Headed Home

June 4

This will be the final update from this cruise as we are coming in to the Newport Naval Station ahead of an advancing storm which precluded any more operations in the Gulf of Maine, our last area to be surveyed.
We have completed 114 stations over the entire area of the survey, which now covers continental shelf waters from Delaware Bay north through Southern New England, Georges Bank and about two thirds of the Gulf of Maine.  We were unable to reach the Scotian Shelf and northern stations that extended up into the Bay of Fundy.  If our excellent weather had held a couple of more days our coverage in the Gulf of Maine could have been improved, but I can’t complain about weather that was perfect up until early this morning!
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Cruise track drawn as a red line on a paper chart showing the areas visited by the Henry Bigelow during this survey.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

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Our Teacher-at-Sea, Susan Dee, drops a messenger to trigger a water sampling bottle. Scientists were able to coordinate in-water optical light measurements during times when the vessel was stationary like this. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

I have learned a lot from this cruise in terms of having scientists from different agencies and countries work together sharing a survey and a vessel as closely as possible so that all could come away with enough data and samples to judge this trip a success for each of them. I’d like to thank the scientific staff for their patience and hard work in planning to make our sampling as efficient as possible. For example we learned that satellite optical measurements can often be made simultaneously with work where the vessel is stationary, like during vertical ring net tows and CTD rosette water casts.  This didn’t work every time, but I appreciate the effort the investigators made to try this, saving a significant amount of vessel time.
The vessel time we did have was maximized by a terrific effort from the crew and command of the Henry Bigelow who made every effort to keep us moving forward at maximum speed, up to 12 knots and sometimes more, much of the time, covering as much ground as possible in the time allotted to us. The command met with me every day to discuss our operations plan under the prevailing and forecast weather conditions.  Operations that they had not encountered before, like vertical ring net tows, were worked out, often with input and discussion from the crew, who brought up suggestions like modifying depressor weights, and maneuvering the vessel to avoid having the gear come under the keel during retrieval. The crew also contributed to overall morale with events like Sunday night ice cream socials, thanks to the efforts of our stewards Dennis Carey and Ray Burgess.
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Steward Ray Burgess saving a meal for a scientist who missed meal time while working on deck.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

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Chief Steward Dennis Carey serving behind the ice cream bar he set up for the Sunday Ice Cream Social.  Photo by Susan Dee, NOAA Teacher-at-Sea

Now as I look over the boxes of samples we can look forward to unloading later this week, I want to thank everyone involved with this trip for your time, patience and good spirits.  I will look forward to sailing with you all again, anytime!
Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
HB1803 Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Into the Gulf of Maine

June 2, 2018
Shortly before midnight, the Henry Bigelow completed sampling on Georges Bank and is now heading into the Gulf of Maine for the last part of this Ecosystem Monitoring Survey.  We have completed 91 stations spread across the Middle Atlantic area from Delaware Bay north, all of Southern New England’s waters and now all of Georges Bank as well.  We’ve been fortunate in that excellent weather has permitted us to make rapid progress across this large area while conducting all of our monitoring and collaborative projects.  We are especially  pleased to have been able to deploy all of our sampling gear in the Northeast Channel to gather more data about the warm water anomalies currently being detected in the Gulf of Maine.

Deployment of a Canadian Ring Net by crewman John Harvey from the side sampling station on the Henry Bigelow. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

This included bongo plankton nets, ring nets, radiometers for satellite overpass water measurements, and rosette casts for DIC (dissolved inorganic carbon), nutrients, chlorophyll levels, and temperature and salinity profiles. Our teacher, Susan Dee, even launched a NOAA drifter buoy which she has been tracking through the NOAA Drifter Buoy Program to monitor its movements and water temperatures.

Launching of a NOAA Drifter Buoy by our Teacher at Sea, Susan Dee, from the side sampling station on the Henry Bigelow. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

We’ve been amazed at the amount and variety of life we’ve seen on Georges Bank. Our observers John Loch and Nick Metheny have documented large numbers of mola mola sunfish, pods of common dolphins, pilot whales and even sperm whales. Another interesting sighting was of a south polar skua, an antarctic seabird migrating to northern latitudes at this time of year to feed after mating and nesting down south. Large numbers of Wilson storm petrels and and sooty shearwaters have dominated the numbers of total seabirds spotted, with each species accounting for about a third of total bird sightings.

John Loch, one of our two seabird and marine mammal observers, at his observation post on the flying bridge of the Henry Bigelow.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC.


South Polar Skua, sighted on Georges Bank. Photo by Nick Metheney, Integrated Statistics.

