Kevin Sullivan: Baring the Bering, August 28, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin C. Sullivan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
August 17 — September 2, 2011

Mission: Bering-ALeutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area:  Bering Sea
Date:  August 25-28, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  56.95N
Longitude: 162.93 W
Wind Speed:  10 Knots
Surface Water Temperature: 10.5 C
Air Temperature:  55F
Relative Humidity: 97%

Science and Technology Log

My attempt at play on words for the title: “Baring the Bering”…… somewhat fitting as what we have been doing is literally trying to uncover and expose the hidden truths and secrets that this sea has to offer.  I have become more comfortable with the scientific terminology being used on board and also have gotten into a nice flow with the overall processes going on and with the actual procedures and techniques being utilized to conduct these investigations.  In the last blog entry, I was discussing the work I was doing alongside the oceanographers. I have been continuing this work and adding additional learning outcomes each day as this team throws more and more learning opportunities my way.

For example, yesterday we were dealing with primary productivity. This study is essentially trying to determine the rate at which photosynthesis is occurring.  The amount of Phytoplankton–autotrophs (Self-feeders) obtaining their energy from sunlight–varies in different ecosystems as well as over time.  For example, for the school where I teach, Sandy Hook, NJ is a nearby coastal estuarine system.  Being an estuary and at mid-latitude, we have very high nutrient levels compliments of river runoff (in fact, excess runoff leads to algal blooms…think of it as pouring liquid Miracle-Gro into the waters and the resulting bloom that would occur.  In the end, unfortunately, it leads to eutrophication, decrease in O2 and potentially fish kills) as well as strong sun angle.  Therefore, we have large availability of productivity and biomass.  The Bering Sea also has tremendous productivity and therefore biomass as well.  Here, the relatively shallow seas of the Bering allow the Phytoplankton to transfer solar energy into chemical energy within the photic zone (area in which sun can penetrate). This coupled with the upwelling of nutrients off the shelf-break create the base of the food chain within these valuable, productive fisheries.  There is still a lot of uncertainty as to the transport and fate of this setup but it is clear that we need to learn more and concentrate our efforts into putting these pieces together.

So, the actual procedure is to again take water from the CTD’s (explained in last Blog) Niskin Bottles at various depths and then “feed” these marine plants nutrients and give them there other ingredient to conduct photosynthesis, which is sunlight (they are already in H2o).  We then take these samples and put them into a tank which is on the deck of the boat and has continuously circulating water.  We also put on Mesh Nylon bags to mimic the light concentration from the various depths they were taken from.  So for example, a sample taken at surface or near surface may be left without coverage whereas a sample taken at 50 meters may have two bags over the bottle and scatter the light entering to be representative of the light conditions the sample came from.  In the picture below, you can see this tank, the bottles under experiment (the gray bottle in lower left is one with a mesh bag for light reduction and the dark bottle in the lower right allows no light through and is the control)  and the continuous water circulating output in the lower right hand of the tank.

Primary Productivity Experiment

Primary Productivity Experiment

Now, the cool part of this, is that the nutrients that we introduced to the sample have been “laced” by stable isotopes of Carbon and Nitrogen.  This way, after the sample has been filtered and the chlorophyl analyzed, we can make certain assumptions about how productive these phytoplankton are based on the isotope markers.

I cannot emphasize the importance of these producers enough.  Think of them as being the base of a pyramid (which is often used by ecologists) — if they are removed, all of the other trophic (feeding) levels cannot exist.  It takes a tremendous amount of producers to feed fewer and larger carnivores.  This has to do with a rule in Ecology/Biology refered to as the “10% rule”.  We cover this in class and will review it in more detail.  In the interim, check out this website for pre-reading information on the flow of energy in an ecosystem.

I often cite the following excerpt in class to illustrate this concept:

“Three hundred trout are needed to support one man for a year. The trout, in turn, must consume 90,000 frogs, that must consume 27 million grasshoppers that live off of 1,000 tons of grass.”

