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

Gordon Gunter: Wildlife Magnet

October 25, 2015

On this heavily overcast Sunday morning, the Gordon Gunter is in the Great Round Shoal Channel heading for the Newport Naval Station where we will be tying up at Pier 2 this afternoon, marking the end of the 2015 Fall Ecosystem Monitoring Survey, GU 1506.

We have completed 117 stations for this cruise, with complete coverage of Georges Bank and Southern New England waters, and Mid-Atlantic Bight Coverage as far south as the entrance to Chesapeake Bay.  With the start of the cruise delayed for several days due to Hurricane Joaquin, the southernmost stations near Cape Hatteras, and the northern and central portions of the Gulf of Maine were missed.  Still we were able to sample at 73% of our initial 160 stations, which is remarkable considering the time lost to weather.

We’ve had a very high incidence of land birds coming to the ship for refuge, perhaps because we are in the midst of a migration period for many species.  Our bird observer from the Canadian Wildlife Service, Jeannine Winkel, has been as busy recording and photographing them as she has for the seabirds on this cruise!  The ship’s crew even set up a feeding and watering station for them on deck, in hopes of giving them a chance to recuperate and continue their journey.  Jeannine has documented several species of warblers, several species of sparrows, northern flickers, mourning doves, and a ruby crowned kinglet, to name just a few.

Jeannine Winkle using binoculars to sight birds from the bridge of the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

Jeannine Winkel, our seabird and marine mammal observer from the Canadian Wildlife Service. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA / NMFS

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Birds feeding on food placed on deck by the ship’s crew during our cruise. Photo by Jeannine Winkel, Canadian Wildlife Service

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Blackpoll Warbler, one of many birds hitchiking aboard the vessel during our trip. Photo by Jeannine Winkel, Canadian Wildlife Service

Interestingly, we are not the only ones on board with an interest in these land birds.  A peregrine falcon also took up residence on the ship for a time, chasing some of the smaller birds for its own meals.

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A Peregrine Falcon made our vessel its home for several days.
Photo by Jeannine Winkel, Canadian Wildlife Service

Other species besides birds have been documented by our observer.  Humpback whales, a sperm whale, minke whale, and spinner and common dolphins were recorded, as well as both loggerhead and green sea turtles, and even one little brown bat!  These observations were recorded using a headset and microphone hooked up to a laptop using voice recognition software. (Jeannine is wearing this gear in the first photo in our post.)  This way, observers record their sightings directly into a database without taking their eyes off the subjects under observation.  This is standard Canadian Wildlife Service issue hardware to all observers.

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Common dolphins approaching the Gordon Gunter to ride the bow wave.
Photo by Jeannine Winkel, Canadian Wildlife Service

On an education front, the decorated Styrofoam manikin head from The Prout School in Wakefield, RI was removed yesterday from its niche under the Niskin bottle rosette.  After undergoing 25 immersions, some down to 500 m, it emerged compressed to a fraction of its former size to produce a graphic illustration of the effect of water pressure at depth for students in the oceanography class.

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Styrofoam manikin heads before and after submersions down to 500 meters. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA / NMFS

Since the cruise will be ending in a few hours, this will be my final update.  I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the entire crew and command for all the help and support they’ve given us while we were out here.  I can’t say enough about the effort that our Chief Steward Margaret Coyle and Second Cook, Paul Acob put into the fantastic meals we have had every day.

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Margaret Coyle, Chief Steward, and Paul Acob, 2nd Cook, in the Gordon Gunter galley. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA / NMFS

And finally to my five colleagues who collected all the data and samples we’ve gathered over these past two weeks, thank you very much!  You’ve all worked very hard and have traveled from Texas, Canada, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to be part of this expedition.  I hope it’s been a good experience for everyone!

Jerry Prezioso, Chief Scientist for the Fall Ecosystem Monitoring Survey, GU 1506.

Who Doesn’t Love a FlowCytoBot?

Today is October 20, one week and a day from when we set sail from Norfolk, VA, the Gordon Gunter has completed sampling at 61 stations across the mid-Atlantic Bight and Southern New England portions of this survey.