With safety being a paramount concern aboard NOAA vessels, a man overboard drill was conducted yesterday.  These drills familiarize the scientific staff with what their role is in reporting and sighting anyone that goes over the side, and keeps the crews’ skills sharp on retrieving them as quickly as possible.  The drill went smoothly,with scientists gathered on the rail, their arms pointing to Oscar, a stuffed survival suit wearing a flotation work vest, while the rescue boat was launched to to go out and retrieve him.

Survey Tech Mark Bradley and Ops Officer Justin Ellis prepare “Oscar” to be thrown overboard for man-overboard drill. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC


The science team points toward “Oscar” in the water. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

Our major concern for the remainder of the cruise will now be the weather, which is forecast to change shortly, as low pressure moves in and winds and seas pick up.  We are planning to prioritize sampling at the Gulf of Maine basin stations, including Georges, Jordan and Wilkinson basins, and nearby plankton stations then head into the western Gulf of Maine closer to shore to continue working as conditions deteriorate.  However bad it gets we can’t complain about the weather we’ve had for this trip except maybe for the fog which has enveloped us again!
Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
HB1803 Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey


Warm Waters in the Gulf of Maine

May 30, 2018

I was surprised to wake up to a quiet morning today, without hearing the constant bleating of the Bigelow‘s foghorn which is what lulled me to sleep. Since first approaching and then crossing the Great South Channel yesterday we’ve been enveloped in thick fog, which is pretty typical for Georges Bank during the warmer months of the year.

Today however looks fairly clear, which bodes well for Charles Kovach, our man from NESDIS (National Environmental Satellite Data Information Services). His mission, to provide ground-truth in-situ light measurements by lowering hand-deployed radiometers into the water during satellite overpasses, has been a difficult one, with all the cloud and now fog cover that we’ve had during this survey limiting his measurements.

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Top: Charles Kovach holding his submersible radiometer. Bottom: Kovach hand-deploying the device. Photos by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fishieries/NEFSC

Another collaborative researcher, Andrew Cogswell, from the Canadian DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans), has been patiently waiting for us to reach his study area on the northeast peak of Georges Bank and the entire Gulf of Maine.

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Andrew Cogswell from DFO Canada, with his ring net to be deployed in the Gulf of Maine.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/ NEFSC

We are getting close now, having completed 61 stations and are now working our way across the southern flank of Georges Bank, just a dozen stations and one hundred sixty one nautical miles from the Northeast Channel. This year, with warm water anomalies having been discovered in the Gulf of Maine, this area has become the focus of increased interest as a gateway for the influx of this warm water.


A graphic view of warm water temperature anomalies (purple) in continental shelf slope waters outside of Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine on May 30 2018.   From the Windy.com website

We have both bongo tows and CTD rosette casts scheduled to be taken there, so we are hoping to gather some valuable data!

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Susan Dee decorating a NOAA drifter buoy with her school’s name and logo. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

Susan Dee, our NOAA Teacher at Sea from May River High School in South Carolina, has, in addition to helping us with our plankton tows, been busy decorating a NOAA drifter buoy with her school’s name and logo, the Sharks. She is planning to launch it close to the northeast peak of Georges Bank, so perhaps it will also be able to contribute to our understanding of water movements and temperatures in this dynamic area. It will also offer her students a satellite connection via the internet to their teacher’s activities out here with us, as they monitor the buoy’s movements on the drifter website.

Looking ahead, we still have a couple more days of good weather which is helping to ensure our coverage of Georges Bank, but as the high pressure system over us slips off to the east we are facing more marginal conditions this weekend.

Together with the vessel command we’ve come up with a track that will take us across the Gulf of Maine closer to Nova Scotia, where we may get some lee shelter from the forecast northeast winds and be able to continue working, even if at a somewhat slower pace, depending on the seas.

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
HB18-03 Spring Ecosystems Monitoring Survey

Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey off to a Good Start

The Henry Bigelow left from Pier 2 at the Newport Naval Station on Wednesday, May 23, under sunny skies to start the Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey.  With good weather forecast for the remainder of the week we are heading offshore to survey at the stations along the outer edge of the continental shelf as we head south for the first part of this cruise.


The Henry B. Bigelow at its berth on Pier 2 at the Newport Naval Station prior to departure. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

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Joseph Deltorto, our Chief Engineer, stands next to one of the two massive electric motors (blue box) that quietly propel the Henry Bigelow at better than 12 knots.  Photo courtesy of Joseph Deltorto

Cruising smoothly at 12 knots with its newly refurbished electric propulsion motors, the vessel is making excellent progress.  The time spent approaching our first station is completely taken up by a whirlwind of activities: setting up and testing gear, attending a welcome aboard orientation meeting, and having fire and abandon-ship drills.


