Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer Sampling Part II - The Rain in Galveston Falls Mainly on the Reddy Lab

One way that chemists use to determine how oil changes over time, or "weathers," is to use controlled laboratory experiments where oils are exposed to different environmental conditions (heat, sunlight, water-washing, bacteria). While these laboratory experiments have provided insights into some of these weathering processes, it is really difficult to accurately reproduce the real-world combination of environmental factors that lead to chemical weathering of oil. Our goal with these long-term field collections is to collect oil samples at many time points as they undergo real-world weathering. This trip marks our third time collecting samples from the Kirby oil spill since the spill occurred in late March 2014, and will allow us to compare the early weathering of oil from the Kirby spill to the weathering processes that we observed with oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill. 

Torrential storms followed us from Louisiana to Texas where our first night of sampling was a soggy one. But, being the intrepid scientists that we are, we braved these storms and the accompanying tornados and went about our work. Thankfully, the tornado activity was centered to the west of our sampling locations. 

A wall cloud rolls through the north end of Galveston Island, bringing heavy rains as part of a system that spawned tornadoes farther inland. Photo credit: Bob Nelson.
Despite the fact that much of the 168,000 gallons of oil spilled from the Kirby washed out of the Houston ship channel to oil beaches as far as 200 miles to the south, we were still able to find samples resembling this sticky, tar-like oil along the north shore of Galveston Island. The cleanup effort for this spill was largely effective, but it is practically impossible to remove all of the oil from a spill. This is especially the case with intermediate and heavy fuel oils like the Kirby oil. Turning over rocks along the beach yielded fresh looking oil and many areas of the rock jetty along the shore were spotted with oil covered debris. 

Chemistry graduate student (University of Campinas, Brazil), Hector Koolen, scraping oil from marsh grass along the north shore of Galveston Island. Photo credit: Bob Swarthout.
Oil covered rocks and debris found along the north shore of Galveston Island. This oil is likely weathered remnants of the Kirby oil spill. Photo credit: Bob Swarthout.

On our first trip to Texas, Bob Nelson and I were able to collect Kirby samples along the gulf coast in Galveston and 200 miles south on Mustang Island near Corpus Christi. But locating samples during this trip was again hampered by the massive amounts of seaweed on the beaches and the associated cleanup effort. The seaweed has been coming ashore for about two months in larger than usual quantities. Many municipalities, parks, and hotels use bulldozers and front loaders to clear seaweed from their beaches to encourage tourism. This cleanup effort also removes sand and can remove any oil samples that may be present.While this is a good thing for beachgoers,it resulted in our being unable to find any samples resembling Kirby oil along the eastern beaches of Galveston Island. 

A front loader clears seaweed from the beach in front of a hotel on Galveston Island. Photo credit: Bob Swarthout.

In spite of the seaweed, this trip was still a big success for our lab. We continue to grow our collection of samples from Deepwater Horizon extending our time series to over four years. And, we now have three separate time points for the Kirby spill which will allow us to examine weathering trends for this intermediate fuel oil. Now it's back to the lab at WHOI to get on with the comprehensive chemical analyses that will tell us just how much these two oils have changed since our last visit to the Gulf.

Post submitted by: 

Bob Swarthout, The Reddy Lab
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Final post from WB1413

First off, we have a contribution by Josie and Caroline (Eckerd College students). 

“There’s no daisies in the middle of the ocean” 

The morning of our ninth and final day of research was quite productive! We finished up the last watch, pulled the sonar towfish out of the water, broke everything down, and packed it all up- all before 10am. For a group of mainly twenty-somethings that’s not too shabby! That’s the one good thing about the 4-8watch -- the sunrises. This morning did not disappoint. It was by far the best of the voyage. 

Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico on our last full day at sea. Photo Credit: Blake Borgeson

Spending 8 hours a day in a small little lab watching computers and making sure everything was working, you get quite close to the people you are with. Well our watch did at least. We’ve learned a lot about each other, the game of Hearts, and the bathometry of the ancient shorelines of the northern Florida continental shelf. We would definitely like to thank Dr. Stan Locker for bringing us all along for this cruise. We have our first cruise under our belts and hopefully many more to come. Also we’d like to give a huge thank the crew of the crew of the R/V Weatherbird II- it would not have been possible without these guys. 

