Jennifer Richards, September 9, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 9, 2001

Latitude: 16º 39.3 N
Longitude: 103º 17.0 W
Temperature: 31.3ºC
Seas: Sea wave height: 1-2 feet
Swell wave height: 2-3 feet
Visibility: 10 miles
Cloud cover: 5/8
Water Temp: 29.7ºC

Science Log

Today I met with Dr. Mike Gregg, a Physical Oceanographer from the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at the University of Washington (UW). He is accompanied by 7 additional scientists, comprising the largest group on the ship. The team is composed of the following members:

  • Dr. David Winkel – Physical Oceanographer
  • Mr. Jack Miller – Electrical Engineer
  • Mr. Earl Krause – Oceanography Technician
  • Mr. John Mickett and Mr. Glenn Carter – Ph.D. graduate students
  • Mr. Arthur Bartlett and Mr. Paul Aguilar – Engineers

All 8 members of the UW team are working together to gather data about the microstructure of the ocean. They want to understand turbulence in the ocean- in other words, they are interested in finding out how the ocean mixes.

“Coupled global models”- this is a term that is very important to understand the research being conducted on this cruise. It refers to the relationship between the oceans and the atmosphere over the entire planet. Computer models make assumptions about these relationships, which are used to predict short-term and long-term climate. These models exist today, but Dr. Gregg hopes to improve the accuracy of the numbers being input into these models, in order to improve climate-forecasting abilities. Better data input into the models will produce more accurate the climate forecasts.

There are very complex relationships between the oceans and the atmosphere. For example, as the wind blows over the ocean, it transfers energy to the water. You can see this energy in the form of waves. In addition, the moon has a tremendous impact on tides, and as tides rise and fall, energy transfers occur between the atmosphere and the ocean. You can see that energy is constantly being circulated between the oceans and the atmosphere. If you recall from your Physical Science classes in middle school, heat is a form of energy. What happens to the energy, or heat, from waves once the wave has broken and no longer exists? How does that heat energy travel through the ocean? How is the heat energy transfer different in the Eastern Pacific, where there is a warm pool of surface water, compared to the heat energy transfer in inland lakes, or in other parts of the world’s oceans? This is what Dr. Gregg and his team of scientists are trying to find out.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) set up the framework for a program called CLIVAR (Climate Variability). Through CLIVAR, scientists from around the world are working together to improve climate forecasting models. This program reaches across international boundaries and includes dozens of countries that wish to improve the climate forecasting abilities using coupled global models. In the United States, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has agreed to participate in CLIVAR, and are funding Dr. Gregg’s research as part of that program.

The key piece of equipment being used in this research is called a Modular Microstructure Profiler (MMP). The MMP will be dropped in a free-fall while loosely tethered to the ship behind the ship using Kevlar lines while it is slowed to approximately 2 knots. It will measure small-scale turbulence, on the scale of centimeters, in the upper 300 meters of the ocean. The Kevlar line will allow the device to remain far enough away from the ship to prevent the ship movements from interfering with the MMP’s measurements. Dr. Gregg has 3 MMP’s so that one is available to be deployed 24 hours a day while the other two are undergoing repairs and data processing. The eight members of this team will be working 12 hour shifts, around the clock deploying the MMPs and using the winch to bring them back on the ship.

Travel Log

You know, after 5 days on the ship, I am still amazed that I am here. When I was in junior high school, I actually thought of aiming for a career with NOAA. I’ve always loved the oceans, always loved boats, and always loved science. What better way to put it all together than to join the NOAA Corps. I’m not sure what happened, but NOAA faded from my list of career choices in high school. It’s so incredible to finally have a NOAA experience, to participate in a research cruise, and to meet such unique people.

I have found that maintaining sanity on the ship requires keeping a schedule. Here’s my schedule (since I’m sure the world is just dying to know!!): I spend the mornings with one of the research groups or one of the crew groups to find out what they are doing and how it will make the world a better place. I take pictures of them at work, and make lots and lots of notes. Walking around with my paper, pen and camera I feel like a reporter all the time, like some kind of Lois Lane on the high seas. Lunch is from 1130-1230, and is a nice chance to chat with people. After lunch, I visit the bridge and collect the data that you see at the top of my daily log- location, atmospheric and water data. Usually at that time the bridge is occupied by the two female officers on the ship. I’ll introduce you to them some other day. Finally, I go to the computer to review the day’s pictures, translate my scribbled notes and type up my daily log. I also read the email that arrived that morning (we send and receive email twice a day- 10am and 6pm) and respond to each one of them. Once I’ve sent off my logs and pictures to be posted on the web site, it’s time for dinner. After dinner, I have 2 1/2 hours to write lesson plans, read, catch up on logs, or hang out on deck to watch the sunset. Every night at 8pm there is a movie in the lounge. No matter how bad it is, I can’t help watching. For some reason, watching the movie always removes any hint of seasickness I might be feeling. After the movie, it’s finally time for bed.

My favorite time of day is definitely when I get a chance to sit out on deck and watch the sunset while reading Charles Darwin’s “Voyage of the Beagle.” It is so amazingly beautiful and peaceful here, and while I don’t think I’m ready to make a permanent move onto the ship, I sure wish I had a button at home that I could push to be instantly transported to this exact spot (with my husband, Rob, of course).

Question of the day: When Charles Darwin was asked to join the HMS Beagle on its voyage to South America, he was in school at Cambridge studying to enter what profession?

Photo Descriptions: Today’s photos include a couple members of the team from the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington. Dr. Mike Gregg is shown in one picture standing next the Modular Microstructure Profiler (MMP), and in another picture, Mr. Paul Aguilar catches up on some highly-intellectual reading. Since I’ve written in my log about the ocean sunsets, I included a picture of one, but I’m sure you can imagine that the picture just doesn’t do it justice. Of course, none of these logs and photos would be possible without a good onboard computer network, so you’ll see a picture of Mr. Larry Loewen, our computer guy. And finally, a shot to remind you of what ship I am on- an ax painted with the ship’s name “RONALD H. BROWN.”

Until tomorrow,

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