Jennifer Richards, September 12, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 12, 2001

Latitude: 9º 56.5 N
Longitude: 95º 2.5 W
Temperature: 31.2º C
Seas: Sea wave height: 2-3 feet
Swell wave height: 4-5 feet
Visibility: 10 miles
Cloud cover: 5/8
Water Temp: 29.3ºC

Research Objective for the day: Begin taking measurements with the Lidar (ETL), the MMP (UW), weather balloons (CSU), and the SPMR (UCSB). Every group on the ship is in full swing, and will continue their operations for the next 18 days.

Science Log

Today I met with part of the group from NOAA’s Environmental Technology Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. There are three sets of instruments being used by this team, and today I will introduce you to the researchers associated with two of those groups- the lidar group and the kaband group.

Ms. Janet Intrieri, an Atmospheric Scientist, and Dr. Raul Alvarez, a Physicist, have been working long hours each day on the Mini MOPA Lidar. This is the most labor-intensive piece of equipment on the ship, requiring constant watch and intervention to keep it running properly. It is also probably the fanciest piece of equipment on the ship, using CO2 lasers and an intricate network of lenses and mirrors to measure wind velocity and water vapor in the atmosphere. The really cool thing about the lidar is that it can measure these things at various altitudes simultaneously, up to 6-8 kilometers in range. Without the lidar, scientists could measure a specific point in the atmosphere using planes, satellites, or weather balloons, but the lidar allows Ms. Intrieri and Dr. Alvarez to see everything in a horizontal column of the sky at the same time.

How does lidar work? Lidar (which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, similar to the term Radar as used for radio waves) is a remote sensing technique that allows measurements of atmospheric conditions using laser light. The typical lidar system emits a short pulse of laser light that travels through the atmosphere. As this pulse of light goes through the atmosphere, it can interact or scatter off of various components in that atmosphere. These components can include dust, clouds, water vapor, pollutants, and even the air molecules themselves. When the light scatters off of these things, a small part of that scattered light is going back toward the receiver part of the lidar which is usually composed of a telescope (to collect as much of this light as possible) and a detector that converts the light signals into electronic signals that can be input to a computer.

How the signals that are collected are processed depends on what atmospheric properties are being measured. For information on the total amount of light scattering due to dust and clouds, we can simply look at the strength of the return signal as a function of time (which is proportional to the distance that the pulse has traveled). To gather information about the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, one technique is to transmit two laser pulses that are at different wavelengths. One of the wavelengths is selected so that it is not affected by the water vapor, while the other is selected so that it is partially absorbed by water vapor. (Each different chemical that we might try to measure has a different absorption of light that will determine which wavelengths and types of laser must be used.) Now, as the laser pulses go through the atmosphere and as the scattered light returns to the receiver, one of the signals is attenuated (reduced) more than the other because it is being absorbed by the water vapor. The amount of water vapor that must have been in the atmosphere to cause a particular amount of signal reduction can then be calculated.

Another thing that can be measured with lidar is the wind velocity. To do this, we rely on the Doppler Effect. This effect states that as the light scatters off of the particles in the atmosphere, the frequency of the light may be shifted if the particles are moving. If they are moving towards the lidar, the frequency will be shifted up while the frequency will be shifted down for particles moving away. Since the frequency of light is extremely high and the Doppler frequency shift is very small, we need to bring the signal (light) frequency down to a manageable level. We can do this by a process called mixing. In essence, the light signal is shone onto a detector along with a small sample of laser light that is at the same frequency as the original pulse that was sent into the atmosphere. When these two beams interfere with each other, the result is a signal on the detector that is the difference in the two light frequencies. At this point, this difference signal tells us the speed of the wind, but not the direction of the wind. A shift of a few megahertz (MHz)(depending on the laser wavelength) could be due to a wind either towards or away from the lidar at a meter per second (m/s). To resolve this uncertainty, the transmitted laser pulse is shifted by a fixed amount of 10 megahertz. Now, when the atmospheric light signal and the laser sample are mixed, the shift in frequency will be offset by the 10 MHz signal. (As an example, let’s suppose that the Doppler shift due to the wind is 2 MHz. Then, the first example without a 10 MHz offset will give you simply a resultant 2 MHz signal for either a +1 m/s or -1 m/s wind, while the 10 MHz offset makes the resultant 12 MHz for a wind toward the lidar and 8 MHz for a wind away from the lidar.)

An additional piece of equipment being used by ETL is the Ka-band radar, operated by Ms. Michelle Ryan. Ms. Ryan uses Ka-band radar to study the clouds- water droplet size, condensation, and the changes between liquid, gas, and solid water. She also uses radiometers to study liquid water and vapor in a column from the ship to the sky. Her equipment complements the lidar by providing information about what’s going on above the cloud base (the lidar focuses on everything between the ocean surface and the clouds).

Thank you very much to Dr. Alvarez for translating enormously complex physics into what you just read about how the lidar works. If you read it through a couple times, it really makes sense! And they say laser physics is complex.

Travel Log

People always wonder what the food is like on the ship. Well, there is lots of it, and it’s better than what you would expect. In fact, I’ve heard some of the scientists challenging each other to see who can gain the most weight on the trip- just an excuse to try a little of everything on the buffet line, and dessert twice. There’s always a salad bar, a couple meat entrees, a couple meatless entrees, and several vegetables. One night we even had crab legs and steak! We eat during designated meal times in the mess hall, and since there are more people on the ship than there are seats in the mess, they try to get you to “eat it and beat it.” The most dangerous part of the mess is the freezer stocked with Haagen Daas ice cream, but I am challenging myself to avoid it until the last night on the ship. There are three stewards on the ship that do all the cooking and kitchen stuff. They’re really nice and friendly.

Question of the day: How much money did the U.S. spend last year on scientific research? What percent of the total budget does it represent? (Please cite your source when you send your answer)

Photo Descriptions:Today’s photos – Since today’s science log focused on the Lidar operated by NOAA Environmental Technology Laboratory (ETL), that’s what is highlighted in today’s pictures. You’ll see the ETL lab on the ship- a large container that travelled via tractor-trailor, plane, and barge to get onto the ship. There are two “vans” like this on the ship, which is where this group of ETL scientists spends most of their time. Inside the van, you’ll see Ms. Intieri at the computer controls, Dr. Alvarez tweaking the lenses in the Lidar, and in another picture, Dr. Alvarez pouring liquid nitrogen into the Lidar to keep the optics cool. Finally, you’ll see Ms. Ryan standing next to the kaband radar (looks like a large drum in the photo).

Until tomorrow,
Jennifer

Jennifer Richards, September 11, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 11, 2001

Latitude: 12º 06.3 N
Longitude: 95º 49.7 W
Temperature: 26.5 º C
Seas: Sea wave height: 2-3 feet
Swell wave height: 4-5 feet
Visibility: 10 miles
Cloud cover: 6/8
Water Temp: 29.7 ºC

Special note: The storm we hit yesterday is now classified and named “Hurricane Ivo”

Research Objective for the day: Install sensors on the buoy at 10N, 95W. Download data from the buoy into the ship’s system for analysis.

Science Log

Today is the first day that official operations take place. We reached the first buoy at 10N, 95W around 4pm, and the zodiac sent several people out to it for maintenance. Divers installed sensors on the under-water portion. They also downloaded the data from the buoy for analysis.

There are lots of buoys in the ocean. Mr. John Stanley (who I will introduce you to later in the week) is in charge of the buoy work on this cruise. He’s installing some, repairing some, and doing general maintenance.

One neat thing about the buoys is that the anchors that keep them in place develop their own ecosystem. All sorts of stuff grows on the anchor line, and stuff that eats the stuff on the line hangs out in the area. And the stuff that eats the stuff that grows on the line is also there. You get the picture. This means that whenever we reach buoys, people on the ship start reaching for their fishing gear. Although we didn’t see any today, I’ve been told that there are often white-tip sharks in the area, and things can get pretty exciting (especially with a diver in the area). Today Pat, one of the crew, caught a pretty good-sized yellow-tail tuna. It was cool, until it started bleeding all over the deck. That’s when I decided I should go look at something else.

Travel Log

This has been a quiet day. Most people on the ship are in some kind of shock after hearing of the terrorist activities on the east coast. I know I speak for everyone on board when I say that all of our thoughts are with the thousands and millions of people who have been affected by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I tried for hours to reach my family in the Washington, D.C. area, but I was never able to get a connection. Inmarsat-M phone calls must first connect with a satellite operator (challenge #1), and then connect with land (challenge #2). To those of you reading this who have family or friends on the ship, please remember that in an event like this, e-mail is a reliable way to communicate. Our computer guy, Larry, connects with the satellite twice a day – 10:00 am and 6:00 pm. We are now in Mountain Standard Time, one hour later than when we started, 6 hours off of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Today marks the one-week anniversary of when I arrived on the ship. In some ways, it feels like it went quickly, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve been here forever. One of my students, Melissa, asked if it was hard to be away from home. To be honest, I try not to think about it. I miss my husband, Rob, and we email regularly, but I try not to remind myself that I won’t be home for another month. Certainly on a tragic day like this, all I can think about is how far away from home I am.

Question of the day: Why is cloud cover measured in 8ths (example 1/8, 7/8, etc)?

