Small Science Staff, Lots to Accomplish

The NOAA vessel Pisces set sail from a busy Davisville, Rhode Island pier on Tuesday (Oct. 18) morning at 1030, flanked by a fleet of imported vehicles newly unloaded from two huge car carrying vessels docked nearby.


Two huge car carriers unload a fleet of imported cars onto the pier they share with the Pisces in Davisville, Rhode Island. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

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NOAA vessel Pisces, docked in Davisville, RI, flanked by freshly unloaded cars. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

Our first task of the day was to undertake a calibration of the EK60 acoustic system on board, which was carried out by Mike Jech and his team while we anchored in the lower part of Narragansett Bay. The process took six hours and involved moving a tungsten carbide sphere under the hull and measuring the acoustic returns from the system.

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Joe Godlewski and Jennifer Johnson monitoring acoustic returns from EK60 calibration aboard the Pisces. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

The sphere got hung up at one point but the team was able to free it and get it back to continue the process, until it was finally completed at 1830 hours. By 1900 the team members, Mike Jech, Joe Godlewski and Jennifer Johnson, and all their gear were ferried ashore in a rigid hull inflatable launch to the Newport Naval Station located across the bay from our anchorage.


Joe Godlewski prepares the calibration team gear to leave the Pisces. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries


Mike Jech and his calibration team departing the Pisces via the ship’s launch. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

After the return of the launch we proceeded out of the bay to start the southern leg of our survey. Our mission is to continue the core monitoring program of gathering data on hydrographic and biological parameters of continental shelf waters, by means of electronic sensors, plankton tows and water casts. Unlike previous missions we have a very small scientific staff on this trip, with just two people on each 12 hour watch, but all our routine sampling will be carried out, including plankton sampling, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) sampling to track ocean acidity, and chlorophyll and nutrient measurements.

We also have an Imaging FlowCytoBot unit from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on board to photograph dinoflagellates, diatoms and marine protozoa that are picked up by the scientific seawater system of the vessel. The only difference from past surveys is that we have no outside researchers joining us. Even the Canadian Wildlife Service, which normally sends an observer to monitor seabirds and marine mammals, was unable to place someone on-board until the northern leg of this survey.

For now we are heading south, and at the moment of this writing, are approaching the outer edge of the continental shelf about 90 miles southeast from the mouth of Narragansett Bay. Weather for the next couple of days is looking good, so we’re expecting to make good progress, having already completed four plankton tow stations, and one water sampling station.

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
PC1609 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Leg 1 Sampling Completed

Good Afternoon Everyone,

This will be the final update from the GU1608 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey.  We have completed sampling at all of our stations in the three areas that were planned for this cruise: the Middle Atlantic Bight, Southern New England and Georges Bank.  In addition to that, we’ve been able to even reach a few stations in the western Gulf of Maine region which are the target for Leg 2 of this survey.  As a result, we have gathered a lot of data, and hundreds of samples which will be used to contribute to our understanding of the complex processes taking place in our marine environment on the east coast of the United States.

This success has been due to a number of factors, one of which has been excellent weather, which always plays a large role in determining the outcome of a survey.  The biggest factor, to my mind however, has been the unrelenting support we, the scientific staff, have been shown by the command and crew of the Gordon Gunter.  They have worked tirelessly to ensure that everything that could be done to provide the best possible outcome for this cruise, was done.  This includes tweaking our cruise track to provide the most efficient route between points, to making sure our gear was deployed and retrieved safely, to keeping the winches and ship running smoothly to feeding us meals that are not just healthy but so appetizing that they were always something to look forward to with great anticipation!

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Scientific staff from Leg 1 of the GU1608 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey:
Back row (left to right): John Loch, Chris Taylor, Tamara Holzwarth-Davis, Jerry Prezioso,  and Jessica Lueders-Dumont. Front Row (left to right): Lauren Kittell-Porter, Zach Topor, and Bonny Clarke

Thank you all so much for having not just welcomed us aboard as staff, but as part of the on-board “family” of this vessel.  We are very grateful and proud to have served alongside all of you on this scientific mission.

