Often visual analysis of the plankton samples can give you a quick idea of the variation of zooplankton abundances and types across the stations sampled. Samples from the two regions we’ve collected in so far, Middle Atlantic Bight and southern New England, demonstrate this. The samples from the Middle Atlantic Bight have lower biovolume than those from the southern New England. Biovolume is the amount of plankton collected at a station, and can give a rough measure of production. The southern New England samples have greater biovolume than the Middle Atlantic Bight stations. However, the samples from the Middle Atlantic Bight have more Atlantic menhaden larvae (long skinny white fish floating in the sample on the left from Middle Atlantic Bight). Estimates of menhaden larval abundance will be calculated after the samples are processed later in the lab.
The Gordon Gunter departed from Norfolk, Virginia on Wednesday, November 13, to begin the fall Northeast Integrated Pelagic Survey. The pelagic survey samples stations along the entire northeast US continental shelf from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to Cape Sable, Nova Scotia. We will be sampling several components of the pelagic ecosystem using bongo nets, CTDs, a rosette, acoustics, and visual observations. The variety of gears and techniques allow use to collect data on water chemistry, hydrography, phytoplankton, zooplankton, ichthyoplankton, seabirds, and marine mammals. Our cruise was delayed in starting due to mechanical issues and weather. Unfortunately, the mechanical issues were such that the mid-water trawling portion of our scientific operations has been canceled.
The unplanned delay gave us some time to explore Norfolk, Virginia, over the long Veterans Day weekend, a city with a long nautical and naval history. Walking the streets you see lots of statues of mermaids decorated on various themes. The city apparently commissioned local artists to decorate about 100 statues in 1999 and since, local businesses and homeowners have added to the “mermaids on parade” over the years.
Another striking naval vessel, the Norwegian flagged Statsraad Lemkuhl, was moored in the city over the weekend. The 3-masted steel bark is one of the world’s oldest square rigged sailing ships, and is currently being used as a training vessel for the Norwegian navy. The 98-m vessel has carried up to 200 trainees at one time, and you can see the why when you see all the brass and teak that needs polishing.
As we departed Wednesday, we sailed past the stern of one of NOAAs newest ships, the Reuben Lasker, which should depart for the west coast sometime in the future.
We skirted the coast along the Delmarva Peninsula and across the mouth of the Delaware Bay, working coastal stations, and avoiding the worst of the seas stirred up by the front that brought snow flurries to much of the east coast for the first time this fall. We have been catching Atlantic menhaden larvae in the bongo nets. As of early this morning, Friday 15th, we started our first transect offshore. Hopefully, the seas will have calmed down enough for us to sample off the shelf break.
GU 13-05 Northeast Integrated Pelagic Survey
Today, Wednesday September 4, marks the last full day for our survey. Since our Labor Day update we have just completed sampling in the Gulf of Maine. We are now, as of noon, approaching the Cape Cod Canal for some additional work in southern New England waters. The ship will return to port in Davisville, Rhode Island, at 10 AM Thursday, September 5.
We have been sampling the western part of the Gulf of Maine these last couple of days, conducting more plankton tows and CTD/rosette water sampling casts. The plankton catches are noticeably different in terms of the lack of salps from stations that were on Georges Bank. The water column structure in terms of temperature and salinity is highly stratified, which is not surprising given the very calm conditions we’ve had all week, so there has been very little mixing going on.
We’ve spent some time acoustically mapping the Wilkinson Basin with our multi-beam sonar. It showed a region dramatically different from the Jordan Basin and Schoodic Ridge areas. Instead of numerous sharp rises in the sea floor punctuated by distinct canyons, we found a flat featureless plain covered in some areas by soft sediment, judging from the weak acoustic returns received in certain parts of the basin. The only things appearing to interrupt the landscape were mysterious depressions, ten to twenty meters deep, strewn randomly across the seafloor.