Photo Descriptions: Today’s pictures include the following: the zodiac at the buoy, fishing off the stern of the boat, Pat’s fish, a close-up of a buoy on the ship (will be installed later on the trip), and Captain Dreves keeping a close eye on the buoy operations.

Until tomorrow,
Jennifer

Jennifer Richards, September 10, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 10, 2001

Latitude: 13º 25.1 N
Longitude: 100º 58.4 W
Temperature: 26.1ºC
Seas: Sea wave height: 6-8 feet
Swell wave height:
Visibility: 0.5 – 1 mile
Cloud cover: 8/8
Water Temp: 29.6ºC

Science Log

A lot of the scientists got very little work done today because the cloud cover was interfering with their instruments. The radar group from Colorado State University was in good spirits because they had a real opportunity to test their equipment during stormy conditions. They are still working out some of the bugs so that when we reach international water, they will be able to work efficiently.

Travel Log

This was the first day in a week that I felt somewhat seasick. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the makers of Meclizine for making a darn good product. We are in the middle of a storm, as you can see from the higher waves and lower visibility reported above. It certainly could be worse- I mean, the waves are only 8 feet, but it’s still an adjustment for my body since the trip has been so nice up until now. I saw a satellite image of this part of the world and you can see a huge storm brewing. I encourage you to search the Internet for current weather images (try a Yahoo search of “NCAR RAP”) and find our latitude and longitude on the map. It looks pretty impressive. It could easily develop into a tropical storm, but hopefully not until it has passed us a little. So what does it feel like to be in a storm? Well, the boat is rocking a LOT, and I’ve been losing my balance all day. I went outside to take some pictures, and was drenched in the few minutes I was there. The deck has about an inch of water sloshing around. And there’s no view of the sunset on the deck after dinner tonight.

Question of the day: What are the two factors that are used when classifying a storm as a tropical depression, tropical storm, or hurricane?

Photo Descriptions: Today’s photos include 5 shots relating to the storm we are in. You’ll see several pictures of the bow of the ship and the low visibility. At all times, there is someone on the bridge on lookout for “objects” in the water (boats, buoys, etc.) During low visibility conditions this job is even more important, since the Captain would have very little time to react if something was spotted. Of course, there is always the radar system, but it doesn’t catch everything. Finally, a picture of the Doppler radar dome, taken prior to the storm. This Doppler radar provides crucial data about the weather conditions around the ship.

Until tomorrow,
Jennifer

Jennifer Richards, September 9, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 9, 2001

Latitude: 16º 39.3 N
Longitude: 103º 17.0 W
Temperature: 31.3ºC
Seas: Sea wave height: 1-2 feet
Swell wave height: 2-3 feet
Visibility: 10 miles
Cloud cover: 5/8
Water Temp: 29.7ºC

Science Log

Today I met with Dr. Mike Gregg, a Physical Oceanographer from the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at the University of Washington (UW). He is accompanied by 7 additional scientists, comprising the largest group on the ship. The team is composed of the following members:

  • Dr. David Winkel – Physical Oceanographer
  • Mr. Jack Miller – Electrical Engineer
  • Mr. Earl Krause – Oceanography Technician
  • Mr. John Mickett and Mr. Glenn Carter – Ph.D. graduate students
  • Mr. Arthur Bartlett and Mr. Paul Aguilar – Engineers

All 8 members of the UW team are working together to gather data about the microstructure of the ocean. They want to understand turbulence in the ocean- in other words, they are interested in finding out how the ocean mixes.

“Coupled global models”- this is a term that is very important to understand the research being conducted on this cruise. It refers to the relationship between the oceans and the atmosphere over the entire planet. Computer models make assumptions about these relationships, which are used to predict short-term and long-term climate. These models exist today, but Dr. Gregg hopes to improve the accuracy of the numbers being input into these models, in order to improve climate-forecasting abilities. Better data input into the models will produce more accurate the climate forecasts.

There are very complex relationships between the oceans and the atmosphere. For example, as the wind blows over the ocean, it transfers energy to the water. You can see this energy in the form of waves. In addition, the moon has a tremendous impact on tides, and as tides rise and fall, energy transfers occur between the atmosphere and the ocean. You can see that energy is constantly being circulated between the oceans and the atmosphere. If you recall from your Physical Science classes in middle school, heat is a form of energy. What happens to the energy, or heat, from waves once the wave has broken and no longer exists? How does that heat energy travel through the ocean? How is the heat energy transfer different in the Eastern Pacific, where there is a warm pool of surface water, compared to the heat energy transfer in inland lakes, or in other parts of the world’s oceans? This is what Dr. Gregg and his team of scientists are trying to find out.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) set up the framework for a program called CLIVAR (Climate Variability). Through CLIVAR, scientists from around the world are working together to improve climate forecasting models. This program reaches across international boundaries and includes dozens of countries that wish to improve the climate forecasting abilities using coupled global models. In the United States, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has agreed to participate in CLIVAR, and are funding Dr. Gregg’s research as part of that program.