Jerry Prezioso and all the scientists from GU1608 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

A memorable day at sea

As I am writing this, the Gordon Gunter is in the final stages of surveying on Georges Bank.  We are in an area marked as Little Georges on the nautical charts, on the western edge of Georges Bank.  We arrived here by rounding Cultivator Shoals to the north this morning.  As we were working our way towards a station up there, a wonderful thing happened.  The heavy fog, which has surrounded us since we first reached Georges on Sunday, lifted, and we could see the sun!

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Tracking our progress with a high-lighter on a chart and a finger puppet on the next position to be visited.  The red dot to the left of the finger puppet marks Cultivator Shoals which we sampled on the morning of June 1. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

At the same time, our marine animal observer on board, John Loch, from the Canadian Wildlife Service, was greeted with a profusion of marine wildlife to record: pilot whales, common dolphins and seabirds: Wilson Storm Petrels by the hundreds, Sooty and Greater Shearwaters, Fulmars, Red Phalaropes, Greater and South Polar Skuas, and Jaegers, to list some of them.  It’s been his busiest day of the cruise!

Meanwhile, our other work on board continues as before, foggy or not.

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John Loch, the Canadian Wildlife Service observer, at his post on the flying bridge of the Gordon Gunter. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

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Common dolphin seen near the Gordon Gunter. Photo by John Loch, Canadian Wildlife Service

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Black-back Gull chasing a Herring Gull.  Photo by John Loch, Canadian Wildlife Service

Our Princeton researcher, Jessica Lueders-Dumont, together with Bonny Clarke from the USGS (United States Geological Survey), continued her sampling of seawater, phytoplankton and zooplankton from the station that we visited in the Cultivator Shoals area this morning.  Her research aims to trace the path that nitrogen takes through the first steps of the marine food chain, by comparing the ratios of nitrogen 14 and 15 stable isotopes of this element in seawater, phytoplankton and zooplankton.

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Bonny Clarke working on the Princeton filtering rack. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

She captures the seawater and phytoplankton from different depths using our Niskin water bottle sampler, and the zooplankton samples she gets from a set of small bongo nets mounted above our larger ones during our plankton tows.  With filtering racks set up in the wet lab of the Gordon Gunter, Jess and Bonny have filtered hundreds of liters of seawater during this cruise to gather the data for this research.

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Bongo net array showing the small bongos used by Jessica Lueders-Dumont for capturing zooplankton to determine their nitrogen stable isotope ratios. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

With only a couple of days left in our cruise, it now looks like our mission of sampling three areas of the continental shelf – the Mid-Atlantic Bight, Southern New England and Georges Bank – will be accomplished.  We have been given a gift of weather here on Georges Bank, a notorious area where there is no lee from wind on any quarter.  I have been glad to live with the constant droning of our foghorn in return for the calm seas that came along with it.  Today of course, we have the best of all worlds; calm seas, no fog and a profusion of marine wildlife surrounding us.  Truly a memorable day at sea!


Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
GU1608 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Tiny “aliens” in the tows

Good evening everyone,

Today at noon the Gordon Gunter reached its first Georges Bank station, tucked away on the southwest corner of this area. Even before reaching it, we were greeted with a typical Georges Bank warm-weather phenomenon, fog. We’ve been surrounded by it most of the day, but along with it the water has been very calm, so it hasn’t hindered our progress at all.

Plankton catches in the eastern part of the Southern New England area have changed from the ones we had further south in the Mid-Atlantic Bight area. For one thing we started seeing considerable amounts of Calanus finmarchicus copepods, easily recognized by the reddish oils they form for food storage and visible in their clear bodies. What is always amazing is the patchiness of these concentrations. One station may have large numbers of these animals, while an adjacent station just a few miles away will have almost nothing in it even after a comparable tow for the same amount of time! Also present in some of the Southern New England plankton tows were Phronima amphipods. This two-centimeter-long crustacean takes up residence inside another planktonic organism, a salp. It devours the salp’s inner tissues then anchors itself  inside the clear outer barrel-shaped salp body which it swims along and uses as a nursery for its young. The distinct profile of this tiny amphipod is said to have been the inspiration for the much larger and more menacing creature in the movie Alien!

