Friday, September 3, 2010

Headed out!

Goodbye Gustavus! Now time to get to work to try and get the funds to get back here next year!

So i'm off to Juneau, to start work in the Tracy Arm with Bob Stone and Jennifer Mondragon, looking at the reproductive seasonality of Primnoa pacifica. Be sure to check into those pages and see how we're doing!

So what is a floating bunkhouse?

The original plan had us staying out in the field inbetween our two days, but in the end our sites were so spread out the boat captain decided we would come back in to land overnight. We did get to look at the floating bunkhouse though, as if we get here next year, the plan will be to stay in the field for a couple of nights a week, to save the 2.5hr transit to get back to Bartlett Cove. I had many things in my head when they said "Floating Bunkhouse", but i'll admit none of my "thoughts" were quite right! 
Can you see the bunkhouse? This one is in Sandy Cove, and they are quite small! 
They only have a single bunkbed in there, so only two people can stayover (or one more can sleep on the floor), but are amazingly nice and tidy. A sink and stove are not two things you expect when our in the field, so that will be quite exciting to be able to use next year!
Next year the hope is to get the funding to take a small ROV, and to do some more mapping of the area. As such we're looking at taking probably 4 people out to the field to be able to handle the ROV and cable. Stian did a great job of being the winch for the little camera, but for an extended program, you really want enough people to be able to swop that job, especially if it's raining! 

So looking at the bunkhouse was an important part to getting the logistics together for next year. If we want to take 4 people into the field, it's going to mean 2 people in the bunkhouse and two people camping onshore next to the bunkhouse. This will work well, but it's good to know beforehand because that means bringing a tent too! 

So that is a floating bunkhouse! 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Analyzing and packing

Tomorrow I fly to Juneau to start getting ready for some work up in Tracy Arm - so i'll be switching gears to the Alaskan Fjord Corals blogspot tomorrow, though i'll still update here occasionally as things come up. Remember this is a rolling project, and the next thing to do is to find the funds to come back next year and do a full expedition, no easy task with science funding generally on the downturn. That is why a pilot project this year was so important, to make sure we would have success if we came back with a bigger crew and better equipment. Now we know there are corals deeper, and we know some good spots where they are, the next step is to get a better pictures and samples and try and identify species, habitats and document the water chemistry better.

Documenting the species that live within a National Park is so important, Glacier Bay has been protected for over 80 years, and yet with glacial retreat and species colonization the landscape is always changing, new animals and plants are moving in, naturally, as more land becomes available - and that's not just on the surface too, that's underwater as well! When did these corals get there? How many species are there in the park? How close to the glaciers can they live (with all that sediment in the water coming off of the glaciers, it's amazing they can live here at all!)? What are the requirements for a good coral habitat within the park? Should we be doing more to protect these populations? These are the kinds of questions we are asking and want to find the answers to.

Packing up the camera. This camera is headed back to USGS in Massachusetts (hopefully to arrive after Hurricane Earl has passed by!) to be used on another project. Despite it's small size it has been fantastic, and worked far better than expected for this project. Thanks to Kathy and Dann for sending this out to us! 
Writing up and analyzing the video. This is my task, last night and today i've been making sure all my notes are typed up (always have data in 2 places just in case!), the GPS coordinates are typed in, and any interesting corals on the video pulled out to look at closer. All this data will then be sent to Kathy to put onto a map, ready for choosing sites for next years hopeful expedition! 
And just in time too, it's not hard to stay inside today when it's raining so hard outside! We've had wonderful luck with the weather, September is the wettest month, so we really lucked out with the beautiful sunshine and dry days. Now if the rain could disappear for my Juneau work too that would be fantastic! 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

We're back!

We're back from the park, after a wonderfully productive two days out on the RV Capelin with the CTD and drop camera system. And so the big question - did we find corals? A big....resounding....yes! Yes we did, we found 3 or 4 species of coral deep in the fjords, both in the West and East arms and in the central channel (take a look at the map & timeline tab to see where that is!). The camera operations went like a treat, the CTD data I have to wait until I get to Juneau to download, but i'm sure it'll fill in some questions for me. I'll talk more about our results once i've analyzed and gone through the images tonight, but for now, here are some images from the trip!

Working right up by the glaciers of glacier bay national park. This is Riggs Glacier in the East Arm.
Couldn't ask for a better crew - Stian and Captain Justin Smith rigging the drop camera.

Me in my cave, working out the GPS coordinates for the next deployments. 
The CTD being deployed in the crystal blue glacial water.
Me looking into the tiny video screen as the camera is deployed, searching for those corals, and making sure we didn't hit the bottom! 
The weather wasn't always fantastic, and someone had to be outside hauling and heaving the camera, there was no winch for lowering it! 
But even in the rain, there were smiles all around. 
Especially when we actually found corals! This is not a great picture, and I plan to post better ones up here, but see the fan shaped corals in white right under the time stamp? That is just what we were looking for!  

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Animals of Glacier Bay National Park

We’re still out on the boat – how do you think we’re doing? Think we’ve found any corals? You’ll just have to wait until tomorrow to find out!

Stian has been kind enough to give me a few of his photos of some of the animals we saw in our first week in Glacier Bay National Park. The above shot is looking into the West Arm of Glacier Bay (check out the “map & timeline” tab to find out where that is).

 A stellars sealion. There are lots of colonies of sealions and seals in the park, how can you tell the difference? Sealions have ears and seals do not!

The largest marine mammal in the park, the humpback whale. These whales, like me, have come all the way from Hawaii to feed in the rich waters of the park, and pretty soon they’ll start their journey back to Hawaii to the Humpback Sanctuary inbetween Maui and Oahu. Who do you think will get home first, me or them?

Oyster catchers. There are over 200 species of birds within Glacier Bay National Park, making it a birders delight.

The symbol of America, the bald eagle. There is a healthy population of bald eagles here, in one day we counted over a dozen. I’ve only ever seen one or two before, so it is great to see them doing so well!

What animals do you think we’ll see while working up in the East and West arms? 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Out in the Bay!

And we’re off! Today is an early start 6am from the Park Service housing we’ve been staying in to head to Bartlett Cove and out on the boat. No, I didn’t get up super early to write this, I actually cheated just a little and wrote a blog for today and tomorrow that will post while we’re out. When we’re on the boat you see we’ll be totally cut off – no phone, no internet and even radio cover is patchy in places – when’s the last time you were totally out of touch? It’s quite refreshing, no disturbances and you can really concentrate on the science, fun!

Down at the docks, this sign welcomes the thousands of cruise ships, sail boats and kayakers heading out in the waters of Glacier Bay National Park.

Our home for the next two days (well, our work station. Our home is going to be a floating bunkhouse up in the West Arm, but you’ll have to wait until we get back to see that!). Stian checks out the RV Capelin.

Flying the research flag. There are many places in the park where motorized boats are not allowed to go, so the science boats fly this yellow research flag that tells everyone they are special, and can work in those areas. The flag doesn’t let you stay in those areas though, as soon as you’re done you have to get out of there! The reason motorized boats are not allowed in certain places is because the bay is home to many species of marine mammals and birds (over 200 species!) that nest and live on the shores of some of the many islands here. Motorized boats make lots of noise and can disturb these animals, so the park carefully regulates where they can and cannot go – and the places sometimes change every year.

That’s it for today, think of us as we’re out on the water, collecting seafloor images and water chemistry using the CTD, I hope the weather stays as great as it has been! 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Where to go?

It’s day 2 of setting up, and since it all came together pretty fast yesterday, today has been a lazy morning. We’ve been lucky enough to be put up in scientist housing provided by the National Park Service, so we’re staying out in Gustavus, around 10 miles away from Bartlett Cove (the parks headquarters). So today we’re going over maps, we’ll meet with the boat captain and we’re going to talk logistics and where we’re going to go.

So how do we choose sites? When you’re searching for corals how do you know where to go? Well first you have to start with a map.

Here’s a map of the central channel of Glacier Bay National Park (check out the “map & timeline” tab at the top to look at a full map) made by Kathy Scanlon & Lane Boyer (USGS). For some of it we have some good multibeam bathymetry (the colored section) which shows us what the bottom looks like underneath all that water. Multibeam bathymetry is made using beams of sound bounced off the bottom and collected on a receiver on the ship, so to collect those maps you not only have to have a boat with the right kind of equipment, but you also have to drive the ship everywhere in the park, so there are still many gaps where we don’t know what the bottom really looks like.

The multibeam maps we have of the park come from Guy Cochrane of USGS, who has been making maps and filling in the gaps, as well as taking camera tows to see what the bottom looks like (black lines). Guy was kind enough to lend us his towed camera video to look at for animals, and every red dot on there is where Kathy Scanlon and I saw corals on the bottom! So naturally, those are the first places we’re going to try and get some pictures of the bottom and take CTD measurements.
So how about areas where we don’t know there are corals or don’t have Guy’s towed camera images, how do we choose the right area to look? Well, it’s not easy, and many times you don’t get it right, but you make the best guess you can based on what you know about cold water corals. We know they like fast currents that bring in food and nutrients, we know they like bottom topography that sticks right out, we know they don’t like lots of sediment (that can suffocate them!) – so here on this map we have chosen A, B, C & D to look for corals. Do you think we’ll find them there? You’ll just have to wait until we’re back to find out!

Now, back to the CTD, the other piece of equipment we’re taking out with us. C (conductivity – measures salinity), T (temperature) and D (depth) is what a CTD measures. Here is a plot Lane Boyer made of some previous temperature data from the middle of the central bay (right outside Bartlett Cove). We can tell a lot from these plots. The blue here is winter (different lines are different years) and the red is summer and the X axis is temperature and the Y axis is depth. This plot tells me that at this location the water is really well mixed in winter – see how the lines are straight up and down. Usually warm water rises and stays at the top forming a layer, and colder water forms layers at the bottom. In the summer you can see this – the sun has heated the water on top making it warmer than that on the bottom, but the water is still well mixed, because usually you’d see a much bigger difference than that. What does this mean? Well, it means it’s probably quite a fast and jumbled current, mixing all the water layers together – just right for cold-water corals!

Here’s another Temperature plot, a bit more confusing – this time this is from right up in the West Arm. This time the blue for winter shows it’s colder on top than on the bottom, probably from ice forming in the top layers making it really cold. In the summer the water on top is much warmer than on the bottom – see the steep lines, in 2009 it was ~7C on top, but 4C down at 300m – that is quite a difference! This plot tells me this area is less well mixed, especially in the summer, so there might be less of a current here, or less of a jumbled current that mixes everything together.

Sometimes it can all be a bit of a puzzle, but we’re starting to collect the pieces. This year remember is just a reconnaissance year, next year we’re hoping to fill in many of the gaps!