Friday, May 10, 2019

UPDATED May 9! Two PTMSC volunteers join a NOAA Ecosystem Assessment Cruise

PTMSC volunteers Frank Handler and Melody Stewart were selected for an 11-day voyage aboard a NOAA research vessel to collect samples for marine toxins. Frank's periodic messages and smart phone images appear below, scroll to the bottom for the latest!

“I’ve always wanted to be a marine biologist,” Frank Handler once told his friend, Port Townsend Marine Science Center Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson. And yet his professional pathway took him elsewhere.
PTMSC voliunteer Frank Handler

Now, retired, Frank has the chance to fulfill a life-long dream. With security clearances, medical office approvals and bags packed, Frank and his neighbor, PTMSC volunteer Melody Stewart, arrived in Newport, Ore., on April 28 to start an 11-day voyage aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel, Bell M. Shimada.

Frank and Melody will be alternating 12-hour shifts on the state-of-the-art fisheries survey vessel, collecting samples for marine toxin and harmful algal species analysis during the 2019 Northern California Current Ecosystem Assessment Cruise.

The trip came together quickly.

In March 2019, the Northwest Fisheries Science Center Harmful Algal Bloom team sent out a request for volunteers to participate in a series of cruises along the Washington, Oregon and California coastlines. The request was shared with PTMSC SoundToxins volunteers.

Melody and Frank, prepping for departure
For Melody and Frank, it was a perfect fit. Both have spent many hours looking through a microscope as part of their volunteer work with the SoundToxins project. They are skilled with plankton nets and have practice identifying plankton. So, the duo took the initiative, contacted NOAA to volunteer and were accepted!

Here is the project description sent from NOAA:
“The project will be conducting 24-hour operations, sampling stations on the continental shelf and out to 200 nm along transects from 38°N to 45.5°N [see map below]. At each station a CTD (with rosette, fluorometer and DO) and plankton nets (bongo and vertical net) will be deployed for the primary project. The NWFSC Harmful Algal Bloom team is seeking volunteers to participate in the cruise to collect samples for particulate and dissolved toxins (e.g. domoic acid), macro-nutrients, chlorophyll, DNA, and cell counts from the Niskin bottles on the CTD rosette at the stations on the map below. A hand deployed phytoplankton net tow will also be conducted at each station to collect a concentrated sample for phytoplankton ID."

News from the ship

At first, the PTMSC staff didn’t expect any news from Frank or Melody because of security concerns. So, it was a great surprise and relief when Frank sent his first message while underway. The images are small (apologies for their low resolution), so just consider this a teaser for when we can hear more about their experiences: How they adjusted to life on board, what they did, what they saw and where they went.

Above: NOAA's research vessel, Bell M. Shimada

April 30 - "We're having fun but still getting our sealegs!"
May 1 -- “Our wet lab. Gets really busy after the water samples are retrieved
from deep down for each of the research project groups aboard.” 
May 1 -- "I’ll be sending this cup down 6,000’ to be
shrunk down very small. Can maybe use in exhibit?

May 2: "Just finished sampling first station and now underway to next off CA Coast. Time for a coffee!"
Getting lots of exercise opening and closing to get into the lab!

May 3: "Essentially we are doing transects extending from several miles off the coast to almost 200 miles on one transect. We started off Newport OR and worked our way down to N CA. When all done we’ll probably have sampled over 50 sites. At each site we lower an array of water bottles which are lowered down up to a few thousand feet. Scientists aboard collect samples and then bring back to their labs. Melody and I do that for our Toxins work too. We’re really kept busy working on shifts day and night! Had a really bumpy sea last night which made both sleeping and working a bit challenging. We’re having a great time!"

Another view of our lab.
The lab station where Melody and I do our work.
Doing my samples preparations.
May 4 -- Frank sent us the video and images below: "These are all the Niskin bottles which are programmed to each open at a specific depth and thereby sample that water. We take our our lab samples when the bottles are brought back to the deck of the ship." 

Above: Our samples are stored in this -80 degrees freezer! 

May 5-- "At sea have seen just few birds and some saw some porpoises but other than that nothing. Even microscope, not seeing at lot. But still wonderful being a part of this. Currentlyjust standing still as our major hoisting winch not working. May have to head back if can’t fix...Hi to all!"

This leads to the wet lab where we all do most of our samples preparation.
Good exercise opening and closing particularly in rough weather!
Up and down this ladder many times a day.
It connects berthing area to labs and galley.
May 9 -- We arrived at our home port of Newport, OR late today. An absolutely wonderful experience working with an outstanding science crew as well as the ship’s friendly and helpful crew. Melody and I leave to drive back to Port Townsend early tomorrow but will briefly rendezvous in Tacoma to transfer equipment and the frozen samples. Looking forward to sharing our ‘sea stories’ when we return!

Relaxing with my favorite author John O’Donahue on the way back to port.
Should tie up about 4:30. Mel and I leave tomorrow morning about 7:30.

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