BOLD Research Vessel

On Board the OSV BOLD: Setting Sail in the Name of Science

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.

February 9, 2009 – 9:00 am (Day 1)

About the author: Doug Pabst is the chief scientist for the OSV BOLD’s Puerto Rico voyage. He leads the dredging, sediments and oceans team in EPA Region 2, comprising New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

After weeks of arduous planning, we are excited to be kicking off our Caribbean voyage on EPA’s ocean-going vessel, the OSV BOLD. We’ve got a full boat, no pun intended, of people – University of Puerto Rico researchers, teachers, students and EPA scientists – and several missions.

Our adventure begins today in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we will be towing nets offshore during the day to collect marine debris (basically anything that floats or remains suspended in the water near the surface). At night, we will switch operations to collect side scan sonar data from the seafloor offshore of San Juan Harbor. The side scan sonar survey will produce detailed images of the sediment that covers the sea bottom.

We will be back in port on February 12 and open for public and school group tours. Survey operations begin again on February 13, as we resume marine debris sampling enroute to Jobos Bay on the south side of Puerto Rico. We will again conduct side scan sonar during the evening off Jobos Bay as part of a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On February 15 and 16, we will be conducting water quality measurements with the University of Puerto Rico offshore of La Parguera. On the 17th and 18th, we will be collecting bottom samples around the coral reefs of La Parguera to catalog the types and number of living organisms. We are scheduled to arrive next in Mayaguez on February 19 for public and school group tours. The last leg of the mission has us leaving Mayaguez on the evening of the 19th to conduct more marine debris investigations on our way back to San Juan.

Hoping for fair winds and following seas!

February 10, 2009 – 1:00 pm (Day 2)

About the Author: Beth Totman is a press officer in Region 2, New York City. She covers Superfund, Emergency Response and Pesticides. She’s been with EPA since June 2007.

As you can see from Doug’s blog post above, we were hoping for smooth sailing…but that all changed when EPA got a call from the office of the Governor of Puerto Rico yesterday asking for assistance after a small plane went down off the northwest coast of Puerto Rico. It has been reported that six passengers were on that plane, and now EPA has been asked to utilize the state-of-the-art technology that we have on The OSV BOLD to help in search and recovery efforts. This is by all means a major tragedy, and EPA is here to help in whatever way we can. The OSV BOLD has side scan sonar technology that will be employed to scan the bottom of the ocean floor for plane debris.

When I woke up yesterday in my small apartment in the East Village in New York City, I knew that I was in for a life experience that would open my eyes to areas of the Agency that I have not been privy to in my year and a half with EPA. Twenty four hours later, I woke up on a 224 foot long ship, The OSV BOLD, and already our mission has morphed from conducting a series of scientific studies aimed at protecting and improving the Caribbean environment, to aiding local, state and federal agencies in this search and recovery mission. Staff from the BOLD will provide updates on the search and recovery operations on this blog as they become available.

The seas are anything but smooth, and the weather is not ideal for what we were tasked to do. I was told when I first got on board that we are beholden to the desires of the sea. Anything can happen and I need to keep an open mind on this ship. Just because the itinerary is air tight, doesn’t mean unexpected changes won’t occur. At a time like this, those words cannot be truer.

Editor’s note:  Click here to read an interesting news article describing the OSV Bold mission in the Caribbean Sea.

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.

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At Sea with the Bold: Golden Gateway

Two staff members, Margot Perez-Sullivan and Margaret Ford, joined nine environmental scientists and the crew of EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold to document science and research in action. Read the blog posts by Margot Perez-Sullivan from our San Francisco office to get an in-depth look at some of what’s involved in protecting our waters.

Day 6 (9.10.08):

We all seem a little bummed that today is our last day at sea. Correction: most of us are bummed, some of the landlubbers that haven’t been feeling too great are anxious to get back on land. We should be pulling into San Francisco around 7 p.m. tonight. I think it’s going to be great to go through the Golden Gate, hopefully it won’t be too foggy and we’ll actually see the bridge.

Since the survey is over and we’re just in transit, we are going to look for marine mammals. Hopefully we’ll spot a few!

We just pulled into San Francisco! I’m sitting in my room typing, trying to avoid packing and the reality that the adventure is over.