Although this has been a routine ecosystem monitoring survey carried out in our standard manner, following fixed protocols for sampling the environment, it has also been a test platform at several levels. It’s been a test of new technologies used in novel ways, like the Imaging FlowCytoBots for example. Originally designed by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to photograph phytoplankton while submerged at a fixed site, they were plumbed into the flow through seawater system of the Okeanos to obtain images of organisms from all along our cruise track. One of the two units on board underwent final assembly just before sailing, and has been installed with all its inner workings and circuitry clearly visible, without a housing, which hasn’t been made yet!
The vessel itself is being tested in the sense that it is conducting its first survey as a research vessel platform. Modified from its original Navy Stalwart class Auxiliary General Ocean Surveillance (T-AGOS ) design to support NOAA ocean exploration, there was a question as to whether it could also deploy plankton nets, CTD/rosette water samplers and have sufficient lab space to support an ecosystem monitoring survey. Based on what we have seen from this survey the answer is overwhelmingly yes! We have just completed our seventy-eighth station, and have thoroughly sampled the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank and even gotten some coverage in the southern New England area, with a couple more stations still to be completed in the time remaining.
The final test for this cruise was whether two agencies within NOAA, the Office of Ocean Exploration and National Marine Fisheries Service, could collaborate effectively despite having different mission objectives. This was perhaps the biggest challenge of this trip, and it was answered by the command, crew and scientists who came aboard all determined to make a go of it, despite never having worked together before. It was not an easy challenge, as everyone needed time to understand and become familiarized with different ways of doing things, but I was impressed with the unflagging determination that was constantly exhibited by the crew to get unfamiliar and sometimes awkward pieces of gear in and out of the water safely, and the command who were always ready to listen to us and offer better routes to get to our stations permitting us to get as much done as possible within our time constraints. They also had to put up with maneuvering around fixed gear in low or nearly no visibility situations, but they did this time and again, drawing on some endless reservoir of patience, even when these difficult stations came at night, which seemed to happen quite often! Mapping was another unknown for us, but Mashkoor Malik, our OER mapping specialist, helped us to integrate this task into the sampling effort while teaching us about it at the same time.
The good humor of everyone on board made the cruise go by quickly. The Labor Day Weekend cookout made this holiday spent away from home and families much more fun than might be expected from a foggy, fog-horn punctuated day, and the stewards went out of their way to make meals in general, festive as well as delicious. The bottom line on this inter-agency collaboration is that it can work to everyone’s advantage with the right people. I am grateful to have been involved with such a cohesive and cooperative group, and I am hoping we will have the opportunity to do this again. Thank you all very much!
EX 1305 August EcoMon Survey
From the Observers on Okeanos Explorer:
Here’s a little synopsis of some of our data and highlights for 23-31 Aug 2013:
The August EcoMon Survey marks the first time avian observers have been aboard the Okeanos Explorer to collect seabird data. The heavy fog has hampered our efforts recently but we have nonetheless had a fantastic cruise, so far. We’ve seen close to 6000 birds, predominated by Great Shearwaters and storm-petrels. Leach’s Storm-Petrels have been more abundant than Wilson’s Storm-Petrels with 388 and 313, respectively. Other fairly common species being seen most days are Manx and Sooty Shearwaters, Pomarine Jaeger, and both Red-necked and Red Phalaropes.
Our overall species diversity has been fantastic, perhaps not surprising by the diversity of areas we are covering on this cruise. Seeing five Barolo’s Shearwaters has been absolutely thrilling! Three of these were seen plunging at the surface for fish close to the vessel. Five Great Skuas, 16 South Polar Skuas, two unidentified skuas, and five each of Parasitic and Long-tailed Jaegers round out the Stercorariid clan. Good things are seeming to come in fives. Five is also the number of passerine/landbird species we have had aboard: Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Tree Swallow, Cedar Waxwings, Black-and-white Warbler, and Chipping Sparrow. One of the waxwings, a juvenile, showed up early three mornings ago, in a light fog, and looked very exhausted. It immediately gobbled up smashed up berries and grapes from the hand! It continued to munch on these for a few hours and wasn’t seen later in the afternoon. We hope you had a little luck (along with that north-tailwind) on your side, buddy!
