Thursday, July 15, 2010

A case of the Upy-Downy's

By breakfast on the last day we had already spotted land.
I went up to the flying deck and could not have been more disappointed to see the Mississippi Coast. I couldn't believe how quickly my trip went by. I learned a lot!

The crew of the Pisces and the NOAA scientists were some of the nicest (even with all the teasing) people I have ever met. I'm so grateful that I was able to have this experience. I said goodbye to as many of the crew I could find, many take off as soon as they get into port or go to sleep, and each one told me I should come back again. I would love to! I've already asked and plan on applying again for next year.

Now, I'm home in Seattle, Washington. . As I was flying in,  I was greeted by one of the reasons I live on the West Coast.

As a result of having been aboard a ship,  I have a case of the upy-downy's (getting my land legs back). The world keeps moving like I'm still on board the ship. The upy downy's are also affecting my mood.  I'm happy to be home, sleep in a real bed, see my family and my neph-puppy but I'm also sad that my adventure is over. I can't wait to get back in the classroom and share all that I have learned with my students!

Thank you for reading my blog and again thank you to NOAA and the Pisces!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Winding down

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 11th- Monday July 12th, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Temperature: Water: 30.4 ℃ (which is 86.9℉ ) Air: 30.5 ℃
Wind: 1 knots
Swell: .2 meters
Location: 27. 51° N, 93.04° W
Weather: Sunny, Humidity 67%, 35% cloud cover

Science/Technology Log:
On Sunday, Anne-Marie and I were given a tour of the Engineering spaces. The Pisces has an integrated diesel electric drive system. There are two propulsion motors on the shaft that generate 1,500 horsepower each that are electric. Chief Engineer Garret explained that it is similar to a little remote control toy boat, except of course that the Pisces is much bigger. The Pisces is 208.6 feet long, 50 feet wide (breadth), and the Captain standing in the bridge is 37 feet above the water.
There are 4 generators on board, two 16 cylinder and two 14 cylinder that runs what the Chief Engineer called the “hotel load”, keeping the lights on. Another really cool thing about the Pisces is that it was designed to be a quiet vessel because underwater noise can influence how fish behave and can limit what the scientists are able to on board, not to mention that a noisy ship is harder to sleep on. The International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) established standards to improve the noise onboard research vessels and the Pisces was designed to meet those standards.
Throughout the engineering room there are giant electrical boards that are constantly kept cool by the air conditioning that is constantly running on the ship. The interesting thing about the air conditioning is that the engineering deck and the labs are kept cool using regular air conditioning methods but the staterooms and other decks are kept cool using cold water! This is also the method used to keep the two propulsion motors cool as well!

When we entered into the belly of the ship we were given earplugs because it gets loud and really hot down in the very bottom. Garret showed us that if the bridge ever lost power that there is a secondary way to steer. The crew steers using a hydraulic steering system rather than the electrical one on the bridge. The crew uses a sound powered telephone to communicate with the bridge during any power outages (or drills).
One very important piece of the engineering deck is the Freshwater system. The ship pulls in sea water and uses heat from the engine to make freshwater through distillation. They heat the sea water and catch the evaporation which is fresh water. There are two distillers on board and they can make 1,850 gallons a day.

When we were down there we witnessed Junior Engineer Steve repairing the blown diaphragm that had interfered with the system. When we are in the area that NOAA has labeled as a 95% uncertainty trajectory regarding the presence of oil, we do not take in water as it could be contaminated and damage the system. This is why the first two days and the last two of the cruise we were asked to conserve water.

Personal Log:
The tour was very exciting! We began in the galley where Garret made Anne Marie and I lattes. They were beautiful! When we went into the loud part of the deck we put on ear plugs from the ear plug dispensing unit, which I had to take a picture of. Once again I was impressed with how patient the crew can be with us, although I do think we are a source of amusement for many of them.

When the tour ended Captain Jerry took us to the very bowels of the ship and showed us the transducer well, this is the part of the ship that keeps the water out and keeps us from sinking.

Sunday was the last day of this leg of the survey. I did the banana song today in hopes that we would find something in the fish traps, unfortunately it did not work! As the day went on I was able to help more and more. I helped throw in the chevron fish trap, baited the bandit reel, pulled the rope to let the camera array drop. On the last bandit reel though we finally got some action! We were all pretty excited even Watch-leader Joey!

