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2014 Shelfwide Cruise: July 26 - August 3

Final Bottom Dissolved Oxygen Map 2014

Daily Log

Jul 26, 2014 - Day 0
This is the 30th summer hypoxia mapping cruise that has been conducted since 1985. Happy anniversary: 30 year participants u2013 Nancy Rabalais, Gene Turner, and Jim Lee. Today was spent loading up cart, unloading carts, loading onto bench tops in the Pelican labs and getting ready to sail. We are joined this year by many return activities, some newer ones, and a brand new one. We will collect our typical stations with the SeaBird CTD and a YSI6820 that takes us to the bottom and captures the surface. We anticipate that there will be much fresher water on the shelf because of higher than average discharge, and a high nutrient load based on a record breaking NO3+2 concentration in Baton Rouge on July 18, 2014. We dodged the tropical depression in the western Atlantic that dissipated before we departed, and are promised smooth sailing.
Jul 27, 2014 - Day 1
We began the cruise with our typical "finding the fresh water in the Mississippi River." This is done to determine nutrient mixing behavior (conservative or non-conservative in the plume. We found 15 salinity well outside of Southwest Pass, and approached salinity of 1 at the Pilot House inside Southwest Pass. We headed to station Au20191 on the inshore end of a transect that parallels Southwest Pass. There was extremely low oxygen at Au20191 u2013 Au20193. From Au20193 we finished up at Au20195 which is fairly deep and no low oxygen. We transited to the A transect to the west. Heading inshore, we found quite low oxygen again in 30 m water depth to the inshore at 5 m water depth.

There are so many activities on this cruise that we are dizzy in our business. Many more box cores on the Au2019 transect and the A transect to complement the work of several investigators, both onboard and in absentia. We are also taking some plankton tows for a beginning look at microplastics. At the end of the day shift, Nancy already knows we are behind.

In keeping with the 30th anniversary theme for the cruise, we will reminisce a bit in the day log, and Leslie will entertain you with Thirty Shades of Hypoxia on the night blog, beginning shortly with Chapter 1.

30 Shades of Hypoxia Chapter 1 
Saturday night the R/V Pelican set sail for the 30th Northern Gulf of Mexico hypoxia shelfwide cruise. Several members of the science crew have been on this cruise since its inception in 1985. In that time they have raised families, raised awareness of the issues of coastal hypoxia, and sprouted some grey hairs. For others it has been a fifteen year journey or a five; some second timers some beginners. But to all of us this cruise has meant a lot for a lot longer than we have been onboard.

Much of the science crew have grown up scientifically (and literally) with the shelfwide cruise occurring and part of their curriculum in school. Some folks on board weren't even born until almost a decade after the first sampling. This is a tribute to the reach of what a multi-decadal survey can accomplish.

This trip is one of celebration for all the hard work to create an amazing data set monitoring the extent of the hypoxia area in the northern Gulf of Mexico. But, one should not forget that each year cutting edge science experimentation also takes place on each cruise including: DNA & RNA of microbial communities in the water column, denitrification and annamox (which incidentally we didn't even know about 30 years ago), water column metabolism, oil samples, micro plastic samples, and CO2 air-sea gas exchange.

It is amazing how much scientific knowledge of coastal ecosystems has improved over the course of 3 decades, but equally amazing how some things still haven't changed - like how there is still annually an area of low oxygen in the shelf.

So here's to a Happy 30th Birthday, Shelfwide Cruise. Oh and don't worry, you don't look a day over 29...

Creature of the night - Spinner shark!!!

I swear it was not the sea sickness meds, I actually did see a shark leap out of the water and spin around! Wendy was the first to see something big jump out of the water off the starboard side where I was deploying the YSI. Then it jumped again right in front of us and spun through the air. The third time it jumped it hit the side of the boat. Nancy confirmed that this acrobatic shark did exist and it was actually called a Spinner Shark...guess it probably should have been able to guess that myself given its spinning and sharkiness...

