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

dinoflagellate

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.

cookout

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

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