading “Swirling Seas of Plastic” from ScienceNewsforKids.com. This was a really emotionally powerful unit for my classes as we looked at numerous pictures of animals whose lives are imperiled by plastic trash. Before winter break we finished up with looking at oil – what it is and where it comes from, drilling, and oil spills, even simulating an oil spill and clean up with pie plates filled with water, which I then poured vegetable oil into and challenged the students to clean up. Finally we put the pieces together and looked at climate change when we returned from break.

We built groundwater models. This one got a little flooded.

We built groundwater models. This one got a little flooded.

Groups hard at work trying to clean up an oil spill (vegetable oil in water). They had pipettes, yarn, cotton balls, coffee filters, and their brains to figure it out!

Groups hard at work trying to clean up an oil spill (vegetable oil in water). They had pipettes, yarn, cotton balls, coffee filters, and their brains to figure it out!

photo-6

We read practical informational texts along with Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, which gave my students a glimpse of what a future looks like if we keep exploiting our natural resouces.  We asked questions of each other and ourselves about what it all meant in our Baltimore community and for our nation and our world. When it was all done, each student chose a unique topic connected to one of our main ideas (water, land, plastic, oil, and climate change) and created their own informational text. Each class created a magazine. Few projects have been more exciting to be a part of or made me prouder of the finished product.

This unit of study (and a helpful friend) is what motivated me to apply for this hands-on experience at sea. I am looking forward to spending two weeks in the Gulf of Mexico, a region to which I have never been, doing this important work. My cruise will focus on coastal shark and red snapper populations. We will be catching sharks and red snappers, implanting tracking devices as well as taking measurements, before releasing them back to the wild. We will also be testing the water for temperature, salinity, and depth. The idea of being a part of a group doing this kind of research makes me even more excited than when the final Harry Potter book was released. And that is saying something.

As my time at sea draws nearer, I get more and more excited about how I will incorporate everything I learn and the research that I am a part of into next year’s science-based semester: Ecosystems In and Out of Balance. My seventh graders, who will soon be my eighth graders, eagerly await my updates about sharks and my adventures at sea. Many have promised to follow my blog and track the ship online.

Aside from teaching, my life includes the most amazing short-legged, long-bodied, huge-headed dog, named Maddox, a Husky-Corgi mix. I adopted Maddox during my second year of teaching and we have had some wonderful adventures together. Each summer we leave the Baltimore heat for the lakes of Michigan, where I grew up, and can spend as much time as we can doing the things we love. We walk, hike, paddle, and play. As a lover of Lake Michigan and a child described as a fish growing up, I am sure that this time in the Gulf of Mexico will only make my love of the water greater.  And while I’m sad Maddox can’t come on this grand adventure with me, I know that when I return, my fluffy boy will be all kisses and snuggles and no hard feelings.

I can't wait to compare the colors of Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico.

I can’t wait to compare the colors of Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico.

Maddox LOVES the water and is an excellent kayaking companion.

Maddox LOVES the water and is an excellent kayaking companion.

P1010262

I hope you will join me on this adventure by following my blog and taking an interest in the research I will be a part of on the Oregon IIPlease feel free to post questions in the comments below!

On my trip to Portland, Oregon earlier this summer, I gave my legs a real workout hiking Dog Mountain on the Washington side of the Columbia River.

On my trip to Portland, Oregon earlier this summer, I gave my legs a real workout hiking Dog Mountain on the Washington side of the Columbia River. Now I’m headed out to sea on the Oregon II to give my muscles and my brain an experience of a lifetime!

Photo courtesy of http://www.moc.noaa.gov/ot/

The Oregon II in 2007.                                                           Photo courtesy of http://www.moc.noaa.gov/ot/

Sarah Boehm: Home Again, July 10, 2013

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

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 10, 2013

Personal Log

The Oregon II pulled into port Sunday morning after a successful 2 week leg of the summer groundfish survey. The first thing I wanted to do when we got to land was to go for a walk. It did feel great to stretch my legs and move more than 170 feet at a time. Being on land again felt funny, as if the ground was moving under me. I thought this “dock rock” would pass quickly, but even two days later I had moments of feeling unsteady. On Monday I made my way back home to Massachusetts, arriving after 12 hours of planes and cars to a delightfully cool evening (although I hear it had been very hot while I was gone.)

I still have some photos and videos I wanted to share, so I thought I’d put together one more blog post with some amazing and fun creatures we saw.

We saw sharks swimming near the boat a few times, but this video shows the most dramatic time. This group of at least 8 sharks attacked the net as it brought up a bunch of fish, ripping holes in the net and spilling the fish. They then feasted on all that easy food floating in the water.

puffers

Adult puffer fish on the left from a groundfish trawl and a baby puffer from a plankton tow on the right

jelly nets

Icicles? Nope. Those are jellies that got caught in the net.

small flying fish

A very small flying fish with its “wings” extended.

One of my favorite fish is the flying fish. These fish have very long pectoral fins on the side of their bodies that act like wings. They can’t really fly, but they can soar an impressive distance through the air. We sometimes caught them in the Neuston net as it skimmed the top of the water. They are great fun to watch as groups of them will take to the air to get out of the way of the boat. Even more fun was watching dolphins hunting the flying fish! I was unsuccessful at getting a video, but you can watch them in this BBC clip.

flying fish

It must be the end of watch. Me with a flying fish.

Another cool animal we found were hermit crabs. The ones we caught were bigger than any I had found at a beach. The shell they live in was made by a gastropod (snail). As the hermit crab grows it has to find a bigger shell to move into.

hermit crab

A large hermit crab in its shell.

hermit crab without its shell

We had to take the hermit crab out of its shell to weigh it. The head and claws have a hard shell, but the back part is soft and squishy.

hermit and anemones

This hermit crab has sea anemones living on its shell.

Look closely at the spots of color on this video of a squid. You can see how the color and patterns are changing.

A few more cool critters we found:

stargazer

This stargazer looks like a dragon, but fits in the palm of your hand. It buries itself in the mud and then springs out to grab prey.

mantis shrimp

We found many mantis shrimp. It gets its name because those front legs are similar to those of the praying mantis. Those legs are incredibly fast and strong to kill its prey.

I knew there were many oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico, but I was surprised by just how many we passed. There are almost 4,000 active rigs in the waters from Texas to Alabama. While we went through this area there were always a few visible. They reminded me of walkers, the long legged vehicles from the Star Wars movies, with their boxy shapes perched above the water. By comparison, the waters near Florida were deserted because offshore oil drilling is not allowed and there were few other ships.

oil rig

Oil rigs

evening rig

Work on an oil rig also goes on 24 hours a day.

It was fabulous spending this time out on the groundfish survey with the scientists and crew of the Oregon II. Now I have a greater understanding of the Gulf ecosystem and science in action.  I truly appreciate the time people on board spent to teach me new things and answer all my questions. I also have enjoyed all my students’ comments and questions. Keep them coming!

storm approaching

A storm approaches as we pull in to Pascagoula.

Sarah Boehm: Plankton, July 6, 2013

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

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

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

Science and Technology Log

cleaning up

The daily ritual of cleaning up the wet lab

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

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

Neuston Net

The Neuston net gathering plankton at the surface

bongo nets

The bongo nets being lowered into the water.

jar of plankton

This batch of plankton has a lot of tiny shrimp and a few little fish

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

plankton

Tiny planktonic critters

sargassum

Sargassum floating by

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

sargassum critters

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

Personal Log

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

Day watch

The science day watch team – Mara, Joey, Andre, Sarah, and Caitlin

Andre and the sting ray

Andre measures a sting ray.

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

Mara and Caitlin

Mara and Caitlin filling a jar with plankton

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

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

CDCPS Science Students -

Where do you think the bongo nets got their name?

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

Christina Peters: Introduction, July 3, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Peters
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 10 – 19, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico, leaving from Pascagoula, MS
Date: July 3, 2013

Welcome to my NOAA blog!

A little about my background…

Christine Peters

Christine Peters

I am Christina (Chris) Peters, from Farmland Elementary School in Rockville, Maryland. I have been a fourth grade teacher at Farmland for the past eight years, after trying out some other careers. While my past teaching has included all subjects, I am excited to get to focus more on science this coming year as my team will be departmentalizing and I will be teaching two classes of science. We spend half the school year learning about life sciences and the environment.

I grew up only a few miles from where I teach today, and was the third of ten children in my family. My father loved to fish and used to take us fishing, in turns of course, in his seventeen foot motor boat. Most often we fished in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of New Jersey, where my family frequently visited. We also fished in the Chesapeake Bay on occasion. One of my favorite summer meals was fresh bluefish. These experiences taught me to love the water, and to care about protecting that environment.

My father and I after a fishing trip. I was about ten, the same age as many of my students.

My father and I after a fishing trip. I was about ten, the same age as many of my students.

In addition to learning about and participating in the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey, I will be learning something else completely new to me – how to blog! While I consider myself pretty technologically informed, I am new to blogging and am very excited, and a little nervous, about writing my own blog describing my Teacher at Sea experience.

Our mission on Oregon II

I will be flying to Mississippi next week and will be joining the crew of Oregon II on July 10 to participate in the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey. To see pictures of the Oregon II, and to learn more about the ship, you can visit the website that describes details of the ship, as well as the different past and present projects for which Oregon II has been used. We will be departing from Pascagoula, Mississippi and measuring data on groundfish in the Gulf of Mexico. The Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) is a state/federal program designed to collect, manage and disseminate fishery-independent data in the southeastern U.S. I am excited to learn more about how the scientists and crew actually complete the surveys and record data. One of my goals is to pass along what I learn to everyone who reads my blog.

Furthermore, while the Groundfish Survey is the mission of the scientists and crew onboard Oregon II, I will have an additional goal of learning all about the jobs of the crew, and sharing much of that information with the readers of my blog. Hopefully, when you read about these exciting and important careers, many of you will consider the possibility of pursuing one similar to those described.

To all my upcoming fourth grade students, I am looking forward to adapting the data collection tools I learn about to our science activities in the coming year. I hope my past students will visit my blog and think about connections they can make to our fourth grade science units where we created and observed our own model ecosystems.

See you at sea!

Sarah Boehm: Shrimp Galore, June 30, 2013

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

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 30, 2013

Weather at 20:40
Air temperature: 29.8 °C (85.64° F)
Barometer: 1007 mb
Humidity: 65   %
Wind direction:  221 °
Wind speed: 8.4  knots
Water temp: 29.2° C
Latitude: 29.05° N
Longitud: 88.69 ° W

Science and Technology Log

I have been on board for a week now and have learned a lot about the fish of the Gulf of Mexico. We have collected data on over 300 different species at 129 trawl stations So what happens with all this data?

Our work out here is part of SEAMAP – South East Area Monitoring and Assessment Program – a joint venture between NOAA and the states to better understand the populations of fish and invertebrates along the coast of the Gulf and Atlantic. The information we are collecting on Oregon II is combined with the data from other ships that do surveys in closer to land. The groundfish surveys began in the 1950s and happen each summer and fall. All this data tells a story of each species – how many individuals there are, how big they are, and where they prefer to live. This information can then be used to better manage the fishing industry so that marine populations stay strong.

We gather data about every species we pull up in our nets, but we pay special attention to the ones that are fished commercially like shrimp and red snapper. There are several shrimp species out here, but one we see a lot of is the brown shrimp.

Brown Shrimp

Brown Shrimp

The brown shrimp are found from Massachusetts to the Gulf. They live for about 1 ½ years and can be up to 7 inches long. Their lives start as eggs deep in the waters of the Gulf and Atlantic. After they hatch, tiny baby shrimp float in to the shallow water of estuaries (coastal areas where fresh river water mixes with sea water). They grow larger in the protected waters of the estuaries and eventually migrate out into deeper, saltier water.  They live on the bottom of the sea, moving out farther into deeper water as they grow larger. You can learn more about brown shrimp on NOAA’s Fish Watch website.

For most species we haul in we record length on up to 20 individuals, and weight and sex for only every 5th individual. But for brown shrimp we measure the length, weight and sex of up to 200 individuals. Sometimes we pull up a lot of shrimp like the 419 brown shrimp in just one trawl last night. To tell male from female you flip the shrimp over and check the spot in between its walking legs (in front) and swimming legs (in back).  A female has a wider plate. A male has extra fuzzy bits on the inside of the front swimming legs.

Male and Female Shrimp

The shrimp on the left is a female and the one on the right is male.

Shrimp fishing is a big industry here in the Gulf. Last year 221 million pounds of shrimp were taken by fishing boats from the states along the Gulf. Commercial fishing boats use similar nets to ours, but they are larger and trawl underwater for much longer. Just like we pull up many fish in addition to shrimp, shrimping boats have a large bycatch. Part of our research is to monitor the bycatch species to help make management decisions that protect them, too. NOAA works with the fishing industry to develop nets with Bycatch Reduction Devices that allow unwanted fish to escape.

shrimp boat

A fishing boat trawling for shrimp

Let me answer a few more student questions. Jared, we don’t wear lab coats; we mostly wear old t-shirts and shorts that definitely get wet, muddy and slimy working with the fish. A lab coat would help keep me clean, but it is hot and humid in our lab and the extra layer would be uncomfortable. Sabrina, we have found some plastic and other trash in the water, but have not seen any animals tangled in it. Deliana, we do all our work from the ship, so we don’t swim underwater with the fish. When they do surveys of reef fish earlier in the year they send a video camera underwater to learn more about the fish, but the scientists still stay on board.

silver fish

Clockwise from top: Rough Scad, Silver Jenny, Dusky Anchovy, Long Spine Porgy

brown fish

Shoal Flounder on the left and Big Eye Sea Robin on the right

Julissa asked about colors of our fish. Most of our fish come in two colors – silver or brown. We catch fish that live on the bottom of the sea or swim near the bottom and these colors help them camouflage with the sand and mud. But there are some that have splashes of color.

