A break in the weather, and success

It is Tuesday night (Feb. 21) and the NOAA vessel Henry Bigelow is leaving Georges Bank and working into the western Gulf of Maine area for the last part of the Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Survey (EcoMon).


Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) cruise track in blue, with black line showing remaining course to be covered.  Image provided by Stefanie Stabile, OMAO/NOAA.

Although dogged by rugged weather from the day before sailing, the ship has managed to complete over a hundred stations so far, from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Maine, and will have a grand total of about 114 stations prior to the time we dock in Newport, RI on Thursday morning (Feb 23).

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Todd Wilson and Frank Forbell deploy the rosette water sampler from the Henry Bigelow on a windy day.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA.

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Sometimes something unexpected is caught by the water sampler: a 15 cm sea lamprey attached itself to the CTD unit on the array!  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA.


Emily Peacock in the instrument-packed dry lab of the Henry Bigelow explains operation of the cylindrical ImagingFlowCytoBot unit, seen in the middle of the photo, to EPA volunteer Joe Bishop.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA.

The weather has given us a break at a key juncture in the cruise, as we were heading out to Georges Bank, which is a notoriously unforgiving area during this time of the year.  That break in the weather, combined with an exceptional effort on the part of the crew and command of this vessel, has helped turn this trip into a resounding success, despite the fact that a blizzard delayed the arrival of our science team and caused us to sail a day late.


Diatom images recorded from seawater pumped through the Imaging FlowCytoBot unit.  Image provided by Joe Bishop, EPA.

Survey Tech Stefanie Stabile washing down small bongo sampler to collect plankton samples on one of the calmer sunrises of the survey.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA.


Survey Tech Stefanie Stabile washing down the small bongo sampler used to collect plankton samples on one of the calmer sunrises of the survey.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA.

I’d like to thank the key parties involved in contributing to this success: the CO and command on the vessel were constantly coming up with suggestions and cruise track “tweaks” to help us cover the survey area as quickly as possible despite the conditions.  The crew, who were always at the ready to get the gear deployed “efficiently and safely” to quote our chief boatswain, plus the engineers and electronics specialist who kept the ship running and sampling flawlessly (no downtime on this trip!) and the stewards who not only kept us fed, but kept up morale with ice cream socials on Sunday nights!  Finally the science team, a diverse group with researchers from the Canadian Wildlife Service, UNH, EPA, the NEFSC, plus support from WHOI and the onboard Survey Techs who worked alongside us to collect hundreds of plankton samples and associated data.

Thank you all.  It was truly a pleasure to sail with you!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
HB 1701  Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Gulls and Gannets

More news from  Chief Scientist Jerry Prezioso aboard the Bigelow on the HB1701 Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Survey (EcoMon):

Our Canadian Wildlife Service Seabird and marine mammal observer, Holly Hogan, has been steadily working through all these conditions, and has provided a brief summary of what she’s seen so far.  Here is her update:

“Here’s a little flavour of what’s been going on at the surface!

Northern Gannets have been seen on all days of the cruise so far.  As far as gulls go, there have been the usual suspects, seen regularly: Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull.

Holly Hogan at her observation post on the bridge of the Henry Bigelow.  She records her observations with a voice recorder and laptop. Photo by Jerry Prezioso,  NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

On the day we left port at Newport (February 11), there were Northern Gannets, and some of the alcids that you expect in the northern parts of the cruise: Common Murre and Atlantic Puffin.
On Feb. 12, Northern Gannets were common all day. When we were closer to shore there were Common Loons and even a Black Scoter, a seaduck normally associated with coastal waters.  Common Murres were seen again as well.
Feb. 13 was a stormy day.  Sightings on the surface would be difficult; you always miss things in these conditions.  However, there were many Northern Gannets seen, especially near the shelf edge.  There was also a Red-throated Loon seen, which is smaller and more delicate than Common Loons.
On Feb.14 there were Northern Gannets and some of the alcids as well: Two Dovekies (a tiny seabird that breeds in the high arctic) and Atlantic Puffin. Common Dolphins were also seen in small groups.
On February 15, the water was calm for the whole day – excellent observing conditions. Northern Gannets were by far the most common species seen. Common Loons were also seen regularly.  The shipping lanes to New York City were pretty quiet for seabirds.  There was one alcid species seen: One lone razorbill.  It may not have been well, as it did not try to fly or dive from the ship, the normal behavior when the ship is in close range.  There were also excellent whale sightings:  A total of three fin whales, one humpback and one minke were observed.
So far today it’s been gull and gannets.  Lots of day ahead though!”
Holly Hogan
Canadian Wildlife Service

