Final Reflections from Teacher at Sea…

Debra Brice, 2011 Teacher at Sea

Last night we crossed the entire front and took over 14 plankton tows and CTDs , we started about 6:30pm and sampled until around 6am.  It was busy in the lab and on deck, but the data was very cool!! It was a successful cruise.  The chief scientists were all pleased that we finished all stations and experiments. They were psyched that we met all the science goals, had no injuries, no equipment losses or major damage.


Jon Chan processing samples

undergrad students had a wonderful time, learned a lot and many of them told me they are considering changing their majors to something in marine biology or oceanography.  The graduate students were all enthusiastic and it was interesting speaking to them about their Phd programs and where they hope to be and study in the future.   Last night as we were surveying across the ‘Front’ before we sampled, we ran across a group of Fin whales feeding right on the ‘Front’.  The plankton samples in the middle of the front were just thick with zooplankton, so it was easy to see what the whales were interested in.

Dave Faber and Mike Roberto with Seasoar

It was a wonderful cruise, so interesting to see all the different scientists from different but related fields collecting different data and putting it together to form a clearer and consistent picture of an ecosystem.  I learned many new experimental and collection techniques,  more about processes within this coastal ecosystem. I am really looking forward to sharing the experience with my students and introducing them to different aspects of oceanography and climate change as well as careers in science.  I am bringing back some samples for my class from the plankton tows and Oozeki tows, some neat hatchet fish, pyrosomes and a jar of plankton from one of the bongos so they can look at copepods and krill from this area.

As a teacher it was a unique experience to be able to work with the scientists and participate in the collection of data and specimens for a long term research project, have the opportunity to speak with leading scientists in the field of climate research and oceanography while they are doing the research.  I think it has given me a better feel for what is happening in the field in science today and be able to take that back to my students to share.  I will be using my experiences and the data to create more realistic labs and lessons for my students and be able to relate these experiments to real research being done in the field, thus showing my students how what we do in the classroom really does mirror what is happening in the real world. I am hoping this experience is helping me to answer that age old student question: “ Why do we have to learn this stuff?” and “ Will we ever use this stuff?”

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Teachers Get Involved

Denise Lit asks:

How do they plan to use this Seasor data and is it shared with many different research groups at SIO or only the group who has sponsored it?  I also notice most of your sampling is done at night… is there a reason for this? The Mocness and Oozeki sampling for the zooplankton and mesoplankton is done once during the day and once during the night. Zooplanton are vertical migrators, and many feed on phytoplankton which live in the euphotic zone ( they need light because they are plants) but light also means that predators can see you…and eat you.  So, the zooplankton go down below the photic zone to hide during the day and come up (vertically migrate during the night).  The two daily samples allow the scientists to see the daytime biomass and compare it to the night time biomass. They are also looking at diurnal patterns, (when are they migrating) to asses daily rhythymns of grazing.  Also, one of the big parts of this research is looking at the different nutrients in the system out here and where and when they are being used. So, the groups looking at silicate, nitrate and C14 uptake need to do their sampling at night and set up their experiments and get them back in the water before dawn. They want to measure the usage of nutrients in the natural system and any light, will affect the rates.  So, much of the sampling and collection is done using opaque or dark bottles, the silica experiments are set up and put back out during the night and with all the lights turned off so that when it”s dawn and the sun comes up only the natural light is affecting the rate at which silica is converted to silicate.   Dr. Krause is looking at silica uptake and the measurements he is taking are so precise that any change (such as light in the lab on the organisms) that could affect uptake and conversion rates would skew his data. So, even in the isotope van when they are treating the samples with a tracer they have red lights that are not usable by the plankton, so as not to affect the rates. The same is true for the nitrate and C14 sampling which are affected by light.  Even when  processing some of the samples as in Dr. Landry’s experiments on grazing rates, he needs to use dark bottles and he covers some of his bottles while filtering so that unnatural light does not affect the experiments.

