Monday, June 19, 2017

We are back home! Last post from the Chief Sci


Scientists and crew sign the NF1703/04 NOAA Corps flag 
First of all thank you for following our research expedition by reading our blog! My name is Estrella Malca and I was the chief scientist for this survey (NF1704) aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. What does that mean? Each project has a designated person that takes a leading role on the logistical, scientific and reporting aspect of the entire survey. 
One last selfie!
Estrella (Chief Sci) and Samantha (Senior survey tech)

I love to figure out the 'tetris' of things, so this year's cruise has been challenging but fun! Why challenging? Well, usually we have 6 months+ to prepare for our surveys: buying equipment, supplies, assigning scientists and volunteers to participate, and most importantly, securing any relevant permits as well as communicating with the ship's officers and crew about the multiple operational aspects of our project at sea. However, because of our very recent NOAA RESTORE project selected for funding, we had just two months to get a brand new project planned, signed and delivered on time! Without the rest of the science team, there is no way we can come out here and successfully achieve all of our research goals and deliverables!


We had the pleasure to continue to collaborate with several of our partners and also obtained new research connections!

NF1704 Leg 1 scientists
NF1704 Leg 2 scientists

Estrella and Niki deploy our very last satellite tracked drifter

Here is a list of our NF1704 accomplishments!! We were quite busy this  past month as you can see!


ü  500++ Tunas collected, more than 600 specimens individually measured at sea
ü  90 CTD casts: Depths were (300m, 500m, 1500m, and 2500m). The sensors we used on the CTD included temperature, oxygen, salinity, chlorophyll-a and CDOM, conductivity, PAR.
ü  Continuous measurements of currents (ADCP) from Key West to Progreso and to Miami
ü  Continuous measurement of flow through (TSG) from Key West to Progreso and to Miami
ü  7 SVP Drifters were deployed
ü  546 Flow cytometry samples (phytoplankton, bacteria, water column abundance)
ü  72 Elemental Nitrogen (N2)-fixing organism samples
ü  6 casts with PAR (Photosynthetically-Active Radiation) sensor
ü  207 Microbial Abundances and Biomass samples
ü  95 Sediment Trap Flux samples
ü  78 Thorium concentration profiles (dissolved + particulate)
ü  354 Primary Production and Nitrate Uptake
ü  226 Deckboard Incubations for nitrogen utilization rates
ü  120 Shipboard Nitrate Concentrations
ü  57 Deckboard Incubations for δ15N.
ü  130 Nutrient Profiles for NO3- + NO2,-PO43- and isotope analyses (δ15N and δ18O)
ü  95 Mesozooplankton Biomass and Grazing
ü  48 Growth and Grazing Rate Profiles (8 experiments x 6 depths)
ü  279 Phytoplankton Pigments fluorometric Chla,
ü  210 High-performance liquid chromatography  samples
ü  19 ring net tows (100m)
ü  136 net tows (25m): 120 Bongo-90 (240 jars) & 16 Mini-bongo net tows
ü  16 Mesozooplankton and 16 microzooplankton samples
ü  120 Live-sorted plankton samples
ü  95 specimens selected for genetic analysis
*   40+ Open House attendees. Our outreach event welcomed our scientific counterparts, students, professors, and fishermen in Progresso, Mexico

We hope that our projects will fill in a lot of the gaps about the biogeochemical ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico as it relates to bluefin tuna research for the Western Atlantic stock. Our results will be shared with local and regional stakeholders like NOAA, ICCAT, among others. Soon, we will get started working up the data! Stay tuned and read our posts!


Group selfie, navigating into to the port of Miami

Friday, June 16, 2017

Featured today: LTJG Niki Norton

Today’s post features LTJG Nikita "Niki" Norton, and officially welcomes her to the FORCES Lab family! Niki is the current "Florida Bay Operations Officer," replacing LTJG Aras Zygas.  As a part of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, she operates sampling platforms to facilitate scientific research and provides logistical and administrative support to NOAA’s mission.  She shared with the blog: 
Niki  records the flowmeter data into our logsheets
"For the last three years, I was assigned to the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada out of Newport, Oregon, conducting fisheries surveys from Vancouver, Canada all the way down to San Diego, CA.  Along with the responsibilities of being Navigation Officer and Medical Person in Charge, my primary duty was to “drive” the 210’ Fisheries Survey Vessel every day for 200+ days a year

Niki and Loni on the back deck, waiting to deploy the CTD
"Many of the sampling techniques that are routinely performed by research groups on the West Coast to collect plankton are exactly the same as those conducted by the FORCES lab to collect larval fish! 

