Eric Heltzel, October 19, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific
Date: October 19, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Temperature: 25.5 degrees C
Clouds cover: 6/8, stratus, altocumulus
Visibility: 12 nm
Wind direction: 245 degrees
Wind speed: 13kts.
Wave height: 3 – 5’
Swell wave height: 3 – 5’
Seawater Temperature: 28.7 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 1005 mb
Relative Humidity: 82%

Science and Technology Log 

Sailing on the RONALD H. BROWN as a NOAA Teacher at Sea has been an opportunity to experience scientific research first hand.  I have been impressed by the commitment to excellence exhibited by all members of the scientific teams.  They have undertaken the design and logistical challenges of the Stratus 6 cruise with great attention to detail, absolute commitment to execution of the plan, and countless hours of effort.  Tasks were carried out with a high degree of professionalism and in good humor.

The officers and crew of the BROWN were not only generous and considerate, they were very competent.  People knew their jobs and did them without complaint.  There seems to be an enthusiasm for the research that the ship facilitates.  Throughout the cruise I felt confident that the ship was in good hands.

Going to sea for the first time has been a challenge for me.  As with many things that push us outside our comfort zone and away from the familiar, learning is fast paced and intense.  This will be my last log from the RONALD H. BROWN.  I wish to thank the Teacher at Sea program of NOAA for making this experience possible.  Thanks to Captain Tim Wright and the officers and crew of the BROWN for helping this previously land-locked teacher from Wyoming have a great experience.  Special thanks to Dr. Bob Weller and the team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for taking me under their wings and answering my numerous questions.  Thanks to Peggy Decaria for substituting for me in my classes at Evanston High School.  I never would have been able to have this experience if not for the support of Superintendent Dennis Wilson and all of Uinta County School District #1.  I’m going back to school with a rich experience to share, new resources to facilitate my teaching, and many new ideas.  Thanks to you all.

Eric Heltzel, October 18, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific
Date: October 18, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Temperature: 25.5 degrees C
Clouds cover: 6/8, stratus, altocumulus
Visibility: 12 nm
Wind direction: 245 degrees
Wind speed: 13kts.
Wave height: 3 – 5’
Swell wave height: 3 – 5’
Seawater Temperature: 28.7 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 1005 mb
Relative Humidity: 82%

Science and Technology Log 

Rodrigo Castro and Carolina Cisternas are research technicians from the University of Concepcion in Concepcion, Chile.  They joined the cruise at Panama City and have been taking ocean water samples every 60 nm.  Their samples are run through 0.7 and 0.2 micron filters.  They capture and freeze particulate organic mater by this process and take it back to the lab at the university.  The samples are analyzed for the presence of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen.  These samples are then used as biomarkers to help determine the circulation of ocean water.  A second analysis will be going on to locate the gene associated with nitrogen-fixing organisms.  This is new ground for the scientists at the university.

Upwellings are areas where deep ocean water comes to the surface.  According to Rodrigo and Carolina there are four significant areas of upwelling along the Chilean coast. The two most northerly are found at 20 degrees south and 24 degrees south.  These are active year round and are slow and steady with no significant seasonal fluctuation. Another at 30 degrees south is moderate in nature with some seasonal variation, being more active during the summer.  The most southerly is at 36 degrees south and is strong September to April. However it mostly disappears the rest of the year. Upwelling zones are recognizable because of their cooler water temperature.  They also have increased nutrients that are brought up from the deep and a higher amount of chlorophyll due to increased photosynthetic activity.  Some fish species are found in greater abundance in these zones due to increased nutrients extending into more food availability.

Personal Log 

The RONALD H. BROWN is under way. We are steaming in an easterly heading on the leg of the cruise that will take us to Arica, Chile.  It is a bit of a challenge for me, as we are no longer headed into the direction of the swells; instead, we are crossing them at a 30-degree angle, which makes for more oscillations in the movement of the ship.  My tummy is being challenged.