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Comparison of catches from plankton tows at two adjacent stations just a few miles apart in Southern New England waters: large  numbers of Calanus finmarchicus copepods in one, and almost nothing in the other! Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

Another change has been visible in the imagery coming from the Imaging FlowCytoBot (IFCB) unit. We are seeing mostly diatoms now as opposed to the dinoflagellates we had earlier in the trip. These microscopic planktonic algae are easily recognized from the distinctive shapes of the clear silica shells they form to encase themselves in, and which have been visible all day today on the computer monitor hooked up to the IFCB.

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A Phronima amphipod removed from its salp dwelling, caught in a recent plankton tow in southern New England waters.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

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Today’s images of diatoms from the monitor of the laptop connected to the Imaging FlowCytoBot unit, which samples the surface water the ship is sailing through. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

Looking ahead to the remaining time we have for this cruise, it is apparent that Georges Bank will be the last area we’ll be able to survey. With a favorable forecast for the next few days I’m optimistic that we’ll get to most of it, and perhaps leave some easily-reached stations on the northern edge for the next leg to sample when they start work in the Gulf of Maine.

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
GU1608 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Good weather, typical catches

Friday, May 27:

By noontime today we completed 61 stations and are now heading towards the eastern portion of the southern New England area, prior to heading onto Georges Bank, weather permitting. With a favorable forecast for the next few days it seems possible that we will be able to survey much of Georges Bank before returning to port in Davisville, Rhode Island, leaving the next leg of the cruise to concentrate mostly on the Gulf of Maine, the largest of the continental shelf areas that we cover.

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GU1608 cruise progress as of Friday, May 27. Image provided by Paula Fratantoni, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

Recent plankton catches have been normal for this location and time of year, consisting of mostly copepods, some chaetognaths (arrow worms), and a fair number of hyperiid amphipods in some of the samples. The hyperiids are very distinctive, with large compound eyes that cover their entire head, and a very tenacious habit of clinging to the plankton net meshes, making them difficult to wash out!

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Hyperiid amphipod from one of our recent plankton tows. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

Our Imaging FlowCytoBot, provided by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and tended by URI student Lauren Kittell-Porter, has been taking photos of the smaller organisms that would slip through the meshes of our plankton nets. She has recorded an extensive number of images of dinoflagellates over the last several days.

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Lauren Kittell-Porter monitoring images coming from the cylindrical Imaging FlowCytoBot unit on her right. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

These tiny organisms, although considered phyto or plant plankton due to their ability to photosynthesize with their onboard chloroplasts, are also motile due to the two flagella they are constantly whipping around, allowing them to move through the water, although still at the mercy of currents. The images captured by the Imaging FlowCytoBot are very clear and detailed, and are taken from water pumped to the instrument from a couple of meters below the surface, at an intake near the bow of the vessel.

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Images of dinoflagellates recorded by the Imaging FlowCytoBot. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

To celebrate the upcoming holiday weekend, we had our second round of safety drills today. Everyone has learned their duty stations for fire, abandon ship and man overboard situations. Now, with drills completed, we can relax and just concentrate on our normal 12-hour days out here!

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The scientists and crew don their flotation gear for Friday’s Memorial Day Weekend safety drill. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

Happy Memorial Day Weekend everyone!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
GU1608 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey


Good weather and interesting catches as we head north

Good Afternoon Everyone,

On Tuesday evening the Gordon Gunter reached the southernmost station of this cruise and turned northward to complete sampling in the Mid-Atlantic Bight.  The weather has improved dramatically from the time we left port, and the vessel is now traveling at 9.8 knots in flat calm seas off the coast of Virginia.  The forecast is good for the next several days and we expect to continue making excellent progress.

