Lesley Urasky: DART Buoy Rescue, June 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 27, 2012

Latitude: 24.6271
Longitude: -67.2819

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 32°C (90°F)
Wind Speed:   14 knots (16 mph), Beaufort scale:  4
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 70%
Barometric Pressure:   1,018.9 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Science and Technology Log

Today the Pisces had a mission that they don’t normally take on.  The goal for today was to recovery a Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis  (DART) transponder buoy that had come detached from its anchor and was drifting with the currents.  The buoy is an integral part of the U.S. early tsunami detection system.

Tsunami Factsheet (PDF)

The program began in 2001 with six buoys deployed along the U.S. coast.  These buoys were specifically located along regions that had been historically affected by tsunami.  By 2008, the program had expanded to 39 stations located along the East Coast, West Coast, Hawaii, and the Western Pacific Ocean.  It is a critical component of the NOAA Tsunami Program.

Map of original 6 buoy locations
Current DART buoy locations

“The Tsunami Program is part of a cooperative effort to save lives and protect property through hazard assessment, warning guidance, mitigation, research capabilities, and international coordination . . . It also includes the acquisition, operations and maintenance of observation systems required in support of tsunami warning such as DART®, local seismic networks, coastal, and coastal flooding detectors.” (National Data Buoy Center, 2011)

The hull buoy we were retrieving, 2.6D70 from DART station 41421, went adrift after 5/12/2012 01Z.  Since this type of equipment is very expensive to produce (around $60,000/buoy) and expensive to retrieve (another ~$20,000) it was the logical choice to swing a little out of our way to retrieve it on our journey back to Mayport.

The NOAA ship Pisces is primarily a fishing vessel; therefore, logistical planning is different for retrieval from this ship than it would be for a ship specifically designed for this type of equipment.  Once the buoy was sighted, the ship’s Commanding Officer (CO) Fischel; Junior Officer, Ensign Doig; Fisherman and Medical Officer, Ryan Harris; and Chris Zacharias, Junior Engineer, boarded the ship’s small boat and went to inspect the buoy.  Ensign Doig got in the water with a snorkel mask to see how much, if any, chain or cable was trailing the buoy.  Depending on what was attached, it would pose an additional concern when retrieving the buoy.

Drifting DART buoy 2.6D70 from station 41421
Pisces small boat towing the DART buoy to the ship for loading

Once the crew members were able to attach the buoy to a line, they towed it toward the Pisces where they attached the tow rope to the crane.  Retrieving the buoy proved to be a much easier endeavor than dropping the anchor.

Hauling the DART buoy onto the deck of the Pisces.

Once the buoy was on deck, it had to be strapped down to prevent it from rolling around and becoming a safety concern.  A couple of strong chains fit the bill.

DART buoy prior to being secured to the deck.

After is was secured, a couple of the deck hands set to work scraping off the organisms that had taken up residence on the submerged portion of the buoy.  It is much easier to do this while the buoy is still wet; after is dries, the algae and mollusks encrusted on the outside as well as the crabs and brittle stars hiding in the nooks and crannies would in essence, be cemented onto it.

Underside of the DART buoy coated with algae and small marine organisms.
Mollusks attached to the underwater portion of the DART buoy.

Personal Log

Once we arrived at the buoy, we took a bit of time to fish for our dinner.  In just a short period, we had caught enough for dinner.  We caught a few yellowfin tuna, a mahi-mahi, and a couple of rainbow runners.  The crew has been fantastic; Garet Urban, the Chief Engineer, allowed me to use his fishing rod so that I could try and catch a fish.  I got lucky and after only a couple of casts, I caught a rainbow runner!  I don’t think I’ve ever had such fresh fish for dinner; it was fantastic!

Here I am with the rainbow runner I caught.

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