Dwarf Goatfish

Dwarf Goatfish

Lesser Blue Crab

Lesser Blue Crab

Personal Log

Several students had questions about food on board, so let me reassure you I am eating well.

the stewards

Stewards Walter and Lydell

The two stewards on board, Walter and Lydell, are responsible for feeding 30 people on board. The food is good, plentiful and there are several options at each meal. One challenge is that people on board are working different schedules and can’t always make meal times. If you ask ahead of time, they will save you a plate of food for later. There are also snacks and sandwich fixings available all the time. To give you an idea of what I am eating, yesterday I had a freshly baked muffin and juice for breakfast, a chicken fajita and Mexican veggies for lunch, fried rice, stir fry and a salad for dinner, and then some ice cream with fruit for a late night snack.

How much food does it take to feed 30 people for 2 weeks? Walter gave me a few numbers for this trip: 80 pounds of chicken, 35 dozen eggs, 100 pounds of potatoes, 12 gallons of ice cream, and a whole lot of coffee. Jennixa wondered what would happen if we ran out of food – the answer is that we would head back to land and buy more. But I’m pretty sure Walter has enough on board. Damian asked if we eat what we catch – and yes, some of the shrimp and red snapper have gone to the galley after being measured.  They were delicious.

CDCPS science students – How are the colors of fish an adaptation to survival?

sunset

sunset

Sarah Boehm: Preparing for Sea, June 9, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 23 — July 7, 2013

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 9, 2013

Personal Log

Summer vacation is right around the corner – just one more week of school! Students and teachers alike are busy wrapping up the school year and dreaming of that long, delicious vacation. While summer is a vacation from the classroom, it is hardly a vacation from learning. That learning may look a whole lot different than the school year; it takes place at summer camp, your grandmother’s kitchen, or even the beach. This summer I have the fabulous opportunity to join scientists aboard the NOAA research ship Oregon II as they conduct surveys of the fish in the Gulf of Mexico. I am excited to learn more about this ecosystem and the organisms that live there. I am equally excited to participate in real scientific research and to learn more about how scientists gather and use information. That’s right – even teachers have new things to learn.

Kayaking Pictured Rocks

Last summer’s learning adventure: kayaking at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Last summer my travels took me to the Great Lakes region where I camped, hiked, and explored. In the process I learned about the ecology and geology of the region (and swam in each of the Great Lakes). I also spent two weeks working on an organic farm, learning how to take care of vegetables and animals.

Checking on the bees

Last summer’s learning adventure: checking on the bee hive at Three Roods Farm

wolf track

Last summer’s learning adventure: hiking with wolves on Isle Royale

I discovered my love of teaching while working as an outdoor environmental educator, leading school groups on field trips to explore forests, ponds, and beach habitats. Kids are natural scientists out in the field, full of curiosity, with an ability to see things adults often miss, and a willingness to jump in and get their hands dirty. I made the transition into classroom teaching, bringing with me elements of that hands-on learning. I started out teaching 4th grade in Guilford, Vermont and then Brunswick, Maine. I currently teach at Community Day Charter Public School in Lawrence, Massachusetts and am thrilled to be the 4th – 6th grade science teacher. I also lead our Adventure Club, taking 6th – 8th grade students out hiking and camping in the nearby forests, mountains and coastlines. One of my goals is to make science more “real” for students by incorporating actual research into lessons and encouraging their own inquiry and exploration.  I am hoping my time with the Teacher at Sea program will give me new tools, knowledge, and inspiration to bring back to my students.

While on board the Oregon II I will be assisting the scientists as they gather data about the organisms and water quality of the Gulf. Their tools will be more sophisticated and the body of water larger, but I imagine it is much like one of my favorite science lessons – pond scooping. Just last week I had my 4th graders out exploring a pond habitat. As we approached the pond they all noticed the bigger animals like the birds calling overhead and the frogs along the pond’s edge. But hidden underneath the water is a whole other world rarely seen. With nets and buckets we set out to explore, finding salamander larvae, tadpoles, water beetles, caddisfly larvae, isopods, copepods, snails and so much more. The ocean is much the same; we are drawn to the organisms easily seen like the shells on the beach or playful dolphins. But hidden out there beneath the waves are all sorts of living things, each with an intriguing story and an important role in the ecosystem. So in two weeks I will be standing on the deck of the ship, with nets and buckets, alongside a team of knowledgeable scientists and crew, ready to learn all about the ocean ecosystem.

Pond Scooping

Scooping in the pond on a 4th grade field trip.

CDCPS science students:

Can you name the 5 states and 2 countries that border the Gulf of Mexico?

What questions do you have about living on a research ship?

Elizabeth Nyman: First Day at Sea, May 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Nyman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 28 – June 7, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: May 28, 2013

Weather Data:
Surface Water Temperature: 23.84 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 23.90 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1017.8 mb

Science and Technology Log

So I’ve known for about two months or so that I was going to be taking part in one leg of an ongoing reef fishery survey. I even had an idea that it involved surveying fish that lived on reefs. But after our first full day at sea, and many hours of helping take part in the scientific work, I now begin to understand how exactly one surveys reef fish.

There’s a couple of different things that the scientific crew is doing to observe and understand the reef fish population. First, there is an ongoing video recording process throughout the day, from just after sunrise to just before sunset. For this, the ship and scientific crew lower a large, 600 pound camera array off of the starboard side of the ship. The cameras will go and sit on the sea floor and record all the fish that pass in front of it, for a total recording time of 25 minutes. After this time has passed, plus a little extra time, the cameras are pulled back up, the recordings are downloaded, we move to a different spot and the process begins again.

Underwater Camera Array

Hauling the camera array back on deck. I said it was big, didn’t I?

The video is reviewed the next day. Since this is our first day at sea, I didn’t get much of a chance to see any reef fishery footage, though I’m told that’s on the agenda for tomorrow. What I spent most of my time doing was helping out with another part of the survey process, something called the bandit reels. They’re used for good old-fashioned hook and line fishing.

Bandit Reel

It looks like a nice day to go fishing, huh?

There are three bandit reels on the Pisces, and each one can hold 10 fishing hooks. Each reel has different sized hooks, and the hook sizes are changed every drop. The line has a weight at the bottom to bring the hooks down to the sea floor, which have been baited with mackerel bits. After five minutes, the line is reeled back in, and you have fish…or you don’t.

My first drop, which had the biggest hooks, had a whole bunch of nothing. As did everyone else’s, though, so it wasn’t a testament to my poor fishing skills.

The second drop, however, was luckier.

Eel on hook.

I caught a moray eel!

A spotted moray eel! I was excited, anyway. But morays aren’t one of the fish that we’re looking for out here, so it wasn’t a particularly useful catch.

Our third drop was the most successful. Our bandit reel hauled in seven fish, one of whom got away (the biggest one, of course, one the size of a killer whale…yeah, just kidding!). The other six were brought into the wet lab, where they joined the other fish caught on that drop and would be measured and dissected.

Fish on a measuring board.

We caught a big one!

The fish are measured three different ways. The first, by total length, examines exactly that, the total length of the fish from the nose all the way to the tip of the tail. The second measure goes from the nose to the fork in the tail, so it’s a shorter distance. The third, standard length, goes from the nose to just before the tail fin, where the fish’s vertebrae end, and is the shortest of all. They’re also weighed at this time as well.

After that, we start cutting into the fish. Two things are of interest here: the ear bone and the sex organs. The ear bones are removed from each fish, because they can be tested to determine the age of the fish. The sex organs will reveal gender, obviously, but also are examined to see how fertile each specimen is. We don’t do this kind of analysis on the ship, however. The ear bones and sex organs are sent back to the NOAA lab in Panama City, Florida, where they will conduct all those tests.

Personal Log

The best part of my first day at sea was definitely the ship safety drills.

Wait, what?

No, seriously.  The absolute highlight of this one was my chance to try on what’s known as the Gumby suit. The Gumby suit is a nickname for a immersion survival suit – if we have to abandon ship and float around in the water, the suit will protect us from the elements. Now, we’re down here in the Gulf of Mexico, so that seems a little crazy, but think about how you’d feel if you were stuck in the water for hours on end. In really cold waters, that suit may be the difference between life and death.

The drills are important, and they’re mandated for a reason. In an emergency, all of this stuff can save lives.

Why do I like the drills so much? We’re required to have safety drills by law, and so as someone who studies and teaches international law, I always enjoy taking part in these things. It’s a chance to see the stuff in action that I talk about in class. And that’s kind of what this program is all about – the chance to experience things firsthand as opposed to just having to read about them.

Gumby suit

I guess you kind of have to take my word for it, but that’s me in there.

Did You Know?

You’re supposed to be able to put on a Gumby suit in under a minute. They wouldn’t do much good if they took too long to put on.

Emilisa Saunders: Sargassum City, May 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emilisa Saunders
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 14 2013 – May 30, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday, May 25 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind speed 15.7 knots; Surface water temperature 25.40 degrees Celsius; Air temperature 26.3 degrees Celsius; Relative humidity 85%; Barometric pressure 1017.3 mb

Holding the line

Holding the line as the MOCNESS goes in.

Science and Technology Log:

For the last couple of days, as the ship moves toward Texas, we’ve encountered lots of sargassum.  Sargassum is a type of macroalgae, or seaweed.  Some types of sargassum are benthic; as you remember, this means they live and grow on the bottom of the ocean.  Out here on the Oregon II, we’re seeing  planktonic  sargassum – the drifting kind – and lots of it.  This sargassum drifts around the surface of the Gulf, thanks to the tiny, air-filled float pods all throughout its leaves.  When pieces of sargassum meet up, they become entangled and start to drift together.  Before long, vast blankets or mats of sargassum form.  We’ve seen some impressive mats in the past few days, some almost as long as the ship itself!

Sargassum

Blanket of sargassum

Sargassum

Sargassum City

These mats create a bit of a challenge when it comes to dropping the nets.  The Bongo Net and the Subsurface Neuston stay below the surface, so typically they don’t catch much sargassum, unless some slips in just as the nets enter or leave the water.  However, the regular Neuston net stays on the surface for the duration of the drop.  This is a perfect opportunity for sargassum to slide right in.  Ideally, we want this net submerged for 10 minutes, but when the sargassum is thick, we have to cut this down to five.  Even then, we’ve had as much as 30 gallons of sargassum show up in one drop.

Handful of sargassum

You can find so much life in one handful of sargassum

When we get sargassum, we have to spray it off with sea water and sort through it to collect any plankton that are tangled in the leaves.  This is quite a bit of work when we get a lot of sargassum, but I have come to really enjoy it because of the amazing little creatures that we find.  A piece of sargassum can be like a little city, teeming with life, with a large variety of species.  Many of these are big enough that you can easily see them with the naked eye.  These sargassum communities contain everything that their residents need to survive, including a food web and plenty of shelter.  It’s also a great lesson in adaptation.  The animals that live in sargassum blend in so well that we have to look very carefully to find them.  Most of them are either transparent, or they exactly match the color of the seaweed, and there are tons of nooks and crannies for hiding.

Here are just a few of the delightful little animals that we’ve found in the sargassum:

Sargassum fish:  These little guys are pretty amazing.  They look fairly harmless, but they are actually ambush predators.  They have two small foot-like fins on their undersides, which they use to move around and perch in one place in the seaweed.  When a smaller animal comes close, the sargassum fish open their mouths wide and suck the unsuspecting prey in, just like a vacuum cleaner.  They’ll even eat other, smaller sargassum fish!  Some of them even have a piece of flesh called an esca that dangles from their head, which they use as a lure to attract prey.

Sargassum fish

A large sargassum fish from a Neuston net. See the little pectoral fin “feet?”

Small sargassum fish

This is the typical size for the sargassum fish that we’ve found (about one inch).

Sargassum swimming crabs:  These tiny crabs are capable of walking on land, but they are also excellent swimmers, thanks to their paddle-shaped back legs.  They are also ambush predators; they stalk smaller sargassum dwellers and give their prey a nasty jab to catch and kill them.

Sargassum swimming crab

Sargassum swimming crab. See its paddle-shaped hind feet?

Sargassum nudibranch:  Nudibranchs are a type of mollusk that have a shell in their juvenile stage, but lose the shell as they mature.  Sargassum nudibranchs are so well camouflaged that we sometimes feel their soft bodies in the sargassum before we see them.  They stay mainly in the sargassum, but if they happen to get washed out, they can flex their bodies back and forth to swim back to the seaweed.  It’s really quite amazing to watch!

Sargassum nudibranch

A little sargassum nudibranch. Looks like a blob here, but they are very graceful swimmers!

Challenge Yourself:  Hey there, Nature Exchange traders!  Can you think of an animal that blends into its environment in the Mojave Desert?  What about a creature that is an ambush predator?  Draw a picture or write down some facts and bring it in to the Nature Exchange for bonus points.  Be sure to tell them that Emmi sent you!

Personal Log:

Yesterday, I saw some evidence of the impact that we have on our oceans.  While sorting through some sargassum, I found a plastic ribbon with a balloon fragment attached wrapped around a piece of sargassum.  We were hundreds of miles from shore when I found it.  It was sad for me to see a piece of human trash tangled around this little sargassum community.  I know it’s still pretty common for people to organize balloon releases to honor a special person or occasion, but I wonder if there might be another way to do so.  Maybe instead of a balloon release, we can plant some trees, release ladybugs in a garden, organize a clean-up day at a local trail or park, etc.  All of these things could impact the environment in a positive way.  Just something to think about.

Trash in the Sargassum

A piece of balloon and ribbon tangled up in the sargassum.

Now that I have adjusted to working the midnight to noon shift on the Oregon II, I am finding that I really enjoy it.  In the past few days as we’ve approached a full moon, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the moon reflect on the water, making it look like liquid mercury.  For the first several days of this cruise, the sky was so dark that we could only see as far as the ship’s lights would allow, and maybe the distant lights from an oil rig or two.  It was the darkest dark I’ve ever seen.  Now, the moon lights up the sky enough that we can actually see the horizon.  Then, a few hours into the shift, we get to watch the sun rise, which is spectacular every time.  I’ve taken so many pictures of the sunrise, I can’t choose a favorite!

