Approaching hurricane, sampling underway

September 11, 2018

We’re almost a week into leg I of the bottom trawl survey on the FSV Henry B. Bigelow, and it’s off to a great start!  Despite Hurricane Florence slowly approaching from the southeast, the weather has been absolutely gorgeous.  The water is flat, and the sky is full of beautiful clouds.  One of them briefly produced a water spout.


Water spout forming. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

While off the coast of North Carolina, we saw the Diamond Shoals Lighthouse. With so many shoals along the coast of North Carolina, lighthouses were extremely important to warn sailors of the dangers below.


Diamond Shoals Lighthouse. Photo credit: NOAa Fisheries/Christine Kircun

This lighthouse was eventually moved offshore because warning signals from land were ultimately ineffective.  Read more at

And of course, it’s always exciting to see what the net brings up.  Most of the animals have been small, but a couple sizable specimens made it to our sampling stations.  Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) is a pelagic, flatheaded fish that spends most of its time alone except when they aggregate annually to mate.  Currently, efforts to domestically cultivate cobia for food are underway.


Cobia. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

Grey triggerfish (Balistes capriscus) is found all along the eastern US coast.  These fish travel through the water with wave-like movements of their dorsal and anal fins.  They communicate with grunting and hissing noises.  Clicking noises are made when the teeth behind its fleshy lips are rubbed together.


A grey triggerfish. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

The common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) is an intelligent cephalopod that eats bivalves (mollusks with two shells) and crabs.  They are known to leave the empty shells


in what’s known as midden piles right outside whatever space they’ve decided to call home.  These piles are a unique way to show researchers what kind of bivalves and crabs are in the area since an octopus can more effectively comb through its habitat as it hunts for food.

Christine Kircun
Aboard the FSV Henry B. Bigelow
Fall Bottom Trawl Survey – Leg 1

Changes as we work to the south

30 August 2018

Good morning.

We are on our last full day at sea for the summer EcoMon.  We’ve sailed from Fire Island, New York to just north of Chesapeake Bay since my last update.  We completed all CTD and bongo stations in the Southern New England region and have finished over half the Mid-Atlantic Bight region.  That’s 19 CTDs and 65 bongos so far on the cruise.  The plankton community has changed as we moved south.  We are seeing black sea bass, windowpane, and goby larvae in some of the plankton samples.



Black sea bass larvae. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh


Martha Loizeaux, our teacher-at-sea, from the Ocean Studies Charter School in Tavernier, Florida, released a satellite drifter buoy from NOAA’s Global Drifter Program on the shelf-break of southeastern Georges Bank.  She decorated the drifter with the names of the school’s classrooms; sea stars, dolphins, rays, and sharks.  She and her students will be tracking the drifter and discussing its movements as part of her curriculum on currents.

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Brown booby on the bow of the Gordon Gunter. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh

We have continued to have decent weather for radiometry work.  Skies have been clear, but as you all on shore realize the humidity has made things a little hazy at times.  The observers have had fewer sightings than on Georges Bank, but have seen some fin whales, dolphins, a brown booby (that used the ship as a perch for almost a day), and flying fish that were accompanied by some large mats of sargassum.  They also reported seeing large slicks of yellow “pollen” that are mostly likely Trichodesmium, a filamentous cyanobacteria that is sometime called sea sawdust.



Cruise track of the summer EcoMon (yellow line) that started sampling in Block Island Sound (green circle) on August 22 and is currently off Chesapeake Bay (x).  The red dots show where the ship has stopped to conduct CTD and bongo tows.  The magenta dots show the location of the drifter buoy from 25-30 August 2018. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh

The plan for today is to work our way offshore towards the shelf-break conducting bongo tows and radiometry casts.  At some point we will need to head back towards Chesapeake Bay to dock in Norfolk Friday morning.  Friday will be spent packing gear for shipment back to Narragansett so we hopefully can make it home for the Labor Day weekend.

Harvey Walsh
Chief Scientist
GG18-04 Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Sampling on Georges Bank

Monday 27 August 2018

We had a very productive week end sampling on Georges Bank.  The wind, sea, and sky were cooperative allowing us to conduct a lot of science.  The satellite oceanographers were able to collect data every day in conjunction with overpasses of the NOAA satellites.  We were able to sample about a third of the bongo and half the CTD stations on Georges Bank.  The sea bird observers have been seeing dolphins, mostly Risso’s and Common, White-faced Storm Petrels, Skulas, and a Yellow Warbler that has made a temporary stop on the ship.

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Two-inch witch flounder larvae caught in a bongo net. Witch flounder larvae stay in the water column longer, and grow to larger sizes, than many other larval fish. This individual is still metamorphosing from larvae to early-juvenile, when it will be ready to settle to the ocean bottom. The eye on the top of the head has not fully rotated from the left to the right side yet. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh


Clear skies and calm seas make for good satellite oceanography data collection. Sunrise over Georges Bank indicates another good day for light and water sampling (left). Jeff (front) and Charles (back) communicate with the bridge before deploying the radiometer (left/center). The radiometer collects light data with sensors that look both up towards the sky and down into the water (right/center). This will allow for data to be matched with what the satellites are recording as they pass over our station. Other researchers like Audrey are collecting data on  phytoplankton by filtering water for analysis back in the lab and instruments that image the plankton and measure the size of the cells (right). Photo credits: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh

We our back in the Southern New England (SNE) region this morning.  We are sampling off Fire Island, New York and around the travel lanes into the Hudson River.  We hope to finish the SNE stations early Tuesday morning, then start zig-zagging our way down to Chesapeake Bay.

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An example of the different phytoplankton sampled so far on our cruise.  The Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB) is sampling water continually along our cruise track from the ship’s scientific flow-through seawater system.

So far, we have completed 37 bongos and 11 CTDs.

Harvey Walsh
Chief Scientist
GG180-04 Ecosystems Monitoring Survey

Editor’s Note:  Check out NOAA Teacher at Sea Martha Loizeaux’s blog for her experiences during the EcoMon survey.

Summer EcoMon cruise is underway

Good morning!

We sailed from Newport, RI aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter on Wednesday afternoon (August 22) on our summer Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) survey.  We have a fairly large science crew for this trip that includes two people from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Oceans and Climate Branch (Harvey Walsh and Tamara Holzwarth-Davis);  three ocean optics researchers, two from the University of Rhode Island (Audrey Ciochetto and Kyle Turner) and one from the NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (Charles Kovach);  two seabird observers (Chris Vogel and John Loch);  two volunteers, one from Maine Maritime Academy (Jessica Lindsey) and a recent graduate of URI (Brendan McCarron);  and one NOAA Teacher at Sea (Martha Loizeaux).

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Eel leptocephalus collected in a 60-cm bongo net at a station sampled on Georges Bank. Leptocephalus is the flat and transparent larva of the eel. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh


Profiling radiometer that is being deployed at times when satellites are passing overhead.  The satellites remotely measure chlorophyll and other optical properties of the water. The radiometer work is used to calibrate those measurements. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh

We have had a productive start, sampling stations from Block Island sound to Nantucket Shoals, and crossing Great South Channel this morning to begin sampling Georges Bank.  We’ve conducted 20 bongo tows and 3 CTD / rosette water casts, one radiometry, and pumped a lot of flow thru sea surface water through the Imaging FlowCytobot and bio-optical instruments to examine the phytoplankton community.

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Bio-optical instruments attached to the ship’s flow-thru seawater system that are measuring phytoplankton size and fluorescence, which can be used to estimate primary productivity. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Harvey Walsh

The weather looks nice for the weekend and we hope to collect some more radiometry casts during satellite overpasses.  Be sure to check out Martha’s blog at*Loizeaux/blogs.

Harvey Walsh
Chief Scientist
GG18-04 Summer EcoMon Survey

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 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