Near-Shore and Onshore Sampling

Success with NPS

Author: Kristy Burnett, Communication Specialist, National Park Service

National Park Service (NPS) staff contributed to the GOMECC-3 research cruise by collecting water samples. However, park staff weren’t on board the R/V Ronald H. Brown; they filled the sampling bottles at specific locations on-shore and near-shore within NPS parks. Park staff coordinated with the researchers at sea to make sure the samples were taken on the same day and on the same transect (line) from shore to ship. By now, all of the samples have been successfully collected and sent to NOAA.

In the NPS, we conserve 11,000 miles of coast and 2.5 million acres of ocean and Great Lake waters. Visitors can find ocean and coastal resources in 88 parks, and four of those parks participated in GOMECC-3: Dry Tortugas National Park, Everglades National Park, and Biscayne National Park in Florida and Padre Island National Seashore in Texas.

Here’s how it went at the different stops:

July 18: Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida
The sampling went well today, with just one minor hiccup: One of our team unscrewed the vent valve all the way, and it fell into the ocean. Luckily, we had snorkel gear and quickly recovered it. We only made that mistake once! Our 4-person team collected samples at two different sites. Shew!

August 1: Padre Island National Seashore in Texasnps1Charles Sassine pilots an airboat to the water sample collection point on August 1, 2017, in the waters of Padre Island National Seashore. The collection was made easier due the well packed and well equipped sampling kit received from NOAA.

nps2Travis Clapp prepares samples of water to send to NOAA. On the datasheet, Travis recorded time of day as well as depth, temperature, salinity, and O2 for 4 total samples.

August 18: Everglades National Park in Floridanps3Clockwise from top left: Vicki Absten drops the water sample collector into the ocean at Everglades National Park; Seawater is collected; Vicki pours the water sample into the Niskin bottle for shipment to NOAA; Vicki and Michael Jordan work together to seal the bottle.

Overall, everything went smoothly at all 4 parks, and we look forward to working together on future research projects!

Reflections: Life on Board

Author: Courtney Tierney

Over the last 30 days of sampling and troubleshooting, sunset and moon-rise watching, ping-pong and card game playing, hacky-sacking and hammock laying, Spanish speaking, oil rig discussing, and stargazing, I have had the time to get to know some truly amazing people aboard this ship. I am so grateful to have been able to join them—working together to raise awareness about ocean acidification and collecting data that can make a difference.

Never would I have imagined myself here when I am only half-way done with my undergraduate studies. I had just turned 20 before boarding the Ron Brown (which coincidentally also turned 20 in the same month) and had a small I’m-an-adult-now life crisis. I’m passionate about what I study but have only an extremely broad idea about where I want my life to go. All I know is I love coral and want to explore the world. So, I have been investigating how each of these people—of all ages and backgrounds—ended up aboard one of NOAA’s global research vessels. I know that I can learn from their decisions, guiding my search for my own dream job (whatever that may be).

One scientist has just finished her undergraduate schooling (where I will be in two short years) and doesn’t have a solid plan either. I’m not alone! A crew member around our age who spent 5 years in the Navy right after high school is trying to figure out his next step as well. We have young engineers from the same military college, young NOAA Corps members who quickly moved up the ranks, and a large portion of the scientists are graduate students about to begin their careers. Some other crew members started out in the army and plan to further their education. Some of our scientists are currently completing their post-doctorate research, while this cruise is just a regular part of the job for others. There are crew members who are 30 and ready to settle down, some who have just started their families, and others whose youngest children are older than me!

From New Jersey, Mexico, Virginia, Cuba, Ohio, China, California, Spain, Pennsylvania, France, North Carolina, the Philippines, Georgia, the list goes on… each person I have met has taken a different path to get here. Everyone has been so open and willing to share their advice and experiences along with their personal lives. I have heard stories of tragedies and miracles; friends, families, and hometowns; past loves and future aspirations. I have learned that it certainly takes the right mentality to spend so much time at sea away from a traditional lifestyle.

