NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
April 28-May 9
Mission: CINMS Mapping
Geographical area of cruise: Channel Islands, California
Date: April 30, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge: 3-4 foot swells; clear skys; wind at 29kts
Science and Technology Log:
Ah, technology! Nothing illuminates the darkness of ignorance like these modern marvels of human innovation. Except, of course, when they aren’t working correctly…which is where we find ourselves on day three of the mission.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with a review of what the Shimada is doing and why the mission is so important. If you were a biologist studying mountain lions, you would have a pretty good understanding of where they might be found. You could refer to detailed range and habitat maps and would be able to make management decisions based on some pretty accurate information.
Now, let’s say you are a marine biologist studying sharks around the Channel Islands. Your sharks prefer a sandy seafloor, so you pull up a map that has these areas identified…oh, wait, a map like this doesn’t exist.
Perhaps you work for the US Navy and would like to lay down a cable with the least amount of habitat damage, so you pull up a map that identifies fragile, deep sea coral habitat…oh, wait, that doesn’t exist, either!
Most of us know the importance of terrestrial topographic, habitat, and species range maps, yet in many marine ecosystems, such as the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, these data are virtually nonexistent. How crazy to think that we don’t even have information critical to making numerous important decisions! For example, this information is crucial to creating safe navigational routes, placement of pipes and cables, and locations of key fish habitats. This is why the Shimada’s mission of mapping areas around the Channel Islands is so important.
There are three different pieces of equipment used to make these maps: ME70, EK60, and REMUS-600 AUV. The ME70 is a multibeam echosounder used for seabed and habitat mapping, the EK60 is an echo sounder used to estimate fish stock and species, and the REMUS-600 is used to map areas too deep for the ME70 or the provide higher-resolution imaging of specific areas of interest. The current technological issues revolve around the ME70. The ME70 works by sending out a sonic “ping.” When the ping hits an object, it bounces back to the ship and is recorded by the computer. All sorts of information can be gathered based on the quality of the returned ping (which I will discuss in later posts), but right now the ME70 is not pinging at the correct rate. It is going much too slowly: only 1 ping per second, whereas it should be pinging roughly 5 times per second. Just like when you have an issue with your computer, the scientists on board are using the satellite phone to call the customer support representative for the ME70 company to try to figure out what the problem is. Another problem is that the ME70 and EK60 are not synching, which means that they cannot be used simultaneously because of interference issues. Last night data was collected using only the EK60, while right now data is being collected using only the ME70. The scientists and crew are obviously trying to figure out how to synchronize
the two systems so that both can collect data at the same time. Finally, the AUV has not yet been deployed because of bad weather (not because it cannot be deployed, but because it would be difficult to retrieve). Monday’s forecast, however, looks very promising, so stay tuned to see how these issues resolve!
I am constantly awed by the amount of teamwork required to complete a scientific mission such as this. The diversity of duties and expertise of the people involved is mind-boggling: everyone from a ship steward to the Chief Scientist has a crucial role to play and, without each, the mission would fall apart.
For example, the scientific team consists of hydrographers, AUV operators, marine biologists, and physical scientists. The ship’s crew consists of NOAA Corps officers, engineers, deck, stewards, and survey crew. Each person has their specialty, yet everyone has to work together to solve the inevitable problems that arise.
Finally, I suppose I should mention the crazy weather we had on our first day at sea. The San Francisco Bay was beautiful, but as soon as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, the waves grew larger and the passengers began to turn various shades of green. Even though I don’t usually get seasick, I took Dramamine just in case (which, as the swells reaches 15-20 feet, turned out to be a very wise decision). I spent a couple of hours on the bridge riding nature’s finest roller coaster, then turned in for the night and slept 11 hours. What a way to start a mission!
Did You Know?
The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1980 and encompasses 1470 square miles.
Word of the Day:
Bathymetry is the measurement of the depths of large bodies of water, including the oceans, rivers, streams, and lakes.