Eric Heltzel, October 14, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific
Date: October 14, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge
Temperature: 19 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 1016 mb
Relative Humidity: 70%
Clouds cover: 8/8, stratocumulus
Visibility: 12 nm
Wind direction: 120 degrees
Wind speed: 16kts.
Wave height: 3 – 4’
Swell wave height: 4 – 5’
Swell direction: 120 degrees
Seawater Temperature: 18.3 degrees C
Salinity: 35 parts per thousand
Ocean depth: 4364 meters

Science and Technology Log 

A big day today! We managed to deploy the Stratus 5 buoy.  It was basically the reverse of our retrieval. The buoy was tipped up 45 degrees and the top 35 meters of instruments were hooked together.  Next the mooring was attached to the buoy and it was placed in the water with a crane. This phase was done off of the portside of the fantail.  We held the wire that was attached to the buoy and let it swing out behind the ship.  Then using a large winch we would play out more of the cable, stop, secure the line, and then attach the next instrument.  Consider the fact that if we were to lose hold of the mooring we could lose the whole works into 4000 + meters of ocean water.  It’s not like working on land where if you drop something, you say whoops and pick it up again.  If that happens on the ship the thing you drop may well go over the side.  Serious Whoops!

Once all of the instruments were attached we started paying out nylon and polypropylene line. This was accomplished by using an H-bit to run the line through.  The line was in 4’ x 4’ x 4’ boxes and trailed out into the ocean as the ship moved forward at just over one knot. When we got to the end of the line it was time to attach the new acoustic releases so that this buoy can be recovered next year.  Then it was time for the big splash. The mooring was attached to the anchor which was made up of three iron disks, twelve inches thick and three feet in diameter.  The anchor’s weight is 9000 pounds. The anchor was sitting on a steel plate and the stern of the fantail.  A crane picked up the forward edge of the plate and tipped the anchor into the ocean.  The splash from the six-foot drop to the water went twenty feet in the air.  The anchor started the trip to the bottom dragging all of the mooring and the buoy.  The falling anchor pulled the buoy at about four knots towards the anchor location.  Excited cheers went up on the fantail. The Stratus 5 buoy had been successfully deployed!

Instruments Deployed (top 450 meters)

Deployed on the mooring line beneath the buoy: MICRO CAT temperature, salinity SEA CAT temperature, salinity Brancker temperature, salinity VMCM direction, velocity of water flow NORTEK acoustic Doppler current profiler T-POD   temperature logging device SONTEK acoustic Doppler current meter RDI ADCP acoustic Doppler current profiler (125 m) SDE 39 temperature logging device Acoustic release just above the anchor

On the buoy: (this information is transmitted 4 times a day) Atmospheric pressure, Air temperature, Wind speed and direction, Relative humidity, Precipitation, Long wave radiation, Short wave radiation, Sea surface temperature and salinity.

You may notice that many of the instruments on the mooring measure the same thing.  This redundancy is intentional guaranteeing verifiable data.  There are two complete meteorological systems on the buoy.

Response to Student Questions 

Does the stratus layer extend to the land?

After questioning the senior scientists about this the answer is yes.  We are at about 20 degrees south. Here there is a daily fluctuation in the cloud cover.  It often dissipates during the afternoon as a result of warming by the sun.  Apparently the coast of northern Chile often has a cloud layer that also dissipates during the day.  This can be low-lying enough to be fog. As you travel a few miles inland and up in elevation you are no longer under the stratus layer.

Does the stratus layer affect El Nino?

Ocean and atmosphere constantly influence each other.  I have to do more inquiry to give a solid answer to this question.

Note: There is some confusion about the labels being used for the buoy and the cruise.  This is the sixth Stratus Project cruise which is deploying the fifth Stratus buoy.  Hence, the Stratus 6 cruise is recovering the Straus 4 buoy and deploying the Stratus 5 buoy.

Eric Heltzel, October 13, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific
Date: October 13, 2005

A small boat is launched in order to get to the stratus buoy
A small boat is launched in order to get to the Stratus buoy

Weather Data from Bridge

Temperature: 25.5 degrees C
Clouds cover: 6/8, stratus, altocumulus
Visibility: 12 nm
Wind direction: 245 degrees
Wind speed: 13kts.
Wave height: 3 – 5’
Swell wave height: 3 – 5’
Seawater Temperature: 28.7 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 1005 mb
Relative Humidity: 82%

Science and Technology Log 

We are holding on station today as the data from the Stratus 4 buoy is downloaded and analyzed. I helped out on the fantail for a couple of hours today.  We were rearranging the positions of the Stratus 4 and 5 buoys. These are large, heavy devices that can only be moved by crane and winches. The buoy waiting for deployment is now on the portside of the fantail, is strapped down, activated, and awaiting deployment.  The buoy we retrieved yesterday is tucked in next to the starboard side crane. This doesn’t sound like a big thing, but each buoy is very heavy and the deck is moving up and down six feet and rocking side to side every few seconds. We go slowly and are very deliberate.

Sean Whelan attaches a line to the buoy
Sean Whelan attaches a line to the buoy

Jeff Lord is setting up for deployment of the Stratus 5 buoy and its array of instruments.  The buoy will be launched, followed by the mooring and its attached instruments, and lastly the 9000-pound anchor will be deployed over the stern of the ship.  Before this a Sea Beam survey of the ocean floor has to be accomplished to help Dr. Weller choose the site of the Straus 5 deployment.  I am continuously amazed by the thorough planning that has been done for this venture.

Personal Log 

I’m sitting on the foredeck of the BROWN as I write this entry. It’s once again a partly sunny day and I am sitting out of the wind enjoying the sunshine. I realize that I haven’t seen a jet contrail since we crossed the equator. Yesterday I did see a whale spout at about of a quarter mile out and there was a fishing boat about four miles away.  Except for a few birds the view is of ocean and sky.  We had an abandon-ship drill Tuesday and the captain announced that the nearest land is some Argentine islands over 400 miles away.  We are out there.

Glass balls attached to the buoy
Glass balls attached to the buoy
The buoy is retrieved for maintenance
The buoy is retrieved for maintenance

Eric Heltzel, October 11, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific
Date: October 11, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Temperature: 25.5 degrees C
Clouds cover: 6/8, stratus, altocumulus
Visibility: 12 nm
Wind direction: 245 degrees
Wind speed: 13kts.
Wave height: 3 – 5’
Swell wave height: 3 – 5’
Seawater Temperature: 28.7 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 1005 mb
Relative Humidity: 82%

Science and Technology Log 

The throbbing heart of the RONALD H. BROWN is the engine room and the associated systems.  Last night Assistant Engineer Wayne Smith gave me a tour.  I was impressed with the complexity and effectiveness of the systems.

The core of the power is six Caterpillar diesel engines.  These function as electric generators for the ship’s systems.  The three largest of these are dedicated to the propulsion of the ship. The ship is propelled and maneuvered by two aft thrusters and one bow thruster. The thrusters are propellers that have the ability to be rotated 360 degrees. Each thruster is driven by and independent Z-Drive that is actuated by an electric motor and shaft.  Under normal sailing only the two aft thrusters are in use.  The bow thruster is engaged when the ship is maneuvering into dock or holding a position.  As I write, we are holding position 0.25 nautical miles from the Stratus buoy.  By engaging the Dynamic Positioning System a location for the ship is established via GPS and a computer controls the direction and rpm of the thrusters.  This allows the BROWN to hold a position without having to drop anchor.  I was surprised to learn that this ship has no rudder—it is steered via the Z-Drive of the thrusters.

Since the BROWN is a research vessel it has on board many sophisticated electronic instruments.  The current running through its wires is like our household current, about 115 volts.  Because of the sensitive nature of some of the equipment there are outlets labeled “clean power”. This current runs through a secondary motor which ensures that there will be no power spikes that could damage electronic equipment.