I love being able to learn something new from someone new each day. Everyone has also given me insight on their past, present, and some hopefully future careers; some I never would have pictured myself doing don’t seem so out of reach anymore. From the knowledge I have coalesced from about 50 people, I have realized how many career options, traditional or not, are available and how many ways there are to get to them. Although I still don’t know exactly where I want to end up, I’d like to thank everyone for helping me figure out where I’d like to go along the way.

As our trip comes to a close after over a month of being suspended between the deep blue of the Gulf below and the stretch of Milky Way above us, I am still mesmerized by each. Unfortunately, I will have to say goodbye to these sights and these friends for now. Hopefully our paths will cross again when we all will certainly have more adventures to tell.

Unwilling hitch hikers of the oceans

Authors: Leticia Barbero and Kevin Sullivan

It’s the little things that make the hard and long hours on these cruises worth while. Little breaks from the monotony of station after station and sample analysis after sample analysis for 12 hours each day.

Sometimes those breaks come in the form of a group of dolphins playing alongside our ship for a while, a whale or two in the distance (or sometimes close to us!) or simply a little time enjoying a gorgeous sunset or a series of shooting stars at night. These are the sort of big awesome moments on the ship.

But sometimes there’s little things that make your day too. A couple of days ago we had one of those moments when we found an unexpected hitch hiker that had boarded our ship using the seawater line. It is relatively common to see smaller organisms captured along with water (samples), but this one is a fighter, for sure. As part of Kevin Sullivan’s supervision of our underway equipment, he noticed a small crab in the filter enclosure of the UW pCO2 analytical system.  It was swimming around feeding on the materials trapped by the filter.

The underway pCO2 system. The arrow points at the filter where the crab was found. Photo credit Leticia Barbero

Try to imagine the ride this little crab went through: from the ocean, sucked through the seawater intake at the bow of the ship, on to the instrument chest, up through a sizable seawater pump, pushed along ~200 ft of piping into the hydro lab, then on through 3/8″ tygon tubing to the pCO2 wet box, an Evsco valve, and finally the filter enclosure. And he was still swimming up and down and around the filter enclosure! Talk about a spirit of survival!

Close up of the crab in the filter. Photo credit Leticia Barbero

Kevin stopped the system while we were on station and put him in a beaker along with some of his buffet. Our on board biologists have confirmed that it’s a “he”. His water is re-oxygenated frequently. Given his ordeal, Kevin has named him Jean Valjean after the character in Les Misérables. Discussions are happening now about whether it’s better to release him far from his original dwelling or have him moved to a seawater tank back in Miami.

The crab in its temporary new home. Photo credit Leticia Barbero


Tropical Storm Franklin Reconfigures GOMECC-3 Cruise Track

Author: Leticia Barbero 

Ahoy land dwellers!

Another week gone and a fair number of stations is now under our belt. We completed the US section of our cruise and entered Mexican waters on Wednesday, August 2nd, after taking samples just outside of the Padre Islands National Park as part of our collaboration with the National Parks Service. We are now covering all new land (or rather, ocean) as far as the GOMECC cruises go. We completed the first line in Mexican waters and were halfway through the next one when the first weather reports started coming in talking about a potential cyclone. While we were at first hopeful that the system would dissipate, by Sunday it became clear that the system was not going anywhere and that Tropical Storm Franklin was determined to pay us a visit as we sailed through the Bay of Campeche.

Probability of tropical-storm-force winds as Tropical Storm Franklin goes through the Bay of Campeche. Image credit: National Hurricane Center

We are a welcoming bunch here on the GOMECC-3 cruise, but we draw the line at hurricane-force winds, so we decided to hightail it out of there and head straight for the Yucatan peninsula, initially forfeiting our Campeche line. Franklin is in for a surprise when he finally arrives at the Bay of Campeche only to find that we are not there!