Denise Lit

What exactly is happening in the “storm” fronts? Is it animal activity, increase in numbers of animals, or actual water moving around instead of air? Great question, and the answer is: all of the above ( don’t your kids just hate it when you say stuff like that? ) But, you have the idea.  The “front” is an area where different water masses with different densities (based on temp and salinity) meet and mix, there is a gradient across this area.   We are making measurements to determine whether dissolved nutrients (needed by phytoplankton) are elevated at the front because of increased mixing from below the euphotic zone.  We are also assessing whether ocean currents at the front cause plankton to aggregate (or disperse), whether zooplankton grazing on phytoplankton is enhanced there, and whether mid-water fish and seabirds are affected.

When they analyze the krill is it with the naked eye or under a microscope? What are they looking for?  On the ship we are just labeling and preserving them as we take samples.  The samples will the analysed ( identified and counted) back at Scripps using the microscope. We are doing some experiments with a couple of species of copepods that I mentioned in an earlier blog.  Dr. Ohman offered to give a tour of the Scripps Pelagic Invertebrates collection to any of the teachers who would be interested after we return.
Just for curiosity sake, Are there any indications that pollution is causing mutations in the live samples you have been collecting?  They have not been looking for any mutations and are not seeing any signs of pollution out here.

Ariel Valentino asks:

What is the typical temperature difference between the upper and lower gradient of a “front”?  The temperature gradient across the front is small, 1 degree C or so, but the real difference across the front is a combination of temperature and salinity that when combined makes different densities of water parcels.


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Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP)

We are doing surveying on the 13 with the MVP , then we have to travel a
bit to get out of the military zone that the Navy is using for missile
testing and the night of the 13th we will start sampling for Cycle 6.

Pacific White Sided Dolphins off the Melville.

We had dolphins come up next to the ship as we brought the MOCNESS onboard
this afternoon, they followed it as we towed it in and they circled around
right next to the ship as we worked with the nets.  They were Pacific
white-sided dolphins and very curious.  Still cloudy out here, thick marine
layer.  We are on the far side of the front right now and the nets don’t
have as much in them as before.

Plankton rules!

Everyone is tired and after 4 weeks at sea, we are now counting the days until we get home.  There is still the excitement about what we have seen and the data collected and enthusiasm for being able to go back to the lab and start to look over the data and put the pieces together. Although out here the scientists do look at each others data and discuss what they see, it will take time to look over everything and put it in perspective.   I am including some diagrams from Dr. Krause this time, one is a basic biological pump that shows the parts of the ecosystem out here and how nutrients cycle through it.  The second diagram shows how Silicon (Si) cycles through the ecosystem, as its taken up by diatoms, radiolarians and silicaflagellates.  This is to give some idea of just one of the elements they are looking at out here and how it moves through the system.

Since we  have been looking for plankton while we were out here, I thought
I would get everyone excited when I informed them I had brought plankton
along…..well My little plankton ( of Spongebob fame), who is modeled
after…yes, everybody’s favorite, a copepod.  So little plankton is hung in
the main lab to remind us of our goal.

Last sampling tonight and then clean up tomorrow and we start to head

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The Last cycle

We are starting another sampling cycle after moving to another site along
the front.  In each cycle samples were taken to measure the net rates of
change in the ambient physical and chemical environment and the biological
community. Also experimental studies were done to assess the contributions
of phytoplankton, bacterial growth, micro- and meso- zooplankton grazing
and active vertical migrations to particle export and net community change.
Much of the data will be analyzed back in the lab, some of the experiments
were processed at sea.  The plankton samples were preserved and will be
looked at back in the lab.   It will be really interesting to see what
picture can be put together about biological processes across the
front after all the data has been analyzed and compared.   Everyone is
getting a bit tired, but still enthusiastic about what we are looking at.

Gulper Eel (Photo credit: Fabio Companello).

