Joan Raybourn, August 14, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 14, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40° 01’ N
Longitude: 71° 37’ W
Wind direction: SSW (207)
Wind speed: 14 knots
Air temperature: 24° C
Sea water temperature: 24.8° C
Sea level pressure: 1015 millibars
Cloud cover: Hazy

Question of the Day: Phytoplankton are plants and use photosynthesis to make their own food. Where in the ocean would you expect to see phytoplankton living?


Science and Technology Log

The main function of this cruise is to collect plankton samples, which will be analyzed to determine the health of the ecosystem. The word plankton comes from the Greek “planktos”, meaning to drift. These tiny creatures of the sea have very little swimming ability of their own, but drift with the currents of the ocean. Plankton fall into two groups: phytoplankton, which are plants and require sunlight for photosynthesis; and zooplankton, which are animals. Phytoplankton are the base of the ocean food web and are the food source for zooplankton. Some kinds of zooplankton are plankton for their entire lives, drifting at the mercy of ocean currents. Other kinds of zooplankton are in the larval stage of their life cycles and will grow and change into free swimmers or bottom dwellers. Most plankton are microscopic, but some are much larger, such as jellyfish. I will expand on these topics in the days to come.

In addition to the plankton research, we have two scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with us. They are collecting samples from the bottom of the ocean, as well as water samples at each of their sampling locations. The first sample collected this morning was mostly sand, and it will be analyzed for both chemical and biological properties. The chemical analysis will show what kind and how much of any pollutants are present. The biological analysis will show how many and what kind of organisms are living on the ocean floor. Both sets of information give important clues to the health of the ocean ecosystem, and about human impact on it.

These two sets of data, from the plankton collection and the ocean floor collection, will give scientists a good picture of how healthy this part of the ocean ecosystem is. Healthy plankton is critical to the health of all other ocean species, since it is the base of the food web. Humans can have an impact on that through pollution of the water, whether intentional or not. This research will help us understand how we can keep our oceans healthy.

Personal Log

I arrived in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on Friday evening and spent the night in town. At the motel, I met the other teacher, Julie, who will be sailing on this cruise. She teaches eighth grade science in Albany, New York. On Saturday morning we made our way to the dock and boarded our home for the next two weeks, the NOAA ship Albatross IV. Jerry, our chief scientist, showed us around the boat and introduced us to the crew and other scientists. We moved into our room, retrieved linens from a closet and made up our bunks. At 2:00 p.m., we set sail for the southern portion of our cruise. It was foggy as we left the harbor so visibility was poor. We participated in an abandon ship drill, struggling into our “Gumby” suits and learning how to work all the parts that will keep us safe if we have to abandon the ship. In a real emergency, I will have to be much faster! The weather, while humid, is much cooler than back home in Virginia Beach. Julie and I are on opposite watch schedules, so we will see each other only briefly during the cruise. The crew and scientists are all very friendly and helpful, which is good because I have so much to learn!