GOMECC-3 PostFranklin2
GOMECC-3 Cruise Track, Post Franklin

After playing with scenarios A, B, C, D, and who’s counting anyway, we came up with a plan that will allow us to get enough coverage of the Bay of Campeche, despite having had to give up our plan to take surface samples all along the coast. See attached map below for our new sampling strategy, which includes a shortened Yucatan line (line 7 on the map) and a new, short line 8. The ship will have to crisscross along the Yucatan platform, but we think we can get it done with no overall loss of time.

Multiparameter Inorganic Carbon Analyzer in a Box!

Author: Ellie Hudson-Heck

The GOMECC-3 research cruise is equipped with outstanding scientists who specialize in the carbon cycling system of the oceans. The carbon system acts as the ocean’s buffer. If you think back to your high school chemistry class, a buffer is a chemical entity that controls the pH of a solution. The pH in the ocean is decreasing due to the heightened absorption of anthropogenic CO2, a process known as ocean acidification. This elevated flux of CO2 influences other components of the carbon system as well. Though small, these changes can have profound global impacts. Subtle variations in ocean chemistry demand instrumentation that can capture even the most precise changes.

pic 1 (1)
Image of MIB in the main lab on the Ron Brown. The back half of MICA is sealed off to prevent water from getting on the electronics. The tubing is used to introduce the reagents for each parameter as described above.

The carbon system is composed of four key parameters: pH, total alkalinity (TA), dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), and CO2 fugacity. Quantifying the system in its entirety requires measurements of at least two of these parameters. Studying these four parameters collectively allows for a comprehensive understanding of how the carbon system is impacted by CO2 absorption. Wouldn’t it be incredible if all the measurements could each be made simultaneously in something the size of a carry-on-suitcase? The compact Multi-parameter Inorganic Carbon Analyzer (MICA) in a Box (MIB), can do just that!

MIB is a benchtop instrument that uses spectrophotometry to measure TA, DIC, and pH. Spectrophotometry is used to measure how much light a substance absorbs (in this case we are concerned with light in the visible spectrum). The concentration of the substance can be determined if the absorbance is known. MIB continuously pumps seawater through three optical cells, each analyzing a distinct parameter. Prior to the seawater reaching each cell, chemical reagents are introduced to alter its composition.

Pic 3 (1)
MIB on a “road trip” to test out its GPS system. MIB is constantly recording its GPS location which allows the measurements to be mapped out.

The pH is measured spectrophotometrically by adding indicator dye (meta-cresol purple) to the seawater sample. The indicator dye dissociates into acid and base forms determined by the pH of the sample. The absorbance values of the dissociated chemical species are measured and pH is calculated based on these values.

Dissolved inorganic carbon includes aqueous carbon dioxide, bicarbonate, and carbonate. DIC is measured by acidifying the seawater, shifting the buffer towards aqueous carbon dioxide. A liquid core waveguide, permeable to CO2, is placed inside the optical cell. The waveguide allows CO2 from acidified seawater to equilibrate with an indicator dye reference solution. The color of the dye solution will change based on the concentration of CO2 that passes through. This color change is measured by a spectrophotometer and DIC can be calculated from that absorbance value.

The term alkaline describes a solution that is basic (pH > 7). When referring to the ocean, however, total alkalinity has little to do with the ocean being slightly basic (average pH 8.1). You can think of alkalinity as keeping track of the charges of the chemical species in seawater. Alkalinity measures the conjugate bases (negatively charged) that bind with hydrogen ions (positively charged) when a seawater sample is acidified to a pH of 3.5. MIB’s approach to measuring TA starts with the addition of indicator dye (bromo-cresol purple) to the seawater sample. This mixture is equilibrated with CO2 gas that is 30% Absorbance values of the solution are measured, and total alkalinity is calculated using the known mole fraction of gas.

