Science in Stormy Weather

NOAA Fisheries Pisces docked

NOAA Vessel PISCES at the Portland State Pier, waiting for a large nor’easter to pass. (Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA)

The NOAA research vessel Pisces tied to the State Pier in Portland Maine after running in for shelter from a fierce nor’easter that had been moving up the east coast of the United States for several days. We have finished our plankton sampling and hydrography sample and data collections from Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, and will be heading south next to work in the Southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic Bight areas. The weather has not been kind to us on this trip! We have been interrupted by Hurricane Sandy and the Nor’easter of November 2012, each of which has forced us back to port for several days. However we still have enough time remaining in our cruise schedule to sample the southern half of our survey area, and the weather, although challenging, has presented us with an opportunity to sample off the coast of the hard-hit New York Bight and compare this year’s data with our time-series to see if it has changed any of the hydrography or plankton from that area.

acoustical bat dectector on board the Pisces

Researcher Steven Pelletier checking the acoustical bat detector he installed on the flying bridge of the Pisces. (Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA)

We have been conducting a typical late fall ecosystem monitoring survey as we collect plankton and water samples between storm interruptions. Two bird and marine mammal observers on board have been seabirds and whales seen along our cruise track from their observation post on the flying bridge. In addition, for the first time on one of these surveys, we have along a bat-detector which is a device that records bat sounds encountered during the cruise to determine the presence of any of these flying mammals that may be crossing our cruise track.

bongo nets at sunset

Crewmen Todd Wilson and James Walker retrieving bongo nets at sunset. (Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA)

The weather has been surprisingly good during much of this cruise, considering that we have been working between major storm events. During our plankton sampling we have observed a fair number of fish larvae in our plankton samples, some of them recognizable as cod or cod-like, some flatfish, and a couple of larval or glass eels, so named for their transparency. We’ve caught large numbers of krill during many of our night tows in the Gulf of Maine, and we have also had the surprise of one of our bongo nets scooping up an adult saury or half-beak that had been attracted to the pool of light surrounding the vessel during one of our night stations.

BEAR wreck site

Wreck site of the USCG steamer-schooner BEAR near the Northeast Channel as seen on the navigation monitor. (Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA)

We’ve even had the opportunity to look for an historic sunken ship, the US Coast Guard Cutter Bear. This wooden steamer-schooner was commissioned in 1885 and sank in 1963, near the Northeast Channel at the edge of Georges Bank. The Coast Guard requested that we try to pinpoint its location with our sonar as we passed over it while transiting between sampling stations. Unfortunately, we could not locate it at the position given to us, even after several passes over that site, so its exact location will continue to remain a mystery for the time being.

BEAR wreck sonar

The captain (in foreground) and survey technician Mike Allen watch the acoustic data for signs of the BEAR wreck on our sonar, but couldn’t find it. (Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA)

We are currently scheduled to depart at 2 PM today, as the storm moves away from this area. Hopefully we’ll be blessed with more benign weather for the remainder of this trip!

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