Tuesday, December 1, 2015

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NOAA Cruise Studied Ocean Acidification on the West Coast

In the summer of 2013 NOAA conducted an in-depth ocean acidification investigation along the U.S. West Coast! Sailing from Seattle, WA to Moss Landing, CA, chemists and biologists on board NOAA Ship Fairweather sampled and analyzed water, alga and plankton in an effort to better understand how the marine ecosystem is responding to corrosive effects caused by changing ocean chemistry.

Acidification, which is driven by increases in human-caused fossil fuel burning, is particularly threatening West Coast waters given the region’s unique hydrology and large biological communities. Data from this cruise may help America's fishing industry and state and local officials can plan, prepare and protect its commercially-valuable ecosystems.


NOAA ship Fairweather leaves the NOAA Western Regional Center pier on August 2nd.  Photo credit: James Anderson, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.
  • August 2: The NOAA ship Fairweather departed Seattle, WA for first leg of the cruise
  • August 12th:  Due to mechanical issues, the NOAA ship Fairweather was temporarily out of service.  
  • August 21st: The second leg of the cruise continued on board the NOAA ship Point Sur, and is expected to depart  Newport, OR
  • August 29th:  The cruise ended at Moss Landing, CA 


  • The purpose of this cruise is to better understand ocean acidification and how this change in ocean chemistry may affect certain marine organisms important to fisheries and aquaculture along the U.S. West Coast.

The Facts:

  • Ocean acidification (OA) is a change in ocean chemistry resulting from the ocean’s uptake of excess carbon dioxide (CO2) due to increasing levels of this gas in the atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels, land use change, and cement production.  Increased levels of CO2 cause an increase in acidity (or decrease in pH) and an array of other chemical changes that can affect a variety of organisms, particularly those with calcium carbonate shells or skeletons (i.e. shellfish, corals, plankton).  Although recent studies have shown that fish and phytoplankton can be affected as well.

  • On the west coast, upwelling occurs along the California Current that runs from British Columbia to Baja, California.  This upwelling causes deep, cold water to rise toward the surface near the coast.  These waters are naturally rich in carbon dioxide (CO2) and nutrients, lower in oxygen (O2) and lower in pH than the waters they replace near the coast.  Because this water interacts with the surface water that is already high in the CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere, these waters and the creatures within it are particularly vulnerable to OA.
Light microscope image of chains of Pseudo-nitzchia, which cause amnesic shellfish poisoning.  Photo courtesy of Brian Bill, NWFSC
  • Phytoplankton species, Pseudo-nitzschia, blooms in west coast waters. This diatom can produce a toxin, domoic acid, which can be concentrated in shellfish and planktivorous fish through filter-feeding.  When marine mammals (e.g. sea lions, sea otters, sea birds) and humans ingest these shellfish or fish, they can suffer from amnesic shellfish poisoning, also called domoic acid poisoning. If this size of the bloom or toxicity of this species reaches a certain point shellfish fisheries have to be closed.  
  • Laboratory research has shown Pseudo-nitzchia produces more domoic acid in a low pH environment.
  • A closure of the razor clam fishery in 2002-2003 is estimated to have represented a loss of $10.4 million to Washington state’s small coastal communities
  • These changes have the potential to increasingly impact the marine food web, our fishing economy and our food security as atmospheric CO2 continues to rise
  • In the Pacific Northwest, the shellfish industry injects an estimated $111 million (of $270 million nationally) a year into the region’s economy, bringing jobs to over 3,200 people, primarily in coastal communities

  • Ocean acidification is a top research priority for NOAA and better understanding its corrosive effects on shellfish and other marine creatures is helping our nations’ fishing and aquaculture industries understand, prepare for and adapt to the changing ocean chemistry.


  • NOAA researchers and their academic colleagues on board the Fairweather will visit a number of “mooring” sites where ocean circulation and chemistry are monitored. During the stop they will collect and analyze water and plankton samples.

  • Scientists will be doing a survey of impacts of ocean acidification on pteropods, a planktonic snail that is a key food source for many commercially and economically important fisheries in the Pacific Northwest like salmon.
Scanning electron micrograph of a healthy pteropod shell. Photo courtesy of Nina Bednarsek, PMEL
  • Scientists will sample known “hot-spots” for Pseudo-nitzschia, a harmful algal species, along the U.S. West coast to determine whether natural populations of these cells respond to low pH waters by increasing their toxin production.

  • This will be a rare opportunity for biologists and chemists on board for a few reasons.  Biologists will be able to look at the response of these organisms in the natural environment, while chemists simultaneously look at the ocean chemistry.  They will be using the same samples, as opposed to performing experiments in an isolated laboratory setting.

  • Data from this cruise will be made available later this year. It will compare this year’s data with that of a mission which followed the same cruise track in 2007. 

Mission Leaders & Scientists:

  • Dr. Richard A. Feely, mission co-chief scientist (Leg 1), NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (Biography)
  • Dr. Simone Alin, mission-co-chief scientist (Leg 2), NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (Biography)
  • Dr. Erica Hudson-Ombres, mission scientist (Leg 1), NOAA's Ocean Acidification Program (Biography)

Additional Resources

NOAA Ocean Acidification Program: http://www.oceanacidification.noaa.gov/
NOAA Pacific Environmental Marine Laboratory: http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification


Chemistry: Crucial on board the R/V Point Sur!

Leg 2, Day 7

R/V Point Sur marine technician Stian Alesandrini and Dr. Marion Meinvielle (NOAA PMEL) monitor the CTD/rosette as it samples the seawater.  Photo: Nora Douglas, University of South Florida

And now on to chemistry with NOAA PMEL scientist Marion Meinvielle!

"Much of the scientific operation on the U.S. West Coast Ocean Acidification Cruise revolves around measuring the chemistry of seawater samples collected by the CTD/rosette sampling system.  The CTD/rosette is made up of twelve bottles (called Niskin bottles), which can be closed at different specified depths in the water, and sensors that measure the conductivity, temperature, oxygen and pressure of the water being sampled.  Its frame is attached to a sturdy cable, and a winch aboard the ship controls the rosette’s depth when it is lowered into the water.  My job on the cruise is to maintain and monitor the CTD/rosette and its sensors to ensure that everything works properly when it is in the water collecting samples.  This begins with testing the sensors before the rosette goes in the water.  I check to make sure all the parts are in good working order and that no debris that could give a false reading is stuck to the sensors.

When the CTD/rosette is placed into the water, the winch lowers it through the water column.  As the rosette descends, the conductivity, temperature, oxygen and pressure sensors constantly take readings of the seawater.  It is my job to watch the sensors’ readings during the descent and make sure the instruments are working.  After the rosette reaches the maximum depth over which we are sampling, the conductivity (a measure of ionic content of the water that can be converted to a measure of salinity) and temperature are then plotted against depth to show vertical profiles of the seawater’s properties.  Different seawater masses have different properties; for example, seawater coming from the north Pacific near Alaska will have a different temperature and salinity signature than a mass of water coming from the tropics.  When we create plots of temperature and salinity, we can visualize the way that tropical and polar waters mix.  We look at these plots of temperature, salinity, and depth from the CTD to determine any unusual characteristics of the water we are about to sample and to decide on which depths we want to sample water with the Niskin bottles when the rosette is being pulled back up toward the surface.

NOAA scientists Dr. Hernan Garcia (left) and Dr. Dana Greeley (right) bring the CTD/rosette back onboard the R/V Point Sur after a water collection operation.  Photo: Nora Douglas, University of South Florida 

During the up-cast, when the CTD/rosette rises back toward the surface of the ocean, the Niskin bottles are closed at certain depths, capturing the water samples.  While this is happening, I continue to monitor the conductivity, temperature, and depth sensors.  Because our CTD is equipped with two conductivity sensors and two temperature sensors, I can check their readings against one another.

In addition to monitoring these sensors, I am responsible for collecting water samples from the Niskin bottles that will be measured for salinity back at PMEL in Seattle.  We perform independent measurements of salinity to verify the readings measured by the conductivity sensor on the CTD.  We want to measure the salinity as accurately as possible because it can tell us a lot about the water chemistry.  Many chemical elements in seawater can be found in concentrations that are proportional to the salinity; salinity, temperature, and pressure all affect dissolved concentrations of gases such as oxygen.  By comparing the CTD’s measured salinity against the salinity of samples measured in a lab, we can refine the salinity profiles made during the CTD casts, giving us an even more accurate view of the chemical composition of the seawater we are studying." 

~Marion Meinvielle, NOAA PMEL

Pteropods:  The study of these delicate creatures

Leg 2, Day 6 continued

Ben Moore-Maley directs the operation of the bongo nets, which are towed behind the ship and collect pteropods for sampling.  Photo: Dr. Richard Feely, NOAA PMEL

More on pteropods from Ben Moore-Maley of University of British Columbia!

"One of our goals for the 2013 West Coast Ocean Acidification Cruise is to examine pteropods in both the natural environment, and in a set of environmental extremes imposed by us. We are particularly interested in the effects of exposure to corrosive (i.e., aragonite-undersaturated) waters that are present in the California Current. The depths of these zones have been shown to be shoaling in recent years.