"This included Bongos, Neustons, MOCNESS, and CTDs on many of the projects.  We performed extensive mid-water stern trawls with a net the size of a football field to catch fish like Pacific hake and sardine. We followed and tagged endangered Resident Killer Whale pods and acoustically monitored beaked whales at 4000m depth.  The remainder of the year, the ship completed Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) transects and hydrographic missions in the Farallons and Channel Islands.
Niki and Estrella deploy a satellite tracked drifter
"While many of the operations may be the same, this new job with the Southeast Fisheries Science Center is quite different - as is the scenery!  Rather than the whipping cold wind of the Pacific Northwest, the hot sun in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico is one of my favorite parts of the job. With the FORCES Lab, I get to work "on deck" to deploy and recover gear, wash down nets, assist with station planning, and see the plankton and water samples we catch up close! 
NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, Brewers Bay, USVI

"When I am not underway as a scientist, I work in the office to ensure that the lab has everything they need logistically to sail each year by assisting with cruise planning and administrative budgeting.  Now that the first year of sampling has come to a close, I am very excited to see what new projects I will get to be a part of and hope to use my background in reef fish ecology and microbiology to explore new research with the FORCES lab – while getting ready for next year!"
Girl Power! The women behind the science in NF1703!
Top (L-R): Sarah H., Niki, Trika, Sarah P.
Bottom (L-R): Kristen, Vanessa, Jess, Alexis
Niki on the bridge

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Featured Scientists: Robert "Bob" Arnone and the OWX Lab!

Before we return back to our corresponding labs, and start to process our samples, we have one more post from one of our collaborators! Dr. Bob Arnone was part of the land-support team which guided our survey with satellite updates and oceanographic analyses of daily conditions. The GOM is a very large and dynamic ecosystem and we can use all the help we can get! Bob and two post-doctoral researchers (Brooke Jones and Inia Soto) prepared a blog post to share some of their work at the University of Southern Mississippi. I hope you enjoy it and next year, we encourage our collaborators to do joint posts like this one to share their land based work as well!

Robert Arnone and Brooke Jones in the OWX showing the cruise track
of the Nancy Foster in the Gulf of Mexico and the daily ocean conditions
"We are Prof. Robert Arnone, Dr. Brooke Jones, and Dr. Inia Soto from the University of Southern Mississippi, Division of Marine Science, Stennis Space Center. Our Ocean Weather Laboratory (OWX) was able to work with the researchers aboard the Nancy Foster during the RESTORE Bluefin tuna survey (NF1704) this past May and early June 2017. We provided daily updates on relevant ocean conditions while we followed the ship's cruise track as well as abnormal conditions that might affect the research results. Many of the ocean products we provided are new, and working with the Foster cruise allowed us to compare the observations from our lab with ship observations. Our goal is to demonstrate that our daily ocean products can provide the Foster a better understanding of sampling for Bluefin tuna. We want to continue to work with the research group to optimize our products and the packages we provide.

"The OWX Laboratory was established to characterize the daily ocean conditions and abnormal events in the Gulf of Mexico. Our focus is to assemble products from satellite remote sensing ocean color data, sea surface temperature, and several physical ocean circulation models to define ongoing ocean activity. Our daily products include the ocean bio-optical properties of chlorophyll-a, turbidity, water clarity, phytoplankton absorption, and particle back-scattering and physical oceanographic conditions (temperature, salinity, currents, mixed layer depth). The OWX Laboratory research is focused on the understanding of the interactions between the oceanographic conditions and the ecosystem. New OWX products also include weekly dynamic "anomalies" which can help us identify abnormal physical or biological conditions that are occurring so possible bio-physical oceanographic events can be identified in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Ocean Weather Laboratory at USM with various screens visually monitoring ocean conditions using Google Earth
"The daily OWX Laboratory products provided locations to the Foster for adaptive sampling to help support optimum data collection and understand how Bluefin tuna are responding to changing bio-physical conditions, as well as identify events such as harmful algal blooms, flooding events, coral reef mortality, and others that may be occurring in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The OWX Laboratory visually displays animated ocean properties in several monitors using Google Earth. These tools provide capability to integrate ship tracks and observed data with satellite and model data so we can coordinate with ship operations.