Jul 28, 2014 - Day 2
More crazy buziness. The SeaBird and the YSI6820 are not reading similar to each other or to the Winklers. Titration after titration we are trying to get this straightened out. A needed depth correction on the SeaBird also left us wondering about matching up depths on the two units to find similar levels of dissolved oxygen. So many water samples are needed. The long steam from A1 to the inshore of transect B at B1 was 3 hours, but the whole time was spent titrating Winklers and catching up on the back log of chlorophyll samples.

There is much fresh water on the shelf adjacent to the Mississippi River. The dissolved oxygen values are super-saturated, up to 190% at one station. The filters are green, green. Calculated values of 40-60 ug/L chlorophyll a. The oxygen is low very close to the inshore edge off Barataria and Terrebonne Bays in 4 to 5 m water depth. More box cores on transect B and transect C into the night and until the day shift came on. More microplastic net tows as well. The phytoplankton clogs the net quickly, and tows of 1 minute are too long.

More low oxygen along at least half of transect C. The night crew got the privilege of doing transect C and the busy station C6C.

Those of us who were on the early cruises remember C6 and C6A where the first oxygen meter was deployed on the bottom in 1989. Then platform C6A was pulled, and we moved to C6B. For C6A and C6B the oxygen meters were on a buoyed chain attached to the leg of an offshore oil platform, with the old fashioned Endeco current meters. Then we decided to go real time with the LSU WAVCIS and moved to a powered platform C6C. Now you can visit http://wavcis.csi.lsu.edu to see real-time oxygen values from near surface, mid-depth and near bottom. The C6 series formed the basis of Dubravko Justic's first modeling of surface production, bottom respiration, etc. for the hypoxic area.

Station C6B is still the best place to box core 100 m to the east. One drop, and one perfect core. Made Gene Turner very happy.

30 Shades of Hypoxia Chapter 2 
Tonight the night shifters conquered the infamous C-transect. The C-transect gets its name as it falls between the B and D transacts; but don't let its name fool you, this transect is not merely u2018just another letter.u2019 In 12-hrs the night shift cranked through the 10 grueling stations with very little break in between of transit time.

The C-transect has not only been measured annually on the Shelfwide cruises for the 30 yrs, it was also measured monthly from the 1985 to 2012. Due to the data richness of this transect, it is a sought after transect for most of the onboard experiments each year.

Another thing that makes this transect infamous is its proximity to massive oil rigs and platforms. Notably they appear near C5 and C1, though the rigs are quite different at each. Near C5 is a platform large enough to house dormitories, with workers living on board for weeks at a time. Near C1 perches a "jack-up rig," an engineering marvel. Imagine a ship with four large pillars sticking out of its deck. When the ship reaches its destination, it lowers the pillars through the water column to the sea floor. By pushing the pillars into the sea floor the ship is then able to lift itself up out of the water. What the observer sees is a ship apparently stranded 20-30 ft above the sea surface, impaled by pillars.

One particularly amazing platform occurs at C6C and is... tonight's creature of the night!

Creature of the night- C6C rig

As the boat turns, the platform emerges peaking from behind the bow. It's always bigger than we remember it and we're always further away from it than we think. The base of the platform sits a good 50 feet above the sea surface and 4-5 stories of structure rest on that. The platform not only has the space to house workers, but can land several helicopters at the same time. At night the rig is illuminated with glowing green lights, resembling a Borg cube. We can see night shift workers on board going about their shift...likely having fun watching the crazy people on the research vessel pointing and snapping selfies with the platform as the back drop.

Jul 29, 2014 - Day 3
"Titration" has become my middle name, from 7 am until 8 pm. Someone elseu2019s turn now. We are assembling the calculated Winkler values, the SeaBird and YSI6820 to develop the necessary regressions should we need to correct, which we will.

The day shift began sailing to Du20191 from C1. On the way there, we stopped long enough to offload Chef Alex Forsythe for some time off, and Relief Chef Dave Bhattacharya will be with us for the remainder of the cruise. Carl Sevin came to "offload" Alex in the LUMCON Boca Caillou, in some of the worst seas we have had and with thunderstorms all around. We did get the "all have arrived safely" message from the home port.