Marine Mammal sightings have been great as well. We’ve seen a Sperm whale loafing as the Okeanos Explorer drifted by, Risso’s, Bottlenose, and Common dolphins, Pilot whales, as well as Minke, Fin, and Humpback whales! Maybe someone can ID this individual?
Nicholas Metheny and Glen Davis, EX1305 bird observers
This Labor Day morning finds us 35 nautical miles from the coast of Maine, still surrounded by some fog, but not as thick as it was closer to the coast.
We’ve completed two Isaacs Kidd midwater trawls since the last update. One was in the vicinity of Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy, and the second near Matinicus Rock off the coast of Maine. Both were carried out with extreme difficulty, due to the large amount of fixed gear in these areas and the heavy fog which greatly reduced the visibility during each tow. Nevertheless the command and crew worked with us to get these tows done. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the results we had hoped for, which was to obtain quantities of fish that puffins in the area might be feeding on. In the Grand Manan site we didn’t get any fish at all, despite making a twenty-minute tow. At Matinicus Rock we caught three fish: two myctophids (lantern fish) each forty-seven mm long and one herring or sand lance larva that was twenty-seven mm long. These fish were frozen for analysis ashore.
We fared better in terms of acoustically mapping the Schoodic Ridge area. After several passes back and forth across this region, our mapping specialist, Mashkoor Malik, got the multibeam software to reveal a bottom topography even more complex than the Jordan Basin area, with canyons and large rises on the sea floor.
I have given short shrift to discussions of marine birds and mammals sighted by our observers Nick Metheny and Glen Davis, on this cruise, so I am closing this update with a synopsis they’ve provided of their observations. The next NEFSC Field Science website ( http://nefsc.wordpress.com/ ) update will include one of their photos, plus an image of Schoodic Ridge bottom topography.
EX1305 EcoMon Survey
Saturday night (August 31) finds the Okeanos Explorer in the northeastern Gulf of Maine, heading for the Bay of Fundy and the northernmost part of our cruise track. Some weather on Thursday slowed us down a bit, so we are not as far along as I had hoped to be by this time, but we have been able to continue working steadily, including doing some multi-beam bottom mapping of the Jordan Basin. Mashkoor Malik, our mapping specialist from the Office of Ocean Exploration (OER), laid out some transit lines for us to navigate and used the acoustic systems of this vessel to reveal an interesting and complex bottom topography in the Jordan Basin area, with some features rising twenty to thirty meters above the seafloor.
We completed our plankton tows on the northern part of Georges Bank on Thursday morning. The salps that had so dominated our plankton tows on the southern part of Georges Bank continued to do so on the northern part and even at the proximal Gulf of Maine stations. There was a shift to a more copepod-dominated community as we headed further north however.
We found and photographed an interesting three centimeter squid in our plankton sample from a station 40 nautical miles southeast of Jordan Basin. The flash from the camera revealed an interesting pattern of what appear to be photophores on the squid’s head, and encircling its eyes. I’ll be sure to include this photo in the NEFSC Field Science blog that Shelley Dawicki has been maintaining for this cruise at http://nefsc.wordpress.com/
By Sunday morning we expect to be at our northernmost station for this cruise, at the entrance to the Bay of Fundy. We are planning some Isaacs Kidd midwater trawls there to hopefully capture some specimens of fish that puffins from a nearby breeding colony are feeding on, and feeding to their young. There will also be a second round of bottom mapping along the Schoodic Ridge-line.
We’ve been listening to our fog horn continuously today, but despite the fog the spirit and morale of those on board here have not been dampened. The crew put on a wonderful cookout for us today on the aft deck, and kept alive the American tradition of holiday weekend grilling!
I wish you all a happy and fog-free Labor Day weekend!