Sunrise

Sunrise on the Gulf of Mexico

We’re in the last few days of the survey, and we’ve taken the turn back east now.  Until next time, be sure to track the Oregon II here: NOAA Ship Tracker

Emilisa Saunders: We Do Science Here! May 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emilisa Saunders
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 14, 2013 to May 30, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Weather Data: Wind speed: 19.02 knots; Surface water temp.: 24.7 degrees C; Air temp: 25.7 degrees C: Relative humidity: 91%; Barometric pressure: 1007.4 mb.

Science and Technology Log:

Plankton jar

A nice jar of plankton from an early morning tow.

Getting just one small jar of plankton back to the lab on shore requires a lot of work. First comes all of the net-dropping work I described in the last post, which is a team effort from everyone on board, just to bring the samples onto the ship. From there, we have to take several more steps in order to preserve the sample.

Step 1: After the nets are brought back onto the bow of the ship, we hose them down very thoroughly using a seawater hose, in order to wash any clinging plankton down into the cod end.

Here I am, hosing down the Bongo nets. Photo by Alonzo Hamilton

Here I am, hosing down the Bongo nets. Photo by Alonzo Hamilton

Then we detach the cod end and bring it to the stern of the ship, where a prep station is set up. The prep table is stocked with funnels, sieves, seawater hoses and jars, and the chemicals that we need to preserve the plankton that we collect – formalin and ethyl alcohol.

Prep station

Prep Station

Step 2: We carefully pour the specimen through the fine-mesh sieve to catch the plankton and drain out the water. It’s amazing to see what’s in the sample. This, of course, includes lots of tiny plankton; all together, they look kind of like sludge, until you look very closely to see the individual creatures. Lots of the fish larvae have tiny, bright blue eyes. (On a funny note, my breakfast granola has started to look like plankton after a week of collecting!)

Plankton in a sieve

Plankton in a sieve

Getting to see what makes it into each sample is kind of like a treasure hunt.  Sometimes bigger organisms like fish, sea jellies, eel larvae, pyrosomes and snails end up in the sample. Quite frequently there is sargassum, which is a type of floating seaweed that does a great job of hiding small creatures. Take a look at the pictures at the end of the post to see some of these!

Step 3: Next, the sample goes into a jar. We use seawater from a hose to push the sample to one side of the sieve, and let the water drain out. Then, we put a funnel in a clean, dry jar and use a squeeze bottle of ethyl alcohol to wash the sample into the jar through the funnel. We top the jar off with ethyl alcohol, which draws the moisture out of the bodies of the plankton so that they don’t decompose or rot in the jar. The sample from the left bongo – just this sample and no other – is preserved in a mixture of formalin and seawater because it goes through different testing than the other samples do once back on shore. We top all of the bottles with a lid and label them: R for Right Bongo, L for Left Bongo, RN for Regular Neuston, and SN for Subsurface Neuston.

plankton

Plankton Ready to go in the Jar

Step 4: After the jars are filled, Alonzo and I bring them back to the wet lab, where Glenn attaches labels to the tops of the jars, and puts a matching label inside of each jar as well. The label inside the jar is there in case the label on the lid falls off one day.  These labels provide detailed information about where and when the sample was collected, and from which net.

Plankton jar label

A label on the jar gives detailed information about the plankton inside

Step 5: After 24 hours, it’s time to do transfers. Transfers involve emptying the samples from the jars through a sieve again, and putting them back into the jars with fresh ethyl alcohol. We do this because the alcohol draws water out of the bodies of the plankton, so the alcohol becomes watered-down in the first 24 hours and is not as effective. Adding fresh alcohol keeps the sample from going bad before it can be studied. Once the transfers are done, we draw a line through the label to show that the sample is well-preserved and ready to be boxed up and brought back to the lab!

Jars of Plankton

Boxes full of plankton samples ready to be brought back to shore

Personal Log:

I have the great fortune of working with some intelligent, knowledgeable and friendly scientists here on the Oregon II.  Jana is my bunkmate and one of the scientists; she pointed out to me that just about every animal you can imagine that lives in the ocean started off as plankton. As a result, while the scientists who work with plankton do each have a specialty or specific type of plankton that they focus on, at the same time, they have to know a little bit about many types of organisms and the basics of all of their life cycle stages. In a way I can relate to this as a Naturalist; I need to have a bit of knowledge about many plants, animals, minerals and fossils from the Mojave Desert and beyond, because chances are, my smart and curious Nature Exchange traders will eventually bring them all in for me to see and identify!

Team Plankton

The science team, from left to right: Andy, Alonzo, Glenn, me, Jana and Brittany.  Photo by Brian Adornado

I want to take a few moments to introduce all of the members of the science team. I thought I’d have fun with it and use my own version of the Pivot questionnaire:

Meet Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton, scientist, testing water samples in the Wet Lab.

Alonzo is a Research Fisheries Biologist; he has been working with NOAA since 1984.  Alonzo earned an Associate’s degree in Science, a Bachelor’s degree in biology, and a Master’s degree in Biology with an emphasis in Marine Science.  Alonzo was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Mississippi.

What is your favorite word? Data

What is your least favorite word? No or can’t.  There’s always a solution; you just have to keep trying until you find it.

What excites you about doing science? Discovery

What do you dislike about doing science? The financial side of it.

What is your favorite plankton? Tripod fish plankton

What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The main engines

What sound or noise do you hate? The alarm bells

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? An electrician.  There are some neat jobs in that field.

What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer.  There’s a risk of becoming too jaded.

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A coelacanth.  What is your life history?  What’s a typical day of feeding like?  Is there a hierarchy of fish, and what is it?  What determines who gets to eat first?

********************

Meet Glenn Zapfe

Zapfe

Glenn Zapfe, scientist, contemplating the plankton samples.

Glenn is a Research Fisheries Biologist; he worked with NOAA as a contractor for 8 years before being hired on as a Federal employee three years ago.  Glenn earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Life, and a Master’s degree in Coastal Science.  He grew up in the Chicago area.

What is your favorite word? Quirky

What is your least favorite word? Nostalgia

What excites you about doing science? Going to sea and seeing organisms in their natural environment.

What do you dislike about doing science? Statistics.  They can sometimes be manipulated to fit individual needs.

What is your favorite plankton? Amphipods

What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The hum of the engine

What sound or noise do you hate? The emergency alarm bells

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Glenn grew up wanting to be a cartoonist – but he can’t draw.

What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A cuttlefish, to ask about how they are able to change the color of their skin.

*************************

Meet Jana Herrmann

Jana Herrmann

Jana Hermann, scientist and volunteer, aboard the Oregon II

Jana is a Fisheries Technician with the Gulf Coast Research Lab, and is on this cruise as a volunteer.  She has worked with the Gulf Coast Research Lab since February 2013, but worked within the local Marine Sciences field for 8 years before that.   Jana earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and Environmental biology, and will be starting graduate school in the fall of 2013.  Jana grew up in Tennessee.

What is your favorite word? Pandemonium

What is your least favorite word? Anything derogatory

What excites you about doing science? Just when you think you have it all figured out, something new comes up.

What do you dislike about doing science? Dealing with bureaucracy and having to jump through hoops to get the work done.

What is your favorite plankton? Janthina

What sound or noise on the ship do you love? This is Jana’s first cruise on the Oregon II, so she doesn’t have a favorite noise yet.

What sound or noise do you hate? Any noises that keep her from sleeping.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? A baker or pastry chef.

What profession would you not like to do? Any mundane office job with no creative outlet.

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? She would ask a blue whale if it is sad about the state of the environment, and she would ask it if mermaids are real.

 ******************

Meet Brittany Palm

Brittany Palm

Brittany Palm, scientist, aboard the Oregon II

Brittany is a Research Fisheries Biologist; she has worked with NOAA for 4 years.  Brittany earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology, and is currently working on her Master’s degree in Marine Science.  Brittany grew up on Long Island.

What is your favorite word? Midnattsol – the Norwegian word for “midnight sun”

What is your least favorite word? Editing.  That’s not a fun word to hear when you hand in drafts of your thesis!

What excites you about doing science?  Constantly learning.  All of the fields of science, from chemistry to physics to biology, are interwoven.  You have to know a little bit about all of them.

What do you dislike about doing science?  Also, constantly learning!  Every time you think you know something, a new paper comes out.

What is your favorite plankton? Glaucus

What sound or noise on the ship do you love?  The ship’s sound signal, which is a deep, booming horn that ships use to communicate with each other.

What sound or noise do you hate? When she’s trying to sleep in rough seas and something in one of the drawers is rolling back and forth.  She has to get up and go through all of the drawers and cabinets to try to find it and make it stop!

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Opening a dance studio.  Brittany competed on dance teams throughout high school and college.

What profession would you not like to do? Anything in the health field, because she empathizes more with animals than people.

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it?  The Croaker fish.  Brittany is studying Croaker diets and has dissected over a thousand stomachs.  She would like to be able to just ask them what they eat!

*********************

Meet Andy Millett

Andy Millett

Andy Millett, scientist, in the Dry Lab of the Oregon II.

Andy is a Research Fisheries Biologist, and is the Field Party Chief for this cruise.  He has worked with NOAA for 3 years.  He has a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and a Master’s degree in Marine Science.  Andy grew up in Massachusetts.

What is your favorite word? Parallel

What is your least favorite word? Silly

What excites you about doing science?  When all of the data comes together and tells you a story.

What do you dislike about doing science?  Having to be so organized and meticulous, since he is typically pretty disorganized.

What is your favorite plankton? Pelagia

What sound or noise on the ship do you love?  Spinning the flowmeters on the nets.  It sounds like a card in the spokes of a bicycle.

What sound or noise do you hate?  Alarms of any kind, whether they are emergency alarms or alarm clocks.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Video game designer

What profession would you not like to do? Anything in retail or customer service

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it?  A giant squid, because we don’t know much about them.  Andy would ask what it eats, where it lives, and other basic questions about its life.

******************

Challenge Yourself:  Hey, Nature Exchange traders!  The scientists shared their favorite plankton types; all of them are truly fascinating in their own way.  Research one of these animals and write down a few facts.  Or, pick your favorite Mojave Desert animal and write about that.  Bring your research into the Nature Exchange for bonus points.  Tell them Emmi sent you!

Don’t forget to track the Oregon II here: NOAA Ship Tracker

Animals We’ve Seen (and one plant):

Bristletooth Conger Eel Larva

Bristletooth Conger Eel Larva.  See its tiny little face on the left?

Sargassum

Sargassum is a floating seaweed that often ends up in our Neuston nets. We record its volume and throw it back.

Sea Jelly

Sea jelly

Sargassum fish

Sargassum fish – they hide in the sargassum!

Porpita jelly

Porpita jelly

Myctophid

Myctophids are shiny silver and black, and quite pretty!

Flying fish

A juvenile flying fish. I’ve seen some adults gliding through the air as well!

Filefish

Alonzo holding a juvenile filefish

Emilisa Saunders: Finding the rhythm aboard the Oregon II, May18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emilisa Saunders

Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II

May 14, 2013 – May 30 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 18, 2013

Weather Data: Wind Speed: 13.94 knots; Surface water temperature: 25.4;  Air temperature: 26.4; Relative humidity: 87%; Barometric pressure: 1,015.33 mb

IMG_1991

Science and Technology Log:

For the scientists on board the Oregon II, each shift follows roughly the same routine.   When we start our shift, we check in at the dry lab to see how much time we have until the next sampling station.  These stations are points on the map of the Gulf of Mexico; they were chosen to provide the best coverage of the Gulf waters.  Our ETA, or estimated time of arrival, is determined by how fast the ship is moving, which is influenced by wind and currents, which you can see in the map below.  A monitor mounted in the dry lab shows us a feed of the route mapping system that is used by the crew on the Bridge to drive the ship.  This system allows us to see where we are, where we are headed, and what our ETA is for the next station.  We also get warnings from the Bridge at one hour, at thirty minutes, and at ten minutes before arrival.

Gulf Currents

The currents in the Gulf of Mexico, plus our planned route.  Image courtesy of NOAA.

At the 10-minute mark, we put on our protective gear – more on that later in this post – and bring the cod ends up to the bow of the boat, where we attach them to the ends of the appropriate nets.  Then, we drop the Bongo nets, the regular Neuston net, the Sub-surface Neuston net, and the CTD into the water, in that order.  These all go down one at a time, and each one is pulled out and the samples collected before the next net goes in.

Neuston

Towing the Neuston net on the night shift

The idea of dropping a net into the water probably sounds pretty simple, but it is actually a multiple-step process that requires excellent teamwork and communication amongst several of the ship’s teams.  The scientists ready the nets by attaching cod ends and making note of the data that tracks the flow of water through the net.  Because the nets are large and heavy, and because of the strong pressure of the water flowing through the nets, they are lifted into the water using winches that are operated by the ship’s crew.  The crew members operate the machinery, and guide the nets over the side of the ship.  While this is happening, the crew members communicate by radio with the Bridge, providing them with information about the angle of the cable that is attached to the net, so that the Bridge can maintain the a speed that will keep the net at the correct angle. At the same time, a scientist in the dry lab monitors how deep the net is and communicates with the deck crew about when to raise and lower the nets.  This communication takes place mostly over walkie-talkies, which means that clear and precise instructions and feedback are very important.

Operating the winches

Crewmember Reggie operating the winch, while crewmember Chris measures the angle of the cable

When each net is pulled back out of the water after roughly 5-10 minutes, we use a hose to spray any little creatures who might be clinging to the net, down into the cod end.  At stations where we run the MOCNESS, we head to the stern of the ship, where the huge MOCNESS unit rests on a frame.  Lowering the MOCNESS takes a strong team effort, since it is so large.  After we retrieve each net, we detach the cod ends and bring them to the stern, where a station is set up for us to preserve the specimens.  I’ll go into more detail about the process of preserving plankton samples in a later post.