"The videos below show Google Earth animations of the OWX Lab's animated daily products of the nowcast bio-physical processes (Chlorophyll, currents, and salinity) and the dynamic abnormal ocean conditions with the ship track for the Nancy Foster Bluefin tuna survey for the week (May 22-27, 2017)."

We love to share our collaborators' research, especially when the OWX Lab's main focus is to provide new capabilities for ship sampling so that optimum data can be collected and related to the changing ocean conditions. We hope that the daily OWX products can be used for fisheries applications very soon!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Featured Scientist: Karen Selph

Karen in the lab-van whispering to the flow cytometer!
Hello blog, today Dr. Karen Selph from the University of Hawaii at Manoa shares some of her expert insight into the nutrient-limited world! Karen shared with the blog just a few of the multiple experiments she carried out while on board the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster during NF1704 as part of our NOAA RESTORE project. Karen’s main focus was collecting phytoplankton to analyze with a “flow cytometer” – a machine that tells us how many phytoplankton are out there and gives us a rough idea of their types.
In addition, she measured water column light levels used for photosynthesis by phytoplankton with a photosynthetically-active radiation (PAR) sensor that was attached to the CTD rosette. Karen shared with the blog: "The 6 casts that we performed will yield invaluable information on the light regime during the cruise." 
"The nutrient limiting phytoplankton growth in the Gulf of Mexico is nitrogen.  Nitrogen has many forms, and most phytoplankton can only use reduced inorganic forms (e.g., nitrate (NO3), ammonium (NH4)).  However, some phytoplankton can use nitrogen gas (N2), which is in abundant supply.  This is quite a trick, as the chemistry involved is anaerobic (no or low oxygen) and phytoplankton produce oxygen! 
Karen and Lucy carry out one of the PAR casts


On this cruise, we collected many samples to figure out which of the larger nitrogen-fixing organisms that might be present – in particular, Trichodesmium (usually a bane to those who study zooplankton, as it can clog their nets!!).   Additionally, to assess the base line N-isotopic value for Trichodesmium, we collected samples for stable nitrogen isotope analyses.  We even analyzed a sample of Sargassum to figure out its isotopic signature with respect to the other nitrogen-fixing players in the GOM.  Once we get back to the lab, we will also examine our samples under the microscope looking for the presence of other nitrogen-fixers – some diatoms and other species harbor symbionts capable of this remarkable feat!"
The dynamic duo, Tom and Karen processed hundreds of samples during the survey



Shaun, Karen's travel companion, makes some new friends

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Featured Scientist: Michael Landry

As we wrap up this year's survey, the first of two annual research surveys in the Gulf of Mexico for the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program, we'd like you to get to know the PI from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Professor Mike Landry! Read on as he describes his research and our cruise goals in his own words!

"I am a biological oceanographer. I have been on many ocean research expeditions over the years (since the 1970s), but never on a cruise in the Gulf of Mexico, never on a NOAA ship and never with fisheries scientists trying to understand a specific fisheries-related problem. So this particular cruise is special and a new learning experience in many respects. At the same time, it is also familiar. What we have investigated on past expeditions is how plankton food webs in different areas of the oceans function under different environmental conditions in order to understand the “rules” of why systems vary and how they respond to change. Our hope in this project is to apply the techniques that we have developed and the results from past experiences to characterize the unique aspects of the Gulf of Mexico habitat that lead to rapid growth and success of larval bluefin tuna (why do momma tunas migrate vast distances to spawn in only few small places in the ocean?) so that fisheries scientists might be better able to predict how they might be affected by future ocean changes.

Above: Groups of water bottles to
be sent to different depths
Below: Our filtration set up -
6 bottles at once!
"In this project, we are taking two approaches to studying food-web relationship and rates. One is experimental, involving direct measurements of community composition, productivity and nutrient uptake by phytoplankton, the microscopic plants of the sea. We also measure the consumption (grazing) of phytoplankton by zooplankton, the slightly larger but still pretty small protozoa and small animals that comprise the first 2-3 steps of the ocean food web. This is the “what is there,” "what are they doing,” and “how fast are they doing it” part of the study. Phytoplankton often go through one or two generations (cell divisions) per day, and they get eaten almost as fast as as they divide, so the tricky part of these experiments is separating the two rates (production growth and grazing loss) that are going on at the same time. We have a technique for this, which involves dilution of the grazing impact (using filtered water, changing the encounter frequency of predators and prey) in some of our experimental bottles. It is also important that we run our experiments under natural conditions of underwater light and temperature, so all of our experimental bottles that contain the plankton that we collected at different depths are put in net bags and attached at same depth to a line underneath a free-floating drifter float that we track by satellite for a day before picking up and exchanging bottles for a new batch of experiments. After a lot of filtering, preservation or freezing, and later analysis in our lab on shore, we should have a pretty good picture of how productivity and nutrients are moving through various routes in the food web to get to the specific zooplankton prey that bluefin tuna larvae like to eat.