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Deploying the large and small bongo nets used to catch our plankton samples from the Gordon Gunter. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

We’ve had a few interesting catches along the way.  Off the northern coast of Virginia on an offshore station at night in deep slope water, a number of myctophids, or lanternfish, were caught in the 61 cm bongo nets.  Outer shelf stations off the coast of Delaware have yielded large numbers of salps and sea butterflies and pteropods, or planktonic snails.  Rosette casts have shown that, in general, inshore stations had well mixed water columns, but as we got offshore there were thermoclines with associated chlorophyll maximums at about 28 to 40 meters depth.

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URI student Lauren Kittell-Porter filtering seawater for nutrient samples. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

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U.Mass graduate Bonny Clarke and U.Maine graduate Zach Topor washing down bongo nets to obtain plankton samples. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

Although we have two recent college grads and one undergraduate student all making their first cruise, all are doing well and fitting into the odd work schedule of noon to midnight or midnight to noon, that is the normal shipboard way of life out here.  We don’t have any teachers with us on this trip, but in a way, we are sharing the experience with 80 third-graders from the Peacedale Elementary School.

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Scientists (left to right) Jerry Prezioso,  David Richardson and Kelsey James speaking to third graders from the Peacedale Elementary School about working at sea.  Photo by Jon Hare, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

Scientists from the NOAA Narragansett Lab had a chance to visit them before we sailed.  After regaling them with stories and photos from work at sea aboard NOAA vessels, we were given 80 Styrofoam cups decorated by each student, for us to bring out and attach to our CTD rosette.  There, confined in a mesh bag, they are subject to water pressure from each hydrocast, causing the cups to become compressed and shrink, as a vivid demonstration of Boyle’s Law of Pressure and Gas Volume, which the students will see when the cups are returned after the cruise.

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Styrofoam cups before immersion, in left photo.  Same cups after 8 immersions in water down to 500 meters deep, on right. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

Who knows? Perhaps this may inspire some of them to look into marine science as a career!

Jerry Prezioso

Chief Scientist
GU1608 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Cruise Underway

Dwarfed by two huge car carrying vessels at the busy port of Davisville, RI, the NOAA FSV Gordon Gunter slipped from her berth on Saturday, 21 May at 1400 hours for the start of the Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey.


Huge car-carrying ships shared the docks with the much smaller Gordon Gunter in Davisville, RI. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

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The Gordon Gunter passes under the Newport Bridge as it leaves Narragansett Bay to start the Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

As is typical for these surveys, the primary mission will be to gather hydrographic and ichthyo- and zooplankton data from the continental shelf from Cape Hatteras to Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, but there are secondary objectives for researchers from U. Maine, Princeton, URI and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).  They are traveling with us to gather information about the path of carbon and nitrogen isotopes from phyto- to zooplankton, nutrient levels at various parts of the continental shelf, and to gather imagery of protozoans and phytoplankton along our entire cruise track, using an Imaging FlowCytoBot which is plumbed into our Scientific Seawater System.

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Lauren Kitell-Porter from URI and Zach Topor from U.Maine repair a hose that will be used to wash plankton samples from the bongo nets.  It is their first time on a research cruise. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

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Researchers Jessica Lueders DuMont from Princeton and Bonnie Clarke from Woods Hole tie down sampling supplies before we put to sea. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

With a coastal storm traveling near the coast, we’ve had to alter our original cruise track to a more inshore route to allow us to keep working as we head south towards Cape Hatteras.  As a result, our first plankton tows have been largely the same, consisting mostly of copepods and chaetognaths (arrow worms), while the water column temperature and salinity profiles have shown well-mixed water columns with very little structure or layering.  This may change, however, with improving conditions as the coastal storm moves away from us to the east.  We are now heading further offshore from the southern coast of New Jersey.

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
GU1608 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey