BOLD Research Vessel

Science to Decisions from the OSV Bold

By Jeanethe Falvey

This week, scientists from EPA, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, University of New England, and the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve completed a water sampling effort along the southern coast of New England. Why?

Many asked when we were in Ipswich Bay off Essex, Massachusetts. We were thrilled that boaters took interest to the big blue ship; cautiously, but curiously approaching when we stopped to send down equipment. During boat to boat conversations from the back deck, they said they had never seen anything like the Bold before. It was a great opportunity to explain firsthand what we were doing, and why we have this research ship. When I said we were sampling water quality along the coastline they asked, “Is it ok for swimming?”

sampler

"OSV Bold uses a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) to measure water samples at different depths."

I explained for swimming yes. We were looking for something less obvious, sampling the bottom, middle, and surface depths further offshore compared to estuaries, or bays, more geographically enclosed areas where rivers and streams meet the sea. In this confluence of environments where fresh water sources and land meet the ocean, are there specific indications showing that our land-based activities are having too much of a negative impact in the coastal environment? Too much would mean that the natural environment can’t cope with the influx of pollutants and runoff from land. Examples of this can be algal blooms, or “fish kills.” More obvious to many would be closed beach days due to bacterial pollution in the water, that’s always from our sewage and runoff too.

This is why for the third year, we sampled for nutrients, specifically, phosphorus and nitrogen, and also for chlorophyll (plant matter in the ocean). Nutrients (commonly found in fertilizers, as an example) help plants grow. Excess amounts can cause algal overgrowth and deteriorate natural conditions, sometimes to the point where fish and other sea life cannot survive.

If we see trends from something specific like nutrients, then we hope to better inform decisions made on land: encouraging SmartGrowth and sustainable development, better sewage treatment, or generally raising awareness about more environmentally conscious day to day activities.

The Bold isn’t just an ocean going research vessel, it’s one of our best tools to study our natural world and use that science to inform how we protect our environment.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, based in Boston, Massachusetts.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Headed Off On Our Ocean Research Ship the Bold!

I’m not sure why, but getting on this ship always makes me smile. Maybe it’s the familiar faces among the crew that I’m lucky enough to see every so often, the feeling of the ship when it’s underway, or the smell of Amanda’s cooking. Surely it’s a combination, but above all else, I know the underlying reason this beautiful ship makes me so happy – the sheer fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has it to learn more about our world.

Of all U.S. vessels and ships supporting our missions worldwide, this one of ours isn’t gray, anymore. The OSV Bold is bright blue with a proud green, blue and white sash down the bow. This is no ordinary ship.

Today, ferries full of Boston tourists have passed us and I can’t help but wonder what they’re thinking as we wave back and forth.

Just heard a horn blast from the Coast Guard station; we’re off! The tone is serious, but excited as crew members untie and Captain Jere heads up to the bridge.

It’s all for science. This is all to have a better understanding of the
impacts we’ve had on our oceans and coastal environment.

These impacts aren’t just from activities on the water, they’re mostly from what we do far, far away on land. Rainwater and storm runoff carries pollution from our roads and paved areas to rivers and coasts. That pollution can be found miles offshore. It’s not the most beautiful topic, but our sewage ends up out here too. Treatment helps, but it doesn’t make elements of it disappear.

How much can the environment take? Well it varies.  For a long time, dilution was the solution, but our oceans are only so big. The life they support, which we treasure so deeply, can only take so much.

Today through early Thursday of next week (August 11) follow my updates about our trip. Ask questions here or reply to our tweets while I’ve got the ear of some of our best scientists.

At the very least we hope to give you an idea of why we feel this work is so important.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs,
Washington D.C. Based in Boston, Massachusetts.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

OSV BOLD:Day 1 – July 30th – Wrap Up

The sun set around 7:45, and my first shift began! Sporting a bright orange vest and hard hat, my team helped to deploy the CTD off the starboard side of the BOLD just off Cape Ann in Gloucester, MA.

In this first day (and a half day at that) we were able to sample 7 stations!  Chlorophyll samples are being sent to EPA New England’s laboratory on land in Chelmsford, MA.

Stations labeled “R1…” are located on the Captain’s Log page. New Stations have the latitude and longitude.

At a bit past midnight, my shift ended and we were on course to New Hampshire’s coast. Said, “hello and goodnight” to my roomie who caught the tough shift, she will get back to the room around 4 am.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring!