Hosing down the nets

Alonzo, hosing down the Bongo nets before bringing them aboard.

We’ve had a couple of nights of collecting now, and so far it has been completely fascinating.  I’m in awe of the variety of organisms that we’ve come across.  The scientists on my shift, Glenn and Alonzo, are super knowledgeable and have been very helpful in explaining to me what we are finding in the nets.  Although this is a Bluefin Tuna study, we collect and preserve any plankton that ends up in the nets, which can include copepods, myctophids, jellies, filefish larvae and eel larvae, to name a few.  When we get the samples back to shore, they will be sent to a lab in Poland, where the species will be sorted and counted; then, the tuna larvae will be sent back to labs in Mississippi or Florida for further study and sometimes genetic testing.

My favorite creature find so far has been the pyrosome.  While a pyrosome looks like a single, strange creature, it is actually a colony of tiny creatures called zooids that live together in a tube-shaped structure called a tunic.  The tunic feels similar to cartilage, like the upper part of your ear.  Pyrosomes are filter feeders, which means they draw in water from one opening, eat the phytoplankton that passes through, and push out the clean water from the other end.  So far on the night shift, we’ve found two pyrosomes about four inches in length and one that was about a foot long; the day crew found one that filled two five-gallon buckets!

Me holding a pyrosome.  So neat!

Me holding a pyrosome. So neat!

Alonzo and the pyrosome

Alonzo holding the pyrosome

Challenge Yourself:

Hello, Nature Exchange Traders!  Pick one of the of the zooplankton listed in bold above, and research some facts about it: Where does it live?  What does it eat?  What eats it?  Write down what you find out and bring it in to the Nature Exchange for bonus points.  Be sure to tell them Emmi sent you!

Gumby Suit

In the Gumby suit, practicing the Abandon Ship drill. Photo by Glenn Zapfe

Personal Log:

Safety is the top priority on board the Oregon II.  We wouldn’t be able to accomplish any of our scientific goals if people got hurt and equipment got damaged.  We started our first day at sea with three safety drills: the Man Overboard drill, the Abandon Ship drill and the Escape Hatch drill.  For Man Overboard, everyone on board gathered, or mustered, at specific locations; for the Science team, our location was at the stern, or back of the ship.  Aft is another word for the back.  From there, we all scanned the water for the imaginary person while members of the crew lowered a rescue boat into the water and circled the Oregon II to practice the rescue.

For the Abandon Ship drill, we all grabbed our floatation devices and survival suits from our staterooms and mustered toward the bow, or front of the ship.  I got to practice putting on the survival suit, which is affectionately called a Gumby suit.  In the unlikely event that we would ever have to abandon ship, the suit would help us float and stay relatively warm and dry; it also includes a whistle and a strobe light so that aircraft overhead can see us in the water.

For the Escape Hatch drill, we all gathered below deck where our staterooms are, and climbed a ladder, where crew members helped pull us up onto the weather deck (the area of the ship exposed to weather) on the bow of the ship.  This is meant to show us how to escape dangers such as fire or flood below deck.

Safety gear

Safety gear on; ready for station!  Photo by Glenn Zapfe

But safety isn’t just practiced during drills; it’s pretty much a way of life on the ship.  Whenever winches or other machinery are in operation, we all have to wear hard hats and life jackets; that means that we wear them every time we reach a station and drop the nets.  We are also all required to wear closed-toed and closed-heeled shoes at all times, unless we’re sleeping or showering.  Another small safety trick that is helpful is the idea of, “keep one hand for yourself and one hand for the ship.”  That means we carry gear in one hand and leave one free to hold onto the swaying ship.  This has been really useful for me as I get used to the ship’s movements.

Until next time, everyone – don’t forget to track the Oregon II here: NOAA Ship Tracker

Emilisa Saunders: Away We Go! May 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher st Sea
Emilisa Saunders
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 14th – 30th, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Plankton Study
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Monday, May 13th, 2013

Science and Technology Log:

Boarding the Oregon II

Me and the Oregon II (and the silly crewmember in the background). Photo by Kaela Gartman

I’m finally aboard the Oregon II!

Today I got a sneak preview from the lead scientist, Andy, of the labs and some of the equipment that we’ll be using to collect plankton once we’re underway.  There are three labs where we’ll be doing science for the next 17 days: the dry lab, the wet lab, and the chem lab.  The dry lab, where I’m sitting and typing right now, is a room with computers that are used to remotely monitor the depths of the nets once they have been dropped, and to record data about those drops.  The wet lab is where samples of plankton are preserved in jars to be sent back to shore and studied.  The chem lab is where chlorophyll is separated from plankton samples.

I got to see the CTD, which is a unit that collects water at specific depths in order to measure physical characteristics of the water, such as salinity, fluorescence, temperature, and dissolved oxygen.  I’m looking forward to learning more about this physical data and why it is important once we are underway.

CTD

The CTD collects water samples for testing

Andy also showed me the nets we will use to collect plankton.  All of the nets are large and heavy and are raised and lowered by winches that are operated by the ship’s crew.  The first is a Bongo net.  If you’ve ever seen bongo drums, you can get a sense of what this unit looks like: two side-by-side nets with round openings.  The nets themselves are shaped like cones, and we’ll attach a bottle called a cod end on the end of each to capture all of the plankton from the nets.  Then there are two Neuston nets, which have large, rectangular openings.  The regular Neuston net will be towed along the surface, and the Subsurface Neuston will be towed in a pattern at various depths, as will the Bongo.  The unit that I am most excited about is the MOCNESS.  This big frame holds up to ten nets, which can be opened and closed at certain depths; that way, we can collect samples from various depths and monitor plankton at separate locations and at specific depths in the water column.  In the other nets, you know what you get and where it came from, but not how deep it was.

Bongo nets

Bongo nets

Subsurface Neuston

Subsurface Neuston Net

The water column is an idea that scientists use to think about and study the ocean from top to bottom, or from the surface to the ocean floor.  When you think about the water column, imagine the ocean as an aquarium, and you’re looking into it and seeing the organisms that live at different depths and what the water is like at those depths.

The reason that the MOCNESS is so exciting to me is that it reminds us that the water in the ocean is not just a uniform mixture all throughout; different creatures live at different depths, and in different numbers at those depths.  It’s easy to imagine that creatures that are benthic – meaning, they live on the ocean floor – will vary depending on where they are in the world and how deep the ocean floor is in that spot.  It’s harder to imagine that pelagic organisms – those that live in the water column, neither at the very surface, nor at the bottom or at the shore – will also vary greatly depending on depth and location.  The water itself is different as well; the temperature of the water and the amount of salt, light and oxygen changes with depth.

Challenge Yourself:  Here’s a challenge for my Nature Exchange Traders: go on into the Nature Exchange and explain the terms water column, benthic and pelagic to earn some bonus points.  Tell them Emmi sent you!

NOAA Oregon II

The journey begins! Photo by Kaela Gartman

Personal Log

Flying over Alabama on the descent into Mobile on Sunday, I was struck by how much water there was everywhere below me.  Everywhere I looked, there were slow, meandering rivers, sparkling ponds, lakes and streams.  At times when I thought I was looking down on a forest, I saw the sun reflecting off of water blanketing the ground beneath the trees and shrubs.  I was even struck by the number of puddles in parking lots and lining the streets.  I kept thinking that, living in the desert, I’m just not used to seeing so much water – and I hadn’t even reached the harbor yet!  It was as if I was being slowly introduced to the world that I’m about to live in for the next 17 days.

I’ve been aboard the Oregon II at dock for just a few hours now, and I’m already overwhelmed with fascination, excitement, curiosity, and anticipation.  I started the morning at my hotel feeling very nervous, knowing that I was about to experience a rush of newness: new people, places, sights, sounds, rules, routines, you name it.  I told myself just to take a deep breath and take it in one thing at a time, and that really helped me to enjoy the experience.  Now the nerves are mostly gone and I’m just very much looking forward to the ship’s departure tomorrow afternoon!

To my great fortune, I’ve already found everyone I’ve met to be incredibly kind and friendly.  I got to meet some of the NOAA lab scientists who study the plankton that is collected from the Gulf, as well as field scientists Alonzo and Glenn, with whom I’ll be working the night shift on the Oregon II.  Last but not least is Andy, the lead scientist for this cruise, who helped plan logistics for my arrival, gave me a tour of the ship and helped me get situated on board.

The folks I’ve met on board are from all over the United States.  Some of them came to Pascagoula to work for NOAA to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; some came as part of their graduate school studies.   Everyone I’ve met either has or is pursuing an advanced degree, so the intelligence on board the ship is impressive.  As challenging as it can be to for the scientists to be away from home for more than a hundred days out of the year, all of them have some level of appreciation for doing field work.  Not all of the scientists who study plankton in Pascagoula are able to leave the lab to go on the cruises, so I am even more grateful that I have the honor of taking part.  I’m also extremely grateful to learn that I will be of help to the team.  Because of limited staffing and budgets, the science team depends on teachers, like me, to provide extra sets of hands during the field work.

Stateroom 5

My stateroom on the Oregon II

I’ll be staying in Stateroom 5 for this cruise, which I’ll share with a volunteer scientist named Jana.  “Stateroom” is the word used for a bedroom on a ship.  The stateroom is small, as expected, but it actually feels like it’s the perfect size.  All of my belongings are unpacked in drawers and cabinets, and they all fit just fine.  There’s a bunk with two beds, a sink, and three storage cabinets.  Two of the cabinets are entirely for our use, and one mostly holds safety gear and flotation devices.  There is enough floor space that I could lay on the floor and do snow angels, so there will be plenty of room to move around.  I don’t expect to be spending all that much time in the stateroom once we are underway.

Time has taken on a whole new meaning in the past two days.  Yesterday morning I left Las Vegas in the Pacific Time Zone and flew to Atlanta in the Eastern Time Zone, then to Mobile in the Central Time Zone.  It was almost like time travel.  After we embark tomorrow, I’ll start my work schedule, which will have me on duty from midnight to noon every day.  Work goes on around the clock on NOAA vessels.  This schedule will take some getting used to, but as a morning person, I am excited that I’ll be awake and active for my favorite part of the day, and I’ll get to watch the sun rise.  Right now, I’m attempting to stay awake for my entire first night on the ship so that I can get on my work schedule right away.  To add another level of confusion to my sense of time, ship crews observe 24-hour military time instead of using AM and PM.  Numbers are difficult for me and don’t come naturally, so this will take some getting used to.

Military time

The clocks on the ship show the 24-hour military time system.

Just being on the ship feels quite surreal.  As I write this at 23:33hrs, there are just a handful of people on board, and we are still at dock.  Every once in a while some subtle movement reminds me that this is a ship in the water, but mostly it feels like solid ground.  I know that will change once we get moving.  Aside from the obvious signs, there are other little reminders that this is a ship, where everything must be secured for rougher waters.  Computers and monitors are strapped and bolted to the tables, there are gripper pads spread out on tables and in drawers, and every door, from drawers and cabinets to staterooms, has to be latched shut and unlatched to open, and open doors have to be secured with a hook so that they don’t slam shut when the ship shifts.   There’s also a constant hum of noise on the Oregon II.  I’m interested to see how loud it is when we’re actually moving!

The adventures in science begin tomorrow!

Sunset at Dock

Sunset at dock, from the dry lab of the ship

Did you know?

Bluefin tuna plankton are a type of ichthyoplankton, which comes from the Greek words for “fish drifters.”  For those of you in Nevada, think of our state fossil, the ichthyosaurus, which means “fish lizard!”

Emilisa Saunders: A Desert Dweller Goes to Sea, April 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emilisa Saunders
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 14 – 30, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Personal Log

Hello, and welcome to my blog! My name is Emilisa, but you can call me Emmi. I’m about to go on the adventure of a lifetime, and I’m so glad you’ve decided to join me.

Annular Eclipse

Standing in the light of an annular eclipse at the Springs Preserve.

For six years now, I’ve worked at the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I have the best job: I’m a Naturalist, which means I get to teach kids and their families about nature. Some of you may know me from the Nature Exchange, which is a natural item trading center where kids bring items they’ve collected from nature – rocks, fossils, sea creatures, dead bugs, plant parts, etc. – to learn about those objects and trade them for other natural items from all over the world. This program is so much fun, more than 8000 kids have signed up to trade in the past six years. It’s a ton of fun for me, too. Every day I soak up whatever knowledge I can about the natural world so that I can show kids all that there is to love about nature, science and learning.

Last Fall, I heard about a program that lets teachers explore nature and science in the most amazing way: the teachers help scientists study sea creatures from aboard an actual research ship at sea! This program is called Teacher at Sea, and it is offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. NOAA is in charge of studying the weather, climate, oceans and shores. They share what they learn with all of us, and help to protect our environment and natural resources. Through the Teacher at Sea program, NOAA chooses 25-30 teachers each year to spend several weeks aboard ships, learning about how NOAA scientists study amazing ocean environments, about the jobs that people do at sea, and about how teachers can use science skills to study the natural world.

As soon as I heard about the Teacher at Sea program, I knew I had to apply. What an amazing opportunity! I sent my application and waited very impatiently for a couple of months. I checked my email every day, even when I knew it was far too early to find out. Finally, I got the email I had been waiting for: I had been chosen for the program! On May 14th, I’ll be heading out to sea to study plankton in the Gulf of Mexico on the NOAA ship Oregon II!

NOAA Ship Oregon II

NOAA Ship Oregon II, courtesy of NOAA

The Oregon II is like a floating science lab. It sails out of Pascagoula, Mississippi, and is 170 feet long, which is more than half the length of a football field. On the ship, scientists collect samples of living creatures from the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean, so that they can study how healthy the oceans are. There are labs right on board the ship, and the scientists bring samples back to be studied in labs on shore, too.

You can actually track the ship while it’s at sea to see where we are in the Gulf! Just click here and select the Oregon II: NOAA Ship Tracker

The Narrows

Hiking the Narrows at Zion National Park with my husband, Doug.