EX 1305 August EcoMon Survey
We’ve covered a lot of ground since Monday night, thanks partly to excellent weather and to the crew and command familiarizing themselves with our operations.
We’ve made it to the northeast peak of Georges Bank, and are now, on Wednesday night, looping back onto its shoal area. We should be done with Georges Bank by tomorrow afternoon and be working strictly in the Gulf of Maine for the next few days. That portion of the cruise will involve our mapping initiative on the Schoodic Ridge, and in the Jordan and Wilkinson Basins. We are also planning midwater trawls southeast of Grand Manan Island and off of Matinicus Rock to sample the fish that puffins are feeding on and feeding to their young.
During the past couple of days we’ve been sampling along the southern flank of Georges Bank. Catches here were dominated by masses of salps, making it difficult to see anything else within the samples. The salps dropped off in volume as we approached the northeast peak of Georges and were replaced by Calanus copepods on our last station which was in the Gulf of Maine. Our next stations will be along the northern flank and shoal area of Georges Bank and it will be interesting to see how much, if at all, the species composition changes from the southern portion.
Our student volunteers have been a great help with the sample collection process. Their help is especially appreciated where samples are closely spaced, as sometimes happens with the stratified random sampling design. So far we have sampled at 37 stations, and there are a lot of questions from them on what we’ve been catching! This is an excellent way for students to get some hands-on experience in field work and I’m glad we’ve been able to offer this opportunity to so many of them through the Ecomon cruises.
EX 1305 August EcoMon Survey
The Okeanos Explorer sailed on a sunny Saturday morning, August 24, from Davisville, RI, to start the August Ecosystem Monitoring Cruise. It made its way through the busy waters of Narragansett Bay to an anchorage across from the Newport Naval Station where Mike Jech and his small team calibrated the EK60 acoustic system.
This was completed in just over a couple of hours, after which they were ferried to the Newport Naval Station by small boat.
We then proceeded south of Martha’s Vineyard and past Nantucket Shoals onto Georges Bankwhere we are now, as of Monday evening. We are sampling with a variety of bongo net diameters and mesh sizes to sample plankton, and larval and juvenile fish. A CTD 911 rosette equipped with ten-liter bottles will be used for hydrographic and nutrient sampling. The first plankton samples were dominated by hordes of gammarid amphipods, but those have dropped off and been replaced by salps in our most recent tows south of the shoal area of Georges. Numerous juvenile and larval fish were seen in the samples taken just east of Great South Channel.
This is a first for this vessel, undertaking a fisheries ecosystem monitoring survey such as ours. Normally the Okeanos would be on missions of exploration, using ROV’s and camera sleds to study sea bottom features and shipwrecks. This will be an exploration of a different sort, and although bongo plankton nets may seem pretty low-tech compared to the hardware normally deployed from this vessel, we do have some techier gear on board, in the form of two Imaging Flow Cytobot units from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, that capture images of plankton pumped in from the scientific seawater flow through system.
Our rosette is equipped with a submersible fluorometer that can help us to identify different phytoplanktonic organisms, based on their fluorescence features and a Laser In-Situ Scattering and Transmissometry (LISST) unit to measure the size frequency distribution of particles in the water column. We’ll also be doing a few mid-water trawls near puffin breeding areas to learn what types of fish they may be capturing to feed their young, and we’ll be mapping the sea-floor topography of the Schoodic Ridge and Wilkinson Basin areas. It will be a very busy thirteen days!
EX 13-05 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
We have covered a lot of ground since the last update. After the wind died down we were finally able to leave our Provincetown anchorage and head up into the Gulf of Maine where we sampled a “loop” of stations to cover as much territory as we could before the next predicted storm system forced us to dock in Portland Maine.
While there we hosted tours of our vessel for researchers and staff from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). They in turn invited us to visit their impressive facility which was conveniently located just down the road from the state pier where we were docked. We learned that the GMRI has a multifaceted mission of fostering research, education and sustainable fisheries for the Gulf of Maine.