The day is very similar to the previous ones, lots of fresh water offshore, lots of phytoplankton, lots of supersaturated surface waters, and lots of low oxygen. And, did I mention lots of Winkler samples and titrations. We completed Du2019 and halfway through D as we headed towards shore. An oxygen minimum layer at 10 m in a 30 m water column with oxygen values of 0.2 mg/L, compared to bottom water oxygen of 0.9 mg/L. Surface waters again "fresher" than usual for the location and time of the year. Winds and currents indicate that Atchafalaya River water made its way to at least transect C, and certainly on Du2019 and D.

A successful box core on D3. The box cores taken at about 20 m are for graduate student Andrea Price, who is advised by Gail Chmura, ex-LSU graduate. They are at McGill University. Andrea is looking for dinoflagellate cysts to bring out of dormancy. The map for transect Au2019 through D should be uploaded by the end of the night shift, or at least early in the morning.

30 Shades of Hypoxia - Chapter 3 
Things have finally slowed down on board - stations are further apart and we have all found our rhythm as we sample through the night. With the extra breathing room between stations we have been able to catch up on sample processing, data compiling, and lab maintenance.

Tonight the night shifters cranked through the E transect. This is the last transect before we reach the mouth of the Atchafalaya River (don't worry I had a hard time pronouncing that name at first too). This is an important marker as the Atchafalaya River is the second major source of Mississippi River water into the Gulf of Mexico, receiving 30% of the Mississippi River water at the Old River Control Structure diversion. Because of this second outlet, we often see two distinct areas of hypoxia, one associated with each outlet. So far this year, though, we have observed hypoxia at every transect sampled. As dawn approaches the night shifters get ready for the the last station, then it's off to bed for the day while the day shifters tackle the F transect and see what the Atchafalaya has in store for us this evening.

Creature of the night - micro-plastics

An added feature to this year's Shelfwide Cruise is the sampling of micro-plastics in the surface water. Micro-plastics, as the name suggests, are very small pieces of plastic (<1 mm) that have worked their way into the ocean from human sources on land. They either started as larger pieces of plastic that were gradually broken down into smaller and smaller pieces in the ocean or were manufactured that size for specific products, e.g., abrasives and exfoliants. To sample these tiny plastics, we are employing an old tactic used for sampling tiny critters - a plankton net. Plankton are very, very small (many are single-celled) plants and animals that live in the water column. Thus, a net designed to capture those little guys must be very, very fine, perfect for trapping micro-plastics. Micro-plastics are added to the long list of things coming in from the human ecosystem through the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean..

Jul 30, 2014 - Day 4
Well the night crew stated on their second night (see 30 Shades of Hypoxia u2013 Chapter 2): "Tonight the night shifters conquered the infamous C-transectu2026 the night shift cranked through the 10 grueling stationsu2026" Donu2019t let that FOOL you. The day crew conquered the infamous transect F today with 7 stations and the infamous station F2A. Everyone loved F2A. Three rosette casts to get all the water. Three separate bottom Niskin collections. One perfect box core. Cameron has taken GoPro video of the CTD going down, and the bottom-water Niskin going down, but did not agree to put his GoPro on the box core. So Gene put his GoPro on the box corer and watched it hit the bottom and trigger and collect an excellent sample. Another successful box core at F3, and yet another at F0.

The offshore water was clear on the F transect, but as soon as we reached halfway to the Atchafalaya River outfall, the water again turned turbid with phytoplankton and sedimentu2014probably more phytoplankton than sedimentu2014until F0 in 5 m when the water was turbid with sediment. Sometimes you cannot distinguish the seabed from the water column at F0. The highest dissolved oxygen concentration of the cruise was at F1, near 14.35 mg/L with an oxygen saturation value of about 245%. We took another micro-plastics tow at F1, but left the net in only 1 minute.

Cameronu2019s video of the bottom Niskin going down and tripping proved to this 30-year veteran that the weight hits the surface sediment. The skill of the wench operator stops it immediately. There is no kicking up of sediment. The messenger goes down and closes on clear bottom water within 0.5 m of the sediment. Yeah!! But, I could have told you that.