Justin Ellis, our Operations Officer, shows Susan Dee the correct way to don a survival suit.   Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC


Crew members test fire hose output during fire drill after leaving port.   Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

As is typical for these ecosystem monitoring surveys, we have a variety of researchers on board: a satellite specialist doing in-situ light measurements during satellite overpasses, a Canadian biologist from the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans in Halifax, NS, a Maine Maritime Academy student volunteer, a NOAA Teacher-at-Sea from South Carolina, two seabird and marine mammal observers, and three scientists from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

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Susan Dee (left), our NOAA Teacher-at-Sea, learning how to run the ImagingFlowCytoBot, with Emily Peacock of WHOI.   Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

Together we will gather as much data as we can on this voyage which will take us from southern New England to Delaware Bay, to Georges Bank and into the Gulf of Maine.

Stay tuned!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
HB18-03 Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey

Why We Are Sampling During the Transit on the Southeast Shelf

Some have asked why we are sampling on our transit on the southeast US shelf.  Many species fished in the northeast may spawn or in some other way originate in the southeast.  For example, chub mackerel (Scomber colias) adults are fished in the northeast, but larvae have not been collected in our 40 years of sampling the shelf north of Cape Hatteras.  Also, historically southeastern species, such as blueline tilefish (Caulolatilus microps), are beginning to occur in the northeast so regularly that fisheries are emerging in the northeast. Like the Slope Sea, this region has had relatively little plankton sampling as compared to the northeast US shelf and Gulf of Mexico.

There has been sampling on the southeast shelf; with ichthyoplankton (eggs and larvae of fish) collections going back at least to 1965-1968 from the R/V Dolphin cruises.  There have also been a couple of monitoring and collaborative research programs. The Marine Resources Monitoring, Assessment and Prediction (MARMAP) program sampled portions of the southeast shelf in the 1970s and 1980s.  During the 1990s and early-2000s, sampling was conducted from South Carolina to southern Virginia as part of the South Atlantic Bight Recruitment Experiment (SABRE).  So, the absence of data points in the map below is due to infrequent sampling and also highlights the need to compile historic data to allow us to compare the past to the present.  A new collaborative effort between the Oceans and Climate Branch from the NEFSC and the SEAMAP Plankton group from the Southeast Fisheries Science Center is beginning to compile these data and attempt to fill in gaps and compare historical data with current conditions with cruises like this.

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Map of ichthyoplankton collection locations on the east coast of the US and Gulf of Mexico with the location of bongo tows represented by red dots.  The map is a product of the Fish Larvae Explorer (FLEx) project, which is a collaborative product of the NOAA Fisheries And The Environment (FATE) and Coastal & Oceanic Plankton Ecology, Production & Observation Database (COPEPOD) projects.  FLEx was created to develop the use of ichthyoplankton time series as indicators of ecosystem status and to enhance ecosystem-based fishery management.

We are sampling some cross-shelf transects on our transit south to compare with historical collections.  Our first transect in Onslow Bay, North Carolina,  along a frequently sampled transect from the SABRE project will provide important data on how distributions and oceanographic conditions are changing over time.  We plan to collect as many plankton samples as possible before docking in Cape Canaveral on June 23.

Harvey Walsh
Chief Scientist
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter  GU 1702




Storms and strong currents end Slope Sea operations

The Slope Sea portion of this cruise ended a little early due to storms and strong currents, but will provide important information on this poorly understood region of the ocean.  We did not complete our entire planned cruise track for the Slope Sea, but we did complete 84 stations in the northeast for a total of 133 bongo and CTD tows and 13 water casts.  The bongos will be used for our plankton analyses, including our hunt for bluefin tuna larvae.

Plankton sampling continued to catch scombrid larvae, including a few more potential bluefin larvae. We never hit a large enough patch to justify releasing drifters. We will save the drifters for another cruise that leaves in two weeks for the Slope Sea.  The water samples from the water casts will be sent off for dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and total alkalinity analyses. Both DIC and total alkalinity are used by chemical oceanographers to estimate pH of the water, and examine current ocean acidification conditions of the ecosystem. The basic hydrographic data collected (temperature and salinity by depth) will be used to define ocean features in the Slope Sea and to help ground truth satellite data.

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Picture of a recently caught 8-mm long little tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus) larvae.  Larval scombrids eat other larval fish, as seen by the larvae in the stomach of the little tunny / bonito.  Photo credit: Ciara Willis, Dalhousie University

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Ciara (front) and Chris (middle) wash down the bongo nets as ENS Fuller (back) prepares for a water cast.  Photo credit: Harvey Walsh, NOAA/NEFSC.

