NOAA Teacher At Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
July 6 – August 2, 2017
Mission: HICEAS Cetacean Study
Geographic Area: Hilo Coast, Hawaii
Date: July 12, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Location: 22 deg 38.0 min N, 159 deg 33.9 min W
Cloudy with rain squalls all around
Visibility: 10 nmi
Wind: E @ 23 kts
Waves: 2-3 ft
Swell: 60 degrees at 3-5 ft
Temp: 27 degrees
Wet Bulb Temp: 24 degrees
Dewpoint: 26 degrees
Relative Humidity: 96%
Science and Technology Log
Today, we will be exploring all of the equipment we deliberately toss over the stern of the ship. There are a number of different audio recorders that the HICEAS and other teams use to detect various species while underway. Chief scientist Erin Oleson gives a great perspective when she says that, “We pass through this particular area for this study only one time. Just because we may not see or hear an animal, it certainly doesn’t mean it’s not there, or that it won’t come by this area at a later time.” In order to compensate for the temporal restrictiveness of the ship being in one spot at one time, the team will periodically launch buoys over the side to continue the listening process for us. Some buoys are designed to last a few hours, some report the information real-time back to the ship, some are anchored to the ocean floor, some drift around, and all serve different needs for the scientific team.
Thing we deliberately throw off the ship #1: Sonobuoys
Since arriving on the ship, I have been recruited to “Team Sonobuoy” by the acoustics team for deployments! It is my job to program and launch two sonobuoys on a set schedule created by the scientific team. Sonobuoys are designed to pick up low-frequency sounds from 0 – 2 KHz, most often made by baleen whales. The sonobuoy will send information back to the ship in real-time. Once launched over the side, the sonobuoy will drift in the ocean, listening for these low frequency noises. They are a temporary acoustic tool – lasting anywhere from 30 mins to 8 hours of time. Most of the buoys are set to record for 8 full hours. After the pre-set recording time is up, the float on the buoy pops, and the buoy is no longer active. It is my job to launch two sonobuoys, and then monitor the signal coming back to the ship via VHF until we are too far away to detect the frequency coming back to us. This usually happens between 2 and 3 miles after launch. The recordings are sent onshore for processing. Fun fact: sonobuoys were originally developed by the Navy to listen for enemy submarines! The scientists thought they would be a handy tool for baleen whales, and picked up the technology. We have deployed sonobuoys almost every evening of the cruise.
Thing we deliberately throw off the ship #2: DASBRs
DASBRs, or Digital Acoustic Spar Buoy Recorders, are floating recorders launched at certain waypoints in the ocean. The word “spar” simply means that the buoy floats vertically in the water. There are two types of DASBRs, one records from 0 – 128 KHz, and one goes all the way from 0 – 144 KHz. Now, these particular buoys get launched, but they don’t get anchored.
Inside the DASBR is a transmitter that shows the location of the buoy so that the scientific team can recover them at a later time.
So, in effect, this is a buoy we deliberately throw off the ship only to bring it back on after a predetermined amount of time. These recorders do not transmit back to the ship. They store all of the data on the DASBR, which is why recovery of the DASBRs is so important. A DASBR that does not get recovered keeps all of its secrets as it floats along in the ocean. We can track DASBRs real time, and they follow interesting patterns as they float freely in the ocean – some track in a given direction along with the current, while others corkscrew around in the same area. So far, we have deployed 4 DASBRs in the first 8 days of the cruise.
Things we deliberately throw off the ship #3: HARPS
HARPS, or High Frequency Acoustic Recording Packages, are the third type of microphone deployed off the ship. HARPS record all sounds between 0 and 100 KHz. They last far longer than both sonobuoys and DASBRS in terms of time out on the water. They are limited not by data storage, but by battery power. HARPS are deployed at one location and are anchored to the ocean floor. Small yellow floats rise to the surface to alert ships and other traffic to their presence. They are a little easier to find when it comes to recovery, since they have a GPS known location and are secured to the ocean floor, but they are a little more difficult to wrangle on to the back deck of the ship when recovered and deployed, since there is an anchor associated with them.
On this cruise we have both recovered and deployed HARP systems. The HARPS also store information within the HARP, so recovery is important to the scientific team because the data does not get transmitted in real time back to any computers.
Things we deliberately throw off the ship #4: Ocean Noise Sensors
There are data recorders that record the level of noise in the ocean over time. We are currently on our way to pick one of these recorders up, complete some maintenance on it, and re-deploy it. This will be a full day commitment for the scientific team and the crew, so I’m going to keep you guessing on this one until we actually complete this part of the operation. We have many hands working together both on the ship and between organizations to make the ocean noise-monitoring program effective and cohesive, so this section of “Things we deliberately throw off the ship” will get its own blog post in the future as we complete the haul in, maintenance, and re-deployment. Stay tuned.
