Final days of sampling

Friday Night, March 7, 2014

Good Evening All,

Today was a bright and sunny day in the western Gulf of Maine, with us sampling at our final stations before the Gordon Gunter is scheduled to dock in Newport on Sunday morning.  We have just reached a sampling station at an offshore liquefied natural gas terminal outside of Boston Harbor, and from here we’ll be working our way east to a last set of stations, and from there to the Cape Cod Canal entrance.  We had some windy and very cold conditions between Wednesday night and Thursday night, but then the wind backed off and temperatures began climbing, so by comparison it feels positively balmy now that it is above freezing!


During our transit into the northern Gulf of Maine, splashing seawater formed icicles on parts of the ship. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

Zooplankton catches in the Gulf of Maine have been very low in biomass.  Most stations across this area were characterized by calanoid copepods, and euphausiids (krill),  although some stations, like Georges Basin, had a few shrimp, while another, just northeast of the Sewell Ridge, had a large number of euphausiids and a fair number of pteropods, (small planktonic snails).   We did also see some fish eggs at a station in the Northeast Channel, although far fewer than were found at a station on the northeastern flank of Georges Bank.

Since we are docking on Sunday, this will be my last update for this trip. Given that we had only ten days for covering a lot of territory between Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, I think we did surprisingly well, especially for this time of year.  Georges Bank was thoroughly sampled, but the Gulf of Maine much less so, although we did cover the area from north to south, and west to east, so it is a more representative survey than if sampling had been limited to only a portion of it.

cruise track

Our cruise track as seen on the NOAA Ship Tracker website

As is always the case, it is a combination of factors that contributes to a successful survey.  Weather certainly played a large role; we had been expecting worse than we received this trip.  High winds and seas, and low temperatures only happened during part of the cruise, not all of it!  However the personnel on board played the biggest role in having everything come together.  When the marine mammal observers we usually have from the City University of New York were unable to come, a Canadian observer, Guillaume Cote, from the Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Stewardship Branch, joined us, filling in for that role.

marine mammal observer

Our Canadian marine bird and mammal observer, Guillaume Cote, at his post on the flying bridge of the Gordon Gunter. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

We had a volunteer graduate student, Cara Simpson from the University of Maryland, who donated her time to assist with the sample collecting.  This was a first cruise for Dan Vendettuoli, a new hire in our group, yet he pitched in and helped with all aspects of our Ecosystem Monitoring fieldwork.  Our veteran seagoing scientists Chris Melrose, Chris Taylor and Cristina Bascunan each contributed their unique talents to keeping things moving and operational when challenged by low temperatures and equipment problems.

CTD work

Cristina Bascunan installing a new CTD unit loaned to us by Stephen Allen, the ship’s Electronics Technician, onto the water sampling rosette. Our own unit failed during the coldest part of the cruise. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

In addition to doing their assigned tasks they found time to shrink some decorated styrofoam cups from pre-school students at the St Joseph School in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, by submerging them with our sampling gear to demonstrate the effects of water pressure.


Styrofoam cups decorated by pre-school students at St. Joseph School in Fairhaven, Mass.,  are nestled among the instruments on the rosette sampling array for a demonstration on the effects of water pressure. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

And despite making an abrupt transition from balmy Pascagoula, Mississippi, to what must seem like part of the arctic circle here in the northeast, the ship’s command and crew were always patiently and cheerfully helping us along with our mission.  Their support came in many forms, be it excellent meals, technical expertise, equipment loans, and gear handling in very difficult conditions, to ideas and advice for streamlining the cruise track and making the best use of our available time.

To all of you, I say thank you!  I hope I have the privilege of sailing with you again.

Jerry Prezioso
Chief scientist
GU 1401 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Gulf of Maine Here We Come!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Good Evening Everyone,

Tonight we are now approaching our last station on Georges Bank after which we’ll be working exclusively in the Gulf of Maine area of this survey.

The weather, as predicted, did turn windy yesterday (Monday) morning and caused some problems with sampling in the shoal areas of Georges Bank.  However we were able to keep working at a slower pace and have now completed thirty four stations for the cruise so far.  The wind and seas have come down today, and we’ve been able to resume full speed between stations, which will come in handy for the longer transits we are facing in the Gulf of Maine.  We did have to forgo further testing of the Dave Richardson modified sand lance rake; its spiky collecting tines were too dangerous for deployment under rough sea conditions.