G. Tyler Miller, Jr., American Chemist (1971)

Ok, so for the next few blogs, I will start to debrief my followers on my experiences aboard the Oscar Dyson as they relate to the Fisheries end of this cruise and tie it into the Oceanographic studies I have spent the last few entries explaining.  I figured it made most sense to start at the base of the food chain and make my way up to the higher ordered species and then summarize with the interactions of all components for the Bering Sea and in turn, our global sea that represents 97% of all of Earth’s water supply.

In the interim, check out Where I am, almost real-time HERE.  From this site, you can obtain current latitude/longitude, wind speed, water temp etc.

Personal Log

As I noted in the last blog, Hurricane Irene was a real threat to the East Coast and NOAA’s “Hurricane Hunters” (see last blog entry) did an excellent job at keeping the public informed about the status of the storms strength, location, and traveling direction.  I brought it up last entry to illustrate the depth and scope of NOAA as an organization.  Now that she has come and left her mark, lets take it one step further.  Many places in the Mid-Atlantic received over 10″ of rain.  Can you name two major river basins along the East Coast that drain into the Atlantic Ocean?  If this water travels over millions of people’s yards (that have been heavily fertilized), and farming areas with livestock, think of the nutrient input into the Atlantic Basin.  Relate this to the work currently being done on the Oscar Dyson.  Remember, that off our coast of NJ, we often have to worry about an influx of too many nutrients and algal blooms…..If you want to learn more about causes/effects, then read this website about eutrophication.

During our travels yesterday, we were just offshore of very remote Cape Newenham, Alaska.  I took the following picture.  At the top of this mountain you can make out a white structure.  This was part of a system titled “White Alice Communication Systems” which was a “US Air Force telecommunication link system constructed in Alaska during the Cold War.  It also connected remote Air Force sites in Alaska such as Aircraft Control and Warning (AC&W), Distant Early Warning line (DEW Line) and Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS).  The system was advanced for its time, but became obsolete within 20 years following the advent of satellite communications.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Alice_Communications_System)

White Alice 08-27-11

White Alice 08-27-11

Chum Salmon 08/26/11

Chum Salmon 08/26/11

Maggie Prevenas, May 8, 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: May 8, 2007

Science Log

I’ve been feeling a little sad these past few days because the Healy 0701 mission is coming to a close. There’s been so much data taken, so many measurements done, and more than a few hypotheses tested.  So WHAT has been learned?

The CTD was lowered and fired over 200 times in rough water

The CTD was lowered and fired over 200 times in rough water

This research here, this Bering Sea Ecosystem Study, has been some of the first research done with SEASONAL ice during this time of the year. SEASONAL ice is ice that melts and then reforms each year. The algae blooms occur because the seasonal ice melts, creating a stable freshwater layer, a place for the algae to grow.  The algae take up nutrients, which act as a fertilizer, and explode in numbers. The nutrients are quickly used up. The bloom for that year is over.

Rob tested the water for iron, getting baseline data to see if it is a limiting factor in Bering Sea productivity.

Rob tested the water for iron, getting baseline data to see if it is a limiting factor in Bering Sea productivity.

In areas of the Bering Sea that we visited that were really shallow, like around Nunivak Island, the ice has melted and the nutrients have been used. The bloom is over.

Nancy Kachel collected many samples from the CTD during this research mission.

Nancy Kachel collected many samples from the CTD during this research mission.

What has been a surprise to some of the scientists is that the very productive algae blooms occur at the ice edge, not so much under the ice.

When phytoplankton reproduce very quickly they can actually turn the color of the seawater green. Photo from Ray Sambrotto.

When phytoplankton reproduce very quickly they can actually turn the color of the seawater green.

The algae need sunlight, and the sunlight just doesn’t seem to penetrate ice. Algae explode in large numbers when the ice, under which they have been growing, melts away.

Although this seems to be a small observation, it is actually HUGE!  Or at least it was for me. Look at areas of the Arctic that do not have the seasonal ice.  The flow of energy in that ecosystem is different. The energy transfer from sunlight through the high Arctic permanent ice to the algae that populate the Arctic Ocean is different. Same thing with the Antarctic permanent ice.

