Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Earthquakes, safety at sea and studying oceans

Hi all

I found out today that it’s not just the oceans that are very complex, the whole planet is. While the earth surface seems to be solid to us the earth’s surface is actually made up of separate pieces which are called plates. They all fit together a bit like a jig-saw puzzle. These plates are constantly moving, but very slowly. In fact in a year the plates will only have moved a few centimeters. The places where these plates fit together are called fault lines. These are also places where earthquakes can occur. This is quite a difficult topic to cover in my blog so if you want to find out more about these plates and fault lines you can check out the web link below.

The reason I mention this is because I found out that California has a major fault line. I discovered this was called the San Andreas fault, which is a fault that runs throughout California and is famous for causing the 1906 earthquake that nearly devastated the city of San Francisco. There are many fault lines in the Bay Area that are active and produce quakes. Jennifer, one of the education people here at Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary took me and Sam to see where part of the fault line is. Although you can see the fault lines marked on maps, you can’t see the actual fault line in real life. However, Jennifer showed me the blue poles that mark where the fault line runs.
I was interested to hear that the San Andreas fault separates the continental plate from the Pacific plate, so I could not resist hopping between plates over the fault line and back again!

Unfortunately I was unable to visit Cordell Bank itself, as its 20 miles offshore and the ocean is quite wild here in the winter time. There has been a powerful storm in the area for sometime so the seas have been quite unsafe for me to visit, so instead the staff at Cordell Bank showed me some of the stuff they use to learn about the waters at Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Jennifer showed me a special coat called a “float coat”. They don’t come in small bear sizes so I tried on a human sized one which as you can see is a little big for me, but it was still warm and toasty!

These coats have built in flotation for researchers on a boat, so they can be safe and stay warm too. If they do accidentally fall in the water the coat will keep them afloat. Its water proof as well! Sam said the air temperatures out on the Pacific can be quite chilly even during the summer months, so if you don’t have fur like me, layering clothes for warmth is important.

Check out this crazy instrument. This is a CTD, instrument which stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. The frame houses special sensors which records information about the surrounding water. The instrument is lowered to just above the seafloor and collects data the whole way down to help scientists understand what the water column is like. A water column is an imaginary area of water (column shaped) from surface of the ocean down to the seabed. Apparently when they do this test near shore outside of San Francisco, they can detect the fresh water that runs out of the San Francisco Bay, whereas farther offshore and north away from the bay, there is much less fresh water to be detected.
The staff here also have a special submersible (like a miniature submarine) to help the research team use to help them monitor and explore the seafloor habitats of Cordell Bank.

They gave me a controlled model one for me to see. Of course this one is even too small for me, but you get the idea. In an area like this, where the habitats are too deep to SCUBA dive in, this is a great way to learn about this sanctuary.

Bye for now, Ed

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Ed the Bear arrives in California

Hi all

Wow, I made it all the way across the country from the east coast and have landed in San Francisco, California. Some of my buddy Steve’s family live in California, but I hear California is a big place so I guess I won't get to see them. I know Steve's cousin Geoff has a child called Sabrina who is really interested in the ocean as well. Hi Sabrina if you are reading this message.

I did not realise just how far it was from one side of the US to the other. It's about 3,000 miles from the east coast to the west coast of the US. I’m glad I didn’t have to walk. California looks quite different to Virginia on the east coast so luckily Sanctuary Sam is from this region and has been pointing out all the amazing things to know about this incredible part of the world. First, I saw the Pacific Ocean which is big! Sam, saw a few of his buddies who started barking at us from the water, as Sam is a California Sea Lion. As you know Sam is now an ambassador for the sanctuaries.

As you can see in this picture, we are in front of the world famous Golden Gate Bridge that crosses San Francisco to Marin County California. The River Adur back home in England is very small compared to this great body of water. We have a small bridge crossing the river, but the Golden Gate Bridge is enormous. It’s hard to imagine how they even managed to build it across the bay especially as the total length of the bridge spans 1.2 miles. The area under the bridge drains approximately 40% of California’s water from the Sierra Nevada mountains to Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to San Francisco Bay and out to the ocean, which has 3 neighboring National Marine Sanctuaries outside it.

The waters outside the Golden Gate are so productive with marine life that 3 Sanctuaries are here and I will get to visit all 3 of them. To the south is Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where I hope to see a sea otter and learn about kelp forests and the deep sea Monterey Canyon. Right outside the Golden Gate is the Gulf of the Farallones, where apparently there are quite a few big white sharks, they tell me I am just too small to be a prey item for a white shark, so not to worry.

Back in England I helped Steve run a course on sharks, so hopefully I might see one while I am here. And just north of that is Cordell Bank NMS, where an underwater mountain is thriving with amazing colorful invertebrates and fishes. This whole region is known to attract animals all the way across and around the Pacific to feed here because there is so much food in the water. Whales, seabirds, and elephant seals, and more thrive in these cold, food rich waters.

A really wet and intense storm has been in the area for a few days, bringing huge amounts of rain to the area. While residents are happy for the rain as the state has been in a draught, I witnessed large amounts of plastic and styrofoam bits washing up on the beaches as a result.

These items were probably washed into the ocean upstream somewhere and the huge wash of water brought it here. This is a lesson that we can all work harder on to prevent, by making sure we leave nothing on the ground and pick up litter whenever we see it, so it doesn’t wash into the ocean and get eaten by ocean animals. You may remember that when I was visiting Methea at Spokane Community College, (in Washington State, the next state up) she told me about the problem of chemicals and litter being washed into rivers and flowing down stream into the oceans. Now I have seen it for myself.

Bye for now Ed and Sam

Monday, 18 January 2010

Good Bye to the Monitor Sanctuary

Hi all

Well, sadly the time has come for me to leave the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. I sure had fun and learned a lot! I am sad to leave my new friends, but I am also very excited to meet the staff of Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary next week!  Here is a picture of some of the team I meet here at the Monitor Sanctuary. I hope they enjoyed my visit as much as I enjoyed discovering about the Monitor Sanctuary and the fascinating work they do.

Left to right: John Broadwater, Dave Dodsworth, Jeff Johnston, Joe Hoyt, Shannon Ricles, and Lauren Heesemann.

John Broadwater and Jeff Johnston were actually the archeologist and historian that brought the turret up from the seabed. Joe is the current maritime archeologist working on Battle of the Atlantic Expedition.

Great news, Sanctuary Sam has offered to come with me and keep me company as I visit the various NOAA sanctuaries. I of course said yes. Sam said we are going to learn all about a fascinating underwater habitats off the California coast! I can’t wait….so Sam and I are off to you soon!

You can check out my next location Cordell Banks on the following link

Bye for now, Ed and Sam

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Why is Heritage important?

Hi all

It may seem strange that I have been spending so much time looking at Maritime Heritage/History. Well, this is just as important as our natural heritage. In fact they are often part of the same thing.

Our heritage reminds us of what has gone before. How our family, village, town, etc came into being and what has contributed to the way they are today. This helps to give us a sense of place within our surroundings. Countries change too as we enter different eras of history.

Maritime history is also praticlualrly interesting. We can find out about the links between different countries in the past. We can find out about how countries traded with each other or how they fought against each other and why. While some ship wrecks have treasure such as gold and silver, many wrecks contain everyday items that people used in the past and by studying them we can see how people used to live. This is also "treasure" and an important part of our heritage.

See what you can find out about your own town or viilage. When was it first built and how has it changed? When was your house built, what was there before it was built? Your local library or museum are good places to start.

And don't forget, the things we do today are creating the Heritage of tomorrow, so it is important that we understand the past.

Bye for now, Ed

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Why are there so many ship wrecks?

Hi all

I spent some more time talking with Sam today about the Monitor and Sam told me that the Monitor is only one of thousands of shipwrecks off the North Carolina coast. I asked why so many ships sunk in that area and Sam said there were several reasons. He said that the cold waters of the Labrador Current and the warm waters of the Gulf Stream collide in that area causing very strong currents and hazardous weather. There are also some places where it is difficult to navigate, particularly in the Diamond Shoals area off of Cape Hatteras where the Monitor lays.

Due to all the shipwrecks, they call the area off the coast of North Carolina the Graveyard of the Atlantic! Luckily today, NOAA’s Weather Service helps mariners to know the weather conditions at all times, and NOAA’s Coastal Survey office also helps mariners by keeping the nautical charts updated, so ships will know if the sea floor has changed due to storms, such as hurricanes, making the waters non-navigable.

I asked Sam if the Monitor protected any other shipwrecks in the area, and he said that they have a special project called, “The Battle of the Atlantic.” Archeologists and other divers have been surveying and documenting shipwrecks from World War II. Sam told me that in the summer of 2008, they surveyed three WWII German submarines, U-85, U-352, and U-701. Last summer, they worked on the HMT Bedfordshire, which is an English ship! It was sunk by U-558 on May 12, 1942 right off of Cape Hatteras. Sam also told me that some of the sailors who died on the ship were washed up on Ocracoke Island and are buried there in a small cemetery that now belongs to the British government. Every year on the anniversary of the sinking of the ship they have a small ceremony. He showed me some pictures of the ceremony last May when Monitor staff went to participate.

Sam said that this next summer they will be surveying more ships and some will be merchant ships that were sunk by the German U-boats. He gave me the web site for “The Battle of the Atlantic” expedition, and I can’t wait to learn more and to follow next summer’s blogs about their expedition!

It all sounds really amazing. I had lots of questions about how archeologists and divers work underwater, but we ran out of time. Sam said there is a short video clip on the web site that explains it, so I can’t wait to see it! I won't have time to add all this information to my blog, so if you want to know mopre about this fascinating project, you can follow the link below as well.

Bye for now, Ed

Friday, 15 January 2010

Ed's Dive in the News

Hi all

You may remember when I dived in the museum tank to try out my new underwatre housing a chap from the local newspaper took some pictures. Well, here is the artilce they printed.

I hope that the monitor sanctaury benefit from people reading about the work they do and hopefully more people will follow my adventures on my blog as well.

Bye for now, Ed

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Ed Dives in the Sanctuary Museum

Hi all

I had a very exciting day today at the sanctuary museum. Today we got the chance to try out my new underwater housing that will allow me to explore some of the sanctuaries underwater without getting wet! I really felt like an explorer.

Outside the tank

The housing was built especially for me by Ed (the human) Williams who works for a company called IRobot. I wasn’t keen to travel down in the housing in the ocean, just incase it leaked. However, I didn’t want them to try it out without me inside it either. So Shannon suggested that we try the housing out in one of the museum tanks. This meant that I would get to examine part of the monitor wreck up close as well.

So early this morning everything was set up for my dive. Sam wished me luck and said he would watch from the side, ready to dive in the water if I needed help.

You may not know this but sea lions are excellent swimmers. Once I was inside I felt like an astronaut but instead of going into outer space I would be diving into the murky depths.

When I was safely inside, the housing was attached to a winch so I could be slowly lowered into the tank. There was a chap from the local newspaper too, taking pictures to record my first dive.

It was very cool. Suddenly there was a whir of motors and a jolt as I was lifted up, swung out and gently
lowered down to the water. Very soon the water was lapping around me and slowly the water closed in above me and I’m diving down into the tank.

Wow! It was so amazing to go into the big tank with the Monitor’s turret! No bear, or member of the public has been down into the turret tank before. I looked out the dome and I could see the metal gun turret in front of me. It looked like there was some brown stuff growing on the metal. Very soon I was heading back up into the light and was lifted back onto the side of the tank. It was brilliant. I can’t wait to try it out in one of the other sanctuaries.

When I was back on dry land, Sam asked me about the dive. I said it was absolutely amazing. You may remember I noticed some stuff on the metal and so I asked Sam if he knew what it was. Sam told me that when the turret was brought up from the ocean floor it was covered in the stuff and it is called concretion! I asked if he meant concrete. He said it is sort of like concrete. It was made up of minerals that are dissolved in the ocean water (remember when I found out what sea water was made of). The concretions are also caused by oxidation of the metal (we call it rust) and even marine animals create a type of “cement” that attaches to the shipwreck.

As you know, the Monitor was an iron clad and metal rusts when it comes in contact with water, so the turret was pretty rusty. Sam said that in the ocean concretion can actually help to protect the Monitor because it adds a layer between the metal and the water, thus keeping the water from rusting the metal even faster. But here in the conservation lab, they remove the concretion and stabilize the metal. He showed me these pictures of pieces before the concretion was removed for conservation…pretty cool.

The picture below shows the propelor after it had been cleaned up and preserved.

If you want to find out more about how metal things rust, try the following. You will need two glass jars, one
filled with sea water and one filled with normal tap water. You will also need two hardware nails. Put one nail in each jar. Which nail do you think will go rusty first?

Oh yes, you can also watch me dive into the museum tank on YouTube, follow the link below.

 "Ed the Bear in Monitor Turret"

Bye for now, Ed

Ship wrecks make artifical reefs

Hi all

The pieces of the wreck in the museum are being preserved. The revolving gun turret tank I dived in is filled with freshwater. This will get rid of all the salt which would make the metal rust very quickly. It has to stay in the tank for 15 years! The turret was raised from the seabed in 2002 that means it will need to stay in this freshwater tank until 2016 years. The museum has a replica of the gun turret (below) so people can see what it could have looked like.

This equipment (below) is called the spider. This is what NOAA used to raise the turret from 230 feet (70.104 m) beneath the ocean.