Jeanethe Falvey works in EPA’s Boston office.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

OSV BOLD Tweets Its Way Up the New England Coast

Hi there! Each day thousands of people are working at EPA to help clean up our environment. I’m one of the lucky few that gets to see how this work is done out on the ocean! My name is Jeanethe Falvey, I’m 24 years old and have worked for EPA for just over two years since I graduated from Bates College in 2007. This week, from July 30 – August 6, I will be onboard the OSV BOLD, EPA’s only ocean research ship. Scientists will be studying the health of New England’s coastline from Boston Harbor to Penobscot Bay in Maine, and I’m here to help show you what life is like onboard the ship. Learn more at http://www.epa.gov/ne/boldkids/ and follow me on Twitter @epalive!

Jeanethe Falvey works in EPA’s Boston office.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

On Board the OSV BOLD: Change in Weather

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

About the author: About the author: Charles LoBue serves as the chief scientist and diver for the US Virgin Island leg of the OSV BOLD voyage. He is an environmental scientist in EPA Region 2 in New York City.

March 6, 2009 (Day 26)

For most of our trip so far, the weather has been very good to us, and we’ve been able to keep to our itinerary. But when the weather doesn’t cooperate, all of our plans are thrown off. Unfortunately, that’s the current situation that we’ve found ourselves in as a strong, low pressure front is upon us and the weather is quickly becoming a problem. Rain is now pelting down, and winds are howling out of the northwest with gusts up to 39 knots (about 45 mph).

iimage of scuba flag in windThis will prevent us from working at our remaining stations on the northwest of St. Thomas. It’s not the rain that concerns us, but the sustained high winds that are creating rough sea conditions and will make it virtually impossible to be able to put our small diving boats out into the water. It is what it is, and we all have to keep in mind that this is beyond our control. We go back to the drawing board to figure out what is in our control. We decide to cast off from our dockage in Charlotte Amalie, cruise east, and anchor in Coral Bay in St. John. We’re hoping that the stations in this embayment on southwest St. John, are protected enough to allow diving.

We are so grateful for the assistance of The Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resource in helping us transport some of our divers, using their fast monitoring boat, the Vigilant. She’s been docked in St. Thomas, so crossing Pillsbury Sound to rendezvous with us could be a difficult task if the seas are rough. But as the BOLD bounds into 4 to 6-foot seas before turning into Coral Bay, we anchor and it seems calmer, and we’re delighted to see the Vigilant anchored at our meeting point. It’s time to get to work.

We’re able to safely load the Vigilant and two BOLD rigid-hulled, inflatable boats on the leeside of the massive BOLD hull. Although stiff winds prevail, the sea surface tucked behind these mountains seems to be staying down enough to allow diving. We’ll find out as divers return and have a chance to report back to us.

image of inflatable boat with people

As the boats return, the sun is now shining and we learn of success; the waters are workable. Being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I’m confident that we’ll have success in our next two days here on the south side, and we’ll ultimately get the weather to allow us to return to complete our stations on the north sides of St. Thomas and St. John.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

On Board the OSV BOLD: A Tree Falling in the Ocean

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

March 6, 2009 – 2:00 p.m. (Day 26)

About the author: John Senn is a press officer in Region 2, New York City. He covers water issues, including water permits, wetlands, coastal water and beaches, oceans and lakes, as well as RCRA, and Voluntary Programs. John’s been with EPA for 2.5 years.

Everyone’s heard the riddle about whether a tree falling in the woods when no one’s around actually makes a sound. A similar analogy can be made for the work being one right now on the OSV BOLD; if no one sees what we do, just how valuable is our work?

images of school children listening to a presentation be given by a diverYesterday, some 200 people—about half of them students from local middle and high schools—got a close up look at EPA’s coral reef survey and the BOLD’s inner workings through an open house at Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. EPA scientists, the ship’s crew and members of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources served as tour guides, and demonstrated the coral reef survey techniques and diving operations currently underway.

Apart from seeing all the cool gadgets and gizmos that make the ship run, as well as our dining hall and living quarters, visitors heard about the importance of studying, protecting and enhancing the health
of coral reefs around the Virgin Islands. Bill Fisher, an EPA scientist from Florida who’s been contributing to this blog, told the visitors about how the Virgin Islands, like many small islands around the globe, are specially vulnerable to the potential impacts of global climate change and human activity.

Rising sea levels affect how close people can live to the coast. Elevated ocean temperatures can alter marine habitat and change how some animals, plants and fish function, including coral reefs. The reefs, Bill explained, benefit islands like the Virgin Islands by acting as a natural (and free) barrier to destructive storm surges; man-made barriers cost millions of dollars to construct.