This is one of the deepest drops that the CTD made. Over 3000 meters!

This is one of the deepest drops that the CTD made. Over 3000 meters!

If the Arctic or Antarctic holds more seasonal ice, i.e. starts melting, the model of how energy is transferred in the polar region will change. Knowing how seasonal ice acts as a medium to facilitate algal blooms will be very important. Right now is a critical time to research this key component.

TAS Maggie observing the sea ice

TAS Maggie observing the sea ice

I learned a huge amount about ice. I made ice observations many, many times. The scientists on this mission to help them interpret their data will use that information.

The science community has named this an International Polar Year (IPY). What I am doing, in trailing along with scientists, is acting to translate and understand the Bering Sea Ecosystem Study, and to act to educate others about cutting edge scientific research of climactic change. I think I can begin to start telling you the story.

Maggie Prevenas, Week 3 in Review, April 28, 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 28, 2007

Week in Review

Monday, April 23: The ice is back so we have resumed our ice observation. Every two hours we haul ourselves up to the Bridge and write down our observations in a form. It averages about 7 times a day, and Robyn and I split up the observations so we have equal numbers. We are contributing ?

Weather was really icky. The morning helicopter observations were canceled because of poor visibility and wind. The wind has calmed down a bit, but the fog is still present. It will make for difficult observations in some areas. The rest of the research team is working steadily in the labs. They are all looking forward to the sampling of the ice algae for tomorrow. Robyn and I are trying to prepare for the webinar for Thursday. The scientists who will be on the show have been super helpful in providing us with materials for the webinar.

Tuesday, April 24: Scientists on ice. We hit very thick ice last night. The scientists are ready to go out for an ice sample. The ship just tucked up, into the ice. It let down a metal ramp, and down we went. All of the scientists were very excited to get off the boat. They have been stuck in a lab since the cruise started.

Most of the scientists are doing experiments associated or needing seawater. The stop on the ice was the first for all of them, to drill ice cores, collect ice and melt it down. When they return to the ship, they test it to see what secrets it may tell. The visit to the ice had almost a party-like atmosphere. Remember the reason they were collecting ice samples, was because of the puzzling results they were getting. I believe every single scientist and assistant were on the ice except the marine mammal and bird folks, who are doing a different kind of sampling. The scientists were on the ice from 8:30 am through 11 am. That is the time when oxygen release and chlorophyll is dramatically observed and measured. They will be returning to the ice in the future to continue to take the ice samples.

Seal Tagging: Oh, but my day was not over yet. I was about to get a hands-on experience in tagging ice seals. Instead of re-explaining it all here, I thought I could ask you to go into my journals and check the entry ‘Seal Tagging Adventure.’ You can get very good details and photos of the event. We got back to the ship around four pm. My tail was dragging from leaping over snow banks and falling over ice chunks. Tagging seals is a very rigorous science occupation.

Wednesday, April 25: Getting ready for the webcast. This was the last full day we had to deal with all the background of materials that needed to come to us for the webinar. Both of the scientists Alex DiRobertis, and Jeff Napp, provided us with a nice powerpoint presentation for our audience to see while we talked.

It was also time for me to start preparing for the classroom visits to St. George and St. Paul Islands. There were activities to write, brochures to track activities, and materials to hunt down. That took a lot of time for me, because I decided to take the students K-8. Robyn took the 4 high schoolers. All of my students would rotate through two different classes. In each class there were three different stations. I wanted to engage the students in some kind of active learning.

It was also time to write and reflect on the seal tagging.

I took almost 150 pictures of the seal tagging adventure. I needed to select the best for the Journal Article on tagging seals. I also needed to write an article and highlight those images in the Journal. I completed it by the end of the day, and turned it back to the Polartrec website along with the 18 pictures I selected to illustrate the activity.

Thursday, April 26 Webcast day. A zillion details to wade through. To make matters a bit more complicated, the place where we normally have our webinar was going to be used by the science team, so we had to seek out an alternative spot to broadcast.