This is the preserved propellor from the monitor. There is also a picture of John Ericsson, the Swedish man who designed the Monitor.

Sam told me that when man-made objects like ships sink to the bottom of the ocean, they create a habitat for a lot of marine animals. They make an artificial reef! Sam said that most of the Monitor is still on the bottom of the ocean.

He said that animals like sponges, coral, lobster, and a lot of fish live on or around the Monitor shipwreck because it is now an artificial reef too!

Sam said this movie link has some great pictures of articfical reefs.

There are a lot of shipwrecks off the Sussex coast where I live back in England. I wonder if they have become artificial reefs too and what marine animals live on them. I will try and find out when I am back in England next.

Invasive species
One fish that Sam was telling me about was called the Lionfish. These fish are beautiful, but he said they are an invasive species.

An invasive species is a animal or plant that is found in an area outside of its natural habitat and has a damaging effects on its new environment. Sam told me that lionfish usually live in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but now also live in the Atlantic Ocean and are living on the Monitor! I said to Sam that the lionfish must have swum a long distance to reach the monitor in the Atlantic Ocean. Sam told me that some people keep lionfish as pets and scientists think that the lionfish in the Atlantic Ocean were released from these home aquaria. Sam says that the Lionfish are not good to have at the Monitor because they can be very aggressive and can cause the amount of other fish to decline.

I told Sam that we also have a problem with invasive species on the nature reserve back home in England. The nature reserve is home to rare vegeated shingle plants which grow in the pebbles. Garden rubbish thrown onto the beach from nearby houses has encouraged "weeds" and garden plants to grow on the beach and now parts of the reserve are being swamped by these invasive plants which are damaging the habitat.

Bye for now, Ed

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Ed discovers why Chesapeake Bay is polluted.

Hi all

Today, I asked Sanctuary Sam to tell me more about the pollution problems in Chesapeake Bay. You may remember from my last message that Chesapeake Bay is where the USS Monitor fought its famous battle. There was a picture of it in my last message, where Sam and I were standing by the sign; there were lots of ships in the pictures too.

Chesapeake Bay

Sam was telling about all the wonderful sea creatures that live in the bay such as oysters, blue crabs, and different kinds of fish. Sam said sometimes it is hard for them to breathe in the water. Breathe?! Did you know that underwater animals breathe? Well, they all need oxygen to survive just like us, but they have gills instead of lungs. I remembered that the aquarium tank at Spokane Community College had pumps and filters to circulate the water and keep it healthy.

Blue Crab

As you know, I have helped with a lot of beach litter clean up but Sam told me that a lot of the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay is stuff that you can’t see. So, even though sometimes you can see stuff floating on top of the water, it is the invisible pollutants that run off the land and into the water that have made the bay so sick.

I asked Sam what are pollutants and he said that they are chemicals and substances (often poisonous) that can come from a lot of different sources. These sources could be fertilizers from farms and our yards (this is what we call gardens in England) or chemicals from industrial plants. Methea told me about this when I was helping out at the Community College in Spokane. We watched the snow melt and run into the river, which would flow down to the ocean. Methea said that chemicals from the land can also get washed into rivers and down to the sea where they could be very harmful. Sam said this is what can happen when the chemical pollutants find their way down into the ocean.

Sam told me that some of these pollutants actually make a lot of algae grow in the water. When the algae dies and sinks to the bottom of the bay, it uses up a lot of oxygen as it decomposes. The more algae that dies, the less oxygen there is in the water for the other animals. This creates something called a ‘Dead Zone’ which is an area where almost none of the underwater animals can live! I wonder if there are any dead zones in the water around England.

Sam did tell me that there is good news for the Chesapeake Bay! There are many organizations that are trying to make the bay healthy again by reducing pollution. Also, President Obama announced that the Chesapeake Bay is so important that it is the United States Government’s job to help clean it up! The bay is slowly getting cleaner and I hope that the next time I come back the water in the Bay will be much healthier.

Bye for now, Ed

Monday, 11 January 2010

Ed finds out more about the USS Monitor

Hi all

I am having a lot of fun here at the Monitor! Sam is keeping me busy and telling me loads of interesting stuff. Yesterday we went on a tour of the area, and I learned more about the Monitor and the US Civil War. Did you know that the Monitor fought against another ironclad ship named CSS Virginia? It must have been a titanic battle as both ships would have been equally matched.

The battle was called the Battle of Hampton Roads. Both ships thought they won, but really neither won the battle. They both turned around and each thought the other ship was running away. Therefore, they both claimed the victory.

We went to a place in Newport News called Monitor Overlook. If I had been standing there during the battle, I would have had a perfect view of the battle, but it would have been a little too close for me with all those cannon balls flying through the air!

If you notice in the pictures there are lots of ships in the background. The area where the battle took place is near the mouth of the James River (named after England’s King James I) where it empties into the Chesapeake Bay. The Hampton Roads area has lots of ships because this area is home to one of the largest US Navy bases and it is also a huge port city. I wondered though with all those ships coming and going if a lot of pollution gets in the water. Sam says unfortunately some pollution does end up in the water.

The harbour port next to the beach back home in England is very busy too and also has lots of boats coming and going. Shoreham Port is a major UK port for transporting aggregates, sawn timber, steel, oil, locally grown cereals and scrap metal. Shoreham

Sam says that the Chesapeake Bay has been in trouble for a long time, but with lots of people helping, the bay is getting cleaner. I definitely want to learn more about that before I leave!

During the battle the Virginia gunners concentrated their fire on Monitor 's pilothouse, a small iron blockhouse near her bow. A shell hit there blinded Lieutenant John L. Worden , the Union ship's Commanding Officer. He is pictured here with Lt. Dana Greene (Monitor's Executive Officer) who took over the Monitor when Lt. Worden was injured.

I have made two new friends, Shannon and Lauren, who have also been looking after me since I arrived. They are great fun. They have been arranging my visit at Monitor and also my travel plans, accommodation and stop over’s for the rest of my trip here in the US.

Bye for now, Ed

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Ed Arrives at Monitor National Marine Sanctuary

Hi all

I'm back in the USA and I finally arrived at my next destination the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary (MNMS) 

It was a nice trip, but it sure is a lot colder in Newport News, Virginia than I thought it would be. The high temperature for the day is about 30º F (-1º C). Luckily, my fur coat has kept me warm!

When I arrived, I was met by Sanctuary Sam and the Monitor staff.

This is me with sanctuary Sam, signing my name in the visitors book.

Sam is the mascot for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and he is really nice and seems very excitable. Sam has been very helpful in answering a lot of my questions.

My first question to Sam was what is a sanctuary? Sam explained that a sanctuary is a marine protected area and that NOAA is in charge of 14 marine protected areas in US waters. So a “Sanctuary” is a bit like our “Nature Reserve” back home, only bigger.

So I asked Sam when I would meet NOAH. Sam made a laughing bark kind of sound. He explained that it was not NOAH, but was actually called NOAA. Sam went on to explain that NOAA is a government agency, and the initials stand for the “National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” I did feel a bit silly as I thought Noah was a person I was going to meet. I said to Sam I would call them NOAA if that was alright. The long version is a bit difficult for a bear like me to pronounce.

Sam said that NOAA does all kinds of things, such as predict the weather, track hurricanes, analyze data from satellites, map the coasts, monitor fishing, and protect the ocean. I am sure I will find out a lot more about the things NOAA does over the next few months but if you want to know more about what they do now you can check out their website

Sam told me that in 1975 the Monitor NMS was the very first sanctuary created in the United States. I asked Sam why it is named the Monitor, and he explained that it is because this sanctuary is actually protecting a famous US shipwreck—the USS Monitor. The ship was one of the early ironclad ships built during the US Civil War in 1862.

I asked Sam what an ironclad was as it sounded very strange. Sam told me that an ironclad is a steam-powered warship, built in the later part of the 19th century, protected by iron or steel armor plates. The ironclad was built because wooden warships could be easily damaged or sunk if attacked with explosive shells.

This is a picture so you can see what the Monitor would have originally looked like.

Picture credit (c) NOAA
This is a life sized replica of the USS Monitor, at the museum.

Picture credit (c) NOAA
Photo from the deck of the Monitor in 1862

The Monitor fought in a famous battle right here in the area, but while being towed, it sank just off the coast of North Carolina on New Year’s Eve in 1862.

This is a picture of the Monitor before it sank in a storm

No one ever found it again until 1974. At that time they decided that it was a national treasure, and it should be protected from people who might want to take things from the shipwreck. So it became America’s first National Marine Sanctuary.

As you may already know I am very interested in maritime history, Shoreham where I live is also famous for its maritime history, ship building and its harbour which originally dates back to 11th century. You can find out more about my interest in Shoreham maritime history in my earlier blog entry 17th September 2009 "Maritime History".

Well, I wonder what I will find out next. I can’t wait to start learning more about the sanctuaries, shipwrecks and the ocean! Keep following my blog and I will let you know more about what I am learning!

Bye for now, Ed