During this past weekend we had an excursion into the western Gulf of Maine up as far north as Jeffreys Ledge adding 12 samples to our total while we waited for a weather system to move off of Georges Bank.   Now, with improving weather we are heading east onto Georges and should arrive there early on Wednesday morning for the final phase of this cruise.

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Texas A & M student Joseph Losoya and crewman Dante Starks prepare to retrieve bongo net array aboard Gordon Gunter. Photo by Jerry Prezioso NOAA/NMFS

Our plankton samples have ranged from being heavily laden with phytoplankton at coastal stations off of New Jersey and Long Island to being more dominated by copepods and amphipods further north at the Gulf of Maine stations.  One sample taken at the Great South Channel was composed almost completely of chaetognaths or arrow-worms.

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University of Maine researcher Maura Thomas talks to winch operator controlling a bongo net plankton tow while monitoring bottom depth, net depth, temperature, and salinities from her bank of monitors. Photo by Jerry Prezioso NOAA/NMFS

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Maura Thomas examines pictures from the Imaging FlowCytoBot Unit in a Gordon Gunter lab. Photo by Jerry Prezioso NOAA /NMFS

Photographs from our Imaging FlowCytoBot (IFCB) have proved useful in helping us to determine that the phytoplankton from off the coast of Barnegat Bay New Jersey consisted of several species of diatoms.

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Images of diatoms taken by the Imaging FlowCytoBot Unit off the coast of Barnegat, New Jersey. Image provided by Maura Thomas, University of Maine

Our most recent forecast indicates that Wednesday and Thursday will have the most favorable conditions on Georges Bank.  We are hoping to get as much of Georges Bank sampled before another weather system develops on Friday.

Dodging Hurricanes and Shrinking Mannequin Heads for Science!

The Fisheries Survey Vessel Gordon Gunter departed from the NOAA Marine Operations Center in Norfolk, Virginia on Columbus Day, Monday October 12, 2015 to begin the Fall Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. Originally scheduled to start nearly a week earlier, the cruise has been cut back on time due to Hurricane Joaquin’s impact on the southern portion of the survey area.  We are now working our way northward along the continental shelf off the coast of New Jersey.

Turtle tag mounted on Niskin bottle rosette frame. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA

Turtle tag mounted on Niskin bottle rosette frame. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA

Now on our third day of the cruise at the time of this writing, we have completed 19 stations, using Bongo nets and a CTD Niskin bottle rosette to collect plankton, water and nutrient samples, plus hydrographic data.  In addition to sampling for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center we are also recording images of phytoplankton from our scientific seawater system, using an Imaging FlowCytoBot unit from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and collecting stable isotope water samples for Princeton University, and nutrient samples for the University of Maine.

Styrofoam mannequin head decorated by Prout High School Oceanography students. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA

Styrofoam mannequin head decorated by Prout High School oceanography students. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA

We have an observer from the Canadian Wildlife Service to monitor seabirds along our route, and we are testing a turtle tracking tag for the Protected Species Branch by submerging it on our Niskin bottle rosette.  Also on the rosette is a styrofoam mannequin head, creatively decorated by oceanography students from Prout High School in Narragansett, RI to demonstrate the effects of water pressure compressing it at depth.

 Styrofoam mannequin head in yellow mesh bag mounted under the Niskin bottle array. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA

Styrofoam mannequin head in yellow mesh bag mounted under the Niskin bottle array. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA

Plankton catches have been light, with many stations having salps in them, and one station near the shelf edge off the coast of Virginia had a large number of fish eggs in it.  Our seabird observer, Jeannine Winkel, has recorded greater shearwaters and a flock of pelicans along the southern portion of our route.  She also spotted a couple of sea turtles, possibly loggerheads and a pod of spinner dolphins.

Our weather is currently warm and sunny, with light winds and fairly calm seas so we are working our way to the outer shelf off the coast of New Jersey  prior to moving on to the southern New England area of our survey.

Jerry Prezioso   chief scientist for the Fall Ecosystem Monitoring
Survey, GU 1506.