Off the Farallon Islands we saw a humpback whale, dolphins, seals and sea lions!

photo view of Golden Gate Bridge from Bold shipGoing through the Golden Gate was amazing. We really haven’t seen the sun since we left Eureka and oddly enough, when we first spotted the Golden Gate Bridge, we actually saw that there it was sunny in San Francisco! We all went to the stern of the boat, snapping photos – everyone needs a picture of being on the boat with the Golden Gate Bridge above us! Amy’s family went to the bridge to see the ship pass through. When Captain Jere realized that someone’s family was up there, he came down, told us to plug our ears and blew the horn for them!

It’s great to be home, but I’m sad it’s over.

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.

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At Sea with the Bold: Land Lubbers Bay-Area Bound

Two staff members, Margot Perez-Sullivan and Margaret Ford, joined nine environmental scientists and the crew of EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold to document science and research in action. Read the blog posts by Margot Perez-Sullivan from our San Francisco office to get an in-depth look at some of what’s involved in protecting our waters.

Day 5 (9.9.08):

Since pushing off on Sunday morning, we’ve lost three scientists to seasickness at different times. Fortunately, we’re all stoked to be doing hands on work; no one has a problem covering shifts when someone doesn’t feel well. Last night’s transit was particularly hard on some folks, but [knocking on wood] I sleep like a baby on this boat and luckily I haven’t gotten sick at all. I find the rocking hypnotic, but a few others don’t share my sentiments.

We are way ahead of schedule. There were 12 CTD deployments scheduled – and four were completed last night, leaving 8 for today. My shift doesn’t start until 2 p.m, so I’ve spent most of the day wandering around the ship, talking to scientists and the crew. The seas are a bit rougher today, so walking around on the ship has been particularly challenging. Walking is more like a zigzag through the ship, and I’ve been bumping into things constantly. I walked up to the stern of the ship and watched the boat go over waves and come crashing down. The seas have been so rough that some waves were above the height of the back deck – we took a sharp turn and some waves crashed over the deck!

So far, the only marine mammals we’ve seen were at seals at the dock in Eureka. Emily, one of the deck technicians on the crew spotted a whale yesterday or the day before, so we’ve all had our eyes peeled. Oddly enough, a hummingbird was flying around so Emily and Amanda (the chief steward) brought some sugar water out for the little guy. Kim, the first mate, told us that the hummingbird flew up into the bridge and flew out.

I’m hearing that the Captain cancelled the last CTD site as the seas are too rough, so we only have 3 samples left before the survey is complete! The last sample is our deepest on this survey at about 500 meters. For this survey’s final sample we all agreed to meet outside and celebrate a successful, safe survey.

It’s about 9 p.m. and the last sample is complete. With the last sample complete, we all cheered and thanked Allan for his great work on the survey. We all met on the back deck as planned to see the CTD surface from the depths one last time. When the last CTD sample was on its way back to the surface, Tina and I went down to the back deck. On our way down, my feet slipped out from under me and I slid (or fell..) all the way down the stairs. None of the EPA folks caught it – they were hypnotized by the science, but when I looked up, two of the guys on the crew were looking right at me. They saw the entire thing. When they saw that the only thing bruised was my ego, they laughed. So embarrassing…but I’m glad Margaret didn’t get it on camera.

This has been a great team effort. Being on a ship is a bit like a family – we all work, eat and when we can, goof off together. The crew has been great to work with all around, very professional, friendly, they take the time to answer our questions and most importantly, they ensure our safety – correcting us if we forget a hard hat, life vest or anything else that that could put us in harm’s way. For me, the best part about this experience was getting my hands dirty while collecting data and getting to know people in our office that we might not otherwise meet in our daily work. This has been a fascinating experience, I’m anxious to see the results of the survey and I’d love to do it again.

Next stop: San Francisco!

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.

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At Sea with the Bold: Plankton Passion

Two staff members, Margot Perez-Sullivan and Margaret Ford, joined nine environmental scientists and the crew of EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold to document science and research in action. Read the blog posts by Margot Perez-Sullivan from our San Francisco office to get an in-depth look at some of what’s involved in protecting our waters.

Day 4 (9.8.08):

This afternoon, Eugenia used her plankton sampler to take a deep water plankton sample. It’s exciting to have this kind of opportunity because Eugenia usually samples off piers. She’ll use this information to try to figure out plankton characteristics that can be tied to red tides and other bio-toxic occurrences that compromise our ability to each shell fish. VIDEO: See Eugenia sampling.

Photo of CTD instrument being deployed in the waterThe previous shift finished all the grabs, so my shift moved onto using the CTD, which stands for Conductivity, Temperature and Depth. Sieving for critters was fun yesterday, but I was excited to do something new. A CTD measures the water’s characteristics and will be used in conjunction with the other samples to determine how the HOODS site is performing and will give scientists a better idea of water quality in the area. The CTD is deployed off the side of the ship, dropped down — almost but not quite — to the ocean floor.

Photo of computer screensAs readings are taken continuously with depth, the information is displayed real time on a computer screen and saved in a computer file in the Data Acquisition Center (DAQ). Usually a scientist and a member of the tech crew monitors the data coming in to see any important features at a particular location and make sure the device is working.

Photo of CTD instrument being retrieved from the waterOur shift ended around 9:30. We were strictly on CTD sampling; this is by far the most nerve wracking process as two doors open and the CTD is deployed off the side of the ship – which leaves room for falling. I didn’t fall, but those who know me, are fully aware of my clumsiness on land. CTD samples aren’t hands-on the way sediment sampling and sieving samples are, but what’s really interesting is that we get the data on a computer in the Data Acquisition Center in real time and can be analyzed later.

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.

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At Sea with the Bold: Sub hunting…?

Two staff members, Margot Perez-Sullivan and Margaret Ford, joined nine environmental scientists and the crew of EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold to document science and research in action. Read the blog posts by Margot Perez-Sullivan from our San Francisco office to get an in-depth look at some of what’s involved in protecting our waters.

Day 4 (9.8.08):

First full day at sea. Got to sleep in a bit this morning, until about 8, so I missed breakfast, but lucky for me the mess deck is stocked with all kinds of good food so no one will go hungry. I’m hearing that we’re close to our last sediment grab which puts us way ahead of schedule.

Since we were so ahead of schedule, this morning, Margaret and I thought it would be great to talk to some of the crew on the boat and talk to people about life at sea.

Silouette of BoatworkerThe crew is pretty diverse with 16 men and women of all ages and backgrounds. Many of the crew got into the maritime industry because of a parent or relative. They all seem to like their jobs and are very accommodating to EPA staff. It must be strange to live on a vessel that has a different people coming and going year-round, but they don’t seem to mind and are very personable.

We started with Captain Jere. He’s an excellent captain, a real character with an eclectic background and a hard New England accent, which I love. He reminded me of why I stayed in New England for so long after college. Captain Jere told us that he used to run this exact kind of ship, it was called a T-AGOS back during the Cold War when it was used as a submarine hunter. This is a man that really knows his ship – he also told us that there used to be a “burn room” within the dry lab. Burn rooms on submarine hunters are stainless steel rooms where all the top secret documents are kept – if the ship was compromised, one of the crew dashes to the burn room, flips a switch and the entire contents of the room go up in flames while maintaining the vessel’s integrity without causing a ship-wide fire. VIDEO: See the burn room.

Photo of bunkroomWe got a chance to take a tour of the galley, commonly known as a kitchen on land. The chief steward, Amanda, is very accommodating to different dietary needs and makes us some very tasty meals. No one goes hungry on this ship!

It’s funny; boats have different names for everything. Boats don’t have ropes, they have lines. If something is secured it means it’s not working. It’s not a ramp, it’s a gangway. It’s not the cafeteria, it’s the mess deck; it’s not the kitchen, it’s the galley. It’s not the toilet, it’s the head. The bridge is where the Captain and his mates steer the boat from and where all the navigational equipment is housed. Port is left and the color is red, starboard is right and the color is green. The different colors are lit on each side respectively while the boat is at sea so that other ships can tell which direction we’re heading. ….the list goes on and on…

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.

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At Sea with the Bold: Tiger Sharks Attack!

Two staff members, Margot Perez-Sullivan and Margaret Ford, joined nine environmental scientists and the crew of EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold to document science and research in action. Read the blog posts by Margot Perez-Sullivan from our San Francisco office to get an in-depth look at some of what’s involved in protecting our waters

Day 3 (9.7.08):

Just finished my shift. My hands are freezing and I’m knackered, but it was so much fun! With great interest I sieved the benthic grabs and found a tiny Dungeness crab, a shrimp and tons of worms, some of which were very colorful.