At first we chose the chief scientists room. But the static and noises from the phone made us try yet another room. Down on the third floor to try two other rooms. Time was tight, it was 12:30 time to broadcast! So we decided to start it going in the regular spot and then move out into the hallway as the scientists meeting continued.

However, as soon as we moved, the feedback from the speakers overwhelmed us. For every word we spoke there was an echo. We were just about to hang up early when someone got the bright idea to go into my room and continue the webinar. All 7 of us picked up one piece of the telephone system and moved as one into my small stateroom.

We were good to broadcast for another 10 minutes, before the iridum phone broke connection. We tried and tried to call back. On the last try, Robyn got through. After 60 minutes of technological torture, we were done! Yahoo! And now back to the St. George presentations we were developing for the next day. I stayed up until 1:30 making pollack, krill, and phytoplankton puppets. I also needed to put all my Hawaii products out for the kids to try. Dried pineapple, mango, ginger, candy postcards, and pencils. I hoped the students would enjoy learning about my students on Maui. I checked and double checked my duffle bag to make sure I had all the materials and then some more!

Friday, April 27, 2007: The zodiac to St. George. Right after breakfast, the team of scientists and others (us teacher kine) were directed to the helo area (where the helicopter is stored) to put on our survival suits. The MS 900. Since I was going to have my students try on the suit I was wearing, I was able to keep it on, and change into my street clothes at the school.

The zodiac ride over was so much FUN! Splash, splash, kersplash, the person at the front of the bow got very wet. The rest of us hid behind him and let him take the salty spray. Once on the island, we were transported to the school via a little white bus.

THAT’S when the fun really began!

We did an icebreaking activity (person bingo) that was a real hit! Each person had a piece of paper with 20 questions. Each person had to find someone in the general meeting area who could answer that question right. Then, they put their name on the sheet. The first one with a complete blackout wins.

Then we rolled into our next activity, ‘Which creature do you identify with best?’ There were loads of people who stood by the polar bear, humpback whale, and walrus. The phytoplankton and pollack were ignored by everyone.  Hopefully by the end of the day, they might warm up to this microscopic creature and learn that it controls the entire ecosystem.

The elementary students and middle schools funneled through my stations. Of course their favorite was the station about Hawaii, mostly because of the treats I offered, perhaps? I do believe they have learned a little more about my island home and the students I teach. I hope we can continue or friendship via a blog spot I recently set up. They were incredibly respectful and curious students!

We brought the four high schoolers and some teachers and community members back o the ship with us. They were given a nice tour of the boat and supper. Back to the zodiacs they went. We waved Aloha to our new friends.

Saturday, April 28: St Paul. The other Pribilof Island. Stormy seas were forecasted. To the Coast Guard it was all about safety. To Robyn and me it was all about getting there and back. We had a presentation scheduled for the school from 11-12:30. We wanted to connect with the community.

St. Paul is larger than St. George. The helicopter was an efficient way to transport people off the boat (those who were going home) and pick up people coming to the boat (those scientists who were joining our adventure). Robyn, David Doucet (air safety manager) and I were the first flight out. Robyn and I were very excited and nervous at the same time.

Up and off we flew, 6 miles from the ship to the airport over the freezing cold Bering Sea. One minute on the ship, blink twice, we were landing safely at the airport in St. Paul. Tonia Kushin, teacher from St. Paul and I had been in contact with each other since late March. We wanted to bring her students culture to my students culture and make a meaningful connection. She took us on a tour of St. Paul, and then took us to her school. Both Robyn and I took in her tour like a sponge.

It was a wonderful time! We were set up in the library, a most fantastic place to learn. Surrounded by student made kayaks, a seal skeleton, and many antique photos from the olden time, we began our introductions.

Our education activity stations were a hit. I think the one the students enjoyed most was getting into and out of the MS 900 suit and bunny boots.

We talked to the audience about marine mammals, then broke into activity stations, then were treated to a celebration of dance. Their costumes were gorgeous!