Pteropods are sampled aboard the Point Sur using a large, 350-μm net towed from the A-frame at the stern of the ship. Since they are strong vertical migrators, spending the day at depth and coming to the surface at night to feed, it is often difficult to predict where they will be found during a tow. We will perform as many as three tows at a particular station before obtaining a sufficient sample size. When we do obtain a sample, it must be handled quickly and carefully, as pteropods are quite delicate and sensitive to temperature and space constraints. We see several varieties of pteropods in our samples, but the dominant genera we find in the northern and central reaches of the California Current ecosystem are Limacina sp. followed by Clio sp. The shells of Limacina form beautiful clear spirals from which two “wings” can emerge. These “wings” provide the motility that allows these animals to vertically migrate. Clio pteropods have similar “wings,” but instead of a spiral their shells appear triangular with an opening like a funnel.

In order to simulate the range of aragonite saturation states that pteropods experience in the California Current ecosystem, we prepare three different treatments bubbled with compressed air at one, two, and four times the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Pteropods from selected nearshore and offshore sampling stations are incubated in each treatment for several days. It is important to simulate the natural environment as closely as possible to minimize the effects of unrealistic stresses on these animals. In an effort to achieve this, seawater in each treatment is continuously circulated through a large reservoir, and the temperature and pH of each treatment are closely monitored.

Treatment systems in which pteropods are incubated at varying levels of carbon dioxide, simulating environmental extremes within the California Current ecosystem.  Photo: Dr. Nina Bednarsek, NOAA PMEL

The physiological outcomes of the treatments are evaluated in three ways: respiration, dissolution and calcification. First, respiration rates are measured using a closed-cell cuvette attached to a dissolved oxygen sensor. The sensor can monitor the decrease in dissolved oxygen over time due to the respiration of a live pteropod. Respiration rates are strong indicators of pteropod fitness, making them useful measurements for evaluating the effects of these CO2 treatments. Second, high-powered microscopes are used to look for signs of shell dissolution and repair. Evidence of this will be visible in pteropods that have experienced a corrosive habitat for long durations, and possibly shorter durations as well. Finally, isotopic ratios of carbon and boron are analyzed to further characterize each animal. These procedures are also performed on pteropods from the natural environment so that fitness and shell quality can be evaluated in situ.

We are very excited to have the opportunity to examine these animals over such a range of conditions, and we expect the results of these studies to have broad implications concerning the impacts of ocean acidification on the pelagic food web."

Ben Moore-Maley
Master's Student in Physical Oceanography, University of British Columbia


Pteropods: The poster child of ocean acidification

Leg 2, Day 6

Microscope photo of Limacina helicina, a pteropod found in the Pacific Ocean.  The projected wings allow motility for vertical migration. Photo: Ben Moore-Maley, Univeristy of British Columbia, and Dr. Nina Bednarsek, NOAA PMEL

We now get to hear from Nina Bednarsek on the role of pteropods in the marine environment...

"So, have you heard about the pteropods yet? These beautiful little sea snails spend their entire lives swimming up and down the water column eating phytoplankton and making their delicate translucent shells.  If you have not, continue reading this, as sooner or later you will hear this word again.

Pteropods have long been ignored as an important component of marine ecosystems, but recently they have become the “poster child” for much of the discussion connected to ocean acidification. If you listen to marine scientists’ public presentations on the topic of ocean acidification, it will soon be clear why they are the newest “hot item” of discussion. Ocean acidification researchers are using them to assess just how much human contributions of CO2 in the oceans are affecting marine organisms by looking at their shells and assessing the amount of shell dissolution due to exposure to acidified waters.

Marine ecologists will try to assess changes of pteropod population and connections to other marine species, as they are an important food source for many other marine organisms, such as pelagic and benthic fish including as cod, salmon, and herring.  They are also an important food source for other zooplankton such as chaetognaths, heteropods, ctenophores, medusa, siphonophores, amphipods, and cephalopods.  Also seabirds and some marine mammals, including whales, have pteropods as part of their diet. Policy makers will try to bring all this into a broader perspective by addressing how we can mitigate the effects of ocean acidification in the most critical ocean regions, one of them being the California Current System on the West American coast. Finally, you as an individual might want to know more about this tiny organism because every time you eat fish for dinner you need to understand and appreciate that the food resources for that fish may be decreasing over time because of human impacts on the marine environment.

Dr. Nina Bednarsek observes pteropod respiration rates with a closed-cell cuvette oxygen sensor.  Photo: Ben Moore-Maley, University of British Columbia

I believe that it is high time to realize that changes in our marine ecosystems are already underway and there is no more point in trying to cover your eyes and deny the fact that our CO2 emissions are impacting all of us. The fascination with pteropods therefore goes way beyond the scientific community. It helps us hold a mirror in front of our eyes to realize and reflect on our behavior and the decisions we make as humans every day. If you look at pteropod shells from the highly acidified waters of our west coast under a microscope you will see a bunch of pits and holes in the shell due to their exposure to the dissolution process in these corrosive waters, making the animal really vulnerable to infection and forcing them to invest a lot of energy into trying to repair the damage that is already occurring. This is almost comparable to a human that would suffer great wounds in a car accident and would need time and energy to heal, literally being impaired for any other activities. If you ever get to see pteropods for yourself or at least look at some of the numerous images of pteropods that scientists have taken, this would be a moment for you to realize how vulnerable we are to the changes we are making to our planet.