We will be surveying with the MVP and looking for our last sampling site
tonight.  The military is doing some practice missile launches and we have
to leave the area Tuesday night and Wed until about 5pm. Then we will go to our sampling site and start our next cycle at midnight.  The Oozeki brought up some really interesting fish, including a beautiful specimen of a Gulper Eel.  Very strange looking critter.  He is also the symbol for MBARI ( Monterey Bay Research Institute).

Dragon Fish (Photo credit Rob Palomares).

They also got a really nice Viper fish and some more dragons.  Which I have included in the pictures.  The cups were shrunk Tuesday morning and look great.  I am also
including an example of our sampling schedule. It varies slightly, but not much. Each instrument has to be put in the water by itself, so in order to get all the sampling done for all the groups it’s a pretty full schedule.  And the gaps in time are usually used to process stuff in the lab.

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Going down… cups sent to the bottom

Cat Nichols and her cups ready for the CTD.

Andrew Taylor and Jon Wokuluk working on their cups!

Still sampling!   Today was the 42nd anniversary of the launching of the R/V Melville.  At dinner the cook’s had made an amazing ship-shape cake!  We sang happy birthday and enjoyed dinner!  Chief Engineer Paul Bueren’s BBQed steaks!   We got more pyrosomes and Dragon fish in the MOCNESS tonight.  The moon was out and it looked a little spooky with the clouds and the big swells.  Everyone is excitedly working on their styrofoam cups as tomorrow is the big day for the deepest CTD cast of the cruise.  The cast will go down to 1000m and the pressure at that depth will crush the air out of the Styrofoam cups, shrinking them.  You have to see it to appreciate it.  I have my students make cups at the beginning of every year and then send them out to the research  ship R/V Revelle and they go down on the CTD cast to be shrunk.  It is a wonderful lesson in pressure.

Some of the shrunken wig heads from previous cruises.

These are some of the shrunken wig heads from previous cruises.  As you can see the “shrinkage”  pressure is pretty impressive.  The atmospheric pressure at sea level is 15 lbs per square inch and each 33 feet of depth equals 1 Atmosphere of pressure.  So 33 feet below the surface of the ocean is 2 Atmospheres of pressure.

So how many atmospheres and how much pressure would 1000 m ( about 3000 feet) deep in the ocean be?  I will send picture of our shrunken cups tomorrow.

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Man Cave

Another busy night sampling.  Those night CTD casts make for some sleepy
scientists.  Dr. Mike Stukel seems to always be sampling or processing, so

Dr. Mike Stukel, catching a short nap between processing samples

sometimes he has to catch a nap between samples. Jeff Krause and Andrew Taylor are sharing the Analytical Lab, which has now been christened the “Man Cave”…

The analytical Lab AKA: the “Mancave”

I think that’s because in between those long sections of processing they are watching old episodes of Seinfeld, Taladega Nights and a few others …..sometimes the laughter from the “mancave” is loud enough to hear at the other end of the main lab over all the pumps !
We are beginning to come to the end of the cruise and at least with the plankton samples we can see some differences in the biomass across the ‘Front’.  Mark Ohman is still excited about the pyrosomes we keep getting, not sure what depth they are coming from, but we keep seeing them.

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Hatchet fish, pyrosomes, krill and copepods…

Fangtooth from the Oozeki, picture by Joel Van Noord.

Busy day out here, lots of wonderful stuff coming up in the Bongos,
Oozeki and the MOCNESS.  The MOCNESS caught some amazing little hatchet
fish along with the plankton, which was thick and soupy like yesterday.
The Oozeki caught some really interesting midwater fish including a perfect little “fangtooth”.   Nightime sampling is always fun, as the birds are flying onboard and I think the light kind of blinds them because they all land like a bunch of gooney birds!    I have been able to get some of the extra samples of the trawls and preserve them to bring back to show my class.  Hatchet fish, pyrosomes (glow in the dark tunicates!) and several types of krill and copepods.

