Maggie Prevenas, Week 2 in Review, April 22, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 22, 2007

Week in Review

It’s hard to believe another week has passed. There have been so many exciting projects, and unexpected problems. I am in awe of the creativity and the toughness of the scientists on board!

Monday April 16: We started the rotation last week Thursday. It’s time to rotate into our next scientist group. For me that is the ‘mud guys.’ David Schull and Al Devol. These scientists get samples of the bottom sediment (mud) and are able to figure out what’s going on by measuring the amount and type of gas produced. There is a lot happening in terms of Nitrogen fixing and natural radon gas presence. These are serious scientists that like to play in the mud. Robyn and my ice observations continue to take place every two hours. That’s about 7 or more a day.

Tuesday April 17: Our first live event from somewhere in the Bering Sea. The topic of the event was ‘Scientific Research -Life Onboard Ship” We invited Dr. David Hyrenbach and Mr. Steven Elliot to field questions from the virtual audience. Considering we ARE in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by ice, we thought the connection and the whole project went very well! Robyn and my ice observations continue to take place every two hours. That’s about 7 or more a day. Our next Live Event will be THURSDAY April 26. We hope to hear you there ?

Wednesday April 18: We are trying to keep up with the research schedule. It’s time for the next rotation into the fishes. Dr. Alex De Roberis does some amazing things using acoustics to measure the population and tracking of fishes. Fishing is one of the most important industries in the Bering Sea. Understanding how fish populations might be influenced by climate change is a timely issue. I learned about Euphausids (krill) and other teeny tiny copepods. I also learned about fishes like Pollack; fishing Pollack is a major, MAJOR industry in the Bering Sea. Robyn and my ice observations continue to take place every two hours. That’s about 7 or more a day.

Thursday April 19: Onto Rotation 3 and the Marine Mammal group. This group, headed by Dr. Michael Cameron from the National Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle, WA is doing baseline studies with ice seals to document their population and distribution. About twice a day, two or three of the ice seal team wiggle into survivor suits and bunny boots. They follow a transect in the helicopter and count the animals.

They see much more than ice seals. They have seen belugas, polar bears, walrus, and orcas from their 400-foot observatory in the sky. Other members of the team include Dr. Josh London, Gavin Brady, Dave Withrow, Shawn Dahle and Lee Harris. This stuff is very cool. Robyn and my ice observations continue to take place every two hours. That’s about 7 or more a day.

Friday April 20: Flight in a helicopter! So I was working with David Hyrenbach and Robyn Staup to coordinate our outreach program on the Pribilof Islands next week when Dr. Mike gave me the signal that it was my turn to fly.

Me Fly?!

So I jumped into a survivor suit MS 900, got fitted with a flight helmet, slipped on my bunny boots and there I was ready to go. The scariest part of all this was giving the helicopter facilitator my true weight. Women out there can easily identify with this. Giving out your age and weight to a male not related to you, is something that you don’t do until you are married. I mumbled the tonnage and closed my eyes, expecting it to go on the Coast Guard ‘pipes’ (in ship speaker announcement system.) I lucked out.

The flight was just totally amazing. Sitting in the front seat of the helo and watching the boat slide away from underneath your big white feet is a bit un-nerving But soon you adjust to the fact that you are at 400 feet altitude, zipping along at 80-90 miles per hour. Suddenly, little dark shapes turn into seals but they are not. And other dark colored seal bodies, turn into ice, which they are. It takes someone with way more experience than me to count seals.

This I learned many times as we flew over the solid white sea. At this point in the cruise we were very close to Russia. I saw a few seals and some walrus. Trying to spot the ice seals was as tough as trying to see those white-tailed deer that my Dad pointed out to us during trips up to Gramma’s house as a child. ‘Look a deer!’ And six children’s’ heads swiveled and eyes strained to see that beast. I never could see that deer, and I never did see too many ice seals.

Saturday April 21: Out of the ice and into open water. Tons of wildlife including a huge pod (20+) of Beluga whales as viewed from the helicopter.  With the help of the evening science team, I stayed up way late, running the Styrofoam experiment. We attached the Styrofoam cups, bowls and balls to the rosette, CTD sampler as it descended to 2700 meters. It was time I modeled scientists round the clock behavior. I never expected the CTD sampling to run past midnight. But 3 o’clock in the morning? I hope my students realize that science is not for sissies. Because we left the ice behind us, our ice observations were cancelled until we return to the ice sometime tomorrow. It was a banner day for animals and we discovered that birds, ribbon seals, spotted seals, and orcas all enjoy life in the loose pack as it cycles into the southern Bering Sea.