And this is why we, the ocean acidification researchers, continue to study these beautiful creatures…."

Nina Bednarsek, PMEL NRC Post-doctoral Fellow

Oxygen:  Not just important to those of us on land

2nd Leg, Day 5

Rosie Gradoville of Oregon State University runs water samples to measure oxygen concentrations using the Winkler titration method. Photo: Nora
Douglas, University of South Florida.

Next scientist up is Rosie Gradoville of Oregon State University.  She has joined us to share the importance of measuring oxygen levels in our oceans and how it relates to ocean acidification.

"Part of our mission on the West Coast Ocean Acidification Cruise is to track dissolved oxygen concentrations. It is important for us to know the oxygen levels in these waters for a number of reasons. First, oxygen levels are an indicator of physical and biological ocean processes. Oxygen levels are also closely tied to carbon dioxide levels and ocean acidification. Most importantly, like humans, most marine animals need sufficient oxygen levels to survive, and the waters near Washington, Oregon, and California are known to have periods of low-oxygen levels, called hypoxia, which can be damaging for marine organisms.

Seawater samples that have been “pickled” but not yet titrated according to the Winkler method.  The darker-colored samples on the right contain more oxygen and are from shallower depths than the lighter-colored samples on the left. Photo: Rosie Gradoville, Oregon State University.

The dissolved oxygen levels in waters along the U.S. West Coast can vary widely depending on the depth and oceanographic conditions. At the ocean’s surface, the oxygen in seawater equilibrates with the atmosphere through air-sea gas exchange. Microscopic algae called phytoplankton add more oxygen to surface waters by performing photosynthesis, creating oxygen and organic matter. As this organic matter sinks, it is respired (broken down) by marine bacteria, zooplankton and fish, which use up a lot of the oxygen and create carbon dioxide. This process causes dissolved oxygen levels in the ocean to be highest at the surface and decrease with depth. Along the U.S. West Coast, periods of coastal upwelling can further influence the oxygen concentrations. In coastal upwelling, the force of the earth’s rotation causes south-blowing winds to push surface waters away from shore, bringing deeper waters in to take their place. These deep waters are high in nutrients but low in oxygen. Surface phytoplankton can use these nutrients to increase photosynthesis, which means more sinking biomass, more respiration, and even lower oxygen concentrations at depth. The resulting low-oxygen, often hypoxic conditions can lead to physiological stress or even death for animals living in these waters.

Apparatus used for the Winkler titration. Photo: Nora Douglas, University of South Florida

To track the oxygen levels on this cruise, we are using both Winkler titrations and an oxygen sensor mounted on the CTD rosette. The Winkler titration method was developed in the late 1800s as a way of measuring oxygen concentration in a solution.  For the Winkler titrations, we collect seawater in bottles mounted to the CTD rosette. We sample these bottles into smaller glass bottles, minimizing any exposure with the air, and immediately add “pickling reagents” (manganese sulfate and potassium iodide) which bind to the oxygen and form solid particles. We can see immediately which samples have the most oxygen: the darker the color of the sample, the more oxygen is in the water. To run the samples, we add a strong acid that dissolves the particles and releases the iodine ion. We then place the sample in an automated titration system, which adds drops of another chemical, sodium thiosulfate, to the sample until it reaches the correct electric potential. Based on the amount of sodium thiosulfate used, we can know how much oxygen was in the original sample. The Winkler titration results will be used to calibrate the oxygen sensor on the CTD, so that we will have reliable oxygen data for the full depth profiles of every station on this cruise."

More to come soon!  Stay tuned!

Straight from the scientists: The "what" "how" and "why" of pH and carbonate ions

2nd Leg, Day 2

Nora Douglas (Univeristy of South Florida) collects ocean water from the CTD rosette that is used to measure pH and carbonate ion concentration.  Photo credit: Rosie Gradoville, Oregon State University

Our next few posts will be from the scientists themselves.  They will be sharing the details of what they are doing onboard the R/V Point Sur- very exciting!  

First up we have the pH and carbonate team from Dr. Bob Byrne’s lab at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science.  Meet the pH and carbonate team:  Sherwood Liu, Dominika Wojcieszek, and Nora Douglas.

“We monitor pH and carbonate ion concentration in seawater because they can tell us how seawater chemistry is changing due to the increased input of carbon dioxide in to the atmosphere.  pH is a measure of acidity, specifically it is defined as the negative log of the hydrogen ion concentration.  As excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves into the ocean it decreases the seawater pH, making it more acidic.  We are also interested in measuring pH because it corresponds with other changes in ocean chemistry that affect marine organisms.