Trying not to make this blog too sentimental and make it all daisies, unicorns, and rainbows, we did have a great time. We really enjoyed ourselves! Getting off the grid and away from reality for a bit wasn’t so bad. There certainly aren’t any daisies or unicorns out here but we certainly had a blast with Stan and the crew. We can honestly say that our first research cruise was a success!

Recovering the C3D sonar. (Photo credit, S. Locker)

The 4-8 watch. Left to right: Blake Borgeson, Trevor Browning,
Josie Hadfield, and Caroline Glenn. Photo Credit: Cathryn Wheaton

Josie Hadfield and Caroline Glenn 

So we have completed our work and are headed home. We were able to map significant areas of the northeast continental shelf margin that expands our understanding of benthic habitat distribution patterns. Data products will be transferred to the Deep-C data bank following final data processing. Ten CTD casts produced standard water column profiles from multiple sensors, plus a suite of filtered phytoplankton and nannoplankton samples for further research. Additionally, the Weatherbird II’s data collection systems that will be immediately transferred to the Deep-C data bank include the CTD profiles, raw EK60 sounder recordings, MET, ADCP, and navigation data. 

As this will be the final blog update for our cruise (WB-1413), I want to thank the science crew for their excellent effort, support, and great attitudes. Everyone was always asking if they could help. I really enjoyed their blogs and perspectives. 

Finally I want to thank Captain Baumeister (Boomer), Ryan, George, Chris, Thomas, Al, and Andrew, crew of the Weatherbird II, for making this trip safe and successful. This is a well-coordinated and capable team that is a pleasure to go to sea with. 

Science crew aboard the Weatherbird II, June 19-29, 2014. Left to right: Trevor Browning (USF), Chris Horruitine.(VSU & UF), Tiffani Dinkins (VSU) , Anastasia Nienow (VSU), Maggie Power(FSU), Rachael Kalin (EC), Stan Locker (Chief Scientist, USF), Cathryn Wheaton (USGS), Chelsea Kuhs (EC), Caroline Glenn (EC), Josie Hadfield (EC), Gipson Hawn (EC), and Blake Borgeson (EC). (Photo Credit: Al) USF – University of South Florida VSU – Valdosta State University FSU – Florida State University EC – Eckerd College USGS – U.S. Geological Survey

Stan Locker

Friday, June 27, 2014

Reddy Lab team back out in the field

Reddy Lab Gulf Coast Collection Update - Summer 2014

Mike McNulty showing off the Deepwater
Horizon sand patties collected at Perdido Key
in Alabama. Photo credit Bob Nelson.
Two oil spills have kept us busy. One is pretty obscure, the Kirby, which spilled 168,000 gallons of fuel oil in Galveston Bay in March 2014. The other is the iconic Deepwater Horizon (DwH) that led to the release of 160 million gallons of crude oil from the seafloor of the northern Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Collectively, we strive to understand how petroleum hydrocarbons change over time as they are exposed to different environmental conditions. So far, our lab has found that many compounds from the DwH have broken down due to microbes, sunlight, and evaporation. And we have identified some compounds that appear to be impervious to Mother Nature. We are observing some of these processes, too, from the Kirby spill. We continue to collect samples from these spills to document whether any additional changes are occurring or whether breakdown has ceased. 

In this latest installment of fieldwork, WHOI's Bob Nelson and I, Bob Swarthout, traveled with undergraduates Bryan James (University of Toronto), Ben Freiberg (Skidmore College), and Mike McNulty (Boston College), all veterans of Chris Reddy’s lab from previous summers, and newcomers Thomas Rugh (starting at Cal Poly Pamona this Fall), to collect oil samples along the gulf coast between Pensacola, Florida, and Galveston, Texas. 

The first day of this trip involved stops at four long-term study sites between Pensacola, FL and Biloxi, MS. At Perdido Key State Park, we found small sand-patties, oil mixed with sand and shells, with the characteristic orange color of the oil that was released from the Macondo well after the DwH disaster. While we cannot confirm the source of this oil in the field, our laboratory fingerprinting analysis will eventually determine so. The fact that even four years after the spill we are still finding oil at this location approximately 200 miles from the location of the spill is evidence of the widespread impact and longevity of marine oil spills. Yet, its pretty hard to find these samples. It’s not like what you see on TV. You need a keen eye on many beaches to find just a few. We also found numerous tar balls that washed ashore with rafts of Sargassum seaweed. The "hockey puck-like” appearance points to an oil unlike the DwH. They are more likely evidence of the vast number of unknown oil spills and natural oil seeps that contribute oil to the world's oceans. 