Amy is on the Periwinkles team, but she stuck around a long time to help us out. She told me what the little critters were and is so fun to work with, it’s great. The Tiger Sharks worked well together and we kept a good pace going throughout. We were lucky to get a lot of good grabs without having to take grab after grab after grab to get a good one.

photo of workers sieving through sedimentTiger Sharks managed to get 10 sediment grabs for a total of 20 samples. It’s great to have such knowledgeable people around me that can not only tell me what all these little critters but are so passionate about their work. Amy with her infinite marine biology knowledge made the sieving go by so much faster. And I learned something. Bonus!

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.

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At Sea with the Bold: A Big, Bold Adventure

Two staff members, Margot Perez-Sullivan and Margaret Ford, joined nine environmental scientists and the crew of EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold to document science and research in action. Read the blog posts by Margot Perez-Sullivan from our San Francisco office to get an in-depth look at some of what’s involved in protecting our waters

Day 3 (9.7.08):

Finally, we push off. The scientists are excited to get working and I was pleased to find out that I don’t just have to sit around and watch! I’m going to get the chance to get my hands dirty with sampling, too. Our group has been divided into two work crews, the Periwinkles and the Tiger Sharks – I’m a Tiger Shark. I’ll be joining the Sharks for the 2pm – 10pm shift.

After getting underway, we did an “abandon ship” drill. I was literally just getting out of the shower, barely had time to dry off and throw clothes on! The alarm sounds 6 times and we all muster on the upper deck, life vests and survival suits in hand, a head count follows and in the event of an actual abandon ship order, we get on the life rafts and get off the boat. Of course, I forgot my life vest and survival suit – not to worry though, I did have my comb. One of the crew comes barreling up the stairs and yells, “You’re standing between me and my life vest – bad place to be!” I realize I need a life vest and suit and see one sitting on the deck, and as I go to pick it up and another crew member comes down the stairs and says, “hey, that’s mine.” I’m thoroughly embarrassed with my dripping wet hair and comb, but thankfully Chris came over and got me a life vest. Sometime during my first most embarrassing moment at sea, we lost sight of land. Interesting feeling! VIDEO: Watch the drill and safety briefing.

workers retriving sediment sample The Captain made it to the first sampling site in no time at all – but unfortunately it took four drops of the equipment to get a proper sample. The first round of samples collected had everyone really excited. For each grab a photo is taken of the sediment before it is transferred into a sieve (for the benthic organism collection) or a pan (for the chemistry analyses). My shift is from 2 pm until 10 pm, so I’m just observing during this shift to make sure I know what to do.

For this survey, we will be going to 19 sites and taking two grabs per site for a total of 38 grabs. Why two grabs? One to look for critters (benthic organisms) and the other for chemical concentrations (chemistry sample). VIDEO: Tour the lab

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.

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At Sea with the Bold: Hurry Up and Wait

Two staff members, Margot Perez-Sullivan and Margaret Ford, joined nine environmental scientists and the crew of EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold to document science and research in action. Read the blog posts by Margot Perez-Sullivan from our San Francisco office to get an in-depth look at some of what’s involved in protecting our waters.

Day 2 (9.6.08):

It’s about 5 pm and our Chris arrived, but unfortunately, the rumors are true – eel grass is keeping us here! We’re all really anxious to get going.

I’m told a diver has been booked for early morning to get beneath the ship and unclog the cooling intakes before we push off. Hopefully this delay won’t slow down the survey.

We all want to get going and start the sampling! VIDEO: Day of waiting.

orange sunset over water

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.

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At Sea with the Bold: Eel Grass Blues

Two staff members, Margot Perez-Sullivan and Margaret Ford, joined nine environmental scientists and the crew of EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold to document science and research in action. Read the blog posts by Margot Perez-Sullivan from our San Francisco office to get an in-depth look at some of what’s involved in protecting our waters.

Day 2 (9.6.08):

It’s about 3 p.m. on Saturday and we haven’t left yet. We are waiting on Chris who is due to arrive any minute now. The engineers on board want to leave as soon as possible because the Eureka harbor is glutted with eel grass which is getting sucked into the ship’s cooling intakes and causing overheating problems for the Bold’s engines and other machinery. Rumors spread like wildfires on ships and I’m hearing that we might need to get a couple divers in the water to unclog our cooling intakes before we leave.