Their dance lively!

Their song rang clear and sweet.

It brought tears to my eyes.

I went back to the Aleut classroom to see their costumes up close and was rewarded with the students coming up to me and answering all my questions. Their wonderful teacher too!

She told me that the dancing group is getting smaller and younger with each passing year. Seems many teenagers are no longer interested in learning the Aleut ways. I understood what she said. It is difficult to compete with videogames and the internet. I see some of my students in Hawaii making those same choices.

Before we knew it, it was time to go. The wind had picked up considerably and we needed to leave the school, WIKI WIKI!

We said a hurried good-bye, and left St. Paul behind. I left the island with a treasure trove of memories, and a stack of Styrofoam cups for the St. Paul students experiment “Down to the Deep.”

That kinda says it all for me.  This experience is all about science and making cultural connections. It is all one ocean, one voice, one earth.

Maggie Prevenas, April 24, 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 24, 2007

Science Log: Science on Ice

We hit very thick ice last night. That is exactly what the scientists were waiting for.  So the ship just tucked up into the ice, let down a metal ramp, and down we went.

The scientists were able to walk off the boat by way of this metal ramp. They had to grasp the handrails and walk backwards down the ramp. It was like climbing down a ladder.

The scientists were able to walk off the boat by way of this metal ramp. They had to grasp the handrails and walk backwards down the ramp. It was like climbing down a ladder.

All of the scientists were very excited to get off the boat. They have been researching in a lab since the cruise started. Most of the scientists are doing experiments associated with or needing seawater.

Most of the scientists are working with sea water. The collection of sea water  directly from these holes was a new protocol.

Most of the scientists are working with sea water. The collection of sea water directly from these holes was a new protocol.

The stop on the ice was the first for all of them, to drill ice cores, to collect ice and water directly from the hole.

Dr. Ned Cokelet drills an ice core using a gas powered engine. It allows the scientists to take samples quickly and efficiently.

Dr. Ned Cokelet drills an ice core using a gas powered engine. It allows the scientists to take samples quickly and efficiently.

When they return to the ship, they test it to see what secrets it may tell. Remember the reason they were collecting ice samples, was because of the puzzling results they were getting.

Ice samples were brought back onboard the Healy by attaching a rope and dragging them up the ramp.

Ice samples were brought back onboard the Healy by attaching a rope and dragging them up the ramp.

I believe every single scientist and assistant were on the ice except the marine mammal and bird folks, who are doing a different kind of sampling. The scientists were on the ice from 8:30 am through 11 am. That is the time when oxygen release and chlorophyll is dramatically observed and measured. They will be returning to the ice three more times to take the ice samples.

Seal Tagging: Oh, but my day was not over yet. I was about to get a hands-on experience in tagging ice seals. Instead of re-explaining it all here, I thought I could ask you to go into my journals and check the entry ‘Seal Tagging Adventure.’ You can get very good details and photos of the event. We got back to the ship around four pm. My tail was dragging from leaping over snow banks and falling over ice chunks. Tagging seals is a very rigorous science occupation.

Maggie Prevenas, April 24, 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 24, 2007

Science Log

Before I started this adventure onboard the Healy, we were told about the opportunity to run a deep-sea pressure experiment with our students. All that was needed was a Styrofoam object decorated with Sharpie pens. I got some Styrofoam balls and bowls, a package of Sharpies and the students went to work decorating the objects.

They were a bit difficult to pack. The goal was to get them here in one piece. The TSA at most airports did all they could to protect my fragile cargo (NOT!) When I got on the ship, I put them on my desk and waited for the opportunity.

This little mesh bag held the Styrofoam balls.

This little mesh bag held the Styrofoam balls.

It just so happened that on Saturday night, April 21, we were going to have a deep, deep, station collection. The CTD (rosette water sampling machinery) was to be dropped down to 2500 METERS. So we gathered our travel mesh bags together, stuck the Styrofoam in the bags, and went in search of the CTD operator, Scott Hiller, from Scripts Oceanography Institute. He said no problemo! He’d make sure the Styrofoam balls, bowls and cups got down there and back.