At our second stop, Fort Morgan within Alabama's Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, new Reddy lab member, Thomas Rugh, immediately got in on the action finding sand patties and a multitude of tar balls in the Sargassum along the high-tideline of the beach. Field sampling trips like these are excellent opportunities to engage young scientists early on in their career and to link the laboratory work to real world environmental impacts. 

Summer student Thomas Rugh shows off the first sand patty he found at Fort Morgan, Alabama.
While this patty was small we found larger patties all along the beach. Photo credit Bryan James.

The last two stops of the day were in the Dauphin Island jetty and beach in Alabama. Returning guest student Ben Frieberg scrambled through the rocks of the jetty to scrape oil samples from the rocks. In contrast to the large number of samples collected at the Dauphin Island beach in 2013, this year turned up few samples. It is difficult to predict where and when we will be able to find oil samples because of variable weather conditions and the ever changing coastal landscape. We were ushered from the beach by an approaching thunderstorm at sunset, which accompanied us along the way to our hotel in Biloxi, Mississippi. 
Ben Frieberg uses spatulas to scrape oil from rocks along the jetty at Dauphin Island in Alabama.
These oil samples are likely to be exposed to different weathering processes than the sand patties found at other locations offering insights into the relative effects of each weathering process. Photo credit Bob Swarthout.
Long time Reddy lab members Mike McNulty (left)
and Bryan James (right) collect sand patties
found in the surf at Ship Island in Mississippi.
Photo credit Bob Swarthout.
We spent our second day sampling the perimeter of Ship Island off the shore of Gulfport, Mississippi. This site never fails to produce samples and the experienced eyes of Bryan James and Mike McNulty found sand patties all along the beach and rolling in the surf. 

Our work over these two days has attracted the attention of several beach goers. I am constantly impressed by how interested Gulf coast residents are in our science. Seeing experienced science ambassadors like Bob Nelson interacting with these residents shows how effective communication of complex science can invigorate public interest and help stakeholders see a tangible return on their investment in research. Ultimately, communicating our work to a broader audience is one of the most important parts of the scientific process because it allows others to apply our results to other areas of science and public policy. 

WHOI’s Bob Nelson (center) explains the purpose of our work to interested gulf coast residents
at Fort Morgan in Alabama. Photo credit Bob Swarthout.

The following day brought us into Louisiana, where we were joined by Hector Koolen, a Ph.D. student at University of Campinas in Brazil. We looked for samples at two of our long-term sites: Grand Isle and Elmer’s Island. These sites are periodically re-oiled by oil from DWH and have produced many samples in the past, but this year was different. Elmer’s Island was closed to the public earlier this year as the municipality worked to clean-up oil that washed ashore. These beaches were choked with Sargassum seaweed making it extremely difficult to find any DwH sand patties. Tar balls from other sources were abundant at both sites, but DwH samples eluded us. Hector was struck by how many tar balls we were able to find, but also by the “less-than-pristine” conditions of the beaches we sampled. In addition to the seaweed, the beaches were also full of trash, something that Hector did not expect to find in the United States. However, living with marine debris and oil spills is part of life along the Gulf Coast, and in spite of the seaweed, garbage, and tar balls, local residents were still enjoying the beaches and fishing. 

From Louisiana our route turns south towards Texas and the site of the Kirby oil spill. Hopefully, our efforts in Galveston will not be similarly stymied by seaweed! 

Post submitted by: 
Bob Swarthout, The Reddy Lab
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Close to the end

It’s Friday and we are continuing to map out new habitat areas west of Madison-Swanson. The sea state is near calm – smooth surface with occasional wind ripples – but no air moving which means it is HOT outside. Consequently, we are a bit warn inside the lab with 8 monitors, several computers and a drying oven pumping out heat. We plan to stop mapping at 8am in the morning, pull the sonar pole up, and head to St Petersburg. 

There has been much interest by the science crew to participate in the blog – they often teamed up in pairs to work together. So today we have another student blog offering by Gipson and Blake. 


Deadliest catch….. without the crabs (R/V WB II edition) 

Homemade fly swatter.
(Photo credit: BlakeBorgeson)
Instead of catching crabs we have been hard at work trying to kill a very tedious fly that has been loitering around the dry lab. When staring at computer screens for 4-hour periods at a time, you’d be surprised the degree of aggravation a single fly can cause. With the use of a bungee cord, a pencil and half of a roll of tape we successfully created a homemade fly swatter. “Once you start you start hunting you just can’t stop, it’s like an addiction” -Gipson. After three days of tracking the fly down and going slightly insane we have yet to find the corpse… 

In addition to the fly problem, the AC in the dry lab could use a little more pep. The dry lab is located on the port side of the boat and on top of the engine room, which results in a lot of heat from the sun and the motors. To resolve this problem we have resulted to passing around ice packs to cool off which has worked pretty well. 

While on watch we have been taking turns examining the data of the hard bottom habitats and have seen some cool data! Stan has been showing us 3D modeling of the seafloor bottom which has been very interesting! Seeing this sort of research and learning some of the programs has really broadened our view on where our geology degree can take us. 

Learning something interesting. Blake, Stan and Gipson. (Photo credit: Blake Borgeson)
Throughout the hard struggles the research cruise has been very educational and a great life experience that we once doubted before. With the calm seas, great weather and a fantastic group of ambitious research students the cruise couldn’t be going better. With good food and good people I don’t think we will pass an opportunity to go on another cruise. 

Bon voyage, 
Gipson Hawn & Blake Borgeson

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Seafloor mapping the Madison Swanson and Twin Ridges area

We have worked our way back south to the Madison Swanson and Twin Ridges area and will work to fill in major gaps in seafloor mapping in this area. We have already found more paleoshoreline structures and pinnacles in this area -- excellent benthic habitat. 

Here are a few pictures of our lab set up and where we work. 

Typical scene on watch showing the various data acquisition displays.
The 12-4 watch standers are hard at work (left to right) Rachael Kalin,
Cathryn Weaton, Gipson Hawn, and Maggie Power. (Photo credit: S. Locker)

Further down the lab is the data processing computer for the sonar data where we produced final maps of the seafloor imagery. Also shown is the station for filtering water brought up by the CTD bottles. The filtering collects plankton on filter paper. Maggie (Wise lab at FSU) has plans to study the nannoplankton. The larger diatoms will be studied by the Nienow lab at Valdosta State. 

Data processing and water filtering stations: (left to right) Blake Borgeson
and Trevor Browning. (Photo credit: S. Locker)

View of the C3D sonar pole mount and the GPS antenna. The sonar head is located
about 8 feet below the surface. The CTD rosette (gray tubes) is to the right. June 26, 2014
– seas continue to be favorable. (Photo credit: S. Locker)

Also today we have another blog entry contributed by our student volunteers. 

Deep-C Blog Post 6/26 
By Chelsea Kuhs & Rachael Kalin 

Wheathergod I (WG I) and his adornment watching over the crew.
Editor’s note: WG I (the original) first went to sea off Key West
around 2009. Good weather follows. WG II adopted by other
researchers began assisting Deep-C and C-Image operations
a few years ago.)
So far on the Weatherbird II it has been smooth sailing for the crew and science party. Our watch, the 8-12 watch, has proven to be the best watch in that we get ample amounts of regular sleep and get to keep our eating schedule (much more of a Godsend than you would think). The morning started out for Rachael in getting to see the planet Venus rise with the moon around 5 am. In her words, “it was well worth waking up for!” After a short sleep following, we both woke up pretty late for breakfast, and sheepishly asked Thomas for some of what was left. The morning watch was pretty uneventful, but hey, that’s a good thing! We entertained ourselves by playing riveting games of candy crush, learning a new card game, spite & malice, and making friendship bracelet adornments for Weathergod I (to thank him for the good conditions),while also keeping a close watch on the systems of course. After our watch we enjoyed Taco Tuesday compliments of our great on-board chef, and relaxed in the air-conditioning of the galley. After, we took part in our daily mid-day nap, and woke up just in time for yet another great meal of salad, pork, and the best mashed potatoes since grandmas. With another visit from our friends, the bow riding dolphins, we retired back to the dry lab for our night shift. It again was on the uneventful side, but we made use of the time in doing a bit of organizing. Chelsea in fact accomplished organizing all her photo files on her computer. Stan also set up our lines for the rest of the night, and worked to save all files before heading off to bed. We had heard in the morning that after our watch ended, and we were fast asleep, the systems had crashed, losing up to 6 hours of important data. However, Trevor and Stan had worked hard through the night to get it back up and running and all was fine before our next morning watch began. All-in all, we have had a really great time. This is Rachael’s first cruise experience and she states “it’s been a blessing all has gone well and no sea-sickness! (knock on wood & thank you Weathergod I! )” In being Chelsea’s 4th time aboard USF vessels she states “this is becoming one of my top favorite trips so far.” Both of us would like to thank Deep-C and Stan for making this a possibility and look forward to other opportunities in the future. 

Post Submitted by:
Dr. Stan Locker

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A student's first research cruise

The Gulf waters were unusually calm for the past three days
(Photo credit: Tiffani Dinkins)
Hi, my name is Tiffani Dinkins. I am a student and research assistant at Valdosta State University. My primary research is on phytoplankton and algae. 

I am on my first research cruise on the Gulf of Mexico with Anastasia Nienow and Christopher Horruiter during the dates of June 19-29th. The name of the research vessel is the Weatherbird II. I am on this cruise for the purpose of collecting and filtering whole water, Flowcam and pigment samples for the research that I provide assistance for at my University, and for Deep-C Consortium. 

At first, I was a bit nervous, because I thought I was going to fall overboard or make a mistake with the sample-collecting. However, as the days go on, I have been able to collect what I needed with minimal assistance from my peers. 

Anastasia Nienow and Christopher Horruitiner (Photo credit: Tiffani Dinkins)
Over the past few days, I have seen two different kinds of dolphins swim by the bow of the ship (The bottlenose and spotted). This, in my opinion, is one of the best moments on the trip, because not only did I see just “one” dolphin, but I saw as many as 4-6 dolphins swim together in a pod. An event like this would both excite a marine mammal fanatic (such as me) and become an inspiration that would continue to pursue my passion to become a marine scientist. In addition to seeing dolphins, I also witnessed seagulls flying at eye level to the ship, flying fish landing on the ship’s deck and, lastly, an outline in the open water at what appeared to be a shark. 

Pictured at right:  Dolphins love to swim close to the bow of the ship (Photo credit: Tiffani Dinkins) 

Three “flying” fishes flew on the deck (Photo credit: Tiffani Dinkins)

Beloved Chef Thomas Lee
The food on the ship is amazing, as well. The cook (Thomas) puts together so many amazing meals that filled my tasted buds with joy and happiness. He has cooked everything from tasty French toast, bacon and eggs for breakfast, delicious pulled pork sandwiches, French fries and salad for lunch to a scrumptious chicken Parmesan for dinner. And the desserts were just as amazing as the dinners; he prepared a mouth-watering apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (my favorite) one night and a chocolate cake a few nights ago. I, indeed, feel like I am in a food lovers’ haven here because everything is so yummy! 

Delicious dinner and lunch. (Photo credit: Tiffani Dinkins)
In addition, to the sample-collecting and filtering I do during the times of the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) analysis, I have to stay on watch duty for a four-hour block with an eight-hour break in between. My shift is from 12-4 am and 12-4 pm. I will admit that it was not easy getting my body to adjust to these hours; however, three other people that I shared my shift with made it a whole lot easier. Furthermore, we cut the shifts in half so only 2-3 of us stayed on watch for two hours instead of four, and then we alternated. 

Me (Young Scientist
and Ocean Researcher)
In conclusion, my very first experience on the Weatherbird II, so far, is very exciting and miraculous. I am continuing to learn a lot of new information about the subjects of sea floors, sedimentation, marine science and geology. This will definitely not be my last cruise anytime soon. 

Catch ya later! Tiffani 

Posted by:

Tiffani Dinkins,
Valdosta State University

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Research Cruise UPDATE: Somewhere off Cape San Blas

Good morning. Got up to a really nice sunrise this morning. Watch standers also report Venus and the Moon rose together a couple hours before sunrise. Seas are running 1-2 ft,

A view during the 4-8 watch (Photo credit: Blake Borgeson)
Mapping is going great. We have been tracking a couple of paleoshorelines in 60 and 49 m water depths. The 60-70 m feature can have a steep ledge on the seaward side. 

Newly mapped hard bottom habitat. (Source: Stan Locker, USF)
So today we start a series of blog entries by the young scientists on board. Up first are Maggie Power (Florida State University) and Cathryn Wheaton (U.S. Geological Survey).