Since it was our first full day on the boat, and only a couple of us have been on Bold surveys before, the Captain and crew had a ship orientation for the swabbies or green horns (aka the newbies). We covered safety procedures mostly– which included the steps for a “man overboard” incident. SCARY! Makes me think of the film “Open Water.” If you haven’t seen it, don’t. It’s a true story. Enough said, but I digress…During the orientation we all filled out emergency contact information and got a tour of areas we will be working in and the ground rules, which include wearing life vests and hard hats while on deck during all survey operations.

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.

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At Sea with the Bold: Waterworld…The Bold Basics

Photo of the EPA Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold

This week we’re focusing on OSV Bold, one of EPA’s research ships. Two usually shore-based EPA staffers, Margot Perez-Sullivan and Margaret Ford, went out on the ship with the researchers a couple of weeks ago with one goal: come back and share what it’s like. They wrote and photographed each day, but had no Internet access at sea, so we’re posting their blog entries this week. And the EPA folks will read and respond to comments all week. We’ll resume our usual blog features next week: Question of the Week, Science Wednesday, and Lina’s multilingual musings. Let us know whether this kind of in-depth reporting floats your boat! — Jeffrey Levy, Greenversations editor.

Day 1 (9.5.08):
I’ve never been on a cruise. Never spent the night on a boat…at best it was a ferry here and there or the random tourist trap night cruise. When I found out I was invited to tag along and document science and research in action on the EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold, I was thrilled. And a little scared.

The EPA uses the OSV Bold to monitor coastal waters throughout the United States. This summer marks the Bold’s maiden voyage to the west coast and this is her last survey before returning to the eastern seaboard. The Bold has an enormous mission and its surveys are carefully planned to maximize monitoring and research year-round. The Bold is 224 feet long, has a full crew of 18 and can accommodate up to 19 scientists on any one survey.

Our west coast scientists are excited to have the research vessel on this side of the country and are taking every opportunity possible to get out to sea and conduct research and sampling surveys on the Pacific.

Photo of research team on dock nex to Bold shipA team of nine scientists descended upon Eureka, California this September and began mobilizing for the upcoming Humboldt Open Ocean Disposal Site (HOODS) survey. HOODS is an ocean disposal site for dredged materials. West coast ports are the gateway to Asia; the Port of Los Angeles alone receives 50% of the nation’s foreign goods. These mega ships need deep ports to come into, which is where dredging and ocean disposal sites come into play. In a nut shell, sites like HOODS receive sands and sediments from local ports that need to move this material to make sure large ships can come into ports. A sediment testing program is in place to make sure that only clean, nontoxic sediments are taken to HOODS.

That said, during this survey, scientists are taking samples to determine the chemistry of HOODS’ sediments to confirm that the sediment testing is accurate, ensuring the sand and sediment material being dumped from the ports meets EPA standards, meaning it’s clean and doesn’t negatively impact the ecosystem near the site. Our scientists are also documenting the presence of benthic organisms (tiny sea critters that live on the ocean floor) in and around the HOODS disposal site. The results will be put together to make sure the HOODS site is being taken care of properly. VIDEO: Scientist Brian Ross discusses the survey plan.

For our marine biologists, the benthic samples will give them a good idea of the health of the ocean floor. There is a direct correlation between the types and health of these tiny ocean floor critters and the overall ocean floor environment.

Photo of bunks on Bold Research VesselWe’ve got nine environmental scientists on this survey with over 5 decades of education combined. Our nine environmental scientists are: Allan Ota, ocean disposal site expert and co-Chief Scientist; Brian Ross, ocean disposal site expert; Amy Wagner, marine biologist; Greg Nagle, chemist; Kevin Ryan, drinking water expert; Tina Yin, watersheds expert; Eugenia McNaughton, Ph.D in algae plankton and quality assurance guru; Carolyn Yale, Ph.D. watershed planner; and Chris McArthur, Chief Scientist from our Atlanta regional office.

Margaret Ford our videographer and I are on board to document the survey.

We arrived this evening and got our room assignments, a short orientation of the survey schedule and a walk around the work areas with Allan. Often, to maximize time at sea, Bold surveys run on 24-hour operations, luckily we are only on 8 hour shifts for this survey. VIDEO: See our arrival.

We are scheduled to push off tomorrow afternoon…

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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.

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