Coral are also particularly sensitive to even the slightest changes in the water around them, so they’re good indicators of looming water quality problems. Bill was clear to explain how almost everything we do on land affects what goes on in and under the sea. He emphasized to our visitors, especially to the students, that lowering one’s carbon footprint can have a demonstrable benefit in their backyard.

Many of the students who came aboard seemed excited to see and hear about what we were up to. Hopefully we inspired them to take action to protect this beautiful and ecologically-significant place. Maybe a few will even become environmental scientists and carry on our work someday.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

On Board the OSV BOLD: A Day in the Life

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

About the author: About the author: Charles LoBue serves as the chief scientist and diver for the US Virgin Island leg of the OSV BOLD voyage. He is an environmental scientist in EPA Region 2 in New York City.

image of man with lots of air tanksWe’re at anchor in St. James Bay on the eastern corner of St. Thomas, giving us access to both St. Thomas and St. John stations. Our daily routine has already been well established, and with three dive teams making three dives each a day, filling scuba tanks is an essential task. The breathing gas that we use is Nitrox, which is air spiked with extra oxygen. Increasing the amount of oxygen decreases the nitrogen breathed in while diving, which in turn allows for longer dives without saturating our bodies with nitrogen levels that could cause decompression sickness or the “bends.” Nitrox is specially blended daily on board, with factory efficiency, by the BOLD technicians.

Planning for each day always starts the night before, when after dinner, the survey coordinators and BOLD captain meet to finalize dive plans that start the next morning. Dive team assignments are posted in the ship’s laboratory, which serves as a survey operations center. Divers are responsible for checking the oxygen content of the Nitrox in their tanks, and before retiring each night, they must analyze the air in his or her tanks assigned for the next day.

image of scuba diverIn the morning, divers check the assignment board to see which boat they’re in and the order of boat deployment. The teams stage their gear for loading onto the boats, with care to include all of the dive gear, survey and sampling equipment, drinking water, and oxygen kit. The gear is methodically loaded; missing one piece of equipment or gear would abort a survey and require a return trip to the BOLD. Once the boats are loaded, divers are on their way to start their work. GPS units are used to locate the station, and a snorkeler confirms that the site is appropriate to “count.” If it’s a go, two divers gear up and splash in to begin the survey; in about 10 minutes, two more divers descend to fill out the survey team. The observations are performed and recorded according to our protocol.

When the divers are finished, they return to the BOLD where samples are logged and refrigerated, data sheets are rinsed and dried, and dive gear is rinsed and hung to dry. Data is then entered into computer spreadsheets by the statisticians, with rigid review by the diver. Water samples are filter-processed for various analyses. Logged data for each diver is entered into the dive officer’s spreadsheet to track each diver’s activity and to ensure that no one has built up too much nitrogen in his or her system after several days of diving. After a long day of being the water, the whole process begins again for the next morning.

image of two women hanging papers to dry

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

On Board the OSV BOLD: A BOLD Beginning

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

March 3, 2009 – 7:30 p.m. (Day 23)

About the author: John Senn is a press officer in Region 2, New York City.  He covers water issues, including water permits, wetlands, coastal water and beaches, oceans and lakes, as well as RCRA, and Voluntary Programs.  John’s been with EPA for 2.5 years.

I’ve spent plenty of time on sailboats and in canoes and kayaks, but just boarding and getting acclimated to the OSV BOLD in St. Thomas was an experience unlike any I’ve ever had on a watercraft.

The ship is like a living organism. Even the smallest pieces of equipment and supplies have their proper place. And no matter where you may be on the ship, if She’s moving, so are you (your stomach included). That means newcomers like myself had better find or re-discover their sea legs pretty quickly or endure seasickness.

In the case of choppy seas most everything is attached to the floor or secured in some other way. All the drawers on my dresser and desk have locks, for example, so they won’t slide out if we hit an unexpected patch of rough water. Safety always comes first regardless of what type of boat you’re on, but on the BOLD, it comes first and second, partly because the ship is so big–224 feet long and 45 feet wide–and partly because of the complexity of what She’s expected to do on a daily basis.

image of ship at dock

After Her days as a Navy ship, the BOLD was transformed into a state-of-the-art research lab, complete with side scan sonar, biological sampling and analysis tools, and powerful computers to help process all the data that’s collected.

But the BOLD would just be a fancy boat without all the people who make Her work. The 18-person crew knows the ship inside and out, and there’s a chef on board who makes sure we all get three square meals each day.

The team of EPA scientists, who hail from every corner of the country, is nothing short of world class. The coral reefs they’re mapping right now have never been surveyed in such a comprehensive way. People often think that we’ve studied every inch of the planet, but this effort is showing that there are things we still don’t know, especially when the land and water are changing beneath our feet.

Well, we’re cruising back to port at a pretty good clip and the ship’s starting to rock a bit, so I think I’ll go catch up on sleep.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

On Board the OSV BOLD: Experimenting Under Pressure…Puerto Rico Highlights Continued

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

About the author: Mark Reiss is a marine environmental scientist with the dredging, sediments and oceans team in EPA Region 2, comprising New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He is one of the principal investigators on the OSV BOLD’s Puerto Rico voyage.

As I had talked about in yesterday’s post, we wanted to have a little fun after all the hard work the crew and science members had put in to complete our surveys. So, we decided to see what would happen if we securely attached foam cups, signed by students from three science classes at a Manhattan middle school and by three teachers from Puerto Rico that joined us on the OSV BOLD, and drop them down on the CTD to 2,500 meters. The weight of all that water produces incredible pressure, just over 3,600 pounds per square inch (PSI). Our instruments are built to withstand this pressure, but foam coffee cups aren’t. The pressure causes the cups to shrink to miniature versions of themselves, as it forces the air in the foam out and sticks the plastic together.

 image of styrofoam cups, soda can, an egg, and an orange on a table
Various items prior to being sent into the depths of the sea.

The crew had seen that before on other cruises so they knew what would happen to the cup. But this time we also sent down an uncooked egg, an unopened can of soda, an orange, a waffle, and a few floating key chains—basically anything that wasn’t tied down! Everyone on the boat made predictions about what would happen to the items, and they were hotly debated for the three hours it took to make the cast. We all gathered on deck waiting to see what happened.

I got mostly firm predictions about what would happen to the soda and the egg we sent down when I polled the boat and scientific crew (though a few people admitted that they just were guessing). And I got a lot of good theories to back those predictions up.

image of crushed styrofoam cups, soda can, an egg, and an orange on a table
Various items after exposure to the incredible pressure of the sea.

Some confidently predicted that that the egg and soda can would be “toast.” Some people thought that only one would make it or that the egg would break if it went down lying on its side, but would be okay if it went down on its end. Some said that the items would explode. The best one came from our captain who pointed out that the shell of the egg is an engineering marvel of nature so it would withstand the pressure, but the soda can has a weak spot built in and that would make it explode.

Well, maybe the captain did predict the egg would come back fine, but then why did the soda can make it okay, too?

An egg shell is indeed a natural engineering masterpiece, but that’s not why it survived. The reason the soda can, egg and orange did not crush is pretty simple. (By the way, things do not explode under pressure). They are mostly filled with fluid, and fluids do not compress or squeeze together like air does. The fluid inside pushed against the can and the shell from the inside and kept them from collapsing while the pressure outside tried to crush it. If the egg were hollow, even the engineering properties of its shell would not have saved it. The results of our little experiment definitely surprised most of us.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

On Board the OSV BOLD: Just Dropping a Line…Puerto Rico Highlights

About the author: Mark Reiss is a marine environmental scientist with the dredging, sediments and oceans team in EPA Region 2, comprising New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He is one of the principal investigators on the OSV BOLD’s Puerto Rico voyage

image of two men standing on ship deck near columnar instrumentAnother component of the work we do on the OSV BOLD is lowering an instrument called a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth recorder—we just call it a CTD—through the water column down to 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) about every two hours. It takes about 40 minutes to get the CTD down to that depth and then back up on deck, but it’s important to use the CTD because it tells us about the structure of the ocean.

People tend to think of the ocean as all the same but there is actually a lot of structure in the ocean, and our CTD casts showed that structure. The structure of the water is based on density. Less dense water floats on top of denser water; warm water is less dense than cold water, and less salty water is less dense than saltier water. So, a river that runs into the sea does not mix with the seawater, but rather floats on top of it because it has less salt—it’s less dense. Our software calculates the density using the temperature and salt content measured by the CTD.

We completed all of the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth Recorder drops to 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), and on our last cast we sent the CTD down to 2,500 meters or 8,200 feet. That’s pretty deep—picture it as eight Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other. As you can imagine, it took a long time to go all that distance and back up. You might think that after all the waiting, everybody onboard would have been pretty bored, but everyone was eagerly waiting for the CTD to come back onboard. We’d decided to have a little fun with the test by adding a simple experiment to demonstrate depth pressure. Make sure to check in tomorrow to see what kind of fun experiment we did with the CTD Recorder!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.