MIB will enable scientists to delve deeper into the dynamic changes of the carbon system. Once on board the Ronald H. Brown, I learned very quickly that conducting oceanographic research requires teamwork. Novel, comprehensive techniques will further research in ocean science and stimulate collaboration between disciplines.

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USF students, Ellie Hudson-Heck and Jon Sharp have been collaborating with scientists at SRI international for the last year to prepare MIB for this cruise. Ellie and Jon study chemical oceanography and are both students in the Byrne lab.

Outreach at Sea: Shrinking Styrofoam

Author: Gabrielle Corradino

Being a part of a field science team is what my younger self dreamed about. The idea of exploration, pioneering research and ocean travel took hold of my mind at a very early age, and has now become my reality. Through years of internships, jobs and now graduate school, I am at the onset of defining my dream as a marine ecologist. I am currently in my 3rd year as a Ph.D. student at the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at North Carolina State University working with Dr. Astrid Schnetzer. Alongside my love of marine science, I have found another passion in the realm of teaching and education. I am a product of the public-school system in Connecticut and truly feel it gave me the educational opportunities and stimuli to grow into the researcher I am today. As I start my career as a marine scientist, I believe a portion of my job is to teach and inspire the next batch of creative thinkers and scientific minds.

I have carried this passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education, developing innovative curriculum and scaffolded learning into all of my projects as a graduate student, including my current research aboard the R/V Brown. The GOMECC-3 trip has allowed for an exciting opportunity for art, music, and science, to meld into a cross-disciplinary project, expanding my vision into a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) project.

The “Decorate a Cup” outreach project was sent to three collaborative schools: Clinton Avenue School, New Haven, CT, Corpus Christi School, Wethersfield, CT and Laurel Park School, Cary, North Carolina. The project description is as follows:

Decorate a Cup

Background: The students drew on a Styrofoam cup with permanent marker (Fig. 1), which was sent down on a research instrument that was lowered several hundreds of meters to the deep-sea (Fig. 2). On the travel down, the cups were compressed to ~25% of their original size due to the pressure (Fig. 3). At the end of the cruise the cups will journey back to the teachers and students with a STEAM lesson plan to learn about ocean research and the GOMECC-3 voyage. This will allow the students to progress toward a stronger understanding and make broader connections to the marine ecosystem.

Figure 1
Figure 1. These are a few of the full-sized Styrofoam cups decorated by the students. Each cup had a small piece of paper stuffed on the bottom to prevent the cups from stacking on-top of each other during the transit to the deep.
Figure 2. The first CTD cast with the cups attached. The cups are in mesh bags to allow for maximum water flow over each the cups.
Figure 3a
Figure 3a. The final product! From the pressure in the deep-sea, the air was removed and the cups were compressed into different shapes and sizes. The picture to the right gives a sense of scale of the starting size of the cups and the final compressed size.
Figure 3b
Figure 3b. The final product! From the pressure in the deep-sea, the air was removed and the cups were compressed into different shapes and sizes. The picture to the right gives a sense of scale of the starting size of the cups and the final compressed size.

The lesson includes:

  • A map of when, where and at what depth the cups were deployed
  • Discussion and synopsis of expected outcomes
  • A list of grade-appropriate vocabulary words with definitions, emphasis will be on categorizing Tier 1, 2, and 3 vocabulary to reflect scientific, art, and music disciplines
  • 1-page GOMECC-3 article
  • Scaffolded classroom questions
  • Before/After and deployment pictures

The project aims to engage the students in conversations on the different marine ecosystems (shoreline, photic zone, deep-sea, etc.) and organism adaptations to each habitat. With the guided questions, topics of geology, chemistry, physics and biology can be leveraged into the student discussion. The lesson will target the National Science Standards: Earth’s Systems (MS-ESS2) and Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity (MS-LS4). Additionally, it will incorporate the art and music standards: MuCN 11.0.2a, MuCR1.1.2a, VA.CN.11.4.