Ahoy there from Maggie and Cathryn on board the R/V Weatherbird II.

As we begin to write to you, the time passes slowly. No longer do we hold the concept of days or time, but rather we hold the concept of standing watch. We no longer know what day it is and instead we focus on waking up for our 12-4 (night and day) watch. The days have begun to blend into one in which we eat, sleep, and stand watch. It is currently 2:06 am and the only thought that occupies our mind is the idea of falling asleep; not even Thomas’s food could awake us from our sleepy slumbers. 

The equipment has been running smoothly all day. We are currently running northwest to southeast transects parallel to the Panama City shoreline. It feels like we’ve mapped miles and miles, but when we zoom out and look at the big picture, what we have actually mapped seems so insignificant because the Gulf of Mexico is so large. And although it seems so insignificant at times, we have found rather interesting structures and possible habitats, which is indeed what we have been searching for. In addition to mapping, we have dropped the CTD once today to collect water samples for several students on board who are studying phytoplankton. However, since nothing too interesting has happened tonight and our watch is somewhat dull, we will tell you about last nights’ shift. 

Spotted dolphin chasing flying fish (Photo credit: Blake Borgeson)
Last night, towards the end of our shift (around 3:30am), we got a fright when George the engineer opened the door to the lab. This was unexpected but also a pleasant surprise. Not only were we blessed with his presence, but he also brought news of a pod of dolphins off the starboard side of the ship. We immediately abandoned our watch station (but did not venture too far) and ran outside to see them. Since we are one of the few sources of light in the Gulf at night, we attract a lot of fish, in particular flying fish (yes they have wings and can fly). And lucky for us, flying fish happen to be a late night favorite for dolphins. When we walked onto the deck we were surprised to see tens of dead flying fish on board. It did not take long to understand why; they were flying for their lives, trying to escape the deadly jaws of the dolphins. There were about eight spotted dolphins, both adults and babies, taking advantage of the easy feast. It was very fascinating to watch how they feed, and it did not take long to realize that they had a tactic behind their motions. We saw that the dolphins would chase the fish towards the boat, causing them to hit the side of the boat, stunning them. This made for an easy catch. We were fortunate enough to watch them for about an hour, at which time we departed for bed, and so did they. We are hoping that we see many more tonight, but for now we must say farewell, the time has passed and the end to our watch is near. 

Until next time, 
Maggie and Cathryn

Erica Levine's Internship, Summer 2014 - Part 1

Hi! My name is Erica Levine, and I am interning in the marine collection at Florida State University’s Coastal and Marine Lab with Dr. Chip Cotton. Over the next month and a half, I will be helping to organize the collection and create a searchable database for all the specimens in the collection. In the past, I have worked in marine collection doing general maintenance tasks such as checking the condition of specimens, filling jars that need additional preservative, identification of specimens, and database entry. Until this internship though, I have not had as much experience with building a database from the beginning and helping to structure how the lab will maintain its collection from now on. I’m excited to use what I currently know to build my skills set and learn new techniques to be a more knowledgeable marine collection worker.

At the beginning of this internship, my fellow collection worker, Ryan Mckenzie, and I are starting with a number of shelves of jars and working to organize them according to phylogeny before assigning them lot numbers unique to each jar. Over the next few weeks, we will be working to label every jar with important information such as genus, species, family, where it was collected, and when it was identified. We will also be designing the entry method for the digital database, which people can later use to search for specific types of specimens or location of collection. All together organizing the collection is a big project, but it’s one I look forward to working on.

Posted By:
Erica Levine, Florida State University 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Research Cruise: Hunting undiscovered hard bottom habitats

RV Weatherbird II – June 19-29, 2014
Geomorphology and Habitat, Outer Continental Shelf

Welcome to the at-sea blog from the RV Weatherbird II in the northeast Gulf of Mexico. We are conducting seafloor mapping along the outer shelf about 70 km seaward of Panama City, FL. 

Geomorphology and habitat classification is one of several major tasks identified by the Deep-C Consortium for focused research. Specifically, “To characterize sea floor geomorphology, bathymetry, sediment, and primary benthic habitats specific to the defined region with an emphasis on topographical features that influence deep sea to shelf connectivity.” 