The key piece of equipment being used in this research is called a Modular Microstructure Profiler (MMP). The MMP will be dropped in a free-fall while loosely tethered to the ship behind the ship using Kevlar lines while it is slowed to approximately 2 knots. It will measure small-scale turbulence, on the scale of centimeters, in the upper 300 meters of the ocean. The Kevlar line will allow the device to remain far enough away from the ship to prevent the ship movements from interfering with the MMP’s measurements. Dr. Gregg has 3 MMP’s so that one is available to be deployed 24 hours a day while the other two are undergoing repairs and data processing. The eight members of this team will be working 12 hour shifts, around the clock deploying the MMPs and using the winch to bring them back on the ship.

Travel Log

You know, after 5 days on the ship, I am still amazed that I am here. When I was in junior high school, I actually thought of aiming for a career with NOAA. I’ve always loved the oceans, always loved boats, and always loved science. What better way to put it all together than to join the NOAA Corps. I’m not sure what happened, but NOAA faded from my list of career choices in high school. It’s so incredible to finally have a NOAA experience, to participate in a research cruise, and to meet such unique people.

I have found that maintaining sanity on the ship requires keeping a schedule. Here’s my schedule (since I’m sure the world is just dying to know!!): I spend the mornings with one of the research groups or one of the crew groups to find out what they are doing and how it will make the world a better place. I take pictures of them at work, and make lots and lots of notes. Walking around with my paper, pen and camera I feel like a reporter all the time, like some kind of Lois Lane on the high seas. Lunch is from 1130-1230, and is a nice chance to chat with people. After lunch, I visit the bridge and collect the data that you see at the top of my daily log- location, atmospheric and water data. Usually at that time the bridge is occupied by the two female officers on the ship. I’ll introduce you to them some other day. Finally, I go to the computer to review the day’s pictures, translate my scribbled notes and type up my daily log. I also read the email that arrived that morning (we send and receive email twice a day- 10am and 6pm) and respond to each one of them. Once I’ve sent off my logs and pictures to be posted on the web site, it’s time for dinner. After dinner, I have 2 1/2 hours to write lesson plans, read, catch up on logs, or hang out on deck to watch the sunset. Every night at 8pm there is a movie in the lounge. No matter how bad it is, I can’t help watching. For some reason, watching the movie always removes any hint of seasickness I might be feeling. After the movie, it’s finally time for bed.

My favorite time of day is definitely when I get a chance to sit out on deck and watch the sunset while reading Charles Darwin’s “Voyage of the Beagle.” It is so amazingly beautiful and peaceful here, and while I don’t think I’m ready to make a permanent move onto the ship, I sure wish I had a button at home that I could push to be instantly transported to this exact spot (with my husband, Rob, of course).

Question of the day: When Charles Darwin was asked to join the HMS Beagle on its voyage to South America, he was in school at Cambridge studying to enter what profession?

Photo Descriptions: Today’s photos include a couple members of the team from the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington. Dr. Mike Gregg is shown in one picture standing next the Modular Microstructure Profiler (MMP), and in another picture, Mr. Paul Aguilar catches up on some highly-intellectual reading. Since I’ve written in my log about the ocean sunsets, I included a picture of one, but I’m sure you can imagine that the picture just doesn’t do it justice. Of course, none of these logs and photos would be possible without a good onboard computer network, so you’ll see a picture of Mr. Larry Loewen, our computer guy. And finally, a shot to remind you of what ship I am on- an ax painted with the ship’s name “RONALD H. BROWN.”

Until tomorrow,
Jennifer

Jennifer Richards, September 8, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 8, 2001

Latitude: 19º 57.1N
Longitude: 108º 21.4W
Temperature: 30.0ºC
Seas: Sea wave height: 2-3 feet
Swell wave height: 3-4 feet
Visibility: 10-12 miles
Cloud cover: 4/8
Water Temp: 29.4ºC

Science Log

Today I met with the radar scientists from Colorado State University (Ft. Collins, Colorado). These guys are meteorologists who are studying the internal structure of storms over tropical oceans. As radar scientists, they rely primarily on radar systems for obtaining data. They are using pretty sophisticated equipment and software for their research, and have been spending the last several days just getting everything set up.

