Sue Oltman: Greetings from the Ring of Fire! May 20, 2012


NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Oltman
Aboard R/V Melville
May 22 – June 6, 2012

Mission: STRATUS Mooring Maintenance
Geographical Area: Vina del Mar, Chile
Date: May 20, 2012

Personal Log

I’m staying in the town of Vina del Mar, about 90 minutes from Santiago and close to the busy port city of Valparaiso.  Learning a bit more about the culture of this country. Once again, I’m reminded how useful it is to know other languages. The science team from WHOI (affectionately called by its acronym, pronounced hooey) is led by Dr. Robert Weller, the chief scientist, a renowned oceanographer whose expertise is moorings. The mooring for STRATUS 11 will be recovered and STRATUS 12 will be deployed. Another significant science contribution of WHOI is the Alvin submersible. Alvin has explored the mid-ocean ridge in the Atlantic Ocean extensively.

Valparaiso

From the R/V Melville, in port, looking towards shore, there are many smaller touring and fishing boats in addition to cargo vessels.

Last time, I shared that earthquakes are almost expected here, so there is a common concern about tsunami preparedness.  In 2010, many Chileans lost their lives due to a tsunami they did not know how to react to. The country’s leaders are trying to implement better evacuation plans, so there is a large public drill planned in about a week here. There are banners in the street announcing the upcoming drill!  Think of the school fire drills we have…a whole country will practice in a coordinated earthquake and tsunami drill to ensure that lives will be spared in the future.

Valparaiso colorful street

Many of the steep hills of Valparaiso were colorful – the homes and artistic graffiti.

The port of Valparaiso is very colorful and busy, with a lot of commerce taking place. New cars enter South America here, as does steel for construction and other goods. The U.S. oceanographic research  ship R/V Melville arrived and the team has been getting equipment ready for the mission ahead.  The new buoy and instruments have been shipped here separately, and the technician, Val Cannon, has been checking them out before they are deployed.It’s not an everyday event that a US Navy ship enters Chile, so local government will take the opportunity to somehow enrich their citizens.  A school group visited for a tour of the ship as well as an overview of the scientific research happening aboard the vessel. The Melville science crew prepared to give a presentation to the group of high school students on Saturday morning.  The research vessel  Melville had come into port on the heels of 2 weeks of  earthquake research by Oregon State University scientists. This scientist gave a presentation about her work first.

Scientists present to Chilean students

Dr. Sebastian Bigorre, WHOI, and Elsie Denton, translator, and I speaking to the students.

Next, Dr. Sebastien Bigorre (Seb) gave a talk about the atmospheric research in the Stratus project which I will elaborate more about in upcoming blogs.  He showed them the location of the stratus mooring and why that location is chosen – it is in the area of persistent stratus cloud cover in the lower atmosphere.  Did you know that some ocean water masses have a specific “fingerprint? ” This allows scientists to determine where that water mass travels to, and this reveals more information about winds and currents in the region.I gave the students an overview of the Teacher at Sea program and how NOAA  provides resources for science instruction, and invites teachers to experience cutting edge science in the oceans.  Teachers at Sea create new lessons and curriculum related to their cruises which are then shared on the NOAA website. The Chilean science teachers asked if these materials were available to them as well, and were happy to find out that they were.

Today was also a busy day of shipboard work inValparaiso, heavy work and long hours of getting the project’s equipment aboard.

Crates and crates of equipment and gear was unloaded, involving cranes and heavy lifting by all.  Even the top scientists are not exempt from the gritty hard labor! In the video clip, you will see Dr. Weller and other hardworking, versatile scientists assembling the mooring on deck. The ocean is all around us, but no one is swimming in it.
The water is pretty cool here, due to the Peru current which bring Antarctic water masses northward. There is continuous upwelling from about 1,000 meters where the thermocline is.

The coastline is on the edge of the Peru-Chile trench, part of the network of tectonic plate boundaries surrounding the Pacific. While on land, we are on the South American plate, and when we put out to sea, we will be above the Nazca plate.  This is a subduction zone where the trench descends to as deep as 6,000 meters in places! The Nazca plate is subducting under the continent. The R/V Melville will mostly be sailing in water in the 4,000-4,500 meter range.  This teacher is ready to set sail! Comment below to let me know your questions about the ship.

Answers to previous polls:

The KMS hat won! Upwelling is the movement of deep,cold, nutrient rich water to the surface. The cables can be over 4000 meters long.

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