“The Little Ship That Could”

Nov. 12, 2018,

The Hugh R. Sharp left a sheltered anchorage behind Sandy Hook, New Jersey on Saturday night to continue sampling on the Fall Ecosystem Monitoring Survey for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. We were forced in there on Friday by increasing winds and seas coming from the south, offering no lee for working along the southern shore of Long Island where we had hoped to conduct sampling for the Southern New England area of this trip. When a window of good weather window opened on Sunday and Monday, we grabbed that opportunity to conduct as much sampling as possible before returning to Woods Hole.

The weather has been our biggest challenge. Earlier on, it forced us to duck into Norfolk, VA to shelter from unworkable weather. While there we obtained a part for our winch which arrived after we had left port to return to work.

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Tim North using the Sharp‘s launch to pick up the winch part in Norfolk harbor. Photo by NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

By launching a small boat the captain enabled us to retrieve the part, which was literally handed off to us at the dock, saving us a great deal of time. Moderating weather allowed us to work our way northward towards Southern New England waters until we were once again forced to heave to, this time in the Sandy Hook anchorage. Now on Monday, we find ourselves making excellent progress as we move further east around Nantucket Shoals where we will complete our survey before coming in to Woods Hole early on Tuesday morning, November 13, ahead of the next big storm system.

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Maura Thomas and Chris Taylor deploying the bongo plankton net array from the stern of the R/V Sharp. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/ Jerry Prezioso

As is typical for Ecosystem Monitoring Surveys, there are many lines of research being pursued while we are underway. Plankton tows and hydrographic-CTD water casts provide information on physical and biological aspects of the waters we are sailing through. The water column has been pretty well mixed in terms of temperatures and salinities, which is not surprising given the time of year and the numerous storms which have been roiling the waters almost incessantly.

We’ve seen flatfish larvae in many of the plankton samples taken in the Mid-Atlantic Bight area, despite often being buried in large numbers of salps. There have also been juvenile fish, possibly hake, in some of these samples, and in the Southern New England area we are seeing herring larvae at some stations.

More recently, a bloom of a reddish brown phytoplankton has been overwhelming everything else in our plankton samples.  It first appeared in the northern Mid-Atlantic Bight area and has persisted through most of our Southern New England stations,

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Our plankton nets were covered with this slimy phytoplankton coating on many tows in the Mid-Atlantic Bight and Southern New England. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/ Jerry Prezioso

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The phytoplankton formed clumps when washed into our collecting sieves.   Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

(although not south of Nantucket Shoals) coating the plankton nets with a slimy brown coating, and congealing into a dark brown, almost black mass in our plankton sampling jars.Scientists at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography have expressed an interest in looking at this organism when we return and hopefully they may provide identification for us.

At the other end of the biological spectrum we have two observers who take turns on the flying bridge of the vessel, documenting and photographing birds, marine mammals and turtles they observe as we are sailing along between stations. They have amassed an awesome collection of photographs and observations on this trip.

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One of our two seabird observers, Nick Metheny, bundled up for observing from the flying bridge of the R/V Sharp.   Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

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A northern gannet taking off as photographed by one of our seabird observers, John Loch. Photo by John Loch, Integrated Statistics

A researcher from the University of Maine is freezing seawater samples from different depths collected by our rosette water sampler for nutrient analysis when she gets to shore. We also have a graduate student researcher from URI who is filtering seawater and collecting data on how the optical properties of seawater are affected by the phytoplankton within it. His work dovetails with that of a satellite oceanographer from NESDIS who has been taking subsurface radiometer measurements during satellite overpass times on clear days. His data, together with the URI data, will help to ground-truth and better interpret what the satellites are recording from the sea surface.

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Charles Kovach deploying his submersible radiometer from the stern of the R/V Sharp.  Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

This being our last day of sampling, for all the scientists on board I would like to extend a thank you to the tiny crew (there are only six of them!) of the R/V Sharp for the work they have done to enable us to sample at sixty stations despite all the awful weather we’ve had. Working aboard the Sharp has presented challenges for us, such as working off the stern, and transiting at only eight knots, but the crew has made every effort to have the Sharp be “the little engine that could” in terms of being able to accomplish as much as possible despite weather and some vessel limitations. They have worked with us on every aspect of this trip, planning the best routes, keeping the ship working, going ashore to pick up winch parts, deploying our sampling gear, and certainly keeping us well fed and comfortable!

Likewise, my scientific colleagues have demonstrated an amazing amount of patience and diligence on this voyage. They drove for ten hours to Delaware to board the Sharp, loaded and set it up without the benefit of any prior experience on it and did this as quickly as possible to maximize the time we’d have for sampling at sea. After all that, they still remain cheerful and good-natured while working twelve-hour and sometimes longer watches.

Thank you all very much!  It has been my pleasure to sail with all of you.

Happy Veterans Day everyone!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
Hugh R. Sharp 1802 Fall Ecosystem

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