Now, I love adventures that let me spend time in nature. I love to hike and go for long runs, and I’m even learning to SCUBA dive with my husband, Doug. Even so, this is going to be a very new experience for me. I grew up in the tiny state of Vermont, which has lots of mountains and snow, but no oceans. I spent my summers swimming in lakes and ponds and only traveled to the Atlantic Ocean a few times. I spent just a few hours here and there on whale watching boats, and that’s it! Then, nine years ago, I moved even farther away from the ocean to Las Vegas, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, where I fell completely in love with the hot, dry land and the tough creatures, large and small, that survive here.  I love to take trips to the ocean as often as possible, but I definitely spend most of my time landlocked!

When I’m on the Oregon II, I’ll be seeing, doing and learning things I never have before. I’ll get to know what it’s like to eat, sleep, work and live on a ship, and I’ll meet all the people who work hard to make the ship run. For the first time, I’ll also get to work with scientists and learn about the skills and tools they use to study creatures in the ocean. I can’t wait to meet all of these people who work at sea!

On this cruise, we’ll be collecting and studying plankton, which are the tiny plants and animals that drift in the ocean currents. Some of them are so small that we can’t see them without a microscope, but the entire ocean depends on them for food, and the whole world depends on them for the oxygen that we breathe. The plankton that we’ll be looking at the most closely are bluefin tuna eggs and larvae; larvae are very young fish. I still have a lot to learn about plankton, but I came across this amazing video; it’s beautiful to watch and is very interesting, too!

But there is one thing that I’ve learned by studying nature and teaching kids about the environment: everything is connected. Even though I’ll be travelling far away and studying ocean life, I’ll be able to come back to Las Vegas and teach families all about how our actions here in the desert affect other habitats all over the world. I am so excited that being a Teacher at Sea will help me show the kids I meet at the Springs Preserve all about how healthy oceans keep our desert healthy, too, and how they can grow up to be the scientists or ship crewmembers who protect our oceans.

I hope you check back on this blog from time to time to learn more about NOAA, plankton, and life at sea! I can’t wait to get started!

Deb Novak: Chugging to Pascagoula, August 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Long-line Survey
Geographical Area:  Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday, August 25, 2012

Science and Technology Log:

All  of our data has been collected and entered and we have cleaned the Oregon II Science lab equipment and spaces to leave it sparkling for Shark Long line survey Leg 3.  I will be watching for the final report and also checking out where the tagged sharks wander via web.  Like all things in science the conclusions will lead to new questions to refine or expand the search for knowledge.

The data station in action.

Personal Log:

We did stop fishing early in order to dock and give NOAA time to prepare the Oregon II and all the crew time to prepare their houses well in advance of Isaac.  As we headed toward the Pascagoula River I saw many of the oil rigs and oil tankers located in the Gulf of Mexico.  I know that they are also getting ready for the possibility of a Hurricane.

Off in the distance a drilling platform.

I will miss the people and the boat and most of all the water…

From my favorite spot on the top deck.

A placid sunrise.

     

We docked at the NOAA Pascagoula Lab. I learned a new term “Dock Rocks”.  Now that I am on dry land I still get nauseous and motion sick due to my inner ear compensating for the expected motion of the boat…This should go away in a few days.  What will remain are the wonderful memories and lessons learned while on the Oregon II.  I can’t wait to share my pictures, stories and new science activities with Manzano Day School teachers and students, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science and anyone else who will listen to me.

A great big Thank You to NOAA, the Teacher at Sea Program and everyone on board the Oregon II for the 2012 Shark Long-line survey Leg 2.

Deb Novak: Shark Survey, August 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area:  Gulf of Mexico
Date: Thursday,August 23 , 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 28.2 degrees C
Sea temperature: 28.7 degrees C
1/2 cloud cover
5 miles of visibility
1.5 foot wave height
Wind speed 4.75 knots
Wind direction ESE

Science and Technology Log:

So now for the sharks and other fish caught on our survey long lines…

Like all  science experiments this survey started with a general question.  What fish are in the  Gulf of Mexico?   NOAA developed the Longline Survey procedure that I described in my last blog.  This is the data collection part of the experiment.

Large sharks are brought up to the boat rail in a cradle.

They are measured and weighed and tagged as quickly as possible to try to minimize stress on the shark.

When there is a large shark on a line it becomes like a dance as everyone performs their part of getting the needed data while taking care of the shark and staying out of other people’s way.

On this trip five large sharks were fitted with satellite tracking tags.

Just like the name says, these tags can track where the shark travels.  These tags were placed by Jennifer who works for the Louisiana Fish and Game Department.  They are trying to answer the question – Do large sharks in the Gulf stay in the Gulf?  I look forward to finding out more about where these sharks travel over the next few years.

My favorite part is when the shark swims away into the depths.

It was really fascinating when we caught large sharks.  It was also an uncommon event.  Over this trip we caught Tiger sharks, Sandbar sharks, Nurse sharks,  a Great Hammerhead, a Scalloped Hammerhead (I never knew that there were different species of Hammerheads!), a Lemon shark and a Bull shark.  I am getting good at telling types of sharks but still need my Science Team for confirmation.

Most of the sharks we caught were Atlantic Sharpnose. They are small reaching a maximum length of about 3 feet.

The small sharks can still bite and give a painful wallop if you are not careful.  I avoided both by following all of my teammates precautions.  We still worked quickly to get needed data so that the sharks could be released ASAP.

Me tagging a small shark. It was like a heavy duty hole punch.

Some of the little sharks are tagged with a little plastic tag.  If the shark is caught again new data can be collected to see if  the shark moved to a new area and if its measurements have changed.

We caught fish like groupers and the Red Snapper on the far left.

With a hundred hooks, I thought we would be catching a hundred fish.  The reality is that we had some Haul backs where there were no fish at all.  It was exciting to see the variety of what we caught and what might appear on the end of each line.   Sometimes there would be several fish in a row and we would scramble to get all of the data collected.  All of the information will be analyzed from this survey and compared with previous data and NOAA will come to a conclusion in a report in the future.

Personal Log:

I have my sea legs and can find my way around the ship pretty well now.  I have moved to a noon to midnight schedule which still seems a little strange.  I don’t know if I would have been good at the midnight to noon shift.  I feel like I am contributing to the team effort with setting lines and hauling them back.  The ocean got a little choppier for a few days, but it cleared quickly.  I can’t believe that this adventure is almost over.  

The Oregon II

Most of the work takes place on the deck, but some time is spent in the various Science Lab spaces.

The library in the Science Lab.

Computers for data collection and route information in the Science Lab.

If there was time when the boat needed to move to another location we could relax in the Lounge.

Relaxing in the lounge. Movies and tv help to pass the time.

I watched a few movies but spent more time watching the water.  I will miss these endless expanses of blue when I return to Albuquerque.

We are watching what is happening with Tropical Storm Isaac.  The next few days schedules may change.  NOAA is very careful with safety and that will be the first priority.

Deb Novak: Shark Longline Survey Part 2, August 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area:  Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, August 17, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 30.8 degrees C
Sea temperature: 29.9 degrees C
2/8ths cloud cover
10 miles of visibility
0-1 foot wave height
Wind speed 16.9 knots
Wind direction WSW

Science and Technology Log:

How to set a line:

A circle hook is used on the longline. It can hold the fish, but does not hurt them as much as other kinds of hooks.

This is one job that I have only done once. I needed help to get the High Flyer over the top line and into position.

Fish heads and middles and tails! A piece on every hook to try to entice a shark to bite.

I am pretty good at cutting the bait fish.  It is all fractions – for large fish it is cut into 4 pieces, for the smaller bait fish, three pieces.  Putting the bait securely on the hooks is hard, careful work.  You don’t want the bait to fall off the hook as it is put in the water, and the hooks are sharp so I went slow to not stab myself.

A computer program is used to track equipment and GPS the locations of the beginning and end High Flyers, three sets of weights that keep the line on the bottom and each of the 100 hooks that are set out.

Slinging the baited hooks. Justin is attaching the number tags.

Just like using the Scientific Method in class experiments, we have to follow a set procedure for laying out the line.  This way the data gathered  can be compared to previous years and from set to set.  The set locations are randomly generated for sections of the Gulf.  We will lay lines in each grid square.  Lines are set at three different depths,  shallow,  medium and  deep.  Even the deepest sets are still on the continental shelf and not in the truly deep, central Gulf waters. The line is set and left on the ocean floor for one hour.  Then it is time to Haul Back — bring the line up and see what we caught.

Weighing a barracuda – just look at the teeth!

Every hook is recorded as it comes back on the boat.  If the hook is empty or still has bait, or the most wonderful moment — if there is a fish! — everything is recorded.  Each fish is recorded in great detail:  species, length, weight where it was caught and other comments.  Almost everything we catch is released.  There are a few types of fish that are kept to take samples for scientific studies being done.

David measuring the spotted eel’s length.

Personal Log: 

This blog is mostly pictures with captions.  I feel fine even when the waves pick up and the boat starts to rock and roll, WoooHoo!  But 10 minutes on the computer leaves me nauseous  and green for a good long while.

My favorite thing to do is watch the flying fish skitter across the water surface.  It is amazing to me how far they can “fly”.

The Oregon II

Water and fuel are vital to keeping people and  the boat going.  Both are carefully monitored several times a day.

Gauges throughout the ship show water levels.

Drinking water is produced by reverse osmosis, sea water comes in and is put through several filters for us to drink and shower.  With 30 people on board for two weeks at a time we would need huge tanks and the weight would be enormous.   So fresh water is made on board.  Sea water is used to clean the decks and to flush the toilets.

The fuel tank levels are  checked using a plumb gauge. This is a long ruler with a weight on the end.

Deb Novak: Shark Longline Survey Part 1, August 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Monday, August 13, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 30.3 degrees C
Sea temperature: 30.8 degrees C
1/8ths cloud cover
10 miles of visibility
0-1 foot wave height
Wind speed 2.4 knots
Wind direction NNE
Lightning visible in clouds to the east

Science and Technology Log:

I love learning new things!  We watched a video about how to set up a longline and how to stay safe.  A longline is just what it sounds like – a very long fishing line, a full nautical mile worth of fishing line.  Because we are surveying for sharks and other big fish, the line is very thick and the hooks are big!  Nothing like I used to fish for supper when I was 12…

Hooks ready to be baited.

Number tags – 1 to 100, these are attached to the lines to identify a particular sample.

High Flyers – floats with a radar reflector and lights  to mark the start and finish of a set line.

Bait thawing. Soon we will cut this into pieces to put on the hooks.

Personal Log:

I will start working with the Science Crew at 12 noon today.  We will work 12 hour shifts, so I will have to stay awake and working until 12 pm or 00 hour in Military time, which is based on a 24 hour day so that you can’t get confused about a.m. or p.m.  My roommate Karen will work the opposite shift.  This way it will be like we both have our own room when we are not working.  This will make it easier to sleep and also give us some time to be alone since it is hard to be alone on a small ship.

Karen is from Bogota, Colombia.  She is working in the NOAA Panama City Florida Lab conducting  data entry and analysis.  She thinks she wants to work with genetics  to help with the conservation of marine mammals, like whales and seals.  If you want to be a research scientist you need to finish college, go to graduate school for a masters and often  get your doctorate degree.  That is like finishing 20th grade or more.  Many of the other folks on the Science Team are also students at various stages of their schooling.  Some volunteered to be here to help with their resume or to explore what part of science they want to work in.

Some people asked about how I am doing with motion sickness.  I seem to be doing fine as long as I don’t spend too much time at the computer.  Ten minutes of scrolling or typing leads to a headache and queasiness. I am happiest up on the top deck watching the water.  To help stop seasickness, it is good to look at the horizon.

A nice sunset with a horizon line, where sea meets sky.

The Oregon II

So like in any city, the Oregon II has a four star restaurant.  It is run by Chefs Paul and Walter.  They turn out three square meals a day, including several different choices for entrees a great salad bar and often homemade cakes or cookies.  If your shift means that you will miss a meal, you can sign up on a board and they will make a plate for you and leave it in the refrigerator with your name on it.  There are always gallons of tea and coffee, Gatorade and water to make sure that everyone stays hydrated.

Cook Paul can ask the New Mexico state question “Red or Green”

A Sample Daily Menu – the problem is that I want to try it all!

If you eat as much as I seem to be eating, it is a good thing that there is a gym available too!  Exercise equipment is tucked away in a few corners of the ship.  I have good intentions of testing this out.  So far I get my exercise walking around the vessel and up and down the stairs to get to different levels of the ship.  Maybe I will find the line setting and haul back to be good exercise…

The top deck gym – equipment is moved outside and you get a great view of the water.

The lower deck “weight room” – no water view in here…

Next up will be line setting and haul back!  Sharks and groupers and ????

Deb Novak: Sailing South, August 11, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Current Geographical Position: Traveling south along the east coast of Florida to move into position to start survey work.

Date: Saturday, August 11, 2012

Setting sail, you can almost see the Mayport Naval Base in the background

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 30.9 degrees C
Sea temperature: 28.9 degrees C
6/8ths cloud cover
10 miles of visibility
0-1 foot wave height

Science and Technology Log:

I spent time on the Bridge (where the Captain and Crew pilot the boat) this morning learning about the weather data collected and all of the gauges and levers and images that they use to guide us.  Captain Dave Nelson  was nice to share information with me while he did the important work of piloting.  He was being careful to not get to close to all of the small boats that were out on the water fishing and enjoying the beautiful day.  On the radar it looked like we were surrounded by about 20 boats, looking out the windows I could only see one. The radar technology helps extend the Captain’s view of the water so that all of the boats stay safe.