When the reel came up we discovered that we had caught a barracuda on the line! He was huge! We (okay so it was Joey) rushed through all of the measuring so we could throw him back in quickly! We still had a chance to get some pictures of him though. There is a limited amount of time to get all of the camera arrays into the water during a day and we were getting pretty close to running out of time so Captain Jerry and Kevin decided to do a camera array on the “fly”. We had to be ready! As we approached the site we got the camera over the side and as soon as the signal was given we dropped it.

As I said before we have a lot of down time in between drops. I broke out my I-pod touch and we played a bunch of games. For awhile we played Would you rather? My favorite question was: Would you rather be saved by superman or meet Winnie the Pooh? Can you guess which one I picked? Then I introduced Joey to Madlibs. I couldn’t believe he had never played. Finally, Joey and I started a battle with the Bubble Wrap game. The idea is to pop as many of the bubbles as you can within 45 seconds. It got very heated! Right now the record is 254 and I’m sad to say that Joey is the record holder. I still have some time though… it could happen.
It’s a good thing Anne Marie and I had gotten a tour on Sunday because today, Monday, there was a Steering drill. We knew exactly what was going on. The Captain announced the drill and then at the end said the Teachers At Sea should head down so we could drive. The experience is completely different. You are down in the depths of the ship and there is a crew member using headphones to talk to the bridge. Instead of a steering wheel, there are two things with bubbles at the top that you push down to change the angle of the rudder. Each of the bubbles steers the ship either left or right. I have to say we did a fantastic job, especially with all of the help!
Something to think about: For me this has been an adventure, but a lot of the people that I’ve met do this all year round. They live and work on ships 264 days a year. When they get off of work at the end of the day, they can’t really go anywhere. A lot of the time they share a room for three weeks with someone they’ve never met before. There are movies, satellite tv, internet, places to work out, and time to fish. Imagine being “lovingly incarcerated” as a class, all 32 of us on a ship for weeks on end? That would be an interesting change. What I have noticed is that everyone seems to love what they do and most have traveled all over the world with various nautical employments (Navy, Exxon, NOAA).

As an outsider, on board for a short amount of time I’m still counting my time here as a once in a lifetime, educational adventure! Although, I wouldn’t mind staying.

Yesterday, I left out some rubber ducks for the crew to sign for me! Here they are with Anne Marie's friend Pascy!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Another day.. more and more

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday, July 10th, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Temperature: Water: 30.3 ℃ (which is 86.5℉ ) Air: 29.6 ℃
Wind: 2.55 knots
Swell: .2 meters
Location: 27. 51° N, 93.18° W
Weather: Sunny, Humidity 62%, 25% cloud cover

Science/Technology Log:
Each time we drop the camera array at a site attached to the aluminum case is a little device called a Temperature Depth Recorder or a TDR. It measures exactly that. As the camera array sinks to the bottom it records the temperature and depth. When the camera array is brought back on board the ship one of the scientists unclip it and bring it into the lab. To get the information off you hit it once with a magnet that communicates with the chip inside telling it you want to download the information. Then the scientist places a stylus on the device and it downloads the information to the computer. The data is saved under the name of the site and then the information is entered into a spreadsheet that converts the information to the psi to meters. To clear the TDR you hit it four times with the magnet and when it flashes red it is clear! This is a picture of Kevin explaining to Anne Marie and I how to work the TDR.

