Chris Harvey, June 6, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Harvey
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 5 – July 4, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 6, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

I survived the night with ease! The only problem I had was after I woke up the first time (around 1:30 AM) and could not fully get back to sleep.  I am still struggling with this jetlag thing, although my “sea legs” are coming along well.  Knock on wood; I am already well adjusted in the inner ear, though I still get tossed around a bit when I try to walk. I can handle that though. It is the seasickness that I feared.

I ate breakfast with Amee and John, the Electronics Technician guy.  He handles all of the communications and electronics stuff on the ship.  We all traded past war stories and somehow ended up in a pseudo-philosophical discussion about science and technology and the future of our world. (I say “pseudo-philosophical” because none of us is trained in any way in philosophy!) Yeah, we are all science geeks!  But it was fun. I am learning that everyone on the ship is very kindhearted and friendly.  I guess you have to be if you are going to live in such close quarters together for so long.  I’ve begun to think of this ship in terms of reality shows (Not that I am a fan of them, but we are under a lot of the same conditions: many strangers with unique backgrounds put together in a strange situation, forced to share resources in close conditions, while attempting to complete a task or mission in a given amount of time.).  I will attempt to document the human element of this trip as much as the scientific.  After all, is observation not a key element to the scientific method?  So far we are drama-free, aside from losing Tonatiuh.  But there are still 30 days left.

On a more concrete note, we are headed towards Necker Island, to the northwest of Oahu.  Unofficial word is that we will be there by mid-afternoon.  Although I have also heard that we have another full day of transit.  When we arrive there, we will begin baiting and setting lobster traps. Our mission on the OSCAR ELTON SETTE is to trap lobster in the Hawaiian waters, take measurements of tagged lobsters, and keep track of the overall population density of lobsters in the given areas.  My colleagues are concerned that the number of lobsters in the area is remaining low despite the fact that the waters have been off limits to commercial fishermen since 1990.  They are hoping that, each time they come out here, there will be a sudden increase in the number of lobsters in the area.  Something must be keeping the population down, and through the data we collect, we will be able to contribute to determining the cause, and therefore be able to help scientists devise solutions to stabilizing the lobster population.

Until we reach Necker Island, it is smooth sailing across a gently rolling Pacific, upon my perch on the Marine Mammal Observation Deck, the highest deck set directly above the bridge and which is intended for use for scientists to search for whales, dolphins, and other such life. It is covered, with a nice breeze, and Garret, a fellow researcher, is playing his harmonica.  Life couldn’t get much better.

On that note: Bob, the Chief Scientist onboard the ship (my “boss” so to speak) has made it rather clear to me that when the time to work comes, I will be working hard alongside everyone else. “I don’t know what they told you about the Teacher at Sea program,” he told me over the phone when I first arrived in Honolulu.  “But you are not going to be just observing. You will be getting hands on and dirty.”  “Good,” I told him with a smile on my face.  “That’s why I am here.”  I imagine that when we arrive at Necker Island the pace of life will pick up rather dramatically.  Until then, I am going to work on learning the ropes and enjoy my time with good company.

We have stopped the ship so that we can take a CTD reading.  The CTD reading is a measure of Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth of a water sample between the surface and 500 meters below the surface.  I was very interested in this because 1) it is the first time we have stopped the ship since we made our run out of Honolulu and a change of scenery is great when you are on a ship; and 2) the information that comes back from a CTD is very relevant to the information that I cover in my Earth/Space Science class (Mother, you will have to find some answers to questions I will pose, since some of the data contradicted my thoughts of what it should be.)

The data we are collecting is part of a time series, meaning that we are taking the sample at a specific point that has been sampled in the past and will be sampled in the future.  Scientists can then use the data over time to make inferences about such things as an approaching El Nino or La Nina, suitable regions for supporting animal populations, and other such conclusions based on our basic oceanographic data.  In addition to temperature and depth, the CTD measures the amount of oxygen and chlorophyll in the water, as well as the ocean’s salinity. Why is this data important?  We’ll get to that in a minute.

The CTD is nothing more than a weighted contraption with sensors built into it.  It is picked up by a winch and then released at a rate of 60 meters per minute to a maximum depth of 500 meters.  For this trip, we are going to take four CTD readings.  It is a secondary mission for us, meaning the only reason we are doing it is because we happen to be in the area. As the CTD increases in depth, these are some things I would have expected to see:

1) Temperature should decrease (the deeper it goes, the further it is from sunlight)

2) Chlorophyll count should decrease (Chlorophyll is dependent upon sunlight as well. This is the same chlorophyll that is found in green plants on the solid earth, and is important because it is the most basic form of life for the aquatic food chain. Thus, the more chlorophyll, the greater the chance that an aquatic food chain could be established and supported in a given region of water.  No chlorophyll would indicate a region of water that would most likely not be able to sustain life- i.e.- without chlorophyll there would be no plankton.)

3) Salinity should increase (Saline water is more dense than fresh water, so more saline water should be found at greater depths than less saline water)

4) Oxygen should be found in greatest abundance wherever chlorophyll is in greatest abundance. (Remember from Biology 101, chlorophyll takes carbon dioxide and sunlight and converts it to oxygen)

What actually happened was this:

1) Temperature did in fact decrease with depth, though only slightly.  We were at a depth of over 4,000 meters and we only sent the CTD down 500 meters.  Imagine what would have happened if we sent it down further!

2) The chlorophyll count went from about zero to its maximum at 100 meters, and then returned back to zero by 200 meters depth. This makes sense since most of the sunlight is absorbed by 200 meters.

3) The salinity of the seawater increased at first, then decreased, and ultimately ended up about the same as at the surface.  This is the question I pose for you Terry (ask Marge for some assistance!): Why?  One of my colleagues, smartalec Amee, told me that it was because the Coriolis effect was stirring the ocean between depths of 0-500 meters.  Is this true?  (Remember, Amee is British so I must second-guess ANYTHING and EVERYTHING she says!)

4) Oxygen followed the same suit as I suspected and was at greatest concentration where the chlorophyll was at greatest concentration.

It was very interesting to conduct this investigation because the data that I use in class comes from surveys such as ours.  This was another exciting science-geek moment for me because I seem to forget quite often that I am on a NOAA research vessel conducting the research and acquiring the data that many science resources across the world become dependent upon!

On the sociology side of things, our reality show would never cut it back in the States.  It seems that we all just get along too darn well!  No matter what we seem to say or do to each other, everything seems to come out positive.  Imagine having classrooms with environments like this!  Imagine communities cooperating like we do!  Imagine entire cities or states or countries, or God-forbid, the entire world!  The words of John Lennon come to mind: “…Imagine all the people…”  I guess I am in a utopia of sorts, where life is different only for the time being.  But just imagine!

…you may say that I’m a Dreamer, but I’m not the only one…