Sue Oltman: Reaching Our Destination and KMS Goes Swimming, May 27, 2012

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

Mission: STRATUS Mooring Maintenance
Geographical Area: Southeastern Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Chile and Ecuador
Date: May 27, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 21 C / 64.9 F
Humidity: 84.1%
Precipitation: 0
Barometric pressure: 1014.5 mB
Wind speed: 11 kt SE
Sea temperature: 21.75 C

Science and technology Log

I’m seeing for real that being a research scientist can be really exciting and hands-on when working out in the field. In our routine of launching UCTDs every hour while steaming towards our target, more acquisition of ocean data takes place in other ways. At certain coordinates, WHOI deploys drifter buoys that monitor ocean characteristics as they drift with the current.  The data can be followed on line not only by the scientists, but by the public!  Two were launched this morning on our watch at coordinates 21º S,  84º W.  And one of them is Kittredge’s adopted buoy!  It is serial number 101878. As you can see in the video clip and photo below, I’ve made sure a little bit of Kittredge Magnet school is left here in the Peru Basin of the Pacific Ocean, where it is about 4,400 m in depth.

Sue with the buoy
It’s time to launch the drifters! All the fish that see this will know about our school!

KMS went swimming in another way, too – my KMS hat flew off my head while working on the aft deck. (Sorry, Mrs. Lange!) Science Rocks in the South Pacific!

The team did a second CTD deployment – this one to the bottom, about 4,500 m.  This is precise work, to analyze maps and bathymetric data to be accurate to find the depth at which it is desired to anchor the Stratus 12 buoy. Keith, Jamie and I were “spotters” with the rosette as the crane lowered it down. Pamela, who is studying phytoplankton, retrieved samples of water with organisms from this deployment.  However, due to customs in Ecuador, it is tricky for her to get her samples back to Chile. Ecuador does not allow anything into the islands that may potentially contain anything living thing, even a sealed sample of water containing plankton. So the samples will continue with the ship to San Diego and then be shipped to her in Chile.

We made it to the old buoy! It was exciting to see Stratus 11 come into view. The bottom area was surveyed in great detail within a few miles of the Stratus 11 to confirm Seb’s chosen spot for Stratus 12.

Dr. Weller and crew
Dr. Bob Weller and Jeff Lord have a pre-deployment meeting with the captain and some key crew members who will be assisting.

The next day, the deployment of the new mooring, Stratus 12, is a full day of coordinated teamwork – about 4,500 m of cable with 2,000 m of instruments. The first 50 meters at the surface has 20 instruments!  It took over 8 hours to put the buoy and all attached instruments in the water, and that is after hours of assembly on the aft deck.  One new instrument added was at the deepest part of the ocean in this area and will provide data on deep ocean temperatures and salinity, something currently missing from climate models.

Stratus 12 is in the water!
We enjoyed perfect ocean and weather conditions on the day of the launch! The Stratus 12 buoy is in the background behind me.
Anchor splash
After the last instrument is placed on the mooring line, its anchor is sent down. At 10,000 lbs., the anchor drop makes a really big splash!
The glass balls go on the mooring line
All hands are on deck to contribute to the mooring assembly and launch.

The all night watches are not over, though – we must continue to collect bathymetric data to map the ocean floor around here. Only about 5% of the ocean floor is actually mapped, and when the team returns next year, they may not be on the same ship. Not all ships have the same sophisticated multi beam sonar as the Melville. Those on watch are actually watching the sonar monitor display as the ship engages in the “mowing the lawn” technique to create a detailed map. The Melville will “hang around” in this area for a couple of days before we remove Stratus 11 from the water. This allows time for data to be transitioned from one buoy to the new one. I am told recovering the buoy is going to be some dirty, grimy work!

Why here, anyway?

The area off the coast of Pacific off Northern Chile and Peru has been historically difficult for climatologists /meteorologists to model.  To predict climate, varying parameters of atmospheric conditions are fed into a computer to simulate what the outcome will be.  The predictions made are then compared to actual conditions to determine the reliability of the computer model. Meteorologists have not been able to accurately predict this region: the actual ocean conditions are much cooler than the computer predicts.

Another finding showing the importance of this area is that when the type, thickness, and altitude of clouds in the Northern Chile /Peru basin are changed for simulations, almost the whole Pacific Ocean’s heat distribution is in turn affected! Satellites gather data remotely, but the constant stratus clouds block satellite data transmission, so it is just not reliable. Data must be collected right here. Given that oceans cover 71% of the planet, and the Pacific is the largest, fully understanding this region is critical to building accurate climate models. Therefore, the Stratus research brings us to 20º S 85º W.

Personal Log 

Animal life has been spotted! On two days, we saw whales! One – perhaps a Blue Whale – was far away and just its fluke was seen.  The next day we had two whales swimming close to the ship, and we were able to watch them and hear them breathe for a while.  According to the crew, seeing whales in this area is rare. It’s odd to be in a body of water teeming with life and see so little of it. We also encountered only one boat, a Spanish fishing vessel.

Bob and Mark continue to feed us well.  The food storage area is below the main deck and they use a dumbwaiter to bring the food up to the kitchen where it is prepared and served. There is food from all over the world; the ship was in South Africa before reaching South America. All of the meat is from South Africa and also some of the coffee. One night, we had some kudu meat – like steak, but from antelope. It was very good, and tasted like bison. Every country’s Customs sends agents to inspect the food service area while in port. The U.S. Customs is very strict and will not allow foreign food into port, so maybe that is why they are feeding us so much!

The cooks work at least 10 hour days. Bob has been a cook for 21 years and his favorite part of his job is getting to travel.  Mark, our other cook, has been in this job for 10 years. Both of them work for Scripps, as it operates the boat.

Here’s how much we have been eating daily – 7 dozen eggs, 5 heads of lettuce, 5 gallons of milk, and there are NEVER any leftovers! The kitchen always keeps some of the meals for the “midnight rations” so those who sleep in the daytime and work on the night shift from midnight to 8a.m. do not miss out on any of the good fixins.

Finally, I am used to the noise and can sleep pretty well. It’s like I am in a room with power tools being used, even with ear plugs, you can hear the engines.  Everyone here is in the same boat, though (pun intended!). Our next exciting task is ahead, recovering and cleaning up the Stratus 11 buoy.

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