The free carbonate ion concentration in seawater is important because some marine animals need carbonate to build their shells.  If there is not enough carbonate in the water, shell building animals will not only be unable to build their shells, but pre-existing shells will thin and dissolve, leaving these animals vulnerable.  As the carbon dioxide concentration in seawater increases the carbonate ion concentration decreases.  This means that with increased human-released carbon dioxide emissions, shell-building organisms are having a more difficult time surviving.

How do we measure these chemical properties of water at sea?  We measure pH and carbonate ion concentrations using a technology called visible and ultraviolet (UV) spectrophotometry.  A spectrophotometer is basically a specialized flashlight that shines light through a liquid sample and then records the amount of light the sample absorbs.

Dr. Xuewu (Sherwood) Liu, analyzes pH and carbonate ion levels with a spectrophotometer.  Photo credit: Nora Douglas, University of South Florida.

First, the CTD rosette is used to collect water samples from the ocean.  We then take small amounts of these water samples into special containers called spectrophotometric cells.  The cells are designed to let light pass through them in a specific way.  Once the water warms up, we put the cells in the spectrophotometer and take a “blank” or baseline measurement of the seawater.

Next we add a small amount of chemical dye to each sample.  The added chemical dye changes the way the sample absorbs light.  When we measure pH, we add a dye known as meta-cresol purple.  The addition of meta-cresol purple causes the seawater sample to turn either pink or yellow, depending on the sample’s pH.  The spectrophotometer then shines light through the sample again.  The spectrophotometer can detect the change in light absorption due to the color change, and it can translate that change in absorption into a measure of pH.

Spectrophotometric cells, with samples that have two different pHs.  Photo credit: Nora Douglas, University of South Florida

 For measuring carbonate ion concentration, we add a chemical called lead perchlorate to the samples.  The color of the sample does not change this time, but the lead binds with the carbonate ion in a way that can be detected by using ultraviolet (UV) light in the spectrophotometer. The spectrophotometer can detect the change in the sample’s UV light absorption and can translate that into a measure of the carbonate ion concentration.

The measurement process only takes a few minutes for each sample, but it gives us some truly valuable information.  We will later analyze the data we have collected, along with measurements of dissolved inorganic carbon and total alkalinity, and use the data to improve our understanding of how carbon dioxide affects the chemistry of the ocean.  We will also compare our data set to past cruise data to see how seawater chemistry is changing with time in the north Pacific.”


More to come soon from different scientists on board...stay tuned!

Getting back at it...what does it take to do research at sea?

2nd Leg, Day 0

Rosie Gradoville of Oregon State Univeristy fastens instrumentation to a lab bench on board the R/V Point Sur in preparation for the cruise.  Photo credit: Nora Douglas, University of South Florida

Scientists are once again heading out to sea to better understand ocean acidification on the West Coast.  The second leg of this research mission will be conducted on board the R/V Point Sur, which is part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System's fleet and is operated by Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.  NOAA and academic scientists and the ship’s crew have departed from Newport, OR  and will head south, stopping at various stations to sample the ocean’s chemistry and the creatures within it to better understand ocean acidification and its impacts on the west coast..

Preparing to head out to sea is no small task, in the days leading up to departure there is alot of activity about the ship.  The ship’s crew and engineers inspect and test the ship mechanics, heavy equipment used for research is moved on to the ship’s deck, the ship is fueled, tanks of water on board must be filled, food is loaded on board to feed everyone while out to sea, the scientists secure instruments in the laboratories so that samples can be analyzed and experiments can take place while the ship rocks and rolls at sea.  

A "van," or laboratory within a shipping container is moved off of the Fairweather in preparation for the 2nd leg of the cruise.  Photo credit: Tammy Bedhun, NOAA.

Securing everything in the lab on board takes a bit of creativity, there is everything from computers to bins filled with important lab supplies to bottles to fasten on board.  Everything in the lab must be held in place so that it does not move (and can be used) even if the seas pick up.  This can involve line (rope), bungy cords, screw eyes ,and knowing how to tie a variety of knots that will fix things in place.

In certain cases, when there is fragile instrumentation or many instruments used to analyze samples a lab can be constructed inside of a shipping container, and is called a “van” by those on board.   This allows a lab to be built on land with all instrumentation secured, and it is then loaded on to the research vessel before the cruise (and can function as a lab back on land as well).

There is a lot that goes into being able to conduct research out at sea, preparing to head out can takes some hard work and a bit of creativity to ensure that scientific questions can be answered out on the open waters. The crew is energized and excited to be back and sea discovering more about OA and how it will affect the West Coast!

Check back in the upcoming days to hear from the scientists on board!