Weather and sea conditions required an adjustment to our planned cruise track, moving inshore one evening when winds and seas along the Gulf Stream made bongo sampling difficult.  We normally send the bongo down to 200 meters deep ( about 660 feet), and use about 280 to 300-meters of wire, and still could not get the net to that depth.  On the final tow of the evening, we deployed over 400 meters of wire and still could not get the net below a depth of 150 meters ( about 480 feet).

Like flying a kite on a breezy day, the current was pushing the net up with too much force or lift to overcome with our standard weight.  The ship’s bridge and crew were safely able to deploy and tow the gear, but the sea conditions wouldn’t allow for us to collect samples that we could compare to all the others we had collected. After we moved inshore to escape the strong current, we continued to see a highly diverse plankton community in the waters just offshore of our standard sampling locations during EcoMon.

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Plankton collected in a bongo sample about 30 miles north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  The sample had squid paralarvae and fish larvae including: common dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus), shoal / dusky flounder (Syacium spp.), and unidentified gobies (Gobiidae).  Photo credit: Ciara Willis, Dalhousie University

Even though we moved inshore, we could not escape the thunderstorms that were moving through the area. We had suspended operations at a station just north of Cape Hatteras due to lightning in the area. Have you ever wondered if lightning strikes the ocean? A few minutes after we arrived at the inshore station there was a very close strike, or the ship was struck by lightning ( it depends on who you ask).  Everyone on board was safe, but we lost gyros and some other electronics.  We steamed on to the next station, the second to last scheduled for the northeast part of the cruise, as the ship’s Electronics Technician (ET) began repairing systems.  We discovered that the CTD would not talk to the computer when we resumed operations at the next station. Wherever the lightning hit, our science gear did not escape the damage.

We decided to move down to the southeast shelf, south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to escape the marginal weather, and the unknown amount of time it would take to diagnose and fix the CTD problem.  Thankfully, the CTD was repaired on the transit south thanks to the persistence and skill of Betsy Broughton (NEFSC scientist) and Kirk Andreopoulos (ET on the Gordon Gunter).  We will continue to explore poorly understood parts of the western Atlantic during the second half of this cruise, this time in the waters off the southeast United States coast.

Check back on to read about what and why we are studying the ocean south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Harvey Walsh
Chief Scientist
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter  GU 1702

Plankton Ops

The plankton sampling team for this cruise is made up of six researchers from NOAA Fisheries and regional universities.  Each 12-hour watch has a team of three people, so that we can sample day and night.  Betsy Broughton (NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC), Christine Hernandez (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution [WHOI]), and Quentin Nichols (NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC summer intern, UMass Amherst) staff the night watch, 3-pm to 3-am.  Ciara Willis (WHOI summer intern, Dalhousie University), Chris Gingrich (NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC summer intern, Washington College) and I stand the morning watch, 3-am to 3-pm.

There are still a lot of questions about this area as a spawning ground for Atlantic Bluefin tuna.  One of the research questions being addressed on this cruise is how the currents of the Slope Sea affect the planktonic larval stage of bluefin tuna.  Plankton are organisms that rely on the wind and ocean currents to move through the ocean (from the tiny algae and small amphipods to larval fish and crustaceans to jellyfish). We are hoping to find patches of larval bluefin tuna where we can release drifters that will track the movements of the water surrounding the larvae as they grow.

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Christine Hernandez (front) and Ciara Willis (back) sort samples in the lab as the samples are brought on board.  They also take pictures of larvae for us to post (see images below).

At each station, we sort a small portion of the sample we just collected for any fish larvae we can find.  The larvae we’re looking for are tiny, 2-10mm (about 1/16 – 3/8 of an inch) long, so we need to use microscopes. We also have to work fast, so we don’t drift too far from where the larvae were caught. We have found one potential Bluefin larvae already, which we will verify with DNA analysis.  We are hoping to find a larger patch to justify releasing the drifters.  We’ve also seen plenty of cousins of Bluefin including bullet or frigate mackerel (Auxis spp.).

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Picture of a fresh caught larval bullet / frigate mackerel.  These are small cousins of the bluefin that are found in surface waters of the open ocean.

The influence of the warm Gulf Stream waters can be seen in the diversity of the fish community caught in the bongo nets.  In addition to the tuna and mackerels, we are catching more tropical and subtropical species like driftfishes (family Nomeidae) and eyed flounder (Bothus spp.).

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Larval (top) and juvenile (bottom) driftfish caught in the bongo nets.  Driftfishes are open ocean (pelagic) species, often associated with drifting algae like sargassum or jellyfish, particularly as juveniles. Photos of fishes by Christine Hernandez and Ciara Willis.

Harvey Walsh
Chief Scientist
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter, GU1702