Continuing to find hypoxia within the 5 to 20 m depth range. The finale was reached on the Winklers with a series of improved regression lines and equations. The data will be corrected on both the SeaBird (reading too low) and the YSI6820 (reading too high). Selected salinity samples will be checked with a Porta-Sal, and data will be corrected if necessary. We are confident that a post-cruise correction will cure all that ails the data. The contour mapping is being forced to follow some bathymetric lines, and the data being plotted are now the corrected oxygen data.

Everything is going well. Relief Chef Dave is pleasing the palates, and not letting us want for desserts, fresh baked bread, cakes, and cookies. Not to mention he is cooking for omnivores, vegetarians, gluten free, and allergy to cucumber, squash, and melon allergy.

Nicole Cotten retrieved a photo from 1986 tacked up on a shelf in my office and added it to the photo gallery. I will go through my computer and find more recent history. We will be posting scans of old color prints after I return to shore.

30 Shades of Hypoxia Chapter 4 
Blue blue waters.

As our cruise takes us further west and offshore, the water becomes a deep ocean blue, as opposed to the coastal green/brown. The water is so clear you can see the rosette for several meters as it descends. Squid have become abundant at each station. Drawn to the spot lights on the ship, schools of these small, pink, cephalopods swarm. The night shift is now a well-oiled machine, the gears running smoothly and efficiently, knocking off tasks and stations. That is until...the Bug-nado hit!

Creature of the Night - Bug-nado!

The beginning of the night shift found the R/V Pelican very close to shore along the F-transect off Atchafalaya Bay. The night shifters emerged onto the deck blinking into the setting sun, attempting to soak up their dayu2019s quota of vitamin D from the last of the sunu2019s rays. The seas were calm with a light breeze. Then out of nowhere, a cyclone of insects consumed the ship! Butterflies, grasshoppers, dragon flies, stink bugs, flies, beetles, and mosquitoes all swarmed the night shifters. One shifter, who will not be named, squealed like a small child when a rogue butterfly unexpectedly landed on her work vest. After several hours of insect inundation, our fearless shift leader came to the rescue. Chainsaw in hand, Wendy proceeded to cut apart flying insects mid-air, including one particularly large dragonfly as it tried to swallow her whole.

(Note: the last bit may have been an exaggeration, well perhaps an outright lie...anyone else watch Shark-nado 2 tonight?)

Jul 31, 2014 - Day 5
The night shifters took over after our frantic transect F work and finished out the line at F0 (see 30 Shades of Hypoxia u2013 Chapter 4). They also took us out of bottom-water hypoxia on the G transect. Turned out to be a hypoxia-free transect, with well mixed waters to the bottom and bottom oxygen concentrations of 4-5 mg/L. But, yes, the nature of the cruise has shifted from too much to do with too little time to a slower-paced spread of stations and longer transits between transects. Relief!

We pay tribute today to Quay Dortch, former LUMCON professor, now working at NOAA CSCOR. We finally shed the name "Quay bottle" this year, for a more realistic "phyto bottle." The Quay bottle is for taking surface phytoplankton samples preserved in gluteraldehyde for later epifluorescence microscopy. She began the taxonomic work in 1989, and we have continued since with Wendy Morrison remaining our LUMCON phytoplankton taxonomy expert. Best series of phytoplankton data for the northern Gulf of Mexico. Gene and Jim also noted on the back deck to take the surface water sample the way "Quay would do it" rather than the way they might want to!

Wondering if we would see hypoxia again on this cruise, with transect H well mixed and transect I giving a hint of low DO. A few casts approached the level of 2 mg/L on transect I and one slightly below. J transect produced low oxygen close to shore. The distribution now appears to be hugging the shoreline, not unexpected with the winds from the north. Headed to transect K, a "long-term" one with more water.