Bongos and Valentines

Hello All,

Today, February 16, finds us finishing up the Southern New England area, sampling at the last stations located in the eastern part of this region. After sailing north and out of a strong front that hit us around the Chesapeake Bay entrance, we made excellent progress on Valentine’s Day northward up to Southern New England waters. Another front came through with 40-knot winds just as we were working our way inshore from the shelf edge late last night and early this morning.  By deploying a smaller array of just the large bongo nets, rather than the typical large and small bongo frame combination, we were able to keep working through the worst of it at two offshore stations. We are now picking up some inshore stations before turning back offshore and on out to Georges Bank, something we hope to be able to do early tomorrow.


Large bongo frame being deployed from the Henry B. Bigelow.  Photo credit: Joe Bishop, EPA.

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Large and small bongo array being deployed from the Henry B. Bigelow. Photo by Joe Bishop,  EPA.

The vessel and crew continue to perform flawlessly, and there is an excellent rapport between the scientists, crew and command that is helping to make this trip much less of an ordeal despite the typical February cold and rough sea conditions. Our Third Mate Dana Mancinelli and Seabird Observer Holly Hogan went so far as to put out little Valentine cards and chocolate hearts to boost our spirits!

One of the Valentine cards and chocolate hearts passed out to the entire crew by Third Mate Dana Mancinelli and Seabird Observer Holly Hogan. Photo by  Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries.

This may be a challenging trip due to the weather, but it is certainly a pleasure to work with this upbeat group!
Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
HB1701 Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Working in Windy Winter Weather …

The Henry Bigelow sailed from the snow covered Newport Naval Station Pier 2 on Saturday morning, February 11, at 0900 hours.  The diminishing seas from the strong blizzard winds of the day before allowed us to make our way out of Narragansett Bay to the shelf edge slope waters and southward before the next front caught up with us.  Luckily, we were able to complete eighteen stations before that happened by turning inshore to continue working as long as we could.


NOAA Fisheries Survey Vessel Henry B. Bigelow at Pier 2 of the Newport Naval Station.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso,  NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries


Snow covered Rose Island Lighthouse seen from the Henry B. Bigelow on our departure.  Photo by Joe Bishop,  EPA

We are now off the coast of Virginia and slowly getting back to work as the 40-knot winds we experienced last night come down.  Our plan is to steam slowly offshore from the entrance to Chesapeake Bay as diminishing winds and seas  enable us to start back north, pick up two missed stations and then continue on to sample at our offshore stations.

This cruise was originally scheduled to start on Friday, February 9, but the blizzard that struck Rhode Island disrupted the travel plans of scientists joining us from the University New Hampshire and the Canadian Wildlife Service in Newfoundland.  We are attempting to make the best use of our remaining time by eliminating the southernmost part of the cruise track off of Cape Hatteras, giving us a chance to get to more northern areas like Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine at the end of the survey.

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Deckhands Todd Wilson (left) and Frank Forbell prepare to launch Niskin Bottle and CTD Rosette.  Photo by Joe Bishop,  EPA

The plankton catches have been light and dominated at most stations by copepods and chaetognaths (arrow worms); pretty typical for this time of year.  There were some salps in a couple of tows, which I was surprised to see, and one tow had a considerable amount of diatoms which were caught in the 165 micron mesh nets of our small bongos, but easily passed through the 333 micron mesh nets of the large bongos.   Images from the Imaging FlowCytoBot showed them to be pillbox shaped diatoms, like the genus Coscinodiscus.  Since we have been close to shore for much of this cruise, the three shallow water rosette casts we have made have shown temperatures and salinities to be very well mixed in the water column.


Survey Tech Stefanie Stabile and volunteer Joe Bishop drawing water from the Rosette Niskin bottles.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso,  NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

All equipment and the ship are fully functional, and people are in good spirits.  We just need some breaks in the weather now to make this a productive trip!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
HB 1701  Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Survey (EcoMon)

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