This is a guest blog post from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), written by Bold crew members, Bob Boeri and Dan Sampson.
Ocean Service Vessel (OSV) Bold: Seafloor Research Cruise
From June 18 to 25, a team from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) and Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) will be on board the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Ocean Survey Vessel Bold to conduct research on seafloor habitats in state waters. Using state-of-the-art equipment and onboard laboratories, this team will collect and analyze seafloor data. Among other objectives, the assembled information on marine habitats will support implementation of the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan—a first-in-the-nation plan released in December 2009. To secure the ship time, CZM wrote a research proposal to EPA, which was selected through a regional competition.
While aboard the Bold—a 224-foot converted U.S. Navy ocean surveillance ship that is specifically designed to help EPA conduct a wide range of environmental monitoring activities and perform onboard data analysis—a scientific crew from CZM, DMF, and EPA will perform the research work. The team will take samples from the seafloor to analyze sediment type (e.g., cobble, mud, sand), identify and catalogue organisms found, and take video of the seafloor. This information will help validate the Massachusetts seafloor habitat maps. Accurate maps are essential for determining how to protect natural resources, such as kelp beds and cobble areas important for commercial fish species, during ocean permitting.
While aboard the ship, two CZM staff members will be writing a blog about their journey on this seafloor research cruise. For photos of sunsets, sunrises, and other amazing sights at sea, check out CZM’s Flickr page of Bold photos.
Bob Boeri - Project Review/Dredging Coordinator, Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM)
Bob, a fisheries biology graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, joined CZM in 2006 after a 25-year career in environmental testing as an aquatic toxicologist. He lives with his wife Susan in Topsfield, where he is also a firefighter and an EMT. When not at work or riding an ambulance, Bob can be found fly fishing for stripers with his son Alex (following in his dad’s footsteps as a marine biology major at the University of New Hampshire), talking emergency medicine with his daughter Ashley (in medical school and way more ambitious than her dad), discussing legal issues with his son-in-law Adam (a recent law school graduate), or hiking and cycling with his wife Sue.
Dan Sampson - GIS/Data Manager, Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM)
Dan has been sailing on or living by the ocean for the past 38 years. At CZM since 2003, he has performed spatial analysis and mapping using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) on wide range of issue areas, including coastal geology, seafloor mapping, and ocean management. He earned degrees in the life sciences and coastal environmental management from the University of New Hampshire and Duke University. Perhaps more than anything else, Dan enjoys exploring—whether on a boat, bike, or his own two legs.
Seafloor Research Cruise - Post 1
FRIDAY, JUNE 18 - After what seemed like an eternity of planning, the 2010 seafloor mapping team known far and wide as “The Bold and the Beautiful” departed from U.S. Coast Guard Station Boston on Friday, June 18 for the waters of the south shore and Cape Cod Bay. The team, composed of eight CZM, three DMF, and three EPA scientists, was very excited to begin the work of collecting seafloor sediment, organism, and video samples in an attempt to ground-truth CZM’s seafloor sediment maps. Our first station, located just south of Boston, was a success and started the team in a rhythm of collecting and documenting the seafloor sediment and infauna (small organisms that live in seafloor sediments samples). We are divided into three teams, each working a four hour on, eight hour off rotation.
Our home for the next week, the U.S. EPA Ocean Survey Vessel Bold, is a 224-foot long research vessel with a crew of 19 people. The ship’s crew, without exception, is friendly, helpful, and always willing to work with us to maximize our sampling efficiency. We all have the highest accolades for EPA’s Chief Steward Amanda Fleshman, who is making sure that everyone goes home weighing far more than when they did when came aboard.
Over the next seven or eight days, we will be adding photos and hopefully videos to the blog, so keep watching and we will let you know what life aboard an oceanographic research vessel is like.