The Bridge Crew record the weather every hour of the day and night. The above readings are for 11:00 am.  27.1 degrees Celsius means it is warm out. It is about the same temperature here today as it is in Albuquerque.  The difference is that there is more moisture in the air in Florida. I’ve always called it muggy, when I feel a little bit damp all the time. The crew measures cloud cover by dividing the sky into 8 sections and seeing how much is covered by clouds.  5/8ths means more than half of the sky is covered.  Here on the water we can see pretty far out in all directions, which is called visibility.  0 visibility would mean that the boat is fogged or rained in and can’t see past the boat at all.  We have 10 miles of visibility which is pretty far.  The water is almost flat when I look at it, only a few ripples. The range of wave height is 0-1 foot, but what we are seeing is closer to zero.   Since waves are caused by wind, there can be different heights of waves at the same time so a range is used for the measurement, sharing the shortest and tallest of the waves.  Wind speed and direction are also recorded.  The wind monitor looks like two small, wingless airplanes up on  top of a mast.

Wind speed and direction are read on this device on the bridge.

Wind gauges on the mast show wind direction and wind speed

Personal Log:

Happy Birthday, Mom!  It’s my mom’s birthday and since we are along the coast of Florida (I can see the buildings along the shore), I was able to call on my cell phone to personally wish her well.  She was surprised!  I told her before I left  that I would not be available much since signals won’t work when we are out at sea. There is a satellite phone that works all of the time on board for emergencies. We are never completely out of contact, but people who work on a vessel go long periods of time without phones or internet.  Since we are still moving toward the place where we will start work, many people are spending time out on deck on their phones connecting with their families and friends. They know if they can see the tall buildings lining the shore  that they can call.

Since we are not going to be able to start the survey until we are past the Florida Keys and into the Gulf of Mexico, we spent time learning about NOAA Ship Oregon II and conducting safety drills.

Getting into the Full immersion suit

Personal Floatation Device properly cinched!

All suited up!

The safety drills will happen every week to make sure that everyone knows where to go and what to do, just like we practice Fire Drills and Lock-down Drills at school.  We have to listen carefully because there are different numbers and lengths to the alarm sounds and those sounds tell us where to go and what to bring.  The abandon ship code is  seven long tones.  I brought my immersion suit with me the middle outer deck and pulled it on.  It was like stuffing a sausage!  Although the air and water feel warm, they are much colder than the human body – which is about 98.7 degrees Fahrenheit or about 37 degrees Celsius.  If you look in the Weather Report above, I’d be really cold if I stayed in 28.8 degrees Celsius (~84 F) water for too long.  It would be perfect for swimming on a hot Florida day, but not if you are stuck in the water for several hours waiting for help…

NOAA Ship  Oregon II

A ship is like a city.  Everything that people need to live, stay safe and be happy needs to be provided.  William gave me a tour of the Engine rooms before we left Mayport.  Once the boat is underway, the engine rooms are very, very hot and super noisy.  The Engineers make sure to wear earplugs and drink lots of Gatorade to stay hydrated and keep their hearing. The engines are connected to a long shaft with gears (hey 1st and 4th graders, do you remember learning about simple machines last year?) which move the boat forward. There are two of everything on board so that if one breaks down there is a backup.   This is called redundancy.  For the really big pieces of equipment they need to be placed to balance the weight on the ship.  This leads to something you have studied in math, Symmetry.  Many places I look I see mirrored pairs of objects.  See if you can find the lines of symmetry in the following pictures.

Two engines in the Engine room below decks.

A waterproof hatch

Look for symmetry and balance on the bow.

I will be sharing more about NOAA Ship Oregon II, the people on board and surveying sharks later.  We will just keep heading south to the Gulf.

Deb Novak: Introduction, August 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of Survey: The East Coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 8, 2012

Introduction

Hi! My name is Deb Novak and I am so excited about being a NOAA Teacher at Sea! NOAA is the acronym for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  NOAA studies the ocean, the atmosphere and the fish in the ocean. They are generous enough to invite a few lucky  teachers to come along each year and learn about the science that happens on NOAA vessels. Feel free to read other Teacher at Sea blogs to learn more!

Ms. Deb Novak with Dinos

As the Science Coordinator for Manzano Day School for the last five years, I have loved teaching science to pre-kindergarten through 5th grade students and working with teachers to develop science curriculum. Now, I’m excited about my new position, being named the new Chief of Education for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. I will be sharing this blog with lots of people throughout the state of New Mexico, but the focus of this blog is all the wonderful students at Manzano Day School!  I’m hoping some of our graduates will also log in to share this adventure with me!  Since my new job is only a few short blocks away from Manzano, I will be sharing more of my experience in person when I get back to Albuquerque.

The Oregon II copyright NOAA

This is the ship I’ll be on the Oregon II. It was born the same year I was: 1967. You can find out more about the Oregon II by clicking on the picture. You can also view the path the Oregon II will be traveling during my visit. Once I am on the ship I will send out a blog photo tour of what the inside of the ship looks like. I know that I will be traveling with about 30 people who do lots of different amazing jobs. I will be sharing their stories via this blog as well. There will also be blog posts about the science of the Shark Longline Survey. WhooHooo, sharks! I was given this mission because Ms. Louise Junick’s Kindergarten class put in a special request and so I included sharks in my application. I’ve always been interested in sharks and can’t wait to learn about shark research on the Oregon II.

Whale Shark at the Georgia Aquarium

I had a cool opportunity to learn more about sharks this summer. I visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. They have the only whale sharks in an aquarium anywhere in the world.  And it got even better – I got to snorkel in the tank with the whale sharks! Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, but they have a really tiny mouth and eat little bitty critters called plankton. The Georgia Aquarium makes sure to keep the people safe from the animals in the tank, but even more important we had to learn how to keep the animals safe from us!  Some of the money I paid to swim with the whale sharks goes to a shark study that the aquarium is conducting. That is when I learned that whale sharks spend some time in the Gulf of Mexico! It would be great to see such an amazing and huge fish in the wild! With further research I found an article about whale sharks and the Gulf Oil Spill.  The map shows that I would be extremely lucky if I see one since I will be on the opposite side of the Gulf of Mexico from where they tend to spend their time.

Each day I get more and more excited about my opportunity to be a Teacher at Sea. I know that I will want to share lots and lots of exciting information with everyone reading this blog. I also know that I will be able to send  2 or 3 blogs per week, so I hope you will check in and see where I am and what I am up to working with the scientists on the Oregon II. Wish me a Bon Voyage! (Happy Travels !)

Valerie Bogan: The Journey Ends, June 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date
: Wednesday June 20, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sea temperature 28  degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius.

 Science and Technology Log:

Well we have come to the end of the cruise so now it is time to tie it all the pieces together.  The Gulf of Mexico contains a large ecosystem which is made up of both biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) factors.  We studied the abiotic factors using the CTD which records water chemistry data and by recording information on the water depth, water color, water temperature, and weather conditions.  We studied the living portions of the ecosystem by collecting plankton in the bongo and neuston nets.  The health of the plankton depends on the abiotic factors such as water temperature and water clarity so if the abiotic factors are affected by some human input then the plankton will be unhealthy.  The trawl net allowed us to collect some larger organisms which occupy the upper part of the food web.  Some of these organisms eat the plankton while others eat bigger creatures which are also found in the trawl net.  Despite what they eat all of these creatures depend on the health of the levels below them either because those levels are directly their food or because those levels are the food of their food.

The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem

An illustration of how the food web in the gulf works. (picture from brownmarine.com)

The ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico has taken a couple of large hits in the recent past, first with Hurricane Katrina and then with the Deepwater horizon oil spill.  When an ecosystem has undergone such major events it is important to monitor the species in order to determine if there is an effect from the disasters.  Hurricane Katrina left its mark on the people of the Gulf coast but did minimal damage to the biotic parts of the ecosystem.  The effects of the deepwater horizon oil spill are still unknown due to the scope of the spill.

Today’s portion of the ship is the engine room.  I was recently taken on a tour of the engine room by William.  The ship is powered by two diesel engines which use approximately 1,000 gallons of fuel per day.  The ship obviously uses the engines to move from location to location but it also uses the energy to power generators which supply electrical energy, to air condition the ship and to make fresh water out of sea water.

The engines.

The twin diesel engines.

Generators

Generators

There are two vital positions on the Oregon II that I have not discussed, deck worker and engineer.  We could never have collected the samples that we did without the immense help of the deck workers.  They operated the winches and cranes that allowed us to deploy and bring back the nets which captured our samples.  The engineers kept the ship’s engines running, the electricity on, and the rooms cool.  Some of these men started out their careers as merchant marines.  A merchant marine is a person who works on a civilian-owned merchant vessel such as a deep-sea merchant ship, tug boat, ferry or dredge.  There are a variety of jobs on these ships so if you are interested in this line of work I’m sure you could find something to do as a career.  A few merchant marines work as captains of those civilian ships, guiding the ship and commanding the crew in order the get the job done.  More of them serve as mates, which are assistants to the captains.  These people are in training to one day become a captain of their own ship.  Just like on the Oregon II there are also engineers and deck workers in the merchant marines.  Engineers are expected to keep the machinery running while the deck workers do the heavy lifting on the deck and keep the ship in good condition by performing general maintenance.

During this cruise I have met a lot of people who have different jobs all of which are related to collecting scientific data.  The bridge is wonderfully staffed by members of the NOAA Corps.  These men and women train hard to be able to sail research ships around the world.  To find out more about a profession with the NOAA Corps go visit the Corps’ webpage.  There are a large number of scientists on board.  These scientists all specialize in the marine environment and there are many wonderful universities which offer degrees for this field of study.  Go here to get some more information on this scientific pursuit.  The engineers and deck crew keep the ship running. To learn about these professions go to The United States Merchant Marines Academy.  The stewards are instrumental in keeping the crew going on a daily basis by providing good healthy meals.  To learn more about working as a steward read about the Navy culinary school.  The ship could not continue to operate without each of these workers.  Nobody is more or less important than the next–they survive as a group and if they cannot work together the ship stops operating.

Personal Log

Well my journey has come to an end and it is bitter-sweet.  While I’m happy to be back on land, I’m sad to say goodbye to all of the wonderful people on the Oregon II.  When I was starting this adventure I thought two weeks was going to be a long time to be at sea, yet it went by so fast.  Although I’m tired, my sleep and eating schedule are all messed up, and I have some wicked bruises, I would do it again.  I had a great time and in a couple of years I have a feeling I will be once again applying for the Teacher at Sea Program.

It should be no surprise to those that know me best that I love animals which is why I volunteer at the zoo and travel to distant locations to see animals in the wild.  So my favorite part of the trip was seeing all the animals, both those that came out of the sea and those that flew to our deck.  So I’m going to end with a slide show of some amazing animals.

Pelican.

This pelican decided to stop and visit with us for a while.

angel shark

An angel shark

Moray eel

A moray eel

Bat fish

Two bat fishes of very different sizes.

Sand dollar

A sand dollar

Hitchhikers

A group of sea birds decide to hitch a ride for a while.

Valerie Bogan: The Adventure Continues: June 12, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date
: Tuesday June 12, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sea temperature 28  degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius, building seas.

Science and Technology Log

Today I want to discuss the neuston net.  This is a very large net made out of finely woven mesh which is deployed (shoved off the side of the boat) in order to catch plankton.  There are three types of plankton: phytoplankton (plants and algae),  zooplankton (animals), and ichytoplankton (baby fish).  The neuston net rides along the surface of the water for ten minutes scooping up any organisms which are near the surface.  After the ten minutes are up, the deck crew uses a crane to pull the net out of the water and bring it up to the point where someone can wash it down with a hose.  This is necessary because not all of the plankton ends up in the cod end (the place where the collection jar is located) so we have to use a hose to get all of the loose stuff washed into the end of the net.  After the net is washed down, the cod end is carefully removed, placed in a bucket and taken to the stern (back) of the ship where it is processed.

Putting out the neuston net

This is how the neuston net is moved from the ship into the water. From left to right Jeff, Marshall, and Chris are safely deploying the net.

To process the sample you must first empty the contents of the cod end into a filter which will allow the water to run out but will keep the sample.  Then you transfer (move) the sample from the filter into a glass sample jar.  Sometimes the sample smoothly slides into the jar and other times you have to wash down the filter with some ethanol.  Once all of the sample is in the jar it is topped off with ethanol, a tag is placed inside the jar, and another tag is put on top of the jar.  This sample is stored on the boat and taken back to the NOAA lab where it will be cataloged.

Processing the neuston sample

In this picture I am filtering out the water from the neuston sample so it can be placed in a sample jar.(Picture by Francis)

Personal Log

Today is our fifth day at sea and I’m feeling fairly comfortable with my duties on the ship.  I was assigned to the night watch which runs from midnight till noon the next day.  I’ll admit I didn’t make it the entire time the first day. We got done early and despite my intentions to stay up until my shift, I would have ended I falling asleep.  The second night was better. I was beyond exhausted at the end, but I did manage to make it through the entire shift.  At this point my mind and body have adjusted to the shift and I can easily drift to sleep at 3 pm and get up at 11:15 pm.  Students, this is a great example of what it means to be responsible.  If I was given the choice, do you think I would have chosen these crazy hours or to work twelve hours straight?  No of course not but I really wanted to come on this expedition and this work assignment is part of the trip.  So I’m doing the same thing I would expect you to do in a situation like this: accept it and get the work done.

Now I don’t want you to think that the trip is just about hard work. It’s also about seeing new places and getting to know some interesting people.  I started out this trip in Pascagoula Mississippi, a city and state I never planned on visiting before this assignment.  However, the people there were so helpful and friendly that I would gladly go back to see more of this region.  All of you from the Kokomo area know that the major employers are automobile companies. Well, Pascagoula also has a major industry: ship building.  So despite the distance between Kokomo and Pascagoula–about 900 miles–each town depends on an industry for their survival and both towns are incredibly proud of their contribution to society.

Ship yards in Pascagoula

The major industry in Pascagoula is ship building.

I have been introducing you to parts of the ship, and today I’m going to tell you about the bridge.  Now this is not the type of bridge that crosses a river, but rather the command center of the ship.  The crew on the bridge is responsible for the safety of all personal on board and for the ship itself.  There is a vast array of technology on the bridge which the crew uses to plot our course, check the weather, and to do hundreds of other things which are necessary for the ship to function.