An Unexpected Turn: The importance and challenges of field science

Day 7

Drs. Hernan Garcia (NODC) and Adrienne Sutton (PMEL), two scientists who will partake in both the first and second leg of the cruise.  Photo credit: Dr.  Erica Hudson-Ombres, Ocean Acidification Program.

The scientists on board have packed up their labs and belongings on the Fairweather and are preparing for the second leg of the cruise on board the R/V Point Sur.  The Fairweather is no longer able to sail due to mechanical difficulties on board. This may seem surprising, but this is just one of the many challenges of collecting data from the field (or ocean waters).  There are a lot of pieces that need to fall into  place for a research cruise to go smoothly.  The weather at sea, the ship remaining a functional and safe place to work, and everyone on board remaining healthy, are just some of the factors that can impact the ability to keep a ship at sea and allow the scientists on board to collect field data.

Everyone involved does their best to ensure a successful mission.  Scientists pack everything they will need (and a back up)  to create and maintain a laboratory at sea, the captain and crew are constantly keeping an eye on the weather and surrounding waters to ensure the ship is on a safe track, the engineers inspect and prepare the ship before leaving port and are working around the clock while it is underway to make sure everything is functioning properly, and everyone regardless of their duty is looking out for those around them and very aware of their environment to ensure all is well on board.  Of course the scientific data collected is valued, but safety is the priority.

Even though the first leg of the ocean acidification research cruise ended earlier than expected, five transect lines (which were also sampled during the 2007 West Coast cruise) and forty stations were completed during the shorter than anticipated first leg of the cruise.  Preliminary chemical data was obtained that show there were some acidification events along the cruise track.  This data will be analyzed back at the lab for more definitive results.  Live pteropods were collected for incubation and respiration experiments.  Those samples will be analyzed back at the lab to help the scientists discover how the pteropods are coping with ocean acidification.  Also, samples were taken to help determine the toxicity of harmful algal blooms, these samples were frozen and will be processed at the lab on land as well.

As of now, a different vessel will be used to complete and abbreviated second leg of the research cruise that will travel into waters off of the Oregon and northern California coasts.  NOAA scientists can only collect this data during the upwelling season which occurs once a year on the west coast, so the researchers do not want to lose this important opportunity. The data that is being collected is imperative for helping researchers understand how the chemistry of west coast waters is changing and how that will affect organisms important to the coastal economy such as shellfish, sea mammals, and salmon.  These organisms play an important role in the livelihood of those on the US West Coast and beyond.

You can see all  of the photos from leg 1 of the cruise here!

Cruising the Columbia River to better understand coastal acidification 

Day 5

The Astoria Bridge, at the mouth of the Columbia River where scientists on board looked at coastal acidfication.  Photo credit: Dr.  Erica Hudson-Ombres, Ocean Acidification Program.

Today we headed inland to sample at the mouth of the Columbia River.  The Columbia River estuary is unique because it is really wide and really shallow.  When fresh water and seawater mix at river mouths or in estuaries, the water can sometimes be corrosive to calcifying organisms.  This is the case for the Columbia River in summer.  We are sampling in the mouth of the river to learn more about how the fresh water and seawater chemistry interact. 

Uptake of human-released carbon dioxide (CO2, or as we measure it in the lab dissolved inorganic carbon) causes a decrease in pH of near-surface waters.  In coastal waters there are also many other processes like photosynthesis and respiration that can affect the pH of the water.  When there is a large amount of biological production (i.e. phytoplankton), there is an increase pH; whereas when there is respiration in subsurface waters (from decomposers such as bacteria) the pH decreases.  The respiration from these organisms can be increased by runoff from land that is high in nutrients like fertilizer, which in turn intensifies the decrease in pH in subsurface waters.

PMEL scientist, Dr. Adrienne Sutton, measures dissolved inorganic carbon, which helps us understand the amount of human-released carbon dioxide in the water.  Photo credit: Dr. Erica Hudson-Ombres, Ocean Acidification Program.

Another factor that can influence the pH is alkalinity, or the buffering capability of the seawater.  Alkalinity is like Tums or any antacid; when the acid levels in your stomach get too high, the Tums react with the acid to bring the pH back to a normal level just like the alkalinity in the ocean reacts with acidic elements to help keep the pH stable.  Fresh water is naturally low in alkalinity, so when water discharges from a river, for example, the alkalinity of the surface ocean is diluted .

Another important land-to-sea input is dissolved organic carbon delivered by rivers and streams.  Local land-based sources of nutrients and organic carbon can add additional carbon dioxide to the water after microbial decomposition and further exacerbate acidification, especially in areas where human activities increase the flow of nutrients and organic carbon from land to marine waters.

PMEL scientists, Jessica Cross and Cynthia Peacock measure alkalinity, an indicator of the buffering capability of the water.  Photo credit: Dr. Erica Hudson-Ombres, Ocean Acidification Program.