30 Shades of Hypoxia Chapter 5 
30 things you do on the night shift.

Getting ready for the shift
1) The alarm goes off at "o-light-hundred"...sometime around 5pm
2) Contemplate what day it is...no seriously this is a toughy. In fact today's Creature of the Night is Thursday...no wait is it Friday now?
3) Salivate as Dave the chef finishes preparing dinner (breakfast?)
4) Arrive at station right at dinner time (6pm) and chuckle as we get to eat our food hot as the day shifters sample the station.
5) Hide the remaining chocolate cake so Gene doesn't eat it all before ourmidnight snack
6) Review tasks for stations on our shift
7) Ingest a large amount of caffeine in preparation - no coffee u2018til after 2am for Wendy
8) Decide we each need to do just one last thing before hitting the next station - e.g., go to the bathroom, find our boots, ask someone a question - and then realize the boat is slowing down and we have arrived on station...you're gonna just have to wait!

While on Station
9) Wrangle the Rosette. Guide the rosette, a large metal cage containing 12 5-L Niskin bottles and multiple sensors, into the water. The sensors record numerous oceanographic parameters as they are lowered and then raised through the water column including oxygen, temperature, salinity, %transmission, fluorescence, PAR, and height of frame above the bottom (very important).
10) As the rosette is lowered into the water column the night shifters take the opportunity to get to know each other better. We chat about our children (human and furry), spouses, that time we did that cool thing when we were younger, and our current excitement (home maintenance and car repairs), etc.
11) Look for cool stuff in the water - squid, dolphins, sharks, flying fish. Tonight we saw LAND!!!
12) Collect water samples. Niskin bottles allow for the sampling of water at designated depths through the water column. Bottles are lowered open and are triggered to close at specified depths.
13) Collect box core sample (grumble)

Between Stations (15-45min)
14) Ingest a large amount of caffeine
15) Run chlorophyll samples (an estimate of the amount phytoplankton in the water) - this occurs so much Amanda can do it in her sleep!
16) Process Winkler titrations (old school method - late 19th century - to determine oxygen concentration in the water) - this occurs so much Wendy can do it in her sleep!
17) Attempt to bribe the crew into turning the boat towards home
18) Give up and watch cartoons
19) Enter data - Leslie prefers to not do this sleeping
20) Discuss what we will do once our feet touch land
21) Make the daily oxygen map
22) Make contingency plans for what to do if boarded by pirates
23) Write daily blog entry

End of the Shift
24) Gripe as we land on station right at 6am and have to work the station while the day shift gets to eat a hot Breakfast.
25) Finally eat breakfast (dinner?)
26) Go outside and attempt to soak up some Vitamin D, but not for too long as it becomes too bright for our eyes to handle...we are creatures of the night.
27) Chuckle to ourselves as we hear the tasks awaiting the day shift - multiple box cores and rosette samples.
28) Shower and wash off all the saltwater from the shift
29) Crawl into our bunks for a good day sleep
30) Bonine-induced dreams...enough said

Aug 01, 2014 - Day 6
Back into hypoxia in the shallower stations on transects J and K. More and more hypoxia as we head farther offshore from Lake Calcasieu. But, then it is gone. A fine "western edge" transect for the respiration, DIC, denitrification, microbial, and pCO2 data. Closed off transect K at station 6 with 3.5 mg/L. Heading to Texas.

Challenged by the night shift, with apologies to Willy Nelson:

Of all the cruises Iu2019ve known before,

they keep coming up in my dreams more and more.

They bring back so many memories, they bring back so many images,

I just want to dream some more.

Of all the cruises Iu2019ve known before,

this one brings more ancient mariners to sea again.

They move more slowly, but Nancy, Gene and Jim,

have made #1 and #30 together again.

Of all the cruises Iu2019ve known before,

this one brings yet another different map than before.

Youu2019d think Iu2019d know the game, youu2019d think Iu2019d be able to predict,

but then the map shifts some more.

Of all the cruises Iu2019ve known before,

the science crew keeps performing as well as before.

They all do their jobs, they all enjoy the learning,

they all loved the chocolate cake from the night before.

Of all the cruises Iu2019ve known before,

I love being at sea, I love the science, I love the camaraderie.

So, with the end of this song, Iu2019d like to move along,

improving the health of the Gulf before time goes too long.