Team. You’ll never guess what I did. I. Drove. The Ship. Yes, you read that correctly. I drove the ship, and – AND – I didn’t hit anything while I did it! What’s better is that I didn’t tip anyone out of their chairs while I made turns, either! This is cause for much celebration and rejoicing among scientists and crew alike. The Commanding Officer, CDR Stephanie Koes invited me, “Spaz the TAS” up to the bridge for a little steering lesson two days ago, in which I happily obliged. ENS Fredrick gave me a little mini-lesson on the onboard radar systems, which were picking up rain just off our starboard side.
I also learned of the existence of the many GPS positioning systems and navigation systems onboard. The NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations, or OMAO, is not lost on system redundancies. From what I can surmise, there are two of everything on the bridge in order to ensure the NOAA OMAO’s number one priority – safety. Everything on the bridge has a backup, or in many instances, a preferential option for each officer responsible for the bridge at any given time. Some systems are fancy and new, while others maintain tradition on the bridge. For example, a bell will still chime every half hour to remind the watch stander to record weather data on the bridge and a navigational fix on a paper chart. ENS Fredrick says that the bell is an older maritime system, but is very handy when things get busy on the bridge – the bell ringing is a perfect audio cue for him to stop what he’s doing and get to the logbook to record the weather.
Turning a giant ship sounds difficult, but in reality, it’s really difficult. The actual act of turning doesn’t take much – a simple flip of a switch to take the ship off what I termed “cruise control” and a turn of the wheel (which by the way looks exactly like a smaller version of the ship wheels you see in all of the fabulous movies – I’m looking at you, Goonies) and an eye on the bearing angle (the compass direction in which the ship is headed). But here’s the real issue – this moving city technically has no brakes. So as the ship begins to turn, the driver has to pull the rudder back in the opposite direction before the bearing angle is reached, otherwise the bearing angle gets overshot. If you turn the wheel too far one way or the other too quickly, the ship responds by “leaning into” the turn at a steep angle.
This sounds like it might be fun until the chef downstairs rings the bridge and chews the driver out for making the cheesecake fall off the galley countertop. Then the driver must take the heat for ruining the cheesecake for everyone else on the ship waiting quite impatiently to eat it. Thankfully, I tipped no cheesecakes. That would make for a long month onboard being “that guy who turned the ship too hard and ruined dessert for everyone.” I’m pretty sure had I not had the direction of ENS Fredrick as to when and how far to turn the rudder, I’d be in the dessert doghouse.
Another fabulous part of turning the ship is that I got to use the radio to tell the flying bridge (and anyone else who was listening) that I had actually turned the ship and it was correctly on course. Luckily I had been listening to the radio communication for a few days and put on my best radio voice to make said announcements. I think my performance was middling to above average at least, and fully qualified to speak on the radio without sounding too unfortunate at best. However, there was one element of driving the ship that made me terrified enough to realize that I probably am not quite ready to hack the job – everything else that is going on up on the bridge while you are keeping the ship on-course.
Watch standers are notoriously good at keeping data. They record every move the ship makes. If the mammal and bird team go off effort due to weather or too high of a Beaufort state, the bridge records it. They also record when they go back on effort. They log every turn and adjustment the ship makes. They log every time we deploy a CTD or any kind of buoy. I watched the watch stander on the bridge take a phone call, make a turn, log the turn, put the mammal team off-effort, put the mammal team back on-effort, take a request on the radio and record weather data all in a span of about two minutes. It seemed like everything was happening all at once, and he managed it all like it was just another day in the office. For him, it was.
To be a member of the NOAA OMAO means that you must be willing to learn, willing to make mistakes, willing to follow orders, willing to be flexible, and willing to be one heck of a multi-tasker. I, for one, went quickly cross-eyed at all of the information processing that must happen up on the bridge during an officer’s shift. Thankfully, I didn’t go cross-eyed while I was trying to turn the ship. That would have been bad, especially for cheesecakes. I’m thinking that if I play my cards right, I can enlist as a “backup ship driver” for future shifts on Oscar Elton Sette. I figure you never know when you might need someone fully unqualified to steer a giant moving city in a general direction for any given amount of time. But I think I can do it if I do it like the NOAA Corps – taking everything one turn at a time.
Cetacean and Fish Species Seen:
Blainsville Beaked Whales
False Killer Whales
Kogia – unidentified (These are either pygmy Sperm Whales or Dwarf Sperm Whales)
Wahoo or Ono (Ono in Hawaiian means “tasty” – the name was confirmed as I enjoyed a few pieces of Ono sashimi last night at dinner)
Seabirds spotted as of July 14:
White Necked Petrel
Juan Fernandez Petrel
Band-rumped Storm Petrel
Red-Tailed Tropic Bird
White-Tailed Tropic Bird
A juvenile Red-Footed Booby who has taken up residence on the mast of the ship for two full days and pretends to fly from the mast – highly entertaining.