Their gracious hosting of the ship’s complement helped us pass the time while we waited for the weather to abate, which it did by Friday morning, when we left Portland and returned to work. With cruise time now limited to just a few remaining days we sampled what we could in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank before still another storm system forced us to seek shelter in Narragansett Bay. We stayed there overnight and calibrated our acoustic fish-locating system, which we had been unable to do when we were anchored off of Provincetown.
On Monday morning we left our Rhode Island anchorage and finished the last part of the cruise completing sampling of Southern New England waters. Even though pressed for time sampling as much as they could in the few remaining days, the scientists still managed to squeeze in one more mission; that of education.
They brought out with them fifty-one Styrofoam cups, creatively decorated by second graders from the Fishing Cove Elementary School in North Kingstown, RI. By placing them in a mesh bag attached to the CTD/Niskin bottle water sampling array, and submerging them during deep water casts, the scientists were able to shrink the cups to about one fourth of their original size, dramatically demonstrating how pressure increases with depth in the ocean.
Now in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, we have just completed our last station and are heading back to Narragansett Bay to dock at the Newport Naval Station in Rhode Island. It has been a very difficult cruise in terms of weather, but we are fortunate to have achieved as much survey coverage as we have due to the very hard work of the Pisces command and crew, who did everything they could to assist us with our sampling. Now they will be returning to their home port in Pascagoula, Miss., after they deliver us to Newport. I wish them a safe and speedy return home. We are very grateful to them for their efforts and camaraderie that they shared with us, and hope that we will have an opportunity to sail with them again soon.
PC 13-01 Northeast Pelagic Survey
The forecast for the predicted Sunday storm was right on target, with winds and seas increasing dramatically during the wee hours of Sunday morning. By mid-morning after a hard slog from our last station, the Pisces dropped anchor just outside of Provincetown, tucked in snugly under the very tip of Cape Cod. The winds are still increasing and we are seeing gusts of better than 50 knots with some regularity this Sunday evening. The ship is also enshrouded with snow, although precipitation ended earlier today.
We’ve done very well until this point in time, having completed a total of seventy four stations from North Carolina to Southern New England and even the southwest corner of Georges Bank in just one week. These stations have included four midwater trawls, twenty three rosette casts and forty seven bongo plankton tows. The NASA personnel have also conducted several hand-deployed radiometer casts on days when it was not too rough or raining. Our marine bird and mammal observers have been working steadily in two-hour shifts, to document all sightings along our cruise track. The midwater trawl catches, all very small (less than one bushel basket), have included spiny dogfish, myctophids (lantern fish), pearlsides (another family of bioluminescent fish), small squid, and some butterfish.
Now however, we are pinned down by very strong winds, which are forecast to last well into Monday. Our plan is to assess the situation on Monday afternoon and then determine whether it will be safe to leave before nightfall or on Tuesday morning to head north and inshore into the Gulf of Maine. We have ten days until we return to Newport Rhode Island which is enough time to finish sampling the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, but the long range forecast doesn’t look good for offshore, where most of the remaining stations are located.
In the meantime we are doing what we can while at anchor. Mike Jech, our midwater trawl expert, may conduct a calibration of the acoustic transducers used to “see” fish schools in the water column. He is waiting for there to be less wave agitation and fewer air bubbles in the water column to get a clearer image from targets lowered over the side. This eight-hour process will allow him to check out the performance of four transducers, each tuned to a different sound frequency to give a return from organisms ranging in size from plankton to fish. Patrick Bergin and Reed Maloney, the electronics technician and ship’s engineer, spent some time studying the movement of the huge rack and pinion mechanism that raises and lowers the centerboard where the transducers are located, from an inspection hatch in the floor of the bridge deck.
Although it is frustrating to be stuck at anchor, we have only to hear the sounds of the wind blowing across the hull and feel the ship movement even in this sheltered anchorage, to know this is a far better situation to be in than somewhere offshore!
PC 13-01 Northeast Pelagic Survey