Of all the cruises Iu2019ve known before, hmmmmmmm

Aug 02, 2014 - Day 7
Lasting Impressions

Nancy Rabalais - the whole thang! - "30 Years! I would have never thought that the hypoxia research started in 1985 when Don Boesch sent me offshore in a 21-ft whaler to set transects off Terrebonne Bay and Port Fourchon would have ever led to what we have accomplished. Now, over a 100 publications later, Congressional legislation, incredible but not complete knowledge of such a dynamic system, and relentless public education and outreach, I am fulfilled in my science and professional career, but know so much more needs to be accomplished in the social realm for a longer-term health for the Gulf of Mexico."

Wendy Morrison - 7 years - "These cruises are a nice mixture of work and fun and I've enjoyed being a part of them. As a night shifter, I love feeling the ship slowly gliding to a stop on station and peering over the side to see what creatures might come to our light amidst the surrounding darkness. I've also met some great people and forged friendships that lasted long after the boat returned to shore. I am grateful for all of these experiences and the chance to be a part of such an important research effort."

Leslie Smith - 5 years - "What a capstone cruise to celebrate 30 years - calm seas, great science, and amazing food! I am so thankful to have begun my career as part of this project. My company (what seemed a distant dream) became a reality after a call from Nancy asking me to be a Data Manager on the 2011 cruise."

Matthew Rich - 2 years - "The opportunity to collaborate with multi cultural and interdisciplinary scientists from around the world has been my most memorable experience. The chance to be but just a small cog in the larger machinery of this epic legacy of Nancy Rabalais' Gulf of Mexico hypoxia research is a once in a lifetime opportunity I will never forget."

Cameron Thrash - 2 years - "I've been honored to be included by Nancy on the Shelfwide cruise two-years in a row. Her generosity has been a tremendous gift to me personally and professionally. As a new professor this has given me an unprecedented opportunity to collect data in a research area I'm excited about. It has really jump started my career."

Amanda Fontenot - 2 years u2013 "This cruise has been a wonderful experience. I am very grateful for the experience and all of the knowledge I have gained. The people on board, scientist and crew, were so much fun to be around. I will miss the good times and all the crazy science!"

Lauren Gillies - 2 years u2013 "It has been an amazing experience being able to go out and collect samples with a group of scientists who are experts on the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone and are so passionate about the science and sharing it with the public."

Mary Kate Rogener - 2 years - "This shelf wide cruise was a great experience because as I young scientist I grew up learning about the "dead zone". To be given the wonderful opportunity to conduct research in this unique area under scientists, such as Nancy Rabalais, is a once in a lifetime experience. I only hope that my research on the Gulf of Mexico can have the same impact on young people."

Kate Pinkerton - 1 year u2013 "Participating in this survey was an inspiring experience. The ship was filled with incredibly passionate and knowledgeable people - not just the researchers gathering samples and data, but also the crew managing the equipment and the chefs creating meal masterpieces! Oh yeah, and seeing lots of dolphins was pretty great, too. This was a cruise I will never forget!"

Craigs Steven Zwiffle*- 0.27 years u2013 "Now, I've had the time of my life. You know I've never felt this way before. Yes I swear, it's the truth! And I owe it all to you, Nancy Rabalais. Sharknado movie night was also great."

* not an actual crew member...

NOLA Article 
Gulf's low-oxygen 'dead zone' covers 5,052 square miles along Louisiana's coast


  • The final dissolved oxygen data will be corrected, as necessary, from linear regression with the Winkler titrations over a range of 0.22 to 8.43 mg/L. Initial observations indicate correction, but the f-factor for the Winkler standard remains to be verified. Any corrected data will be reflected in other derived measurements.
  • Salinity data not yet verified with PortaSal samples.
  • CTD data remain to be post-processed with ALIGN CTD to be applied.
  • Instrumentation was calibrated pre- and post-cruise according to manufacturer's specifications and standard method procedures were applied for several variables, not yet calculated, according to several LUMCON EPA-approved Quality Assurance Project Plans.
  • Data collected as part of process studies remain to be analyzed and synthesized.
  • Final QA/QC'd data will be submitted to NOAA NODC within two years of collection.