Let the Ecosystem Monitoring Begin

The NOAA Ship Delaware II left Woods Hole, MA, this morning for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) cruise.  The EcoMon cruises sample ichthyoplankton and zooplankton from four geographic regions from Cape Hatteras, NC, to Nova Scotia.

Map of planned cruise track: Mid-Atlantic Bight (cyan), Southern New England (green), Georges Bank (magenta), and the Gulf of Maine (red).

The information we gather from this cruise helps us analyze and keep track of seasonal and inter-annual patterns of the ichthyoplankton and zooplankton in the northeast continental shelf Large Marine Ecosystem. We look at the amount of plankton, where it’s located, and what different types are generally found. Researchers from NASA and Old Dominion University are also on board collecting data for the Climate Variability on the East Coast (CLiVEC) program. Plus, there are two observers here to survey birds and marine mammals, as well as scientists collecting zooplankton samples for the Census of Marine Zooplankton project.

NOAA ship Delaware II out at sea

The first day of the cruise is usually the most hectic, especially when you have 12 scientists coming from around the country.  Thankfully, everyone made it to the dock for our 9-am sailing.  The next step was the first station, which is about 3 hours out of port, off the coast Massachusetts.

A bongo net, used to capture plankton, is recovered aboard the Delaware II. (Photo by Jerry Prezioso/NOAA)

We’ll sample at 125 stations, and our methods for collecting data are mostly the same at each place.  The scientists and the crew are just starting to get into the rhythm of the routine.  We are putting our gear overboard for the first time, and nowadays much of that gear has some electronic component.  Our bongo nets have a real-time Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) probe mounted above them.  This allows us to collect environmental data from the water column while sampling, and it keeps our nets off the bottom of the oceanfloor.  Still, you have to expect the unexpected because sometimes electronics and seawater don’t mix. The CTD stopped sending data back to our computer screen about half way through the first tow.  Fortunately we have a spare, and only lost a little time to swap out the malfunctioning instrument.  We haven’t had time to diagnose the problem yet.  In the meantime, we’ve got 124 more stations to sample.

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