Seafloor Research Cruise - Post 2
SATURDAY, JUNE 19 - Observing the seafloor using a high tech underwater video camera fascinates the entire crew. Each drop of the camera brings a new mosaic of geology, flora, and fauna into view. The video display from various stations may show boulders with attached seaweed, sandy bottom with sand dollars and small fish, or broad expanses of apparently featureless mud. We have also seen sea stars, shrimp, cunner (a small fish that lives on the seafloor), anemones, shells, and an assortment of seaweeds ranging from beautiful red encrusting algae to swaying kelp.
The scientific party is also collecting sediment samples that will help us gain a better understanding of seafloor habitat. The samples will be analyzed for both the size of the sediment (sand/silt/clay) and the number and types of organisms living in the sediment. Many species have specific habitat preferences, so accurate mapping of seafloor sediments is essential for a better understanding of our biological resources.
After 24 hours of round the clock effort, we have sampled 43 stations. If the weather and the crew hold up, we are aiming to visit as many as 300 stations.
Seafloor Research Cruise - Post 3
TUESDAY, JUNE 22 - For any students, elementary school through college, we thought that you may be interested in finding out what being part of a science team at sea is like. It is a job that may not be for everyone. It requires odd working hours, variable sleep, attention to detail even amid hectic activity. You work outside in almost any weather on seas that can become wild at the drop of a hat. However, there are some amazing perks to the job as well. For the science crew aboard the Bold this week, the benefits of our mission far outweigh the challenges of on-board work.
Though our hours are odd, the work is very satisfying. There are four-hour shifts that run around the clock. The work that we are doing is important because we are collecting data that will be used for real-world decisions about our coastline. We have to be careful to accurately document what we find, and we find some really cool things. A typical benthic infauna sample (a sample of the organisms that live in the mud and sand), for example, may contain brittle stars, sea slugs, clams and many other living things. We also get to play in the mud, which apparently never gets old for some of us, no matter what age we are.
For us this week, the weather has been pretty easy to take. We did have one day that was somewhat foggy and damp, with some good wind. However, the Bold was built for going to sea for long periods of time as a U.S. Navy submarine hunter. Even in the worst wind and choppiest seas we’ve had, she barely rocks or rolls. She is a sturdy and stable vessel. Most of our days have been warm, calm and sunny. Yesterday, many of the science crew gathered to watch the sunset go down over a flat calm Cape Cod Bay.
A final note…a pastime for the science crew has become counting down to the next meal. Our ship’s steward, Amanda, is an artist in the kitchen, and no one has to worry about ever being hungry on the Bold while she is around. In fact, we may all be a little larger when we arrive back in port.
Seafloor Research Cruise - Post 4
FRIDAY, JUNE 25 - After eight days of intense work, we pulled into Boston Harbor with a little regret that the research cruise is coming to an end. The scientific crew did an amazing job, collecting samples from 200 stations in a little more than six days. A better group of scientists would be hard to find. The weather cooperated throughout the cruise, with only one day where the sea conditions were not flat calm. The equipment worked with only one small glitch, which was quickly repaired with the help of the ship’s technicians and some quick thinking on the part of Kathryn Ford, one of DMF’s scientists aboard. The most immediately gratifying samples that were collected were the videos taken at each station. Everyone was always curious about what would be shown on the screen as the camera came to rest on the seafloor.
Once we finished collecting samples in the early morning hours of Thursday, our focus changed from the collection of bottom samples to assisting the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in their side scan sonar survey of the Massachusetts Bay Disposal Site adjacent to Stellwagen Bank. Side scan sonar work is accomplished by dropping a “towfish” from the stern of the boat and towing it through the water at a distance of approximately five meters over the bottom. It takes an electronic photograph of the bottom out to 100 meters on each side of the instrument. We saw shipwrecks, barrels, and mounds of dredge sediments appear on our computer displays as we spent almost 24 hours covering the target area.
We accomplished all of the goals we had set for the cruise and exceeded expectations. A very preliminary review of the data indicates that the seafloor sediment maps that we set out to verify are very accurate and will require only minimal changes. Once the samples are analyzed and the data examined we will be able to further refine our conclusions. As we sign off from this cruise, we hope to participate in future collaborative research projects like this one.