Navigation chart

This is the chart the bridge crew uses to plot our course.

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 21, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Monday, June 21

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 0800 hours (8 am)
Position: Latitude: 28º 09.6 minutes N
Longitude: 094º 18.2 min. W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: variable
Water Temperature: 30.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius
Ship’s Speed: 5 knots

Science Technology Log

Atlantic Spotted dolphins are the graceful ballerinas of the sea. They are just incredible! The Gulf of Mexico is one of the habitats of the dolphin because they live in warm tropical waters. The body of a spotted dolphin is covered with spots and as they get older their spots become greater in number.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Here you can see the spots on an older Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. To read more about dolphins go to http://www.dolphindreamteam.com/dolphins/dolphins.html

Because Dolphins are mammals they breathe air through a single blowhole much like whales. Dolphins live together in pods and can grow to be 8 feet long and weigh 200-255 pounds. Like whales, dolphins swim by moving their tails (flukes) up and down. The dolphin’s beak is long and slim and its lips and the tip of its beak are white. They eat a variety of fish and squid found at the surface of the water. Since dolphins like to swim with yellow fin tuna, some dolphins die by getting tangled in the nets of tuna fishermen.

Newborn calves are grey with white bellies. They do not have spots. Calves mature around the age of 6-8 years or when the dolphin reaches a length of 6.5 feet. Calving takes place every two years. Gestation (or pregnancy) lasts for 11 1/2 months and babies are nursed for 11 months.

While watching the dolphins ride the bow wave, Nicolle and I wondered, “How do dolphins sleep and not drown?” Actually, we found that there are two basic methods of sleeping: they float and rest vertically or horizontally at the surface of the water. The other method is sleeping while swimming slowly next to another dolphin. Dolphins shut down half of their brains and close the opposite eye. That lets the other half of the brain stay “awake.” This way they can rest and also watch for predators. After two hours they reverse this process. This pattern of sleep is called “cat-napping.”

Dolphins maintain a deeper sleep at night and usually only sleep for two hours at a time. This method is called “logging” because in this state dolphins look like a log floating in the ocean.

The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the hunting, capturing, killing or collecting of marine mammals without a proper permit. Permits are granted for the Spotted Dolphins to be taken if it is for scientific research, public display, conservation, or in the case of a dolphin stranding. The maximum ffor violating the MMPA is $20,000 and one year in jail.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Personal Log

The best part of this trip is all the marine life I see in the Gulf. In the past few days, dolphins have been swimming up to the boat and riding the bow wave of the ship. They are so graceful and playful in the water. In addition to the Tiger Shark seen feasting on the dead Sperm Whale, I have seen quite a few sharks swimming in the water near our ship. One, called a Silky Shark, took the bait as some of the crew was fishing from the stern of the boat (shown to the left). It was hauled up so the hook could be taken out and released back into the water. The second was a baby shark swimming near the bow of the ship as I watched the dolphins in the distance. I also saw a shark swimming near the starboard side of our ship while the deckhands were hauling up one of the camera arrays.

The fourth shark was the most exciting. As the crew was working at the stern of the ship to release a line that was caught in the rudder, I looked over the stern to see a large shark very near the surface swimming toward the starboard (right) side of the ship. I hurried to look and to my surprise it was a giant Hammerhead! I never expected to see one of these in its natural habitat. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera out, the Hammerhead was too far away and too deep to get a clear shot, but what a sight to see!

Hammerhead shark

Hammerhead shark

The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

I often mistake the fish shown on the left for sharks. Actually they are Cobia, also known as Lemonfish. Once in a while thefish approach the boat as we are hauling fishup on the bandit reel. I have also seen bojellyfish in the water as we are working on the starboard side of the ship and I spotted a brief glimpse of an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) from the bridge of the ship as I was talking to our Commanding Officer (CO). I wish I could have seen this fish up close. They are the largest bony fish in the oceans and as someone on the ship described, they resemble a giant Chiclet swimming in the water.

The smallest living things I have seen while at sea are the tiny creatures that live in the Sargassum, a type of seaweed that floats freely within and on the surface of the Gulf waters. The Sargassum provides a habitat for tiny creatures that are the foundation of the food web, even providing food for some of the largest animals in the sea like whales. The picture below on the left shows a giant patch of Sargassum, while the picture on the right shows some of the creatures that live within it including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs.

Sargassum

Sargassum

Creatures that live within the sargassum including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs

Creatures that live within the sargassum including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs

Seeing all this life has been reassuring as the oil continues to gush into Gulf waters off the coast of Louisiana, however I can’t help but think what the overall impact of this spill will be for the future of the Gulf. Will we see the negative environmental impact spread to the Eastern Gulf? Are microscopic droplets of oil and chemical dispersants infecting the food chain beyond the area that we visibly see being impacted? These questions will be answered as NOAA scientists continue to collect and analyze the type of data that I am helping gather on this SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this scientific endeavor.

Animals Seen

Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)

Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran)

Cobia (Rachycentron canadum)

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)

Krill, Shrimp, Crab (species unidentified)

Valerie Bogan: June 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date
: Sunday June 17, 2012

Weather Data from the bridge:
Sea temperature 28 degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius, calm seas.

Science and Technology Log

The last piece of equipment I’m going to discuss is the trawl net.  This is a very large net which is towed along the bottom for thirty minutes collecting all of the fish and invertebrates in its path.  At the end of the time allotment a crane is used to pull the net off of the bottom and ropes are pulled to bring it on deck.  The bottom of the bag is tied very tightly to keep it from coming open during the run and also to keep the dolphins from pulling it open so they can steal the catch.  I have often seen dolphins swimming alongside the ship. I always thought it was just because they were friendly, but I learned today that it is because they want to get our fish.  Once the bag is on deck the bottom is untied and the creatures are released into baskets so the total weight of the catch can be measured.  Once the catch has been weighed it is taken into the wet lab and sorted by species.  Each species is then weighed and measured so the health of the population can be determined.

Inputting trawl data

The catch from the trawl must be processed and the data inputed into the computer.

Alonzo Hamilton is the watch leader for my shift and has been a NOAA employee for the last thirty years.  He studied science in college and currently holds an Associate arts in science degree, a bachelor of science degree in biology, and a master of science degree in biology.  His role at NOAA is chief scientist for the deep water survey and chemical hygiene officer for the Pascagoula lab.  He enjoys his job but sees places for improvement.  For example he wishes that NOAA would implement a whole ecosystem management plan instead of the current plan of managing one species at a time. The part of his job he enjoys the most is when he talks to a group of people about his work and witnesses the light of understanding pass across their faces.  He finds that so rewarding because his real joy comes from sharing his knowledge with other people and leading them to a love of the natural world.  When asked what his advice for a middle school student would be he replied, “Figure out what you love to do and find a way to get paid for it.  You don’t have to make a lot of money to be successful, just pick something you love and make enough so you can support yourself.”

Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo verifying the trawl data.

I recently spent some time talking to LT Sarah Harris about her position in the NOAA Corps.  This part of NOAA is responsible for supplying each ship with a bridge crew whose officers are charged with protecting the ship and all crew members.  Lt. Harris graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Science and after a couple of years looking for the right position she decided to look into joining the NOAA Corps.  Luckily for her, one of their requirements is that applicants have to have a college degree in science or engineering, so with her marine science degree she was set.  She was accepted to the program and set off for the three-month officer training course which is held at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, New York.  During the training the recruits learn maritime and nautical skills, shipboard operations and management, small boat handling, marine navigation, ship handling, seamanship and related subjects.  Toward the end of training each student is given a list of possible placements and allowed to choose their top three assignments.  The NOAA officials then look through the choices and assign each student based on need and student choice.  Sarah was really lucky because she received her first choice which was a ship that sailed out of Hawaii.  In the NOAA Corps your sea assignment lasts between two and two and a half years.  After that first assignment you are given a land assignment which lasts for three years.  During land assignments you are expected to help with administrative duties and training.  After the land assignment you are given another sea assignment and the cycle continues.

Lt. Sarah Harris

LT Sarah Harris, the operations officer of the Oregon II.

Personal Log

Today is Father’s Day so I would like to take a moment to wish my dad a happy Father’s Day.  While it is necessary for these scientific cruises to take the scientists and crew out to sea for weeks on end it is difficult for them to be away from the people they love.   So if you are at home and your dad is nearby let him know how much he means to you.

Me with a crab from the trawl net

Here I am holding a large crab we got from the trawl net.

Valerie Bogan: June 15, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date
: Friday  June 15, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sea temperature 28  degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius, calm seas.

Science and Technology Log

The scientific device for this blog entry is called the Bongo net.  This apparatus is actually two nets which are mounted on a metal frame.  Each net has a diameter of 60 cm and is 305 cm long with a cod end which is the narrowest part of the net to catch the plankton (both plants and animals).  At the opening of each net is a flow meter which records the amount of water that passes through the net in liters. This allows the scientists to calculate the total population of each type of plankton without having to collect all the plankton in the area.  This is done by first finding out how many individuals there are of each species in the sample.  Then you calculate the number of liters in the transect (sample area) by multiplying the length of the transect by the width of the transect to find the area in square meters.  To find the volume, you multiply the area by the depth which will give you the amount of water in cubic meters.  Lastly you have to take the volume in cubic meters and convert it to cubic liters.  Now that you have found the amount of water in the transect you are ready to find the number of each species of plankton in that amount of water.  To do this you take the number of individuals in the entire sample and divide it by the amount of liters which flowed through the net during sampling to find the number of the species per liter.  Then you multiply that number by the total amount of liters in the transect which gives you an estimate of how many of that species exist in that part of the Gulf of Mexico.

Bongo nets

In this picture I am helping Jeff bring the Bongo nets back on board the ship. (Picture by Francis Tran)

NOAA personnel aren’t the only scientists on board. There is also a volunteer named Marshall Johnson, who just finished his master’s degree at the University of South Alabama where he was working on a project involving larval fish and what they eat.  He chose to come on this cruise in order to help a fellow student collect samples for her Master’s degree.  Thus far he has been amazed by the vast array of sea life that have shown up in our nets and have been seen swimming around our ship.  He has almost finished his Master’s degree and his dream job would be to captain a charter boat so he can share his love of sea life and fishing with other people.  His advice for middle school students, “Dream big and follow your goals”.

Marshal Johnson

Marshal holding two of his favorite species in the dry lab.

We also have a NOAA intern on board named Francis Tran who is going into his junior year at Mississippi State University where he is studying electrical engineering.  He found out about the internship through his university and applied by submitting an essay and references to the coordinator of the program.  His advice for middle school students, “do something you love, don’t settle”.

Francis Tran

Francis with his favorite animal the brown shrimp.

Personal Log

We have been at sea for one whole week and honestly it is going better than I expected.  I was uncertain if I could live on a ship for this amount of time due to my intense independence.  I’m not used to giving up control of where I am and what I am doing so I feared I would be tempted to jump overboard and start swimming to shore by now.  However I have found that I’m quite content to stay on the ship and am enjoying my time at sea immensely.  However, I do miss my workouts. There is some exercise equipment on board but finding the time to use it is impossible.  I also miss my daily yoga practices but with the ship pitching from side to side unpredictably I’m afraid of giving it a try because it is quite possible I would be doing downward facing dog pose and the ship would pitch me head first into a wall.

In order for a ship to stay at sea for an extended time it must have a well-stocked galley (kitchen) and serve excellent food.  As I have mentioned before, the shifts are long and don’t exactly match up with normal meal times so it is important for the crew to be able to grab a little something in between meals.  For example since my shift starts at midnight I’m hungry for breakfast at about 2 a.m., not the normal breakfast time, but I’m able to pour myself some cereal so that I am working with a full stomach and am able to concentrate on my work.  However, we do have three wonderful meals prepared for us each day.  Paul and Walter are the men who work to make sure the crew and scientists are well taken care of when it comes to mealtimes.

The galley

Alonzo and Chris hanging out in the galley having a little snack.

Valerie Bogan: First Days at Sea, June 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday, June 9, 2012

Weather Data from the bridge:  Sea temperature 27.5 degrees celsius, Air temperature 24.2 degrees celsius, calm seas with thunderstorms in the area.

Science and Technology Log

As I mentioned in the previous entry the Oregon II is conducting a groundfish survey.  During this research cruise we are studying many aspects of the Gulf’s ecosystem.  We start by collecting general information about the water chemistry.  To do this we use a piece of equipment called a CTD which stands for Conductivity/temperature/depth.  This piece of equipment collects information on the temperature, salinity, fluorescence and turbidity.

CTD

This is the instrument used to measure salinity, called a CTD.

I am going to briefly explain what each of these readings are and why they are important to the scientific community.  Everyone knows what temperature is but you may not be aware of its importance to the health of our planet.  The phrases global warming and climate change have become very popular in the last few years. By collecting temperature data in the same spot year after year scientists can determine if the oceans really are getting warmer.

sea surface temperature map

Map of the surface temperatures around the world. The highest temperatures are found in the red areas the lowest temperatures are found in the blue areas. (photo courtesy of bprc.osu.edu)

The oceans contain salt water which  is the most important difference between oceans and lakes.  The measurement of the amount of salt in an ocean is called salinity.  And the amount of salt in an ocean can reflect the workings of the water cycle.  If there is an excessive amount of evaporation due to high temperatures, the ocean will become more salty due to the fact that there is more salt in less water.  On the other hand  if there is a lot of rain or melt waters from glaciers and mountains then the water will become less salty because now the same amount of salt is dissolved in more water.

salt

The amount of salt in the water determines the salinity.