At every site a CTD is also dropped into the water. A CTD (Conductivity Temperature Recorder) gives a hydrographic (use your Greek roots) profile of the water column. The CTD is attached to the bottom of a rosette or carousel that also contains water sampling bottles. Attached to the rosette is also a conductive wire that sends information to the lab. Mike, the survey technician, comes into the lab after every camera array is dropped and runs the CTD process. The CTD is placed in the water and allowed to acclimate for 3 minutes before they begin taking readings. The CTD is dropped to the bottom of the seafloor and Mike monitors from the dry lab. Also, once a week Mike also uses the water bottles. To take a sample they use a remote from inside the dry lab to trigger the bottles to close them. The thing that kept sticking in my mind is that at one point all of this was done by hand, someone had to do the math and all of these tests!
In the morning Kevin goes through the video footage from the previous day and for each site he identifies what is on the bottom of the seafloor “sandy flat bottom”, “rock shelf” and then he identifies briefly any fish that he sees. When he is doing this process being in the lab is necessary because he will call us over anytime he sees a neat fish and explain how he can tell what the species is. Today, we dropped the camera array in 8 different sites within Bright Bank sites. The two chevron fish traps brought up a whole lot of nothing. On the bandit reel we caught one fish. It was a sand tile fish (Malacanthus pulmieri). Anne-Marie weighed and measured him and then we threw him back. I was really proud of her because she doesn’t really like fish, but she put gloves on and did everything! Today was a little frustrating it even got Kevin a little down.
Personal Log:
Kevin calls living on board being “lovingly incarcerated” beacuse you are stuck here but you are well taken care of. For instance, Ohhh, the food! The Chief Steward, Jessie Stiggins is keeping us well fed. Every morning the meals are posted in the mess for everyone to see. We learned from Captain Jerry that food on the ship is very important and is actually a part of the contract. In the contract it states that lunch and dinner must include a prepared dessert. “Plain cake shall not constitute a prepared dessert but a cake with icing shall.” We have had dessert with every meal! Some of the desserts are Coconut Crème Pie, French Silk Pie, White cake with fluffy whip-cream frosting and strawberries, cookies, and pecan pie to name a few. Plus there is a freezer full of ice cream which oddly enough I haven’t gotten into yet. Right now, I’m in seafood heaven… we have had halibut, calamari, and catfish. Throughout the trip it has just gotten more impressive! We’ve had stuffed chicken breasts, rack of lamb, filet mignon, lobster, a taco bar, the amberjack that Ryan caught, and pulled pork. Jessie is saving the menu’s for us so we can show them off when we get back.

A few nights ago, Captain Jerry let Anne Marie and I drive the ship. He explained that we were driving a 52 million dollar vessel with 30 lives on board, as if I wasn’t nervous already. We were moving to the next days work area so the bridge would be driving there all night. Anne Marie went first and I listened as Captain Jerry and Ensign Kelly Schill explained how to drive and the proper language. Everywhere you go on the ship there is certain etiquette for the way you talk and the way you dress. (No tank tops in the mess and closed toe shoes everywhere but your stateroom.) When you are steering you are following a set course with a gyroscopic compass as well as a digital heading reading, you are steering the rudder by degrees. You state the heading in single digits so 173 would be one seven three. We were driving in the dark so they had all the lights off and they even had red flashlights so they wouldn’t ruin their night vision. Anne Marie and I both got a chance to turn the ship in circles. Anne Marie even did a Williamson turn, which is done when there is a man overboard. You turn 60° to the left and then an equal amount to the other side so you are back on your course but turned around to pick up the person who is overboard. When she was doing this, the ETA to the next way point changed from 6:10 am to NEVER. We both laughed pretty hard! Dynamic Positioning system that is the automatic pilot is called Betty, she talks to the crew on the bridge and is extremely polite. The Captain promised to show us how to turn the DP on and off. Everything on the bridge is electronic. You can click a button and see how much fresh water is on board, how much fuel, which engines are working and even wake someone up! I’m consistently in awe of how much technology goes into running a ship of this magnitude. Tomorrow Chief Engineer Garett is giving us a tour of the engine room. In fact he told me he is going to make us espresso and then take us down! I’m really, really, having a great time!

The water here is so blue! It’s a different shade of blue than the Pacific or Puget Sound. It’s bluer than green that’s the difference, there is no green. Even the seaweed isn’t green it’s a brownish yellow color, it’s called sargassum. The exchange intern Jose used a line and a hook to catch some so I could bring it back to show off. Looking over the side you often spot giant fish swimming along because the visibility is so high. This made me think of a lot of questions to ask Kevin tomorrow: Are there algae/plankton blooms in the Gulf? If so where do they happen? Does the temperature vary depending on the time of year or is it always warm? What do hurricanes do to the sea creatures? Have you noticed a rise or fall after a hurricane?

Being on board a ship makes me feel like I’m 7 years old again and I don’t want to go to bed because I’m sure my parents are making me miss whatever fun thing they are doing at night. I don’t want to go to my stateroom, I wish I could be everywhere at once, on the bridge talking to the Captain and asking questions, listening to the stories of the crew, watching them fish, talking to the birders up on the flying deck, sitting in the lab and listening to the scientists joke or explain how to identify a fish or a coral or an algae. I wish I were able to be out here longer although, I have to say having a shorter cruise does make me appreciate every minute.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Getting into it!

