Better Weather Offshore than On

Valentine’s Day Update:  Thursday 14 February 2013

The NOAA vessel Pisces has made a great deal of progress since our last update.  The weather has been remarkably cooperative for February, and although we’ve had some winds and seas, plus rain and snow, we’ve been able to keep working at a rapid clip, and now find ourselves approximately 40 miles south-southwest of Montauk Point, Long Island, conducting our second midwater trawl.  Our first midwater trawl was done 50 miles off the coast of New Jersey, and yielded 14-15 spiny dogfish, many small squid and 1 butterfish.  The total volume did not exceed a one bushel basket.

Despite the large size of this net, our first midwater tow yieldedonly a 1 bushel basket sized tow of spiny dogfish and squid, plus a single butterfish.  Photo by Chris Melrose, NEFSC / NOAA

Despite the large size of this net, our first midwater tow yielded only a one bushel basket-sized tow of spiny dogfish and squid, plus a single butterfish. Photo by Chris Melrose, NEFSC/NOAA

Plankton catches have been light, and very typical for this area and time of year.  Water column temperature and salinity has also been fairly typical for this season, being well mixed and showing little evidence of any thermo- or haloclines in most of our casts.  We had been plagued by intermittent but persistent problems with our water sampler on the Niskin bottle rosette, but today the equally persistent scientists and electronics technician on board have tracked down and corrected several problems, involving both hardware and software and the most recent casts conducted just prior to my writing this went very smoothly.

CTD with rosette

The Niskin bottle rosette sampler is now functioning smoothly, thanks to patient troubleshooting by NOAA scientists Tamara Holwarth-Davis, Chris Melrose and Jon Hare, and by Patrick Bergin, the Pisces electronics technician. The calm seas evident in this photograph have been the norm for much of this cruise, quite unlike that experienced ashore along much of the east coast. Photo by Chris
Melrose, NEFSC/NOAA

The midwater trawl being deployed from the stern gantry of thePisces.  The net is nearly one hundred meters long!  Photo by Chris Melrose, NEFSC / NOAA

The midwater trawl being deployed from the stern gantry of the Pisces. The net is nearly one hundred meters (roughly 300 feet) long! Photo by Chris Melrose, NEFSC/NOAA

I fear that our streak of excellent weather will end this Sunday, as a front with strong winds is forecast to come through the Southern New England area.  The captain has proposed targeting as many offshore stations as possible prior to that event, a strategy which has already worked very well for us farther south.  We’ll be on our way inshore to calmer waters near Cape Cod when the worst of the storm hits.  The art to this is all in the timing.  If we stay offshore too long, we’ll get caught in the winds and seas and have to stop working.  If we come inshore too soon we could end up finishing work on all the nearby inshore stations and have to stop working until we can get back offshore.  The command aboard the Pisces is quite adept at this game.  Our November ecosystem monitoring cruise last year on this vessel was during Hurricane Sandy and the huge un-named nor’easter that followed it.  They had us out sampling prior to the storms, in for shelter for the worst weather, and quickly back out as the seas subsided, using the superior speed of these newer vessels to best accomplish this.

A screen image captured from the NOAA Shiptracker page shows the progress being made by the Pisces as the ship works its way northward along the continental shelf.   Screen capture by Jerry Prezioso, NEC / NOAA.

A screen image captured from the NOAA Ship Tracker page shows the progress being made by the Pisces as the ship works its way northward along the continental shelf. Screen capture by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA.

One fact that has been a cause for concern is that, ironically, we have had better weather at sea than many of our families have had ashore.  While many ashore have had to endure blizzards and power outages, we have continued in relative comfort, by comparison.  I admire the spirit with which everyone aboard has carried on while saddled with concerns about how their families were faring during the worst of the storms that hit much of the east coast.  Of course in our modern age we are able to communicate with much more regularity than we could on past cruises, but it is still not the same as being there with your family when life becomes difficult at home.    I’d like to say thank you, on this Valentine’s Day, to everyone on board who is continuing to make this cruise possible while so far from their loved ones.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
PC 13-01 Northeast Pelagic Survey

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