Fluorescence is the measurement of light which is connected to the photosynthesis rate of algae.  The health of the algae has a direct connection to the amount of carbon dioxide that can be absorbed by the ocean.  Algae produces its own food just like a tree so if the algae is healthy,  more carbon dioxide will be necessary  to carry out photosynthesis  and then ocean can absorb more natural and man-made carbon dioxide.   These readings can also tell us how well the oceans are responding to climate change.

algae

These algae make their own food through the process of photosynthesis.(photo courtesy of swr.nmfs.noaa.gov

Turbidity is the measure of water clarity.  If the turbidity is high it means that light isn’t getting through to the organisms below which in turn means that the algae and seaweed can’t get the light they need to make their own food.  High turbidity can also cause the water temperature to go up due to the excessive amount of silt and particles floating and absorbing energy from the sun.  High turbidity can also cause small animals on the bottom  of the ocean to be buried alive as the particles settle out the water column.

muddy Mississippi river

This is an example of the silt and particulate matter which is flowing into the ocean everyday.(photo courtesy of http://www.motherjones.com)

Personal log

Greetings from the Gulf of Mexico.  I have now been onboard  the Oregon II for one complete day and am slowly but surely becoming accustomed to the layout of the ship.  It has all the comforts of home even if they have different names and  look different from the parts of your home.  The place I sleep and keep my belongings in  is called a stateroom.  It is a small space but honestly the only thing I use it for is sleeping .  One other difference from your room at home is that the cabinets have latches which keep them closed even when the ship is rolling with the waves.  Given the fact that large waves may come up at any time it is important that all personal belonging are securely stored so that they don’t become flying projectiles which can hurt someone.

stateroom

This is where I am bunking for the voyage.

cabinets

The ship also contains restrooms but they are called the heads.   Fresh water is an important resource on the ship as we only brought so much with us so the toilets are flushed using  seawater which is very easy to come by out here on the gulf.  There are also a couple of showers something which is very important given the fact that our work has the ability to make us very dirty and nobody wants to be stuck on a boat with a bunch of dirty stinky people.

shower

This is where we clean off all the dirt that accumulates during sampling runs.

Safety is very important on ship so we have drills to practice what to do in case of emergency, just like the drills we do at Maple Crest middle school.  Today we had a fire drill during which the scientists were to muster (that means to report) in the lounge and stay out-of-the-way of the crew members who are actually trained to put out a fire if one should occur on the ship.  Following that we had an abandoned ship drill during which we had to put on long pants and shirts and a survival suit.  The purpose of all this clothing is to keep you protected from the elements if you have to float in the water for an extended time while waiting on a rescue ship to come

Survival suit

This is the suit you must wear during abandon ship drills.

Andrea Schmuttermair: Eager Anticipation from Land-locked Colorado, June 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3, 2012

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico (between Galveston TX and Pascagoula, MS)
Date: June 7, 2012

Personal Log (pre-cruise)

What does

      +     +       =   ?

That’s right! Ms. Schmuttermair is heading to sea this summer as a participant in NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program!

Me and my forever hiking pal, Wesson

Hi! My name is Andrea Schmuttermair, and I am a 3-6 grade science teacher at The Academy in Westminster, CO.  I just finished up my first year in this position, and absolutely love engaging my students in important science concepts. Outside of the classroom, I can be found hiking, biking, and exploring the mountains of beautiful Colorado with my dog, Wesson.

Growing up in San Diego, CA, I would definitely consider myself an “ocean lover”. I grew up spending countless hours at the beach, checking out the sea life that washed up in the tide pools and snorkeling in La Jolla Cove. When I heard about the Teacher at Sea program, I knew it was right up my alley. Living in land-locked Colorado, I strive to bring both my love and knowledge of the ocean to my students. One of the most memorable teaching moments for me this year was seeing my 3rd graders have that “Aha!” moment when they realized what we do here in Colorado greatly affects our oceans, even though they are hundreds of miles away.

Now, in just a couple short weeks, I will  don my sea legs, leave dry land behind, and set sail on the Oregon II. The Oregon II, one of NOAA’s 11 fishery vessels, conducts fishery and marine research to help ensure that our fish population in the ocean is sustainable. Fishery vessels work with the National Marine Fisheries Service to provide important information about fish populations and what regulations about fishing practices need to be in place.

This summer, we will be conducting the summer groundfish survey, a survey that has been conducted for the past 30 years. This particular survey is conducted during the summer months between Alabama and Mexico. On this second leg of the survey, we will be sailing from Galveston, TX to the Oregon II’s home port of Pascagoula, MS.


What exactly is a groundfish survey, you ask? When I first received my acceptance letter, they informed me that this was the “critter cruise”, and I, being the critter lover, was thrilled! The main goal of this survey is to determine the abundance and distribution of shrimp by depth. In addition to collecting shrimp samples, we may also collect samples of bottomfish and crustaceans. It will also be important to collect meteorological data while out at sea. I am excited to see what kind of critters we pull up!

Ms. Schmuttermair LOVES critters, as seen here with Rosy the scorpion.

How will we be catching all of these critters and collecting data while out at sea? The Oregon II has a variety of devices to help collect information about the ocean, including bottom trawls and a CTD. The bottom trawl is a large net that is towed to collect shrimp and other bottom dwellers that will be sorted once the catch is brought aboard. A CTD (stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) is an instrument that can collect a wide variety of data, including temperature, salinity and oxygen content. I can’t wait to learn how some of these tools are operated!

What are my goals while out at sea?

  • To learn as much about the environment I am in as possible.
  • To ask the scientists plenty of questions about their research, and why collecting data is so important.
  • To take many pictures to bring back to my students
  • To get to know the crew on board, and how they came to work on the Oregon II
  • Not getting seasick!

Now it’s your turn: What would YOU like to know more about? Is it more about the animals we bring up in our trawls? Maybe it’s to learn more about life on the Oregon II, and specifications about this ship. Perhaps you’d like to know how to become a scientist with NOAA and work on board one of their many ships.  Leave your questions in the “Comments” section below (you are welcome to do this in any of my entries), and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the challenge questions, which from this point forward I will refer to as the “Critter Query”.

Valerie Bogan: Introduction, May 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7- 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday May 20, 2012

My name is Valerie Bogan and I am humbled that I have been chosen to be part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Teacher At Sea program (TAS).  I learned about this program during a field trip when I was a college student at the University of South Carolina (USC) studying marine science. We had the honor of taking a tour of a NOAA vessel and the captain spoke of the programs offered by NOAA including TAS. At the time I did not intend to become a teacher but life sometimes takes unexpected turns, and here I am twelve years later a teacher in the Teacher at Sea program.

I teach 6th and 7th grade science to students at Maple Crest Middle School in Kokomo, Indiana. As you can see from the map, Kokomo is located nowhere near an ocean, but no matter where you live your actions affect the oceans. For example if one of my students releases a balloon, perhaps as a celebration of the end of the school year, that balloon does not magically disintegrate as it floats from view but is instead carried hundreds of miles by the wind. When the wind finally drops the balloon it is just a wad of latex, the air inside is gone, which often falls into a river, which transports the remains of the balloon to the ocean. Once in the ocean, discarded balloons are often eaten by sea turtles because they think it is a jellyfish. Unfortunately, sea turtles can’t digest latex and the mass becomes stuck in their digestive tract causing the animal to slowly starve to death. So you see the simple act of releasing a balloon in Kokomo Indiana, far from the ocean, can cause the death of a majestic animal. During the course of my trip I hope to gain knowledge of other ways Hoosiers are negatively impacting the ocean. Then next fall my students and I will sit down and try to find ways to improve our impact on the environment.

Kokomo Indiana

The location of Kokomo within the state of Indiana (photo courtesy of wikipedia)

I will be participating in the first leg of the SEAMAP summer groundfish survey aboard the NOAA ship Oregon II. I’m going to wait until future posts to get into the details of the research, but as I understand it, we will be collecting bottom dwelling creatures, such as shrimp, and studying them to determine the health of the population. This is important research because just two years ago the Gulf of Mexico experienced a devastating oil spill when the offshore oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, caught fire and starting leaking oil. This research will allow scientists to determine if there are any long lasting impacts of this oil spill.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Well

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig catching on fire led to a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (photo courtesy of The Guardian)

I am very excited about this trip and I look forward to sharing what I am learning with all of you. As you can see from the pictures below I’m not afraid of seeking out adventure and I have high hopes that this trip will be the best adventure so far.  

Rock climbing

Rock climbing, one of the things I do in my free time.

Sky diving

Here I am skydiving.

Stephen Bunker: Sargassum Experiments, 21 October 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: 21 October 2011

Weather Data from the bridge

Time: 11:30 AM
Wind direction: Northeast
Wind velocity: 8 m/s
Air Temperature: 23° C (73° F)
Clouds: cirro cumulus

Science and Technology Log

Net Tow

That's me tending the Neuston net as it's being towed aside the R/V Walton Smith.

One of the many experiments we are doing on board is to learn about a plant that grows in the ocean called Sargassum. This tan plant floats near the surface and along in the current. It grows throughout the world’s topical seas. It can grow into large mats the and can be as large as boats and ships. Sargassum provides an environment for distinctive and plants and animals that are not found other places. These ecosystem rafts harbor many different organisms.

On the third stop of the CTD cycle we drag a Neuston net along side of the boat. For 1/2 hour, night or day, the boat takes a slow turn as we drag the net along the surface as we collect samples.  Almost all of the animals below are what we have found in the Neuston net.

We’ll haul in the net and remove the contents. We’ll first try to get all of the animals out. The animals usually don’t survive but every once in a while we can save them (see below for some of the animals we captured with the net).

We’ll next sort the plant life that we collect in the net. Of course we are looking for Sargassum, so we will separate out all of the sargassum.

So, how do you measure what you get? We measure it by volume much like our mom’s measure shortening for cookies. We will fill up a graduated cylinder part way with water, put the samples from the net into the cylinder and then measure how much water they displace.

For example, if we put 2500 ml of water in the graduated cylinder, then put Sargassum in the cylinder, the water level now measures 5500 ml . We then know that there are 3000 ml  (5500 ml – 2500 ml = 3000 ml) of Sargassum by volume measure.

Everything we collect from the net, we measure and record.

Personal Log — Animals I’ve seen

  • Flying Fish— Yes, believe it or not, there are fish that fly. Last night as were preparing to lower the CTD, I noticed silvery-blue streaks in the water. One of the scientists with me explained that they are Flying Fish (Exocoetidae) and the lights of our vessel attracts them and many other types of fish to the surface at night. As soon as she explained this, one of them shot out of the water and glided about a meter and ducked back into the water. Read more about Flying Fish here.
  • Rock Fish

    This fish was found as we unloaded the Moch net.

    Rock Fish — Each time we drag the Moch Net for the Sargassum survey, we can expect interesting things. Last night we captured a type of Rock Fish.

  • Spotted Eel — We also found an eel that has white spots. I tried my best to see if I could more specifically identify it. We have saved it in an aquarium on board the R/V Walton Smith.
  • Mystery Fish

    Help identify this mystery fish. Make a comment below if you think you know what it is.

    Mystery Fish — This fish has many of us stumped. It has a long nose but when the fish opens its mouth, you can see that the pointy part is connected to its lower jaw. Put your investigative skills to use and help me identify the fish. Post a comment if you think you know what it is. For an enlarged view, click here.

  • Moon Jellies — Many people call them Jelly Fish but actually they don’t belong to the fish family at all. They don’t even have a backbone. When we carefully picked these animals up, with gloves on of course, it feels like picking up Jello with your hands; it just slips through your fingers. You can find more about Moon Jellies, Aurelia aurita, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can also find general information about Jellyfish at National Geographic Kids.
  • Sharptail eel

    This eel was found when we were collecting Sargassum.

    Sharptail eel — It’s about half a meter in length and squirms all over. The scientist studying the Sargassum, has saved it in an aquarium so we can observe it. Its scientific name is Myrichthys breviceps.

  • Honey Bee — Believe it or not a honey bee joined us. There was no land in view and a honey bee landed on me. The wind must have blown the bee to sea and it was probably very happy to find a place to land that was not wet.
  • Porpoise — We also call these dolphins. Sometimes a pod of porpoises will get curious and  investigate our boat. They will circle us, swim along side and even ride our bow wave.

Stephen Bunker: Weather Delay, 17 October 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: 17 October 2011

Weather Data

For this blog entry I’ll give a brief report for weather. I’m still learning my way around the ship and and how to find where weather data is recorded.

It’s overcast with light rain.

Science and Technology Log

When I arrived at the RV Walton Smith I learned that our cruise would be delayed a couple of days because of weather. So I’m not out on the Ocean yet. In the Gulf of Mexico between Florida and the Yucatan Peninsula a combination of cold fronts and moist air are creating rain, rough seas, and wind that would make data gathering dangerous in the Florida Keys. Safety first is the motto.

AOML Photo

NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory (AOML)

Coincidentally, just across the street from where the RV Walton Smith is docked is the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML). At the AOML this day meteorologists, scientists that study how the atmosphere and how it affects the earth and life on the earth, were interested in getting as much information as they can about this storm system. When the rest of us are taking cover from a storm, these scientists are out gathering data so they can better predict when and how storms act.

Both the meteorologists from AOML and our team of scientist were interested in this storm system for different reasons. They wanted to study the storm and we wanted to know if we could safely leave to do our scientific research. Our lead scientist for the cruise, Nelson Melo, invited me to attend a map discussion where the weather conditions were discussed. A map discussion is a meeting where scientists view, discuss, and decide what they can learn from a storm.

Map discussion at AOML

Map discussion at AOML

It was great to see that their satellite images of the storms were on the web were everyone can see them. Here is a sample of what they showed in the meeting.

Storm system over Gulf of Mexico

Animation of storm system over the Gulf of Mexico

NOAA 42

NOAA 42 Aircraft

This storm is headed toward Florida and has the possibility of growing into a tropical storm. In any case, we can plan for more rain, wind, and rough seas until it passes. The AOML scientists decided to request one of NOAA’s aircraft to observe the storm and we are going to stay put until the storm passes.

Personal Log

The soonest we could leave would be Thursday. The crew of the RV Walton keeps busy maintaining and keeping the vessel in top shape for when we do leave. I don’t feel much rocking while the boat is in dock.