Ventilation is very important and there are several air conditioning systems that control the temperature in most of the ship.  Different areas have independent thermostats so the ship is quite comfortable.  The science labs are generally kept quite cool.  Freshwater is supplied by using heat from the engines to evaporate seawater.  The condensed steam is run through bromine filters to ensure no bacteria in the water tanks.  The water is extremely soft, having no salts in it.  Wayne chuckled at the idea of people buying bottled water to drink on ship because the water provided is as pure as water gets.

The NOAA research vessel RONALD H. BROWN was launched in 1997.  It is the largest ship in the fleet and provides a state of the art research platform.  The versatility and capabilities of this ship and expertise of the crew allow up to 59 people to sail for extended periods of time and perform sophisticated oceanographic and atmospheric research.  I feel privileged to be along on the Stratus 6 cruise.

Personal Log

Wow! I can see my shadow.  This is cause for staying out on deck. We have been sailing under overcast skies since we crossed the equator.  I’m sitting out on the bench on the 03 deck beneath the Bridge. There’s a breeze blowing from the southeast but I’m comfortable in a light jacket and shorts.  It has been a surprise to be traveling in tropical waters with overcast skies and cool temperatures.  It makes me realize that we get a lot of sunny days in Wyoming.

At 1415 today we had a meeting outlining the program for tomorrow.  Jeff Lord from WHOI is coordinating the buoy recovery program.  He is very organized and has gone through step by step how it will be done.  It will be a very interesting, very busy day tomorrow.  It is very important to the success of this cruise that we recover all of the instruments and buoy safely.  At 0640 the acoustic release will be activated and the floats attached to the mooring will be released from the anchor.  The depth here is 4400 m and it will take the floats about 40 minutes to reach the surface.  This will be a major operation involving everyone on the ship.

Eric Heltzel, October 9, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific
Date: October 9, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Temperature: 25.5 degrees C
Clouds cover: 6/8, stratus, altocumulus
Visibility: 12 nm
Wind direction: 245 degrees
Wind speed: 13kts.
Wave height: 3 – 5’
Swell wave height: 3 – 5’
Seawater Temperature: 28.7 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 1005 mb
Relative Humidity: 82%

Science and Technology Log 

After Dr. Lundquist and I have a successful radiosonde launch we return to the computer terminal and watch the measurement data come in.  My favorite display is a color-coded graph showing temperature, dew point, and relative humidity graphed against the altitude of the radiosonde. The main area of study is taking place where we are in the eastern Pacific off the coast of northern Chile.  In this area there is a large, semi-permanent layer of stratus clouds.  The effects these clouds have on the ocean temperature, and vice versa, is one of the reasons for choosing this area to study.

As the balloon ascends from the ship the temperature cools at the dry adiabatic rate. The dew point goes down but not as rapidly.  Usually at an elevation of about  600 meters the dew point and temperature intersect.  On the same screen green line showing relative humidity hits 100% as we would expect.  This marks the base of the cloud layer.

As the radiosonde ascends another 200 to 400 meters the temperature shoots way up, as much as 8 degrees C.  This indicates the top on the cloud layer where the sun is shining brightly. As the balloon continues to ascend the temperature once again cools consistently at the dry adiabatic rate.  It’s about negative forty degrees C at an altitude of 20 kilometers.  In this part of the atmosphere the relative humidity approaches zero and the dew point stays well below the air temperature.  This suggests the upper air is descending and is stable. The bottom 800 meters is referred to as a marine boundary layer.

Despite the constant cloud cover there is very little precipitation in this area.  Temperatures at the ocean level are surprisingly cool as evidenced my most of the crew wearing long pants and jackets or sweatshirts.  Atmospheric and oceanic data in this area are very sparse. One goal of the Stratus Project is to gather more information so we can better understand the interrelationships between ocean and atmosphere.

Personal log

As I write this I am on my watch in the main science lab.  I’m preparing to launch a Drifter in about 15 minutes and I will launch a weather balloon at 13:00.  It’s really fun to throw things into the ocean and release balloons into the atmosphere and see where they go.