Although all four members of this group – Dr. Rob Cifelli, Dr. Walt Peterson, Mr. Bob Bowie and Dr. Dennis Boccippio – are very nice guys with a great sense of humor, from my perspective, they are somewhat the villains on the ship. These guys are hoping we will encounter storms- lots of them- the bigger, the better. Have any of you seen the movie “The Perfect Storm?”

Here’s some background information that will help you understand the research this group is working on. Storms on land and storms on the ocean tend to be about the same size vertically, but the way they function internally is quite different. On land, storms can be generated over pretty short periods of time, and can run themselves out pretty quickly. A lot of people in the mid-west are familiar with the daily rain storms that hit during summer afternoons- suddenly coming out of nowhere, and then disappearing as fast as they arrived. This is because land is full of heat pockets. You could have rivers, farms, asphalt and concrete highways, homes, and forests, and they all heat and cool at different rates. The differences in the rate of heating cause pressure gradients, which can lead to volatile weather conditions.

The ocean does not contain heat pockets the way the land does, and therefore, the air above the ocean heats more slowly. Pressure gradients in the air above the ocean are not as steep, so when storms are generated over the ocean, they grow slowly over long periods of time, and can become quite large. Do you remember hearing in the news about hurricanes? The weathermen will track hurricanes for many days to see where it is moving and how large it is getting. This is an example of an ocean storm growing slowly to a very large size.

If we can understand how storms form and behave in a certain area, it will help us understand the climate in that area. If you want to learn about the climate of San Diego, California, for example, it’s not very hard. You can visit the library and find all sorts of documents about the climate and typical weather conditions. There have been weather stations in San Diego for at least a hundred years, and there is plenty of data that has been collected. There aren’t too many surprises.

But what do we really know about climate over the oceans? Not a whole lot. Storms heat the atmosphere and affect the climate. NASA and NASDA (the Japanese Space Agency) have a satellite called TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission) provides data about storms from very far away, but we don’t have oceans full of weather stations to show us exactly what’s going on at the surface and in the troposphere. Plus, TRMM can only measure what it sees from the sky- the tops of storms. You have to be on the ocean to see the rest of the storm. And since the satellite passes over each location on earth only twice a day, the data can be up to 12 hours old. When’s the last time you heard of a storm that hadn’t changed in 12 hours?

How do the atmosphere and the ocean interact? How are storms in the tropics different from storms in the mid-latitude regions? What impact does the tropical ocean water have on the air above it? What impact does it have on storms that form over it? That’s where this group from Colorado State University comes into the picture. The R/V RONALD H. BROWN is equipped with a Doppler Radar system that uses microwaves to echo off of condensed water, ice crystals, and hail. It can create 3D profiles of storms within 150 km of the ship. A satellite can only see the top of the storm, but the radar system on the ship can see the internal structure of it. And if we happen to be in the middle of a big storm, the radar can see everything going on around us for the duration of the storm (not just once every 12 hours, like the TRMM satellite). Unfortunately, hurricane Henrietta was too far away to effectively measure with the radar. These guys will also be launching weather balloons from the ship to gather additional atmospheric data in the sky above us.

What can the world hope to learn from the research being done by this group? Well, if we have a better understanding of how storms are behaving in the tropics, we will have a better understanding of the factors affecting ocean climate. Since events such as El Niño originate in the tropical area of the Pacific Ocean, this research may help us better understand what causes seasonal climate changes and El Niño and provide better forecasting of such events.

Travel Log: The air temperature is getting much warmer each day, and you can definitely tell we’re in the tropics. One of my students, Kalen, asked if I had seen any wildlife? Excellent question. I forgot to mention earlier that I saw a bunch of flying fish! They were really cool- almost looked like birds jumping out of the ocean, flying 10 or 20 feet, then diving back in. You could see them just about any time you looked for them during the last couple days. We also passed a huge school of at least a hundred porpoises, about a mile away. I’m hoping we’ll see some more a little closer so I can get some pictures for you.

Have you ever heard of sailors seeing a green flash at sunset? Captain Dreves announced last night that the conditions were good to see it, so I ran out on deck. After staring at the horizon a couple minutes I saw what looked like neon green flashes of lightening, only for a second. I waited and waited and finally the sun dipped below the horizon, but I’m not sure if I saw it. I’m not sure if what I saw was THE green flash, or if my eyes were getting strained from staring at the sunset too long. I told Captain Dreves “well, I guess I have 3 and a half more weeks to see it again” and he said “I was at sea 30 years before I saw my first one.” Oh, well.

Question of the day: What causes the green flash that sailors sometimes see at sunset?

Photo Descriptions: Today’s photos show some of the equipment that the group from the Colorado State University are using for their research. Dr. Rob Cifelli and Dr. Walt Peterson are working on the computer to establish the radar settings they will be using to collect data. Bob Bowie is standing at the radar station that controls the Doppler Radar unit on the ship. Dr. Dennis Boccippio inflates a weather balloon, which you see aloft in a separate picture. Finally, all four members of the CSU team pause for a picture.

