NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
July 12 – 31, 2018
Mission: Mapping Deep-Water Areas Southeast of Bermuda in Support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation
Geographic Area: Atlantic Ocean, south of Bermuda
Date: July 14, 2018
Weather Data from the Okeanos Explorer Bridge – July 14, 2018
Air Temperature: 27.4°C
Wind Speed: 13.96 knots
Conditions: Rain and clouds
Depth: 5183 meters
Science and Technology Log
Temperature and salinity are two main variables when determining the density of water. The density of water or any acoustic medium is a very important factor in determining the speed of sound in water. Therefore, temperature data collected by Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) probes, as well as historical salinity profiles from the World Ocean Atlas, are used to create sound velocity profiles to use to correct for sound speed changes in the water column.
Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) probes are devices that are used to measure water temperature as a function of depth. Small copper wires transmit the temperature data back to the ship where it is recorded and analyzed. At first, I was surprised to learn that temperature data is such an important component of multibeam mapping operations; however, I learned that scientists need to know how fast the sound waves emitted from the sonar unit travel through seawater. Since these probes are designed to fall at a determined rate, the depth of the probe can be inferred from the time it was launched. By plotting temperature as a function of depth, the scientists can get a picture of the temperature profile of the water.
On our expedition, we have been deploying XBTs on a schedule as the ship is making its way to the survey area. The XBT Launcher is connected to a deck box, which translates information to computer systems onboard so the data can be logged when the probes are deployed into the water. Aboard the Okeanos Explorer, up to 8 tubes can be loaded at one time and launched by scientists.
In addition to launching XBTs and collecting data, we completed a Daily Product so that we can communicate the data we have collected to anyone on shore. The Daily Products are completed not only to ensure that the hydrographic software systems are working correctly but to also inform the public our current location, where we have collected data, and if we are meeting the objectives of the mission. Once onshore, NOAA uses this information to analyze the quality of the data and use it for analysis for dive planning. In order to generate the Daily Field Products, we use hydrographic computer systems such as QPS Qimera for advanced multibeam bathymetry processing, Fledermaus for 4D geo-spatial processing, and Geocap Seafloor for digital terrain modeling. In addition, the Daily Field Products allow us to double check the quality of the data and search for any noise interferences due to the speed of the ship or the type of seafloor bottom (hard vs soft).
One of the coolest parts of learning aboard the Okeanos Explorer is the fact that I am a part of scientific exploration and discovery in real time. Known as “America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration,” the Okeanos Explorer is the only federally funded U.S. ship assigned to systematically explore our largely unknown ocean for the sole purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge. This is the first U.S.-led mapping effort in support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation and all of this information is going to be available for public use. Not only do I get the opportunity to be involved with “real-time” research, but I am also responsible for communicating this information to a variety of different parties on shore.
Being immersed in the “hands-on” science, learning from the survey techs and watch leads, and observing all of the work that is being done to collect, process, and analyze the data is a really exciting experience. I am definitely out of my element when it comes to the content since I do not have any prior experience with seafloor mapping, sonars, etc., but I am really enjoying playing the role as the “student” in this situation. There is definitely a lot to learn and I am trying to soak it all in!
Did You Know?
XBTs contain approximately 1,500 meters of copper wire that is as thin as a strand of hair!