Our ETA at the Stratus mooring site is 17:30.  We are approaching the end of southerly leg of our cruise. There are about six days of work scheduled at the buoy site.  It should be interesting.

Eric Heltzel, October 8, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific
Date: October 8, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Temperature: 25.5 degrees C
Clouds cover: 6/8, stratus, altocumulus
Visibility: 12 nm
Wind direction: 245 degrees
Wind speed: 13kts.
Wave height: 3 – 5’
Swell wave height: 3 – 5’
Seawater Temperature: 28.7 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 1005 mb
Relative Humidity: 82%

Science and Technology Log 

I’ve been working with the meteorological team from NOAA in Boulder, Colorado. I’ve been teamed with Dr. Jessica Lundquist to manage the 13:00 weather balloon launch. Balloons are launched four times a day at intervals of six hours.  A balloon carries an instrument called a radiosonde to a height often exceeding 20 kilometers.  Eventually the balloon ruptures and the instrument and spent balloon fall to earth.

When preparing a radiosonde we take the battery pack and add water to activate it. As the battery is soaking, the sonde is attached to the computer interface/radio receiver, and it is activated and calibrated.  It is necessary to have real-time weather measurements to input into the sonde so it has a comparison to ensure accuracy.  A radio transmitting frequency is selected then the sonde is detached from the interface and attached to the battery.  While it is still in the lab, we make sure that data is being transmitted.  If all of this goes correctly the radiosonde is set to launch.

We take the activated radiosonde out to the staging bay, which looks a bit like a garage. There are two overhead doors, a workbench, and bottles of helium.  We inflate the balloon with helium to a diameter of about five feet.  When it is inflated we close the balloon with a zip-tie, then attach the radiosonde by its hook, and close it with another zip-tie. We call the Bridge and let them know we are about to launch a balloon.

Now comes the tricky part, walking out on the fantail of the rolling ship carrying a large balloon in one hand and the radiosonde in the other.  Today there 16-knot winds coming from the SE and a wind generated by the ship’s speed of an additional 10 knots from due south.  To complicate matters further, the superstructure of the ship blocks the wind and creates erratic eddies. We check the wind direction and decide on which corner of the fantail will give us the cleanest launch.  Walking aft, the balloon is buffeted by the wind. It pulls and pushes you in various directions while you try to maintain balance on the heaving deck.  When you reach the railing, you hold your hands out and release the balloon and radiosonde. If it clears the A frame and the other equipment you stand and watch your balloon ascend until it enters the cloud layer and disappears.  We call the Bridge and let them know the balloon is away.

Now we return to the Lab to check that our sonde is sending out data.  Measurements of temperature, relative humidity, and atmospheric pressure are taken and sent back every two seconds. The GPS tracking device allows us to know wind speed, wind direction, altitude, and location of the radiosonde.  The measurements of temperature and relative humidity allow the computer to calculate the dew point.  Data streams in until the balloon reaches an elevation where the atmospheric pressure of  about 30, the balloon fails and the radiosonde falls to earth. Tomorrow: More about radiosonde information.

Questions to Consider 

-What is an eddy?

-What will happen to the volume of the balloon as it rises in the atmosphere?

-Why does atmospheric pressure decrease as elevation increases?

-What is the relative humidity when dew point and air temperature are the same?

-What is the adiabatic rate?

-What is a temperature inversion?

Personal log

I am a Pollywog.  Yes, that’s right. I’m one of those slimy little creatures with a spherical body and a tail. At least that’s what the Shellbacks tell us.  A pollywog is a person who has never sailed across the equator and gone through the ceremony and initiation to move onward. Shellbacks are people who have been through these rites.  I made the mistake of admitting that I don’t know what a Shellback is.  I fear that admission will come back to haunt me.  Initiation is approaching. I don’t know what I’ll have to do. I’ll keep you posted.