Keep in touch,
Jennifer

Jennifer Richards, September 7, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 7, 2001

Latitude: 24° 3.063 N
Longitude: 112° 11.4 W
Temperature: 26.1°C
Seas: Sea wave height: 3-4 feet
Swell wave height: 4-6 feet
Visibility: 10 miles
Cloud cover: 3/8
Water Temp: 27.7°C

Science Log: Research has not yet started. The scientific crew was notified in a ship briefing that they are not allowed to gather and record data until the ship leaves Mexican waters.

Each day during this trip I will highlight one of the research groups on the ship and introduce you to the science they are doing. Today I met with the group from the University of California at Santa Barbara- Dr. Carter Ohlmann and Dave Menzies. These guys are studying the variations in ocean radiant heating, or in simpler terms, the amount of light in the ocean at different depths.

Imagine a nice clear swimming pool. The sun’s heat energy can penetrate all the way to the bottom of the pool because the water is so clear. Whatever heat energy hits the pool will be dispersed throughout the water somewhat evenly. Makes sense, right?

Now imagine that the pool has a layer of scum and algae at the top. Face it, you just haven’t done a very good job at cleaning the pool, and your allowance just isn’t big enough to make the job worthwhile. Now, the sun’s heat energy can’t pass all the way to the bottom of the pool because the scum is blocking the light. The very top of the pool water is going to capture almost all of the sun’s heat energy, and the bottom layers of water will be darker and colder.

The ocean has lots of “stuff” in it, right? Fish, whales, coral, seaweed… All plants, whether in the ocean or on land, contain a substance called “chlorophyll.” Chlorophyll is the substance that makes plants green. If you can detect chlorophyll in the ocean, you are detecting plant material- mostly in the form of algae. If the water appears green, it has a lot of algae, if it appears mostly blue with a little green, it has a little algae. Dr. Ohlmann and Mr. Menzies have special piece of equipment, called an SPMR, that can measure the exact “color” of the ocean. The water and chlorophyll in the ocean absorb and reflect solar energy, or light, and these scientists want to know how much of the sun’s heat energy is being absorbed and reflected at various depths in the ocean. In other words, how does the sun heat the ocean?

Aren’t there satellites that can accomplish the same task as what is being done on the ship? Well, there is a NASA satellite in space called “SeaWiFS” (Sea viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor) that measures different wavelengths of light being reflected from the surface of the ocean, and it can determine how much blue and green is there. Remember, the more green that is present, the more algae that is present. But satellites are viewing the ocean from so far away, and they have to make lots of adjustments for the amount of light in the atmosphere. If it’s cloudy or foggy, it can be impossible for the satellite to see the ocean. Since Dr. Ohlmann and Mr. Menzies are right here at sea level, they can measure the amount of green and blue in the water at the surface, and at various depths in the ocean. For comparison, they also measure the light near sea level, by installing sensors on a large tower on the bow of the ship.

Why does anyone care about all this? There are lots of scientists around the world who try to model different aspects of climate. The computer models make certain assumptions about how heat circulates between the ocean and the atmosphere. Since any large body of water can have a profound affect on the land nearby, it is important that the climate models be accurate. The data being collected and analyzed by Dr. Ohlmann and Mr. Menzies will improve the accuracy of air-sea heat exchange in climate computer models.

Travel Log: You may have noticed from the sea data above that the wave height is larger today than it was yesterday. A satellite image on the bridge shows hurricane Henrietta in the area, which accounts for the swell we feel. The ship is rocking quite a bit, making it difficult to walk around too much, but I seem to have acquired my “sea legs” and the rocking isn’t making me sick. Hmmm, in a cartoon drawing, what would sea legs look like? Let me know if you have any ideas.

There’s not a lot of entertainment on the ship. If the weather is nice you can go out on deck and watch the flying fish. A lot of people have books and computers to play with when their shift ends. The only form of organized entertainment are the movies shown each night in the lounge. Just make sure you bundle up, because the lounge, and most indoor areas of the ship, are freezing! The air conditioning inside the ship keeps the temperature very low so that the millions of dollars of electronics equipment on board is safe from heat damage.

Question of the day: What is the difference between sea wave height and swell wave height?

Photo Descriptions: Today’s photos show Dr. Ohlmann and Mr. Menzies at work in the ship’s lab. The rocket-looking device they are holding is the SPMR mentioned in the Science Log above. The tower at the bow of the ship contains sensors that will measure the wavelength of light in the atmosphere at sea level. The large apparatus with the long cylinders is a CTD, which measures the conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth of water samples.

