Joan Le, TowCam & Crew, August 13, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joanie Le
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
August 5 – 16, 2014

Mission: Deep-Sea Coral Research
Geographic area of the cruise: Off the coast of Fenwick Island, Maryland
Date: August 13, 2014

Weather information from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 24°
Wind Direction: 294
Weather Conditions: Mostly Sunny
Latitude: 38° 33.1870′
Longitude: 73° 10.9734′

Science and Technology Log

Week 2 started for me as it has for the past few days, at midnight. The camera was already on the seafloor taking pictures of Wilmington Canyon off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland when I arrived. It was the longest dive we’ve completed, spanning almost 10 hours of tow time. TowCam took us through some interesting terrain, and I’m excited to take a look at the new images she’s caught for us.

Dr. Lizet Christiansen prepares TowCam for its first dive.
Dr. Lizet Christiansen prepares TowCam for its first dive.

In fact, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with TowCam these past few days. I’ve grown curious about where she’s been, where she’s going, and what she does when she’s not here on the Bigelow. Turns out, TowCam is well-travelled, and far from a one-trick pony.

TowCam’s Cam, Travels, and Talents

TowCam's camera is protected at depth by its sturdy casing.
TowCam’s camera is protected at depth by its sturdy casing.

This Nikon D7000 is a high-end off-the-shelf DSLR camera that has been modified to operate remotely. It can dive to depths of 6,000 meters thanks to its titanium casing made by Ocean Imaging Systems, which has a high strength-to-weight ratio. It streams low resolution images in real-time and can hold over 5,000 high resolution (16 MegaPixel) images to be retrieved after each tow.

TowCam has worked all over the world, at depths ranging from shallow coastal waters to 6,000 meters. Getting there requires a lot of planning and some interesting travel plans. TowCam arrived ready for deployment on the Bigelow by way of a flatbed truck from nearby Woods Hole, Massachusetts. But she is also no stranger to long journeys on freighter ships across the sea.

Besides taking beautiful pictures of deep-sea coral, TowCam can also “slurp” biological samples, take CTD data (salinity/conductivity, temperature, and depth), dissolved oxygen, turbidity (visibility), and collect water samples.

Click on each of the images below to learn more about each component of TowCam.

TowCam is owned by the Multidisciplinary Instrumentation in Support of Oceanography (MISO) which is a facility of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). During the planning of this cruise, Senior Scientist Dr. Fornari, an expert in deep-sea imaging, was contacted to discuss using the TowCam on this expedition. WHOI contracted the TowCam engineers from Seafloor Investigations, LLC (SFI) to operate the system, bringing Mr. Kurras and Dr. Christiansen and out to the Bigelow.

TowCam Crew

The TowCam narrative could hardly be considered complete without a brief word on TowCam’s operators. Without them, we could only guess at the wildlife beneath our feet. Dr. Lizet Christiansen and Gregory Kurras of SFI joined us from California and Hawaii respectively, and are an incredibly important part of the research team. Both spend much of their careers at sea studying the ocean floor as geophysicists, and own businesses back home. Kurras owns SFI, and Dr. Christiansen owns Gear & Grind Cafe in Tahoe City, where customers are treated to pour-over coffee and locally-made ice cream.

Personal Log

I’m still having a tough time adjusting to the midnight-noon schedule, but I’ll tell you why. Any time I can’t sleep, I get up and see something beautiful like this:

 If you look closely, you can see two Pilot Whales swimming just below the surface. Who could sleep through that?


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