After over two weeks at sea, the Delaware II is covering the final stations in its survey area for this Winter Ecosystem Monitoring cruise. We are now steaming to our last two stations located 30 and 60 miles respectively southeast of Cape Cod. This last series of stations located in the western Gulf of Maine has been dedicated primarily to looking for fish larvae, and although we have come across some sand lance and herring, no fish have appeared in very large numbers.
It’s ironic that we are now facing the warmest temperatures of the trip as we near the end of it. When we sailed on February one it was snowing. Just yesterday the crew was breaking ice off the outside decks to prevent the ship from becoming top heavy. This came as a result of our cruise track this past weekend, when we reached the northernmost part of the survey. As the Delaware II crossed the Bay of Fundy in the wee hours of Sunday morning, a large storm system brought cold northwest winds with it leading to large seas and some spectacular looking bow waves as the ship crashed through them. As temperatures plummeted, sea spray caused ice formation on the vessel for the first time on this cruise. Fortunately, we were able to get inshore to more sheltered waters, which enabled us to keep working despite the cold temperatures. As winter cruises go, we have been lucky this year. Being offshore for much of the trip has spared us from the worst weather that has been afflicting the shore.
The scientists and crew have come prepared for the conditions that we’ve been faced with. Our bird and marine mammal observers, Marie Martin and Megan Oberg, who spend much of their observation time outside on the flying bridge, are so bundled up that very little of their skin is exposed, reducing the risks of frostbite from cold winds. From their high vantage point they’ve observed large numbers of dovekies, fulmars and Atlantic puffins on this cruise, as well as many sightings of dolphins and pilot whales. The crew is wearing clothing that is both insulating and provides flotation, for putting gear over the side safely in wet, frigid conditions, as well as working outside on deck. The remaining scientists have been fortunate to be able to work in the covered work area of the Delaware II for washing plankton samples from the nets. This is a vast improvement over working out on an open deck as we’ve had to do on some vessels!
Our student, Rahat Sharif, has assisted us in the processing of samples and logging of data. She has washed samples from plankton nets, run the software that collects the water column temperature and salinity data, and used the ship’s flow-through seawater system to gather samples used for a study of nitrogen isotope ratios from inshore and offshore waters of the northeast continental shelf. Hopefully she has gained some unique experiences that will help guide her choice of graduate schools and career. Over the years the Ecosystem Monitoring Program has hosted a number of students and teachers, who have volunteered their time to assist in the collection of our plankton samples and data.
The completion of this cruise will mark another addition to our long-term oceanographic monitoring database. Even as the samples are sent off for processing, and the data are being analyzed, preparations will be made for the next cruise to continue monitoring this dynamic environment.
Chief Scientist for DE 11-02 Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Cruise