Keep in touch,
Jennifer

 

Jennifer Richards, September 6, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 6, 2001

Latitude: 30° 21.2 N
Longitude: 116° 01.7 W
Seas: Sea wave height: less than 1 foot
Swell wave height: 2-3 feet
Visibility: 10-12 miles
Cloud cover: 8/8 (100%)
Water Temp: 21.4°C

Science Log: Since we are not in international waters yet, the scientists are not permitted to collect or record data. Many of them are spending their time calibrating equipment or working on papers that they would be writing if they were in their offices at home.

Travel Log: I have had the chance to meet a number of scientists and crew members on the ship, and each one of them really amazes me. Everyone on this ship is either a “crew member” or part of the “scientific party.” All the crew members report to Captain Dreves. They run the ship, repair and maintain the ship, and make sure we are happy and healthy. Besides the Captain, there are four additional uniformed NOAA Officers, and approximately 20 un-uniformed crew members. It takes 7 people to keep the engine in good shape, 3 people in the kitchen, 2 stewards, and the remainder are deck hands. The crew and officers are assigned to the ship for 2 year commissions, and during that time they spend 11 months out of the year on the ship, out at sea. It’s so interesting to talk with them, and to realize how unique their lives are.

Everyone in the scientific party (including me) reports to the Chief Scientist, Chris Fairall. There are research groups here from:

  • Environmental Technology Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado
  • University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory
  • Colorado State University Department of Atmospheric Science
  • University of California at Santa Barbara
  • Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
  • and a few others that are working in partnership with each of the groups above.

Each of the research groups has their own equipment on the ship and their own research to focus on, but they have to work together to coordinate data collection efforts. And since they are sharing bunks with their coworkers (2 people per room) they have to be able to get along with each other in tight quarters, which may get challenging towards the end of the cruise. Can you imagine being stuck on a ship with your best friend for a month, with no way to escape? After a whole month you may need a break from each other.

The big excitement for the day was the fire drill and abandon ship drill. It’s kind of scary to think we might need to do these things for real, although this is a top-notch ship with a top-notch crew, so I’m sure we’ll be fine. The abandon ship whistle consists of 6 short horn blows, followed by one long horn. We can remember this by saying “get-your-butt-off-the-ship nnnnoooowwwwww!” Six short, one long. We all have to grab a long sleeve shirt, long pants, and a hat to protect us from sun exposure as we drift around in the ocean. We also have a life preserver and a “gumby suit” to protect us from the water chill until help arrives. The man overboard drill will be later in the cruise and consists of 3 long horn blows – “maaaan over booaarrd.”

Question of the day: The scientists on board are not allowed to collect and record data until we are out of Mexican waters. How far off-shore is the boundary between Mexican waters and International waters?

Photo Descriptions: Today’s photos show you an overview of my stateroom. They are pretty small, but efficiently laid out. Each stateroom has 2 bunks, lots of drawers, an area that can be converted into a desk, a sink, 2 life preservers and 2 gumby suits, and an inside door leading to a head. The most important thing in the stateroom is our bunk card, which tells each of us exactly where to go in case of fire, abandon ship signal, or man overboard signal.

Keep in touch,

Jennifer

Jennifer Richards, September 5, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 5, 2001

Latitude: 32.7°N
Longitude: 117.2° W
Temperature: 75° F

Seas: Since we are still at port in a protected harbor, there is no swell. The water is extremely calm.

Science Log: Research has not yet started. The scientific crew was notified in a ship briefing that they are not allowed to gather and record data until the ship leaves Mexican waters.

Travel Log: This morning, my husband Rob and John Kermond from NOAA came to watch the ship depart. Rob brought me an extra pair of shoes since mine were still stuck in the drawer. Then I realized the drawer had a special latch that had to be pushed in, and my shoes weren’t locked in after all! Dork mistake #1.

There was a lot of activity around the ship as the crew and scientists rushed to tie everything down- from computers to bottles and flasks, to heavy equipment and cranes on deck. Everything on the ship must be securely locked or tied down or bolted to something prior to departure, since the movement of the ship could cause things to start flying.

Finally, the big departure at 10am. We sailed for an hour up to the fueling dock at Point Loma, where we docked for another 5 hours. It was evening before we were out at sea.

As soon as the ship left the protected harbor, I was very aware of the swaying, and knew I would need something to prevent me from getting seasick. Some people wore special wristbands that use acupuncture to suppress seasickness. Other people wore a patch behind their ear that releases medication into their bodies. I chose an over-the-counter medication called Meclizine. It works well, but puts me to sleep.