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, July 9th, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Temperature: Water: 30.5℃ Air: 29.6 ℃
Wind: 2 knots
Swell: .3 meters
Location: 27. 51° N, 91.48° W
Weather: Sunny, Humidity 70%, light clouds

Science/Technology Log
Today we began the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey.
A little background information: The surveying began in 1992 through now with a few years with no data in the middle where there wasn’t enough funding or boat time. The survey is conducted to show what types of species of fish live around the different types of topographical locations on the seafloor, specifically around the continental shelf (think about the sea floor as if it is a continent, there are mountain ranges, plains, banks, ledges, etc). The survey runs from Brownsville, TX to the Dry Tortuga's, FL. Currently, I am on the second leg of the survey. The first leg was two and half weeks.

The areas that are surveyed are called blocks they are 10 by 10 nautical miles, these sites are selected randomly from previous bathymetric data, this is the mapping that we did yesterday. At each site an aluminum four stereo camera array and a Seabird 911 CTD is dropped, more information about this tomorrow. The camera pod, which NOAA actually makes in their lab, is composed of specially designed housing units that include two black and white still cameras that take pictures like you would blink your eyes, as well as a color mpeg camera that runs continuously.

Attached to the aluminum casing is a Temperature Depth Recorder (TDR), more about this later. At each site the pod is dropped over the side of the ship using a hydraulic side A-frame. The camera is left in the water for 45 minutes, once the camera is at the seafloor it begins to record. Throughout the day the cameras save their data to the 180 GB hard drive, all of the day’s drops are then downloaded onto an 2 TB external hard drive and burned to a blue ray disc during the night. This disc is briefly observed by the chief scientist and then later taken back to the onshore lab to identify and count all species of fish.

Also throughout the day, 4 sites are randomly chosen to drop either a bandit reel or a chevron fish trap. This random selection is done very scientifically. One scientist asks another to pull up a randomly created number table on the computer, the person at the computer wiggles the mouse and closes his eyes and then calls out one of the numbers that corresponds with the site numbers. A chevron fish trap which is a large wire cage is baited with squid, (Yes!) then left at the site to soak for an hour.

A bandit reel is a vertical line with ten evenly spaced hooks baited with mackerel. The line is lowered to the sea floor and soaked in for ten minutes. When these fish are brought on board they are weighed, measured, cataloged, and some are frozen to preserve for further research. On this survey groupers, trigger fish, and snapper are frozen and taken back for baseline testing by National Seafood Inspection Laboratory.

Today we were sampling at Sweet Bank. All together we dropped the camera at 7 different sites throughout this block. Science out at sea is 10 minutes of a lot of excitement followed by an hour of waiting. For the first site I observed from inside the lab, watching as they dropped the camera and brought it back up. The first site was early in the day so when they pulled the camera’s up they found that they couldn’t see anything because the light had not yet penetrated to the ocean floor. At the second site I had my first job, I was to go out after they pulled the camera, turn it off, then turn the other knob to configure then turn the camera back on. I was so nervous that I turned the second knob to configure then back to record! Oops!

We also dropped the first chevron trap of the day. While the trap was soaking we moved to the third site and dropped the camera. We went back to the fish trap to pick it up. When you go out and there are hydraulic A-frames working you have to wear a hard hat and a PDF (Personal Floatation Device).

Bob Carter, the electronics technician lent me his helmet. When Captain Jerry was on deck he took issue with the design on the helmet. Anne-Marie and I got all ready and watched as they pulled up an empty fish trap, something had eaten the bait but they escaped capture. We were all dressed up with no fish to go! When we went back in the labs Kevin explained to us that one of the hardest things to learn as a scientist is that zero is a number. Even though it was disappointing that the trap came up empty it did mean something to the data.

We moved on to pick up the camera at the fourth site. At the fourth site we also did a bandit reel. I have no problem getting a little dirty so I helped bait the bandit reel. You have to put the hook through the bait then turn it and pull the hook through again. I got pretty fishy! We waited with baited breath to see if what we could pull up. The crew pulled up the bandit reel and there were two enormous fish caught on the reel. One was red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) and the other was a red porgy (Pagrus pagrus).