Tom (L) and Mike (R) attach bottles to the sediment trap array

Mike (L) and Aki (R) hunt for BFT using microscopes onboard
"In the second approach to this study, we will use the tuna larvae themselves to tell us where they reside in the food web and what is the main source of nutrients (nitrogen) for primary production. This information resides in the nitrogen isotopic composition of the amino acids that make up the proteins of the tuna larva muscle tissue, which varies with the source of nitrogen (N2 gas for nitrogen fixation versus nitrate from deep water upwelling) and the number of predator-prey steps that the nitrogen has taken to get to the larvae, starting from phytoplankton. This sounds complicated, but the isotope analysis is easier to do than all of the experiments that are needed to assemble the food-web picture. One of our goals is to see if results from these two approaches agree, which has never been done before for any system because the isotope approach is so new. If this works out, it would validate using the isotopes in future studies, or also to look at changes in food-web structure and nitrogen sources that may have already occurred with climate change, using the muscle tissues of fish samples that have been taken in the past and preserved in museum collections."

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Featured scientist: Loni Mnich

We are wrapping up this year's survey!... but we still have a few more posts from our scientists and will give you the numbers (eventually!)!

Rinsing down the bongo net

Meet our newest UMiami RSMAS marine science graduate, Alanna (Loni) Mnich! Loni has been a volunteer at the FORCES Lab and she shares some of her experiences on her first research survey aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

Decked out with safety gear, ready for deployment

She shared with the blog: “My goal for this cruise is get my first at sea experience. I hope to gain a better understanding through practice of field research concepts and learn more about plankton and the early life stages of fish that I can then apply in the lab and in future studies. I am excited to see some cool organisms over the course of this cruise!

“I have been in the FORCES lab at NOAA for about a year and a half. My experience there began with sorting plankton that was collected on other oceanographic cruises, so I am excited to participate in the collection stage now. During the past months I have focused on cephalopod paralarvae as the subject of my undergraduate senior thesis, which I hope to expand into a publication.
Loni takes command of the Bongo and Ring net tows in the dry lab

"Over the course of this cruise I have gained significant hands on experience in plankton collection and processing, including deploying the bongo net, driving the bongo, fixing samples, as well as deploying the CTD. I will soon be able to apply these skills if I get an opportunity to participate in another cruise (hopefully in late July!). Through the rest of the summer, I will be back in the FORCES lab, likely sorting plankton from the cruise and continuing my previous work with cephalopods. In the future, I would like to gain more hands on lab and field experience and I also plan on attending graduate school to expand my studies."

Friday, June 2, 2017

Featured guest: Angie Fay Allman

Hi everyone! Today we get to have a unique perspective! One of the crew of the Nancy Foster wanted to stop by and say hello! Meet Angie Fay Ullmann. Angie was our survey technician on the night watch (midnight to noon shift) and helped us safely deploy and recover countless equipment during her watch! She is a NOAA wage mariner, her official position is an “Able-bodied Seaman” and is part of the ‘deck’ department. The science party works closely with the crew members from the survey and deck department as they facilitate multiple and often difficult tasks that include deployment, recovery, set up, break down, winch operations, small boat operations, among many others.

Angie on the bow of the Foster leaving Key West, FL
Angie shared with our blog from her angle:

“I have worked for NOAA for 2.5 years now and have worked on 10 of the 16 ships in our fleet. I am required to do many different tasks on each assignment, but this last cruise really stands out from the rest. I got to work more closely with the scientists and asked more questions about what they were looking for and why. I really enjoyed being more involved and the crew I worked with was a lot of fun and made the days pass by quickly. I hope the data we collected helps contribute to a better future- it gives so much more purpose and satisfaction to my work- even if I don't directly do any science, I'm helping it happen! Before this cruise, I didn't realize the scarcity of bluefin tuna nor that so many scientists try to analyze its behavior in efforts to revitalize its population.”
Angie shows Lucy the ropes, he he
We truly enjoyed working with Angie and hope she will join us again in one of our next adventures on Nancy or another NOAA ship!

Night shift crew!