I started reading the “Voyage of the Beagle” which is Charles Darwin’s journal of his 5-year voyage in the 1830s to the Galapagos Islands and all over the world. You may recall that Darwin developed the theories of evolution, natural selection, and survival of the fittest that we still believe today. Did you know that Darwin was seasick during the entire voyage??!! How miserable that must have been. During the 5-year journey, he was only on the ship for 18 months, and never more than 45 days at a time (I’ll be on this ship for 31 days). He was 20 years old when he left Britain on the HMS Beagle, and 25 years old when he returned home, only a few years younger than me, and not too much older than my high school students. It’s pretty inspiring to think of someone so young contributing so much to the scientific community. I’ll fill you in on more Darwin stuff as I keep reading his journals.

Question of the day: One of today’s photos shows a “marine layer” (see photo descriptions below). What causes the marine layer to sit over coastal land in San Diego?

Photo Descriptions: Today’s photos focus on the beautiful scenery of San Diego harbor. You’ll see pictures of a variety of ocean vessels, the picturesque Coronado bridge, and the “marine layer” off the coast. The marine layer is an area of the San Diego coast that is fogged in, even when the sky above the water and the sky further inland is perfectly clear and sunny.

Keep in touch,
Jennifer

Jennifer Richards, September 4, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 4, 2001

Latitude: 32.7° N
Longitude: 117.2° W
Temperature: 75° F

Seas: Since we are still at port in a protected harbor, there is no swell. The water is extremely calm.

Travel Log

Tomorrow the ship departs San Diego, California for its big adventure! I saw the ship for the first time this morning, and had the opportunity to meet Captain Dreves and Chris Fairall, the Chief Scientist. At 274 feet long, the ship certainly isn’t small, but it is docked at the Naval Station and is surrounded by huge grey navy ships, dwarfing the RONALD H. BROWN. Some of my students had asked if the captain has a white beard, smokes a pipe, and has a peg leg or a patch on his eye. The answer is “no” to all of those questions (sorry to disappoint you). I’ll be sure to take his picture as soon as I unpack my camera.

The pre-trip hoopla was pretty exciting and tiring. A reporter from the Navy Compass and a cameraman from KUSI, a local television station, came to the ship to interview the captain, Chris, and me. The weatherman at KUSI did a nice 2.5 minute piece about the cruise on the evening news in which he spoke about the importance of the research being conducted, and the Teacher at Sea (me!). Dr. John Kermond from NOAA gave me a tour of the ship, which Captain Dreves described very eloquently as “an industrial workplace with an enhanced chance of drowning.” On the inside, it has laboratory areas, a mess hall, small library, lounge with a television, lots of staterooms, and a lot of industrial areas filled with heavy equipment and people with dirty shirts. There’s something for everyone!

This afternoon John Kermond came up to my school (Guajome Park Academy in Vista, California) so I could say goodbye to my students. They wanted to know if I’m going to miss them, so let me put it in writing right here- YES! I really enjoy spending my days with my 9th and 10th grade Earth Science and Math students, and I will miss getting to see them every day.

Finally, I made it home to get my suitcase and say goodbye to my dog and cat, Birch and Hobbes. Birch knew something was going on- he gets nervous when suitcases leave the house and he’s not invited. Then back to the ship for a photo shoot with the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper. What a busy day! I’m definitely not used to being in the spotlight like this, and I felt pretty awkward with cameras on me the whole day, but I survived.

Once things settled down, my husband, Rob came to the ship to see me. John and I gave him the tour, and I was very happy to see him before my big departure. Although the ship doesn’t leave until tomorrow morning, I thought I would spend the night here so I can get used to is layout before it gets too wobbly in the ocean.

My first adventure on the ship went something like this: I was getting ready for bed and put my sneakers in a drawer in my stateroom. When it was time to visit the head (bathroom) I found that it had been locked from the inside. Since I share a head with another room, I thought someone was using it. After waiting a while, and realizing that the only way in was to go through my neighbor’s room, I went to get my shoes on. Now, you need to understand that I received at least a half-dozen emails prior to getting on the ship telling me to bring shoes that cover my whole feet, because anything else will not be allowed outside of the stateroom. Well, when I went to get my shoes on, so that I could walk down the hall to the neighbor’s stateroom, so that I could get into the bathroom, I realize the drawer had locked!! Without shoes, I couldn’t leave my room, and I couldn’t unlock the head! So I poked my head out of my room until someone walked by and I asked for help. The Chief Scientist showed me how to unlock the head with a penny, but we had no luck unlocking my shoes.

Question of the Day: The name of the ship I am on is the “R/V RONALD H. BROWN.” This question has two parts: 1. What does R/V stand for, and 2. Who is Ronald H. Brown?

Keep in touch,
Jennifer