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Thanks to the efforts of Juliet Hermes and Thomas Mtontsi of the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) Drs. Meghan Cronin (NOAA) and I visited Mr. Ndemane’s science class at Sophumelela Secondary School in the township of Phillipi on the Cape Flats outside of Cape Town, South Africa this past October 2012.
During the presentation we introduced ocean currents to the learners, in particular the Agulhas Current, and discussed their impact on sea surface temperature (SST) and climate. I annotated ocean currents on blow-up globes to donate to the students as fun learning tools.
The high school students were clearly engaged and one learner stood up and thanked us for meeting with them and encouraging them to be scientists. Another learner from the SAEON program came up afterwards to ask for advice on a science fair project on climate change.
The class is involved in the NOAA Adopt A Drifter program (ADP), whereby three pairs of drifters were deployed in the Agulhas Current. Data from these drifters contribute to the NOAA Global Drifter Program (GDP), a component of the Global Ocean Observing System, and can be viewed at http://www.adp.noaa.gov/track_drifting_buoys.html.
I hope to see these learners again next February, when they have been invited to visit the R/V Knorr while she is in Cape Town, on the way to the final scientific cruise of the Agulhas Current Time-series experiment.
Lisa Beal, Ph.D. is an associate professor of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science and Principal Investigator of the Agulhas Current Time-series experiment http://act.rsmas.miami.edu/
Before beginning at the Rosenstiel School, I had the opportunity to participate in NOAA’s second Gulf of Mexico and East Coast Carbon (GOMECC-2) cruise through the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) at the University of Miami. After driving to Miami from Massachusetts and moving all of my belongings into storage, I moved on to the RV Ronald H. Brown, which would become my home over the next twenty-four days. We set sail from Miami on 21 July 2012, heading into the Gulf of Mexico to begin sampling and analyzing seawater for its physical and biogeochemical properties. We collected seawater throughout the water column using a 24-bottle rosette along eight transects that were approximately perpendicular to the coast, beginning the first transect near Louisiana and ending with the eighth in the Gulf of Maine on 13 August. In addition to the transects, we also collected surface water samples while in transit between each transect and the majority of the samples collected were also analyzed at sea aboard, keeping us busy during the course of the cruise. Analyses conducted at sea included salinity, oxygen, nutrients, dissolved inorganic carbon, total alkalinity, partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) and pH, which will be used in conjunction with other parameters that are being measured in land-based laboratories to improve our understanding coastal ocean acidification.
My duties at sea were to collect seawater samples and perform the analysis of the pCO2 for all samples collected along the eight transects and while in transit. In addition to pCO2, I also collected samples for the analysis of total organic carbon (TOC), which I have here at RSMAS and have recently begun analysis in the Hansell Lab. Once I begin analysis, I will investigate TOC’s relationship with the other seawater properties that were measured and also compare TOC concentrations along transects in the Gulf of Mexico with transects on the Atlantic coast. As a result of my participation in the GOMECC-2 cruise, nearly 600 seawater samples were collected for TOC analysis along seven sections and approximately 1,200 seawater samples from all eight sections were analyzed for pCO2 by me and my supervisor, Kevin Sullivan (CIMAS).
The responsibility of collecting and analyzing samples was typically shared by two people, alternately working around the clock on opposite, twelve-hour shifts. For the GOMECC-2 cruise, the majority of the scientists had shifts beginning and ending at 3 o’clock, however, the pCO2 shifts began and ended at 1 o’clock. I had the shift that began at 1 am, which was challenging to get used to and to get back to a normal sleep schedule after the cruise, but during the cruise I couldn’t have been happier with my shift. I was able to overlap with the 3 pm to 3 am shift for a couple hours and get to know that group while sampling from the rosette or while taking a break to gaze at a sky full of stars, highlighted by the glowing Milky Way. It was also nice to get to know the people who I spent the majority of my shift working with while sampling on deck, watching sunrises together or enjoying meals together. My shift was perfect for maintaining high morale over the course of the cruise.
Every morning I woke up it would be dark and I would have my typical breakfast of instant oatmeal, occasionally topping it off with a left over dessert from the day before. I always worked through the 3 o’clock shift change and had an assortment of friendly faces to work with, which made the morning go by extremely fast. Sunrise always marked the middle of my shift, whether I was on deck sampling or taking a quick break to watch the sky brighten with an assortment of colors and feel the warmth that came along with the sun, reminding me that breakfast would soon be served. After breakfast remained a half day of work, which always found ways to surprise me with visits from pods of dolphins or pilot whales, or even schools of sergeant major fish on a detour to the Dry Tortugas National Park that we took before exchanging chief scientists in Miami.
The GOMECC-2 cruise was twenty-four days long and a great opportunity for me to meet scientists and students from universities in the eastern United States, as well as to meet scientists from RSMAS, CIMAS and NOAA. It was also a great opportunity for me to establish myself as a part of the RSMAS family before beginning graduate school, and I look forward to the next opportunity to participate in a NOAA research cruise.
RV Ronald H. Brown: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/rb/
ocean acidification: http://www.oar.noaa.gov/oceans/ocean-acidification/
Hansell Lab: http://www.rsmas.miami.edu/groups/biogeochem/
Dry Tortugas National Park: http://www.nps.gov/drto/
One of the coolest aspects of doing research on the water is the “wild” aspect of it all—anything could happen on a given day, and there is always the potential for new discoveries. Sometimes discoveries are made after years of data analysis and attention to an issue, while other times nature hands it over to you in the heat of the moment….literally.
What would you do if a tiger shark vomited partially digested food on you?
Our research team was faced with this very question in November 2010 during a normal day of shark research in the Florida Keys. While taking measurements and blood samples on a sub-adult female tiger shark, I noticed a trickling of greenish, oily liquid coming from the mouth of the tiger shark. A few seconds later, a huge clump of feathers joined the river of bile and stomach acid. I sat there next to the shark, and couldn’t help but smile, knowing what this neat little observation meant.
These are the moments that we savor as scientists—the ones when nature decides to give you a little hint, a “tip” so to speak. We finished the work up of the animal, attached a satellite tag to her, and sent her on her way. Meanwhile, we bagged up the feathers and kept them on ice. And while tiger sharks are known to have a broad diet which indeed includes birds, we knew an identification of the specimen was needed before we could make any conclusions.
I spent the entire next morning calling bird experts at NOAA, Miami Museum of Science and the Florida Keys Bird Sanctuary. Upon making a few calls and emails, the story got juicier and juicier. I soon found out that there was a recent massive bird die-off, where hundreds of turkey vultures somehow ended up floating dead in Biscayne Bay and the middle Florida Keys—an area right in the “wheelhouse” of our tiger sharks. With the help of Tom Jackson at NOAA, we positively identified the specimen as an American Coot, a terrestrial bird species which is found in marshes throughout the middle of North America. It wasn’t a marine bird, and hardly a local species.
How did it end up in the tiger shark’s stomach?
We concluded that since there was a massive input of new potential prey items, the tiger sharks responded and took advantage. In fact, results from our satellite tagged individual showed that it spent a considerable time on the surface near Biscayne Bay after we released it, potentially continuing to feed on the floating mass of birds.
While tiger sharks are known to consume birds, such a scavenging event has rarely been described in the Atlantic, allowing us to publish a short note in the journal Florida Scientist. Since that day, we have seen tiger sharks puke up some other interesting food items. And while this was just one small observation, our finding is another piece of the puzzle to understanding these complex predators. Nature sometimes moves in mysterious way, and the infamous “Tiger Bird” episode proves just that.
If any other sharks want to puke on us, we are ready and willing.
PhD Student, Research Assistant
RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program
Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy