From fish to plankton, hydrography and water chemistry

On a sunny afternoon on May 22 at 1400 hours, the FSV Henry Bigelow set sail from Naval Station Newport to embark on the 2019 Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey, conducted by the Oceans and Climate Branch of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC).  As is typical for these surveys, there are a number of objectives. Eight scientists are aboard from several different disciplines, conducting a variety of missions to collect data and samples from the shelf waters off the northeast U.S. coast.

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FSV Henry B. Bigelow at Pier 2 of Naval Station Newport, just prior to sailing. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

Unlike the bottom trawl surveys, where the focus is on processing fish from the trawl catches, here we are concentrating on plankton sampling, hydrography and water chemistry, so the fish lab has become our storage area, while the CTD and chemistry labs are packed with a variety of analytical equipment and computers.  Quite a change for the vessel!

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The Bigelow Fish Processing Lab has become the storage area for sampling gear and supplies. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

Now, on our third day of the voyage, we have completed fifteen stations, collecting plankton samples south of Narragansett Bay and west and south towards the coast of New Jersey with our bongo nets.  All along the cruise track water is being continuously pumped into the CTD lab and sampled and analyzed for CO2 levels, total alkalinity and optical properties, while video images of phytoplankton in the water are being recorded.

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The CTD Lab on the Bigelow is now also filled with a variety of analytical equipment to monitor CO2, total alkalinity, optical properties and record images of phytoplankton from the seawater that is pumped in by the Scientific Seawater System while the ship is underway. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso


Deck hands Lindsey Houska (right) and Aaron Walton retrieving the plankton bongo nets after a sampling tow. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

The trip was punctuated with a previously scheduled calibration of the vessel’s computer-controlled Dynamic Positioning System, which automatically maintains a vessel’s position and heading by using its own propellers and thrusters, in Narragansett Bay. It took up a large part of our second day, but the command and crew are working hard to make up for that time.  We are now running smoothly on a course which should take us just beyond Delaware Bay for the southern portion of this trip. Good weather is helping too!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
HB 1902 Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey