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After a 2 day weather delay, we are back on track today. As usual we began sampling at sunrise.
We caught bucket loads of jellyfish.
And a really cool moonfish!
After competing all of our sampling stations, we are ready to pack up and head to shore. Thanks for following along with us!
Today started out with rain and lightening delays but quickly turned to rainbows.
Last night's dip netting resulted in more myctophid samples. These will be used for the otolith chemistry component of our project.
This billfish from today's sample was exceptional!
We finished up the sampling at sunset with a total of 12 stations.
We had a great second day out on the water. Last night we caught some neat myctophids in the ring net.
Mike, Kim and Chris also had good luck with the dip nets at night! Here is one of the flyingfish they caught.
Today we completed stations 15-24 which finished our first transect. We caught tuna, billfish, flying fish, and a dolphinfish. This is one of the larval tunas.
Now we are traveling to the beginning of our second transect, which is about a 7 hour steam. We will be ready to start sampling at dawn tomorrow!
We have just complete our first day of sampling on the LF2016B Cruise aboard the Blazing Seven. Our crew consists of 9 researchers including: Dr. David Wells, Dr. John Mohan, Cori Meinert, Mike Lewis, Chris Steffen, Jessica Lee, and Jillian Gilmartin from Texas A&M University at Galveston and Sebastian Velez from Florida Atlantic University. We sampled at 14 stations today and had some interesting finds including billfish, swordfish, and a puffer.
We will be towing the ring net again tonight, so look forward to pictures from the deep!
All nine of us have a specific task once the boat stops at a station. Travis and Jeff collect water samples to bring back to TAMUG; the water samples are filtered in order to characterize the food web in the Gulf. We also gather environmental data, such as salinity and temperature at each station.
Travis and Jeff collecting water samples
The bongo net and neuston net sampling methods are very similar. They only differ in mesh sizes—this allows us to catch different species along with fish of different sizes. Once the nets are brought on board, we thoroughly rinse all the fish to the bottom of the codends. Then the codends are emptied into a bucket, filtered through a net, placed in their station’s designated jar and preserved. The fish are identified back in Dr. Rooker’s lab at TAMUG.
|Retrieving the bongo nets||Rinsing the net|
|Emptying the codend||Jarring the sample|
If the fish is in good condition, it is brought to the dry lab and Kim takes a picture of it. Like this ribbonfish...
We were up early today so we could get our nets in at sunrise! It was 5:54am when we deployed the bongo nets. So far this morning, we completed 3 stations! We’ve been catching a variety of fish in our samples! Here’s a few pictures to show you guys what we are seeing:
Hello from the R/V Blazing Seven!
We are a group of eight student/scientists headed by Dr. Jay Rooker from TAMU - Galveston. We will be conducting ichthyoplankton (e.g., larval fish) tows for the next five days!
Due to some last minute repairs, we had a delayed start yesterday. However, this allowed us to set up and secure all of our nets while we were still docked at Port Fourchon. We left the dock at 1pm yesterday and arrived at our first station at 7:50am today. In order to sample a station, we deploy the bongo nets to 100 m followed by the neuston net at the surface. The bongo nets are towed for 4-8 minutes, and the neuston net is towed for 10 minutes. Once the nets are retrieved, our job is to sort through and jar the samples.
|Bongo nets||neuston net|
We’ve collected several larval fishes in the nets so far. At the first station, we collected a larval mahi-mahi and a larval sargassumfish. We also caught several larval tuna, to my excitement (since I am studying them for my thesis), and we are hoping to catch more! Unfortunately at Station 3, we had to replace our nets since it ripped while it was being towed, but the new net is functioning perfectly! At Station 8, we collected a swordfish! In all, we completed 11 stations today. It was a very successful first day and we’re looking forward to sampling tomorrow! Check back tomorrow for more pictures!
Check back tomorrow for more pictures!
We finished our last collection today and celebrated with an excellent dinner prepared by the chef Alex, and then started to pack up the lab. Tomorrow we will finish packing the lab and prepare the samples & equipment to be taken home. As I write, our ship is steaming back to Gulfport. This return trip will take at least 14 hours from our current location. I cannot believe that our time at sea has come to an end. While at the beginning of the trip I was not sure that I was up to the challenge of one day at sea - let alone two weeks, I can proudly say I have completed my mission. I learned so much along the way and I am very thankful for the people who allowed me to participate in the program A big thank you to project scientists, Dr. Heather Judkins and Dr. Tammy Franks who hosted the Gulf of Mexico Teacher workshop that allowed me to qualify for this trip. Thank you to my husband and daughter for allowing me to go and holding down the fort at home without me. Thank you to Mrs. Edmonds who served as a substitute for all of my classes during the two weeks I was away.
All of the scientists & most of the crew
Working in the lab
As I close out my time at sea I want to thank all of the awesome scientists who patiently answered numerous questions for me about the different areas of study for the project. Especially Chief scientist Tracey Sutton who directs the DEEPEND project and always kept us laughing in the lab, and Project Manager April Cook who patiently let me help her measure and prepare samples.
They let me pour the sample bucket!! (Thanks Dr. Jon Moore!)
I hope that I will be able to take back what I have learned and share it with generations of students; inspiring them to explore the world around them, ask questions and love science - especially marine science!
Teacher At Sea,
Science Selfie at Sea with Dr. Heather Bracken-Grissom
The largest daily migration happens here in the ocean. Millions of zooplankton and other small marine life travel up from the depths at night to feed on phytoplankton. At daylight they travel back down to the depths to keep them safe from predators. Fish and crustaceans that feed on the zooplankton also travel up and down with this cycle in search of food. Two of the scientists on board, Dr. Joe Warren and Dr. Kevin Boswell use hydroacoustics to help gather data and track this daily migration.
Several student questions were posted on an earlier blog entry about the pictures created from the acoustic data from the sound waves sent down into the water. Here is a little more information about how that works, why it is done and what the data look like.
When the ship reaches a station, the location where the scientists want to collect their data, the acoustic transducer is lowered into the water. The transducer acts like a “telescope” underwater by sending sound waves down. These sound waves bounce off of the layers of animals and create picture of the layers of animals. The transducer boom is always transmitting from a fixed location. However to gather more detailed information at different depths the scientists can use an additional transducer.
Attaching the wombat.
The autonomous echo sounder system (referred to here as wombat) is attached to the CTD rosette to collect data from the different layers of the ocean. With the system attached to the CTD it can be lowered by the ship’s winch to the desired depth to gather information. This allows the scientists to get a close up of the organisms and you can even see individual items in the water column.
Here is another picture of the data sample.
In this photo you can see on the graph the abundance levels of the organisms with red being the most concentrated and blue being the least concentrated. Also included in this graph are the sampling depths of the MOCNESS and the depth/range of the “wombat”. Notice the abundance of the organisms at the surface peaks at night and decreases during the day. This is visible in both of the above images.
The scientists also correlate the data that they collect by determining the density of different organisms in the lab. The density of the animals can vary due to the presence of swim bladders or lipids. They test multiple numbers of a species for verification and record the data in their science science log.
Dr. Joe Warren performing the density calculations.
All of the acoustic information is used in combination with the collected samples to better understand the dynamics and biology of the ocean.
Teacher At Sea,
How do scientists get those up-close, detailed photos of animals from the deep-sea? You know - the ones that you see in books and movies. This was one of the questions my students asked before I came on the trip. We have an excellent photographer/videographer on board the DEEPEND research ship. Dr. Dante Fenolio is a zoologist and a world renowned photographer who serves as the VP of Conservation and Research at the San Antonio Zoo. He has even published a book called Life in the Dark. For his book he traveled to many locations around the globe searching out animals that live in darkness. A section of the book highlights deep-ocean life and many photos were taken while aboard a previous DEEPEND research cruise.
When the nets come in from the trawl Dr. Fenolio eagerly awaits to see what new specimens might be brought in and to see what shape they are in. Undocumented species not collected on previous trips and without net damage are pulled out from the sorting trays. They are logged into the database and taken up to the photo lab to be photographed before being processed for DNA.
In the lab, the windows are blacked out and a black cloth is placed in the background. A small paint brush may be used to brush off and clean any debris from the animal. Dr. Fenolio also uses special V-shaped water tanks to help hold the organisms in place for a more natural look. He takes several shots of each organism from many different angles. Sometimes this is very difficult when the ship is rocking back and forth and the water is sloshing in the tanks. The photos are then uploaded to a computer. Any minor imperfections can be edited out with computer software.
Here are some photos from a behind the scenes look at his photo lab set-up here on the RV Point Sur.
Logging the specimens.
Capturing shots of the specimen.
Present Captain Nick Allen a copy of his book.
Here are some examples of his work.
Hope you enjoyed these pictures.
Teacher At Sea,
Early on in the research cruise, a scientist reported that while he used the head (the restroom) in the middle of the night with the lights off, he observed a bioluminescent glow in the toilet bowl. This observation was also confirmed by other scientists on following evenings. While it was not consistently observed every night, it did occur. What caused this strange phenomena? Bioluminescent plankton is the culprit! The ship’s toilets run on a salt water system so when water is pumped in, some of the tiny, one celled organisms called dinoflagellates make their way into your toilet. They can emit a short blue-green flash of light when the water is agitated by such things as flushing the toilet. If present in enough numbers a faint glow can be observed.
Many marine organisms possess bioluminescence. While it is not as common in the upper portion of the ocean called photic zone which receives sunlight. It is estimated that approximately 90% of organisms in the deep ocean, between 200 and 1000 meters, use bioluminescence in some form or another. It may be used for finding a mate, evading predators, or attracting prey.
Deep sea organisms have special light producing structures called photophores. Fish may have rows of these photophores along the bottom (ventral) side of their body and under their eyes. Some types of angler fish have a bioluminescent lure which dangles above or below the fish’s mouth (a barbel) to attract prey. Although most marine bioluminescence is not bacterial, the bioluminescence in angler fish lures is created by bacteria.
Teacher At Sea,
Here are a few more pictures taken by me. The previous pictures were taken by Dr. Dante Fenolio.
Photophores near the eye.
Here you can see rows of photophores along the bottom of the fish.
The CTD device takes water samples at different depths. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. Other measurements can be taken if additional sensors are added for things like oxygen level, salinity, pH or chlorophyll. From the computer station inside the ship, scientists monitor the water that is passing through the CTD as it is lowered into the depths. They can find out what layers of water have the most chlorophyll, whether there is an oxygen minimum zone or other needed data. These layers are then targeted as water collection points when the CTD is brought back up to the surface. The CTD has a number of bottles that are deployed open. This allows water to pass continuously through the bottles as it is moving in the water column. At specific depths the scientist instructs the device to close one or two bottles to collect the water. The scientist running the CTD can communicate with the crewman running the winch and the device can be raised or lowered to the desired depth. Typically the CTD is sent down to 1500 meters. Data are collected from a station at least two different times, once in the daytime around 6 am and once at night around 6 pm.
In addition to the abiotic factors studied through the water collection, information can also be determined about biotic factors. One of the scientists, Dr. Cole Easson is studying microbes from the different layers of ocean water. He filters the water from the different layers and extracts the microbes onto a filter. The filters are taken back to the lab at home where he sequences the DNA of the microbes. A single sample can contain over 7,000 unique microbes. From the first two DEEPEND research cruises he generated 33.5 million sequences.
Dr. Cole Easson
Another scientist Travis Richards, is filtering water samples to collect data on primary production. This allows him to establish what is the base of the food web and correlate this information to his study of stable isotope analysis with fish. This allows him to predict at what trophic level each animal is located in the food web.
Filtering water from the CTD
Yesterday when we were pulling the MOCNESS we saw what appeared to be an abandoned boat. This observation was called into the US Coast Guard. After finishing the trawl, we circled back by to take a look and make sure there was no one aboard. The makeshift boat was filled with containers with water and leftover supplies. It had metal ribs that were filled with some type of foam and then covered in a tarp. A motor had been attached to it. We hope that the people on board reached safety. Perhaps the boat landed and then floated back out to sea or they were picked up by another vessel. Abandoned boats are one type of marine debris. Luckily other than the boat we have not observed much in the way of marine debris. I personally have only seen 1 or 2 small pieces of trash floating in the water.
While we were checking out the boat it was noticed that the floating structure created something for small fish to congregate around. This attracted some larger fish. There was a school of Mahi-mahi or dolphin fish schooling. Several of the fishermen on board were able to grab a fishing pole and some even caught a fish. Here is a picture of the largest one caught. We are looking forward to dinner tonight.
Travis and his catch
Teacher At Sea,
Who are the super scientists on board? Here is a little information about each of the scientists that are aboard for this research cruise and some action shots of them at work.
Dr. Tracey Sutton from Nova Southeastern University is the Chief Scientist for the DEEPEND Consortium. He leads up the project and sets the plan for what the group of scientist are focused on. On the cruise he makes decisions about where we will be doing our specimen collections if we have to make any modifications to the original plan due to weather or equipment issues. Once the organisms are brought on board he does fish identification. He also removes some of the fish organs so that they can be processed and tested for the presence of hydrocarbons.
Dr. Jon Moore is from the Honors College at Florida Atlantic University where he studies Marine and terrestrial ecology. He specializes in deep sea fish fish ecology & evolution. On the trip he is serving as a fish taxonomist identifying many of the interesting fish finds.
Dr. Tammy Frank is a biological oceanographer from Nova Southeastern University.
She studies deep-sea ecosystems specifically vision and bioluminescence. For the DEEPEND project she is leading studies on crustacean abundance and diversity.
Dr. Mike Vecchione is a zoologist who works for NOAA as the Cephalopod Curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History. He is also an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary’s Institute of Marine Science.
Dr. Heather Bracken-Grissom from Florida International University specializes in crustacean genetics. At FIU she teaches genetics and invertebrate zoology. She is using genetic diversity as a way to measure ecosystem health and recovery.
Dr. Joseph Warren Stonybrook University uses Hydroacoustics to study the migration of marine life. Here he is determining the density of different species of fish to correlate with the acoustic findings.
Dr. Kevin Boswell from Florida International University studies hydroacoustics as well. Here he is preparing the wombat to be attached to the CTD device. The wombat can collect more specific data than the regular acoustic transducer. Dr. Warren and Dr. Boswell can use this information to direct a more targeted trawl that is aimed at specific layers of animals.
One of the scientists, Dr. Cole Easson from Nova Southeastern University is studying microbes from the different layers of ocean water that have been collected by the CTD. He filters the water from the different layers and extracts the microbes onto a filter. The filters are taken back to the lab and the DNA of the microbes is examined. Microbes are then divided into two groups; one group which occurs in the photic zone and the other group occurs in the deeper zone where the light does not reach.
Here is Gray Lawson recording data in his science log book. He is a marine technician employed by (CSA) Continental Shelf Associates and contracted by the DEEPEND project to run the MOCNESS. His work as a marine technician has taken him to many interesting locations such as Cameron, Israel, Qatar and the Caribbean.
Dr. Dante Fenolio is from the San Antonio Zoo where he serves as the Vice President of Conservation and Research. He is the Outreach & Filming Lead for the DEEPEND Project. He is tasked with capturing all of the unique finds on the cruise and documenting the work of the scientists with film and interviews.
April Cook is the DEEPEND Project Manager from Nova Southeastern University. While at sea she is in charge of sample data collection. April is the glue that helps hold the project together. She sets up the logistics of the project keeps everyone on task, making sure that all information is logged into the database and all samples are labelled correctly so that the samples will generate valid comparable data.
Max Weber is a masters student at Texas A&M University at Galveston where he focuses on fish genetics. Some species are difficult to determine differences in appearance only and must be determined genetically.
Travis Richards is a PhD student at Texas A&M University at Galveston where he is studying food web ecology. He is helping to process fish genetics. He will be using stable isotope analysis to examine the structure of the food web in the marine environment.
Jacki Long is from the University of South Florida College of Marine Science where she is completing her masters in Optical Oceanography. She uses the CTD to collect information about the water column, uses the back scattering device to information about particle size & abundance, and collects optical data to ground truth satellite information from remote sensing devices.
For more information about each of these scientists please click here to check out their biographies available on the team page on another portion of the DEEPEND website.
By-catch is defined as the unwanted species of fish or marine creatures who are caught in a net by fisherman. Some students ask about what was kept from the nets vs what was thrown back in the water. On this trip there is no such thing as by-catch. Everything that is caught will be used and analyzed to help paint the picture of what is going on in the different layers of the ocean. Above is an example of what might come from just 1 net in the trawl (which has 6 nets total). This varies with depth and whether the trawl was done in the daytime or night.
Everything is kept for abundance and diversity measurements. However species are needed for a number of other projects - DNA, stable isotopes, parasites or hydrocarbons.. Before coming on the research trip scientists collaborated and identified the species needed for these projects and these specimens are processed immediately on board the ship after each trawl. The rest of the animals are stored in formalin and will be analyzed back on land at different university labs.
Here is a picture of the different tags that are placed in the specimen sample dishes. Each sample is given a net number, an identification tag with the genus and species name. The N tag tells what net the specimen came out of. The processed samples receive a printed label with more specific details including latitude, longitude, date and trawl number. This makes sure the correct information is stored with each specimen. This is critical when you are dealing with tens of thousands of specimens.
Here is a picture of how the scientist begin the identification process and sort organisms into broad groups.
Fish ready to be identified.
Here are some more pictures after the specimens have been sorted and identified. They are then processed and stored.
Fish sorted and identified. Classified crustaceans.
Teacher At Sea,
Today I got a behind the scenes tour of the ship’s engine room with Joshua Jansen, Chief Engineer.
The first thing we came across was the fuel transfer system. In this area, the engineer can choose which tanks the fuel is drawn from and can choose where to send it. The fuel is stored in six cargo tanks under the ship. The fuel transfer system has a centrifuge which acts like a mechanical filter. This ensures that any water or dirt that might have gotten in the fuel is removed before it is burned.
Here is the water maker. Because the ship is out to sea for many days it is important to be able to make enough water for all of the activities on board. Water is needed for drinking, cooking, cleaning and the science work that is done on the ship. The water maker can produce a half a gallon of fresh water per minute. This is equivalent to 720 gallons per day. The ship does have a storage tank that is filled before leaving the dock, but the desalination device is the main source of water for the ship. Water is pumped up from the sea chest in the bottom of the ship. It is sent through a series of pumps with increasing pressure from 40 PSI to 1000 PSI. This pressure pushes it through a series of tubes which contain membranes. The membrane allows the water to pass through but not the sodium chloride ions. After the salt is removed, the water is then treated by a UV light to kill any harmful bacteria before it is available for use on the ship.
Here are the hydraulics which are used to operate the big trawl winch. The winch is used to raise and lower the nets on the ship. It has a 150 horsepower motor which is larger than most cars.
Next up, the marine sanitation device. This is where the waste water is treated before it is released from the ship. This machine is unique because while some devices use stored chlorine to treat the water, this machine is able to remove chlorine from the sea water and use it to treat the water before it released. (The system of toilets uses salt water taken in directly from the sea but all water used on board is treated before it is returned.)
Here are the fire and dewatering pumps. These would be used in case of an emergency if it was necessary to put out a fire or remove water leaking into the bottom of the boat. The system is accessible from a switch outside the engine room because if there were a dangerous situation in the engine room an inside switch would be hard to access.
Here is the oily water separator device. The separator device makes sure that any oil (usually less than 15 ppm) is removed from water that has collected in the bilge (the bottom part of the hull) before it is pumped out. The left side of the photo also contains the air receivers for the air compressors.
Air compressors that make the air for the air receivers. This is used to start the engines and run power tools used on the ship.
Here is the main engine. It is a Caterpillar D-379 from 1981 and is 565 horsepower.
Here are the two Caterpillar 3406 generators. Each is 175 kilowatt. These generators run all of the power on the boat.
This is the gear shaft. It turns and is attached to the propeller directly connecting to the engine through the gear. The blades of the propeller can be tilted to adjust the pitch of the blades which give more options when the operator wishes to vary the speed of the boat.
This photo attempts to show where the rudders are connected under the boat. The rudders are controlled by the autopilot computer program but can also be adjusted manually if necessary.
So there you have it. A behind the scenes look at what powers a ship and keeps it running!
Teacher At Sea,
Once the trip got underway the days start to fall into a predictable pattern. The nets go down at night and get pulled up around 3 am. The scientists collect the organisms from the different nets which are sorted through one net at a time (there are a total of 6 nets). There are specialists to identify the different fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans but they still use guides to help make a positive id. All of the organisms are entered into the database, weighed and measured. Some are sampled for DNA, while others are frozen for stable isotope analysis when they are returned to the lab back on land. It can take up to around six hours to process all of the organisms that are brought in during one trawl. Sometimes we stopped for a meal during the processing time, other times we wait until we are finished and grab a bite afterwards. Then it’s time to take a nap or relax until the nets come back up at 3 pm and we start the whole process all over again.
Bringing in the 3 am Trawl
There are no hitchhikers on this trip. Everyone has a job to do and I get to help April Cook, the database manager. I help her weigh, measure and store all of the fish samples.
Teacher At Sea,
Our Work station
Juvenile puffer fish, one of the smallest items I measured.
Yesterday was filled with the wonders of nature, not only from the ocean depths but at the surface as well. Early in the day we were lucky enough to see some dolphins. The pod of dolphins was quite substantial and had around 50 members. They were splashing and jumping up in the water and bow riding along with the ship.
Dolphins Bow Riding
Sunset at Sea
In the evening around 10 pm after we had processed the samples from the nets, the lights were turned off on the deck of the boat. It was possible to see so many stars and a few of us even got to see some shooting stars. And not to be outdone, the ocean water was putting on a show too! The wake of the boat had a slight glow from the bioluminescent plankton in the water. Bright flashes of light were able to be seen sparkling in the water when some of the floating pyrosomes & other bioluminescent organisms were churned up at the water’s surface. Unfortunately my camera could not capture the beautiful display.
Teacher at Sea,
You might be wondering what like life is like on the ship. The ship has many amenities that you would have at home. Most of the state rooms house two people, although there is a room which is shared by four. Pairs of state rooms share a common bathroom called the head. The bathrooms include a toilet & shower. In each stateroom there is a sink and the beds are arranged in bunks. There is a little curtain that you can pull closed for privacy in case you want to sleep and your roommate is still awake. (Most of the scientists are on the same schedule, however there are a few of them that are on a different time schedule.) The scientists that collect data with the CTD device & acoustics sometimes have an opposite schedule so they are up when we are sleeping and they are sleeping while we are processing data.
There is a dining space (called the mess) that also serves as a common area when meals are over. There is a television where we can watch satellite tv, read or do work on our computers. (Right now as I am writing this everyone has finished eating dinner and they are watching Myth Busters.) There is a washing machine & dryer on board to do laundry so everyone did not have to pack clothes for two entire weeks. The ship has a device on board so that it can make fresh water for everyone to use for washing, drinking and cooking.
The two common areas
Chef Alex preparing a meal
Chef Alex prepares the meals at set times 6:00 am, 12 noon and 6:00 pm. If we are working we will break for the meal. If it is an off time some people will choose to skip eating to get some extra sleep. I have enjoyed the food very much after I got my “sea legs.” The first day and half I had trouble keeping things down and I was really wondering what I had gotten myself into with this trip and if I was going to survive ship life.) All of the food waste that we create is dumped overboard and the recyclable and trash are stored until we reach land for disposal.
Everything on board has to be adapted for boat life. When the chef is cooking he has special equipment to keep the pots from sliding off of the stove top. Most doors have a hook that keeps them open so that it does not keep swinging open. The shower and other areas have a bar on the wall if you need to grab it to hold on to something. Several of the doorways are set up to be waterproof in case of emergency. So that is a little run down on our home away from home!
Teacher At Sea,