On this ship we have two scientists measuring alkalinity: Cynthia Peacock and Jessica Cross both from NOAA PMEL.  We also have two scientists measuring dissolved inorganic carbon or DIC: co-chief scientist Dr. Adrienne Sutton (NOAA PMEL) and Dr. Hernan Garcia (NOAA NODC).  They work around the clock (one on day shift and one on night shift) to process the water samples that are collected with the CTD rosette.  

For more information on coastal acidification and how it relates to the Washington Coast check out the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel on OA 

Ocean acidification data matchmaking: how do buoy data  & data collected on board compare? 

Day 4

The Cape Elizabeth ocean acidification monitoring buoy with Fairweather in the fog nearby, as viewed from a small boat deployed from the larger ship.  Photo credit: ENS Gavin Chensue, NOAA Corps.

Today our sample stations brought us near two moored buoys off the coast of Washington that measure the carbon dioxide concentration and pH of the seawater autonomously.  Chá bă buoy is located off of La Push, Washington and is maintained by the Applied Physics Laboratory of the University of Washington (APL-UW) and the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS).  

Mark Bradley and Patick Berube, two survery technicians on board the Fairweather, get their hands wet to collect water from the CTD rosette. Photo credit: Dr. Erica Hudson-Ombres, NOAA Ocean Acidification Program

Because ocean acidification is a change in the ocean's carbon chemistry, the PMEL carbon group is collaborating with University of Washington researchers to make carbon measurements at this site.  We also passed by a buoy offshore near Cape Elizabeth maintained by NOAA’s PMEL .   

Both buoys have a surface seawater pH sensor in addition to a carbon dioxide sensor (pCO2), that take measurements every three hours.  By measuring both of these variables we are able to more accurately and precisely study the changes associated with ocean acidification. The water samples taken from the CTD rosette on this cruise will be used to validate the samples that the moorings are taken.  We can see how well the mooring sensors are measuring these variables by comparing them to the precise shipboard measurements that are taken nearby the mooring.


Tune in soon to learn more about the mission's exploration of coastal acidification at the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington!


Life onboard the Fairweather…the ship that never sleeps and where samples are aplenty!

Day 3

Jen Fisher, NWFSC Newport Field Station, and crew member Mark Jensen retrieve a bongo net that collects live animals from the waters. It is towed by the ship to collect zooplankton for experiments taking place on board.  Photo credit: Dr. Erica Hudson-Ombres, Ocean Acidification Program.

Life on a ship is different than life on land.  Because there are many jobs to be done around the clock on a ship, everyone works in shifts.  The scientists on this cruise have decided to split into two shifts, a night shift from midnight to noon and day shift from noon to midnight.  The crew also works those shifts and some members of the crew work 6am-6pm while others work 6pm-6am.  This ensures that everyone gets some sleep, and that there is someone ‘fresh’ at all hours.

On a boat emergency drills are taken very seriously.  In the case of a real emergency everyone on board would have to know exactly how to react so that the impact of the emergency (be it fire, man overboard, or abandon ship) can be minimized.  Since an emergency at sea would be very dire, there are drills for each emergency at least once a week to prepare those on board in the chance of an actual emergency.

In between boat drills and trying to adjust to a new sleep schedule we are still taking samples!  In addition to the CTD rosette samples that we take on every station (a spot of interest where the ship stops to sample), we are also conducting net tows (while the ship is underway) to collect live animals for experiments.  Jen Fisher (NWFSC, Newport Field Station) is collecting zooplankton (tiny marine animals) samples from the tows and Dr. Nina Bednarsek (PMEL) is collecting live pteropods for her experiments.  

Set up for pteropod (sea snail) incubation experiments on board, conducted by Dr. Nina Bednarsek, PMEL. Experiments will look at pteropod respiration rates under varying acidification scenarios.  Photo credit: Dr. Erica Hudson-Ombres, Ocean Acidification Program.

Nina is measuring the respiration rates of the pteropods to see how the pteropods are faring in areas where there is increased acidification.  Nina is also placing young pteropods in incubation experiments with varying levels of acidification.  The data from these incubations will help her figure out what will happen to pteropods in the future, when oceans will potentially have greater levels of acidification.



Check back shortly to hear about the vessel's stop at a mooring from which ocean acidification is monitored!  


Goodbye Seattle!  Hello samples!

Day 2

The Fairweather enters the locks between Lake Washington and Puget Sound on its way out to the Pacific Ocean.  Photo credit: Dr. Erica Hudson-Ombres, Ocean Acidification Program.