Mesopelagic diversity , picture by Joel Van Noord

To answer one of the questions from a teacher: “ What is the temperature
difference across the front?”  The temperature difference is small, only
about 1 degree C and salinity is only about a couple of fractions of a
thousand. (although for salinity that can be significant), but the
temperature and salinity are only indicators of the different water masses,
it’s the nutrients that are the key to the biomass and the different water
masses are indicators of where the nutrients are.

We are recovering the sediment traps tomorrow and I will send a picture of the inside of the Isotope Van and a little explanation of how they are using the sediment traps to measure Silica in the water (and why we would care how much silica is in the water….hint: because some species of phytoplankton use this material to make their support structures….kind of like little glass houses).

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Pea Soup Sampling

Pea Soup Sample from bongo net.

Krill (Euphausia pacifica)

Busy day today, everyone is sampling again.  The bongo net this morning was just filled with diatoms, krill and all sorts of phytoplankton.  The
cod at the end of the net holds about ½ gallon and it was over flowing even when we concentrated it down.  Looked like thick pea soup.  We found small hatchet fish in the 300m tow.  I was able to pull them out of the sample and preserve them to bring back to my students.  Hatchet fish are not vertical migrators, they are midwater fish, but 250m to 300m is probably their limit.  We have been finding quite a few pyrosomes,  these are colonial tunicates, very pretty, some bioluminesce.  I know the Oozeki group got quite a few really interesting fish in their tow and I am going to go take some pictures and write some notes on what they got  and how that looks compared to the rich plankton tows.


Not sure what the CTD samples have been showing, everyone is working at different times or is really busy when I have a minute, so I have to find the right time.  Some are sleeping during the day and working all night and some are working all night, then there are those, like Christian and Mike Stukel who seem to never sleep (I am still trying to figure out their schedule as whenever I go to the lab whether its noon or 2am, they are there)  But there is work to do and samples to collect.

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Wrapping up another cycle

We towed Seasoar all day on the 5th and finished about noon on the 6th.
Kind of quiet while everyone finished some analysis, or read, worked on
other work.  Scientists had a meeting to determine where to start  the new
cycle.  There have been quite a few small sea birds coming on board at
night.  They just fly in , land on the deck and look for a place to tuck

Visiting Graduate student Fabio Companello helping with Oozeki nets

themselves in.  We put out a box to keep them in until morning, then release them.  The restech doesn’t want them to get into any of the equipment and hurt the birds or the equipment.  Once they land on deck they are easy to pick up and place in the box.  We have seen quite a few whales out here as well, from far aways so we are not sure what type, probably fins, perhaps blues. During the MOCNESS late last night there was a sea lion swimming around just trying see if we had anything interesting. But plankton is not on his menu.

Course of the ship while surveying with longitude/latitude.

The seasoar plot is a 3 dimensional picture of temperature, salinity, fluorescence, and density.   This gives an overview of water masses, conditions and biomass.  Fluorescence is a measurement of chlorophyll in the water which is an indicator of phytoplankton.  Follow this series of photographs. Can you describe the characteristics of the water mass they are surveying?  Please send us a comment…

Fluorescence is a measurement of chlorophyll.

Salinity plot Lat:33-12.7N Long:120-46.1W

Density plot

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Foosball at sea?

Media room aboard the R/V Melville

Fourth of July, and we are still Seasoaring……big Foosball tournament is in progress in the Upper Lab.   Seasoar will be done early tomorrow, data is looking amazing. I have to wait until they process it to get a copy, but it is amazing to analyze.

Analytical lab.

The chief Engineer, Paul Buerens, will be barbequing for the 4th of July serving up some hamburgers, hotdogs, french fries and apple pie for dessert.  I have Seasoar watch during dinner, but will eat a bit later.  Weather has been beautiful all day, everyone is gearing up for the next set of Cycle sampling.  So, they are working on stuff like reading, relaxing, taking turns monitoring the data.  Here are some of the pictures of the Analytical Lab where Dr. Krause and Andrew Taylor from Dr. Landry’s Lab work, and the Media Lounge where we can all go to watch a movie after dinner, or whenever.

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