We are hunting for undiscovered hard bottom habitat on this cruise using sonar to map the sea floor. Our data products will be sidescan backscatter maps indicating bottom types (sediments, hard bottom, structural features) and high-resolution swath bathymetry (seafloor morphology). Our target area is the outer continental shelf in 50 to 100 meters water depth where essential fish habitat and potential mesophotic coral ecosystems associate with high-relief rocky outcrops. The hard-bottom habitat can support very diverse benthic communities of organisms that attach to hard surfaces (such as corals) and support pelagic communities (such as grouper). The distribution patterns and extent of these bottom types are poorly mapped. 

Map showing our general area of operations.(Source: Stan Locker, USF)
We operate around the clock, stopping a couple of times each day to do a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) cast to measure sound-velocity profiles of the water column, and to collect water samples. The sound velocity is needed for the bathymetry data processing, and water sampling is an add-on we can do at the same time for Deep-C researchers studying plankton. More on that later...

We are using a Teledyne-Benthos C3D interferometric sidescan sonar that produces high-quality 200 kHz backscatter imagery and sub-meter resolution swath bathymetry. We are scanning a 500 m wide swath of seafloor below the ship. We are also acquiring acoustic imaging of the water column and seafloor using an EK60 echo sounder on the WBII. The EK60 can be used for fish stock assessment and will be directly correlated with bottom type mapped by the C3D. 

A key feature of this blog will be entries to be made by the student volunteers, they are standing watch around the clock, monitoring data acquisition, minding navigation, and learning to process the sonar data to make maps in real time. Something to look forward to.

Time to finish up this entry. I wanted to share this photo taken yesterday morning. 

A front moving in kicked off some amazing waterspouts about 4 miles away.
Morning of June 21, 2014, near Madison Swanson Marine Reserve.
(Photo credit: Stan Locker, USF)

Weather has actually been great so far, minimal seas. 

Post Author:
Dr. Stan Locker

Friday, June 20, 2014

Harshul Pandav's Internship, Summer 2014 - Part 2


We reach the end of the sixth week since I got started and there are some noteworthy accomplishments done so far. To get started, the most important thing that was accomplished was learning: getting a firmer grip on web based technologies such as JQuery and JQueryUI, JavaScript for interactivity in addition to CSS3 and HTML5 elements for design. The existing GIS Map Viewer is under the process of being uplifted to make it sleeker, faster and hence efficient by re-factoring the code and making the optimum utilization of the technologies which best fit for the goals of the project. It included the enhancement of the process of creating tooltips for various objects on map viewer: the existing tooltip module was replaced with JQuery tooltip features.

Another interesting enhancement made to the project was to add localization. This extends the flexibility of the project by making it readable in different languages with the native characters of every language which is selected. The selection of languages is on the viewer itself and the language can be changed dynamically without affecting any other selections made on other objects in the same viewer. Each of these tasks had its own set of subtasks and challenges associated with it. However, it has been a great learning experience with a good opportunity in implementing the skills developed so far.

The next goal is to create a mobile device interface for the GIS Map Viewer and I have got started with the required research on the technologies like Bootstrap et al, which would be needed for its implementation. Getting the new version of the GIS Map viewer work cross platform will surely raise its flexibility and usability. So far so good and more interesting things are yet to be accomplished.

Posted By:
Harshul Pandav, Florida State University

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rachel Holladay's Internship, Summer 2014 - Part 2

Hello! I’ve been back at NRL for a few weeks now we have finished up the planning stage for my project. As I mentioned earlier, my project this summer is to build a simplified ROV that allows high schoolers to do marine data collection. A really neat aspect is that the design of the ROV has been basically mine to play around with, so I’ve been planning, drawing and picking out parts to bring our idea to life.

Essentially we are building off of a modified Sea Perch Base, a platform used by the Navy’s outreach initiatives. This pre­existing system allows us to concentrate on adding sensors and various improvements instead of having to build from the ground up. Planned improvements to the Sea Perch include a water collection system, a plankton net and an Arduino powered Sensor System originally designed by MIT’s Sea Grant program. The ROV package will also include some marine science kit materials for gathering data on fields such as salinity, pH, nitrate, etc. All of the information gathered will either be manually entered in or logged through the Arduino system through an App currently being built by my fellow intern and blogger, Sam Holladay. We are ordering all of the parts this week which means that next week I’ll be able to commence building! As a computer scientist in college, I haven’t played around with this type of hardware since high school, so I’m pretty excited to get my hands dirty.