Squid (21 mm long) captured on northern edge of Georges Bank in a bongo net. Photo by Dan Vendettuoli, NEFSC/NOAA

Plankton catches continue to be light, but we have spotted some fish larvae that could be either sand lance or herring in some of our tows from the shoals of the northwest corner of Georges Bank, and our last tow on the northern flank of Georges Bank yielded some fish eggs.  We also caught a 21 mm cephalopod or squid which Dan Vendettuoli photographed.

deck grating

Deck grating on the working deck of Gordon Gunter makes it easier to work in icy conditions. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

deck work

High railing on the Gordon Gunter work area keeps us safely onboard even in rough weather. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

Life aboard the Gordon Gunter has been surprisingly comfortable despite the cold weather.  The working deck is covered by a grating that water flows through rather than pooling on so it is much safer to work on under icy conditions.  The ship rides the seas well, and the working deck has a very high railing, which makes us feel more secure as we are deploying gear in rough weather.  Paul Acob and Chief Steward Margaret Coyle have been keeping us well fed.

baking pie

Chief Steward Margaret Coyle working on a pie crust for our evening meal. No one is going hungry on this cruise! Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

The command and crew have been working closely with us to help maximize our coverage during the limited days that we have out here.  The weather has even been helping: our latest forecast indicates a high pressure cell will be sitting over this area for a couple of days, allowing us to have a good start to sampling in the eastern Gulf of Maine near Nova Scotia.  We should be as far east as the Northeast Channel by early Wednesday morning.  From there we’ll head north and then start working back towards home for our Sunday return to Rhode Island.

Jerry Prezioso
Chief scientist
GU1401 Winter EcoMon Survey

Its all about adapting in winter…

Good afternoon Everyone,

On a frigid Friday afternoon on February 28 at 1 pm the NOAA vessel Gordon Gunter left its berth on Pier Two of the Naval Station Newport, RI, to start the Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Survey.  Following the remnants of a gale out to Georges Bank, the first station on the Great South Channel was reached by late morning the next day.  Steadily diminishing winds and seas have permitted us to make excellent progress along the southern flank of Georges, heading steadily eastward toward the Northeast Peak, which we are still nearly one hundred nautical miles away from as I am writing this on Sunday afternoon.  An earlier forecast had predicted unworkable conditions on Monday, but that has been changing, and we may not have to veer off towards a more sheltered location to be able to keep working.

Gordon Gunter

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter prior to departure. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

We have completed 14 stations since leaving the dock, deploying a bongo net array to collect zoo- and ichthyoplankton, a rosette water bottle sampler and CTD system equipped with a LISST and fluoroprobe to measure particles in the water column and detect various types of phytoplankton, as well as the usual temperature and salinity profiles.  We are also testing out a Karatsuri Sand Lance Rake, modified by David Richardson to collect sand lance, (genus Ammodytes) or sand eels, as they are sometimes called.

sand lance rake

Sand lance rake being retrieved after is first tow. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

These small fish spend much of the winter in the sands of shallow areas near shore and on Georges Bank, and the rake is one collecting tool that can penetrate the sand and capture them if they are present, unlike a bottom net that would just go right over them.  We have deployed the rake in two sandy areas on Georges Bank,  and although we caught a variety of benthic invertebrates during our five minute tows, no sand lance were present.  Plankton catches have been very light, as would be expected for this time of year, and the temperature and salinity profiles have revealed most stations on Georges Bank to have well mixed water columns, which again was expected given the rough sea conditions of the past weeks out here.

fixing sampling bottles

Oceanographer Chris Melrose helps revamp sampling bottles so they will work in cold weather. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

Tonight we’ll get our next forecast which will determine our cruise track for the coming week.  So far it has been a gift to have received the weather we’ve had so far.  Even the sub-freezing temperatures, which have raised problems like weakening the rubber bands on the Niskin water sampling bottles so they weren’t sealing well (we had to shorten all of them), or freezing our salt-water wash down hoses for the plankton nets (we now leave them running continuously over the side) hasn’t caused the biggest problem of all – freezing spray, since the seas have been relatively calm.

scientific party

The 7 scientists from the Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Survey assembled in the Gordon Gunter Dry Lab for their vessel introduction lecture. Photo by NOAA Corps Lt. Marc Weekley.