Scott Hiller from Scripts Oceanography Institute said he would make sure the balls,  bowls and cups would be taken down and up again.

Scott Hiller from Scripps Oceanography Institute said he would make sure the balls, bowls and cups would be taken down and up again.

So in the interest of science, I stayed up late, determined to see the experiment through from start to finish. The hours ticked away. 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock. The rosette sunk deeper and deeper. 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock, 1 o’clock, 1:30 it hit the bottom.

These Styrofoam objects were tucked in a mesh bag and tied to the side of the CTD rosette.

These Styrofoam objects were tucked in a mesh bag and tied to the side of the CTD rosette.

That’s 2500 METERS. So how many feet is that?

That’s 2500 METERS. So how many feet is that?

It had to sit on the bottom for 45 minutes, and then get hauled back up to the surface. 2:00, 3:00. Wow, I was up, witnessing a science experiment at 6 hours past my regular bedtime. Now this is science!

Scientists regularly stay up to do their research at all hours of the night.

Scientists regularly stay up to do their research at all hours of the night. I never expected to be up this late.

When the rosette hit the surface, attached were the Styrofoam forms, but what did they look like? Your assignment is to write a hypothesis as to what you think happened to the balls and bowls that were lowered into the deep deep Bering Sea.

Stay tuned!

Maggie Prevenas, April 23, 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 23, 2007

Science Log

I am sure that you know that there are many different scientists on board, all researching pieces of the Bering Sea ecosystem puzzle. Recently, some of the scientists started talking with each other because some of the results have not been what they expected. They asked, why is this happening and what is causing this to happen?

There were some puzzling results that couldn’t be explained from the data samples.

There were some puzzling results that couldn’t be explained from the samples.

Their conclusion?

No dirty snow here. This ice is covered with ice algae. Ice algae is the producer of the Bering Sea.

No dirty snow here. This ice is covered with ice algae. Ice algae is the producer of the Bering Sea.

What the heck, you might say. How come this piece of the puzzle has gone unchecked? Might I remind you that many of these scientists are doing baseline studies? They are collecting data from one or more of the factors in the ecosystem. Never been done, at this time, in this place before.

The information that is being collected is fed into a computer and displayed as a graph.

The information that is being collected is fed into a computer and displayed as a graph.

So a meeting was called. At that meeting were the researchers who were discovering that there was something missing. These researchers told the group of scientists that they believed their missing data had to do with the ice algae. That they needed access to algae samples that were not sent into shock from the collision of the icebreaker and the ice.

Scientists often have to make their own data sampling equipment. It is a mixture of science, engineering, and creativity.

Scientists often have to make their own data sampling equipment. It is a mixture of science, engineering, and creativity.

Now here is the interesting part. Everyone agreed. EVERYONE agreed. This aspect of the BEST (Bering Sea Ecosystem Study) cruise had not been included in the research plans. Time to develop another protocol and possibly another piece of equipment that would permit the researchers to gather untouched pieces of the algae.

Researchers need to get samples of the water and sea algae. In order to get it, they need to pump the stuff up out of a teeny tiny hole they will punch through the ice.

Researchers need to get samples of the water and sea algae. In order to get it, they need to pump the stuff up out of a teeny tiny hole they will punch through the ice.

So it became a true collaboration. Everyone worked together to create the protocol, make the sampler, to decide time of day to collect and for how long and for how many. The nutrient scientists worked with the zooplankton folks worked with the mud researchers worked with fish acoustics. Now there is a plan, and a protocol, and scientists who will be sampling ice algae from undisturbed areas in the ice. The plan was created in just two short days, in addition to their crazy research schedule. This group of scientists is pumped to find out the role of ice algae in the ecosystem of the Bering Sea.

This is a new ice filter that was created especially for this machine.

This is a new ice filter that was created especially for this machine.

Stay tuned to this website as I am sure there will be more interesting data that will come out of all this.

And me?

I’ll be there ;)

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.