DoD campuses have pretty tight security policies, especially on photography, so unfortunately my most blogs posts will lack photos. But, I’ll be able to post some pictures of the finished ROV at the end of the summer!

Posted By:
Rachel Holladay, Naval Research Laboratory

Sam Holladay's Internship, Summer 2014 - Part 2

Coming in on the end of our third week at our internship, our team has made some good progress on our adaptive climatology project. Last week I said how I am focusing on developing an iPhone app so users of our water-testing kit can send in water data they've collected to our servers, for use in our adaptive climatology model. I have learned Objective-C, the language we will use for the app (no, I'm not going to learn Swift, the new language--not yet) and use of the Mac and Xcode, its IDE.

I already looked over storyboards for the user interface and overall layout of the app, and have done work on the front page. I have also conducted research into various tasks the app will do, such as sending in data to our server over the Internet whenever the phone has Internet service. It seems users will be able to send in pictures from their phone album, as well as water data, and may have an account with our website. We are also thinking of packaging in a tutorial to help people learn how to use the water kit. That's all for this week!

Posted By:
Sam Holladay, Naval Research Laboratory

Friday, June 13, 2014

Herbert Johnson's Internship, Summer 2014 - Part 2

Hello fellow science enthusiast!

In the past couple of weeks, we have been running water column samples as well as learning how to use integration software in order to determine the nitrate+ nitrite concentration in the samples. I’ve gained an understanding of how to calculate the concentration in samples by calibrating samples against a series of standards. We inject a series of known nitrate concentrations, then use this data to create an x-y plot (area of the peak on the x-axis and concentration on the y-axis). We then add a trend line to the plot and use the equation for the slope of the line f(x)=mx+b, where concentration is a function of the area under the peaks we find using the integration software.

Additionally, we’ve begun to prep samples for total dissolved nitrogen (TDN which is the sum of nitrate, nitrite, ammonium and dissolved organic nitrogen) concentration analysis using persulfate oxidation of TDN to nitrate (Knapp et al.,2005). It’s difficult for me to elaborate more on these techniques because I’m still reading the primary literature, never the less, this is the direction our lab is headed for the next couple of weeks.

I hope that everyone’s research is going well!!!!!

Posted By:
Herbert Johnson
Florida State University

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Christopher Horruitiner's Internship, Summer 2014 - Part 1

Hello. My name is Christopher Horruitiner. I am interning at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia, under the tutelage of Dr. James A. Nienow. I am working in conjunction with the NOAA-NGI Diversity Internship Program. This upcoming Fall semester, I will be entering my senior year as an Environmental Science (B.S.) major at the University of Florida.

Even though I’m technically a field scientist, I have yet to sprout my sea legs as our first trip will begin June 19th as a 10-day sampling cruise with Dr. Stan Locker on the Weatherbird II. The objective of the research cruise is to study bathymetry and geomorphology in the area of DeSoto Canyon, following the Deepwater Horizo oil spill. We will be tagging along and gathering filter samples along the way at multiple depths. Whilst in the lab with Dr. Nienow, my coworkers and I have worked to prepare earlier samples from gulf cruises in both December 2013 and May/June 2014.
Above and below: My coworker Courtney Bryller and I prepare to acid boil some plankton net samples.

In order to view diatoms in plankton net samples under the microscope or the SEM (Scanning Electron Microscopy) machine, we must first boil them in acid, such as nitric acid and oxidize them with a really potent oxidizer such as potassium dichromate. This allows us to get rid of organic matter and any calcium carbonate-containing tests of microorganisms and view only the silicious frustules of the diatoms we are concerned with. We then dry them out, incubate them, and prepare them for slides or mount them on SEM stubs.

Here are several diatoms, listed at the genera level as seen under a light microscope: 

Pleurosigma (100x objective)
Amphora (100x objective)
Diploneis (40x objective)
Paralia (looks like gothic architecture with flying buttresses! – 100x objective)

This picture I took while I was learning to use the SEM: 

I still have no idea what it is.
Finally, we have recently begun calibrating and operating the imagining cytometry device called FlowCAM. It takes photos at whatever rate you set it to (we set it to 4 frames per second) of microscopic organisms in a fluid medium. It can then sort the similar-looking pictures into a library where we can sort out counts of diatoms and discard pieces of dirt and such.

 I am looking forward to the 10-day cruise.

Posted By:
Christopher Horruitiner, Valdosta State University