 Today we are heading out to the open ocean!  But first the ship must navigate the locks that help control the waterways surrounding Seattle, WA.  The Fairweather started in Lake Washington near the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL).   From there the ship traveled under bridges and through a lock to reach the fueling  station near downtown Seattle.  From Seattle to the open ocean the ship will have to navigate through Puget Sound, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to reach the Pacific Ocean.   The locks were created to connect the waterways of Lake Washington with Puget  Sound without letting the fresh water of the lake mix with the saltier water of the sound.  Coming from Lake Washington a ship will enter the lock, and the gates in front of the ship (off the bow) will be closed.  The gates behind the ship (off the stern) will close once the ship is inside the lock and the water level will slowly lower until the water level is the same in the lock and in front of the gates.  Once the water level is the same, the gates in front of the ship open, allowing the boat to continue towards Puget Sound. 

Crew member, Jeff Kesler on board the Fairweather prepares for CTD rosette deployment.  Photo credit: Dr. Erica Hudson-Ombres, Ocean Acidification Program.  


Once we were in the sound, we ran a few test casts of all the instruments to get  the crew and the scientists familiar with working with one another.  The CTD, an instrument used to measure conductivity (or salinity) temperature, and depth is crucial to collecting samples at sea as it lets scientists know the properties of the seawater they are collecting.  On the CTD, there is a rosette which has bottles that allow us to sample water at different depths.  We can use these water samples to tell us more about the chemistry of the ocean, especially as it pertains to ocean acidification.  On this cruise we are using the CTD rosette to take samples for oxygen, pH, carbonate, dissolved inorganic carbon, alkalinity, and nutrients. We will use the oxygen samples to determine the amount of oxygen in the water and to determine where oxygen is low.  By measuring these parameters (pH, alkalinity, DIC and carbonate) we can completely constrain the carbonate system, which allows us to get a highly resolved picture of ocean chemistry, and thus acidification in these waters.  We are also taking samples to look for domoic acid, a toxin that is associated with harmful algal blooms.  

Check in tomorrow to learn more about the biological samples being taken on this cruise!

Mission Underway: The Ecosytem on Board

Day 1

The view  from the NOAA ship Fairweather before it left the pier on August 2nd.  Photo credit: Dr. Erica Hudson-Ombres, Ocean Acidification Program

Although scientists are on this mission to better understand how ocean acidification affects ecosystems on the west coast, a research vessel (or any large ship for that matter) is like an ecosystem unto itself once it leaves port and gets underway. It takes many people working together to keep the boat on course, everyone on board safe and to collect quality scientific data. While the ship is at sea conducting its research mission the captain and crew steer and guide the ship to the right location, the engineers keep the boat operational, the stewards make sure everyone on board is fed and comfortable, and the scientists conduct the day to day science operations. 

The Fairweather is captained by CDR James Crocker and crewed by members of NOAA corps. The NOAA Commissioned Corps traces its roots back to the former Survey of the Coast, established in 1807 by President Thomas Jefferson (learn more about the NOAA corps here). Since 2004 the Fairweather has been conducting hydrographic surveys to improve nautical charts in Alaska, and get its namesake from Mt. Fairweather in the southeast part of the state. The chief engineer on board, Jaime Hutton, and his team of engineers have the difficult task of making sure that everything is shipshape on this 45 year old vessel (learn more about the Fairweather here). The chef (Frank Ford) and stewards are in charge of everything from linens to daily meals aboard the ship. They are the people who really make you feel at home and have the daunting task of feeding 54 people three meals a day! 

 A view of the Seattle skyline as the ship got underway on August 2nd.  Photo credit: Dr.Erica Hudson-Ombres, Ocean Acidification Program

Within the science crew you have many different research groups taking samples for multiple projects. Because this research mission aims to better understand how water chemistry effects organisms, the chief scientist coordinates the needs of the chemists, biologists, and oceanographers on board to ensure that all the needed data and information are collected to meet the missions goal. Additionally, because new things are learned as data is collected and weather can change at sea, the chief scientist is ready to alter the plan to keep those on board safe and collect the most relevant data. On this cruise Dr. Richard Feely of NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory is the chief scientist for the first leg of the cruise. At the midway point in San Francisco, CA Dr. Simone Alin also of Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory will act as chief scientist for the second leg of the cruise to continue to ensure the mission’s success.

NOAA ship Fairweather leaves the NOAA Western Regional Center pier on August 2nd.  Photo credit: James Anderson, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

The Fairweather Leaves Port

August 2nd, 2013

NOAA scientists on board NOAA ship Fairweather leave port from the NOAA Western Regional Center in Seattle, WA today to begin a month-long research mission to better understand ocean acidification and its impacts on the US West Coast.  The ship will travel through locks to Puget Sound and out to more open waters through the night.  The vessel will make its first stop so that scientists can collect water and plankton samples to ensure all scientific equipment is functioning and then head up to Vancouver Island for the first sampling station of the cruise.  Dr. Erica Hudson-Ombres, one of the scientists on board, will be in touch shortly to share about the happenings on board the vessel. 


Stay tuned!

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