We took the fish into the wet lab and measured them. There are three different ways to measure the fish. First you measure the total length which is to the end of the tail. Then you measure the forked length which is to the fork of the tail. Then you measure the standard length which is to the end of the hyplural plate at the end of the vertebrae. Then, the fish is weighed on a scale. All of this is done using the metric system. ( Ahh hah! There is a reason I teach the metric system of measurement! ) Lastly, Joey Salisbury, the watch leader for the scientist crew, checked to see what the sex of the two fish were. With the porgy he could cut him open and check the sex because he wasn’t being kept for Seafood Inspection, another way to tell the sex on some species that are dimorphic or dichromatic, is to look at the color of their lips . For the red snapper, since it had to be kept for inspection we were not able to tell what the sex was.

After some cajoling Joey also agreed to pull the otoliths (ear bones) of the porgy for me so I could bring them back to my class. You can tell the age of the fish from their ear bones, you stain them and count the rings just like you would for a tree.

While all of this was happening on deck, in the lab the bathymetric mapping was noticing an odd mass, that was eating up everything and leaving behind blank space. Kevin decided to run an oil soaking rag down on the bandit reel to test if the mass was oil. Thankfully, when he pulled the rag back up it was oil free! We decided that the mass on the screen must have been a school of fish.

At each site we were able to do a little bit more of the science. I was able to weigh and measure the second set of fish from the last bandit reel. The fish were so heavy, and they move. I did squeal a little but I’m proud to say I did not scream! The spines on the snapper’s dorsal fin could poke holes in you, so I had to be careful when I picked her up. We could tell she was a female because when we pulled her up the change in pressure blew her air bladder and pushed her ovaries came out. (I know , I know, but remember this is in the realm of science so you all should be saying “how interesting” no ewws out there. )

Personal Log:
Where to start! Yesterday really felt like three days in one. All of the science is so interesting. I keep asking a billion questions and everyone is a hundred percent willing to answer every one. Their patience is greatly appreciated since for every answer they give me I come up with 50 more questions  to clarify their answers. They were also extraordinary patient when I made a mistake. I was so embarrassed and worried that I had somehow messed up the video feed! They assured me that I hadn’t messed it up, but for the rest of the day Joey, the watch leader, gave me a hard time about knobs, hatches, and doors. The hatches and doors are incredibly heavy so I have to stop and really pull whenever I go into any hallway, and closing the hatches requires me to have nothing in my hands. At one point during the day I got confused as to which way to turn the hatch, and the crew kept telling me to pull the wrong way.

Everyone jokes constantly and you have to go with the flow and be a quick. Attempting to come up with comebacks is keeping me on my toes. As most of you know I’m willing to get dirty so any job that dealt with touching things I’m all over it. Baiting the bandit reel and the chevron fish trap were gooey and squishy and I was covered in fish guts and squid parts by the end of the day. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to be smelly and gross! It was pretty funny that they put me in the Cowboys helmet, you know cause you know I watch so much football. Captain Jerry threatened to throw it overboard because he is a Saints fan. The first two days we were conserving water while we were in possible oil impacted waters; today we were given the go ahead to take what the captain called “rock star showers”. Boy, was I in need of one today, at the end of the day I even had a streak of grease up my leg!

The crew is hilarious! They are constantly working everywhere you go. I go down one passageway and they are mopping, another they are vacuuming, down the ladder well and I run into someone sweeping. Think about how important it is to keep the ship clean. As we were standing waiting for the bandit reel to come up one of the crew started to fish with a line and a hook right off the side of the boat.
When they threw the fish heads in from the cut up mackerel they caught a bunch of blue runners (Caranx crysos). I even managed to catch one! I was okay trying to kiss the fish..until he tried to kiss back!

At the end of the day, Anne Marie and I went out to the back deck to try and work on our logs but the crew was out their fishing. One of the crew, Ryan, caught a 55 lb greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili) and then turned around and caught another one that was just a little bit smaller! The big one was almost as long as I am tall! The Junior Officer Kurt caught a yellow-edge grouper, which Kevin pulled the otoliths out of for me and Anne-Marie. Every other minute another of the crew would catch another fish. I didn’t get much of my log done I was so distracted by the different fish they kept catching.

I’m leaving so much out, but I’ll include more in my next log.