Since we are already into the second day of our ten day mission, it is possible we may get through what has been a particularly difficult season and reach all of our planned Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine stations!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief scientist
GU 1401 Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Bongo Bonanza

17 November 2013
Sunday evening finds us steaming southeast of Nantucket Shoals towards Georges Bank.  We spent most of the weekend working the shelf of southern New England.  This morning we had a nice sunrise over Great South Channel.  We sampled a lot of stations with our main gear, the 60-cm and 20-cm bongo nets.  The 60-cm bongo nets are used to collect quantitative samples.  The nets have flow-meters in the mouth that allow us to calculate the volume of water sampled during a tow.  This allows use to standardize the number of zooplankton or ichthyoplankton (fish eggs and larvae) in each net, then we can estimate the abundance of different species and compare all the stations we sample on the cruise.  We are also collecting samples on this cruise that will be used to genetically identify the fish eggs and some of the different zooplankton species.  These samples need to be preserved differently than the samples used to estimate abundances.  The 20-cm bongos, or “baby bongos”, can fish at the same time as the 60-cm net, allowing us to collect more samples without spending extra time on more tows.  The nets are washed down and preserved for later analysis.
bong net laumch

Bongo net launch. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

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.

Everyone on the ship has been enjoying the clam sunny weather of the past weekend, especially in light of the storms forecast for the beginning of the week.  We hope to be able to stay out in the Georges Bank region and ride out the worst of the winds and waves.
Harvey Walsh, Chief Scientist
GU-13-05 Northeast Integrated Pelagic Survey

Mermaids, Barks and Battleships, and Science off the Shelf Break

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.



mermaid arthword

Three of the “Mermaids on Parade” in Norfolk. Photos by Harvey Walsh, NEFSC/NOAA

The Nauticus Museum is the home of the USS Wisconsin battleship, one of the largest battleships every built for the US Navy, and an impressive site moored along the waterfront.

The 887-foot battleship Wisconsin is on exhibit at the Nauticus Museum  in Norfolk.

The 887-foot battleship Wisconsin is on exhibit at the Nauticus Museum in Norfolk. Photo by Harvey Walsh, NEFSC/NOAA

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.

three-masted bark

The three-masted steel bark Statsraad Lemkuhl, one of the world’s oldest square-rigged sailing ships, now a training vessel for the Royal Norwegian Navy. Photo by Harvey Walsh, NEFSC/NOAA

aft cabin

Aft cabin on the Stattsraad Lemkuhl. Photo by Harvey Walsh, NEFSC/NOAA

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.

Reuben Lasker

NOAA’s newest fisheries survey vessel, the 208-foot Reuben Lasker, was recently delivered to NOAA in Norfolk. Photo by Harvey Walsh, NEFSC/NOAA

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.

Harvey Walsh

Chief Scientist

GU 13-05 Northeast Integrated Pelagic Survey

A test of new technologies

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.

CTD rosette retrieval

CTD /rosette being retrieved by Chief Boatswain Tyler Sheff and Abraham McDowell. Note dive weights strapped to the sides of the rosette. Strong currents in the Gulf of Maine required more weight than we had originally put on so the boatswain and his team improvised by “borrowing” some diver’s lead weights! Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

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.

acpoustic baap mof Jordan Basin

Video image of the Jordan Basin as seen by the multi-beam acoustic sensors aboard the Okeanos Explorer. Note the small dark blue depressions in the otherwise featureless seafloor. Image provided by Mashkoor Malik, OER/NOAA

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!

flowCytoBot unit

Graduate student Emily Brownlee working on the second Imaging FlowCytoBot unit. Despite having its inner workings and circuitry exposed it functioned well throughout the cruise. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA


A dinoflagellate photographed by the Imaging FlowCytoBot. Image provided Emily Brownlee, WHOI

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.


Left to right: Jerry Prezioso, Mashkoor Malik, our mapping specialist, and Ed Gahr, one of the stewards, enjoy the foggy but festive cookout with a giant ROV (remotely operated vehicle) crane in the background. Photo by Liwei Zhu, URI/GSO

food art

A palm tree and other vegetation fashioned from vegetables by the stewards lent a festive touch to our meals aboard the Okeanos Explorer. Photo by Liwei Zhu, URI/GSO

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!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
EX 1305 August EcoMon Survey

A Fantastic First for Avian Observers

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.

two bird observers on bridge

Our two marine bird and mammal observers, Glen Davis (standing) and Nicholas Metheny (seated), at their observation post on the bridge wing of the Okeanos Explorer. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA

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!

The adventurous migrations over the North-western Atlantic was also in evidence by sightings of Lesser Black-backed Gull, Ruddy Turnstone, and a flock of 53 American Golden-Plovers.

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?

humpbaclk whale flukes

Humpback whale tail flukes with distinctive and unique black and white pattern visible. Photo by Glen Davis, CUNY

Nicholas Metheny and Glen Davis, EX1305 bird observers