Eric Heltzel, October 7, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific
Date: October 7, 2005

The adopted buoy, ready for deployment
The adopted drifter buoy, ready for deployment

Weather Data from Bridge

Temperature: 18.6 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 1014 mb
Relative Humidity: 78%
Clouds cover: 6/8,stratocumulus, cumulus, cirrus
Visibility: 12 nm
Wind direction: 140 degrees
Wind speed: 13kts.
Wave height: 3 – 5’
Swell wave height: 6 – 8’
Seawater Temperature: 18.6 degrees C
Salinity: 35.25 parts per thousand
Ocean depth: 4476 meters

Evanston High School, your adopted Drifter is in the water! 

Lara Hutto is a Research Associate II at Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. She and I deployed our Drifter Buoy off the port side stern of the fantail at 19:01 UTC (the time at the Prime Meridian) on October 6, 2005. Our Drifter serial number is 54410.

The sock of the drifter buoy is unfurled
The sock of the drifter buoy is unfurled

To: Heltzel’s Oceanography/Meteorology students:  The NOAA decals you signed were placed on the dome of our drifter.  All of your names and the name of Evanston High School are floating freely in the eastern Pacific off the west coast of Peru.  You should be able to track it on the Drifter web page. Should anyone find it they will be able to identify who adopted Drifter 54410.

Update: the EHS drifter is streaming in data from the eastern Pacific. Check it out here. I can’t access this website from the ship but Kevin O’Brien of NOAA says that data is being sent by our adopted drifter.  Check it out and let me know what you find.

Science and Technology Log 

Drifters are a wonderful tool for gathering information about earth’s oceans.  They have a spherical top which provides flotation and contains the electronics of this device.  These include a temperature probe for measuring the surface seawater temperature and a GPS tracking signal. This device is battery powered and is regularly sending out information on seawater temperature and location.

When deployed a fabric tube (sock) extends downward to a depth of between 10 and 15 meters. This is attached to the floating sphere by cable. The sock reduces the effect of winds and surface waves on the movement of the Drifters.  The data is gathered via satellite and plotted. This helps us figure out movements of the ocean waters at the surface.

An entire person can easily fit inside the sock
An entire person can easily fit inside the sock

Compared to many of the instruments that are attached to the Stratus mooring, Drifters are simple.  They are easily deployed because the unit activates itself once it hits the water.  A magnet is attached to the dome and it holds the switch in an off position. Once the magnet is removed, the switch is activated and The Drifter is on the job.  The magnet is attached with water-soluble glue so once in the water the glue dissolves, the magnet falls off, and the Drifter is activated. The sock is also rolled up and held in position with water-soluble tape.  Once in the water this also dissolves and the sock extends downward. The ingenious design of Drifters makes them very easy to deploy.  These are sent out with any type of ship so Drifters have been placed in many of the world’s oceans. Life expectancy on a Drifter is one to two years.

Questions to Consider 

How might the information gathered from Drifters be useful?

What are some ways that the oceans and the atmosphere affect one another?

Personal Log

My quarters are in the low part of the ship.  I have no natural light to tell whether it is night or day. As I lay in my bunk I can hear the sounds of the ship pushing downward through the waves. Sometimes it sounds like gurgling water, sometimes like something solid is striking the hull, other times like the sound of rapids on a river.  When I’m nearly asleep I imagine I am at home in Wyoming and the sounds I hear are of a raging blizzard outside my window. I go on deck of the RONALD H. BROWN and look at the tropical eastern Pacific waters.  Toto, this definitely isn’t Wyoming!

Eric Heltzel, October 6, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific
Date: October 6, 2005

Eric on the bridge of the RON BROWN
Eric on the bridge of the RON BROWN

Weather Data from Bridge, 07:00 

Temperature: 19.1 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 1012 mb
Relative Humidity: 78%
Clouds cover: 8/8, stratocumulus
Visibility: 12 nm
Wind direction: 160 degrees
Wind speed: 6kts.
Wave height: 3 – 5’
Swell wave height: 3 – 5’
Seawater Temperature: 18.3 degrees C

Science and Technology Log 

The science team from the Upper Ocean Processes Group is busy preparing instruments to be deployed on the mooring of the Stratus 5 Buoy. Each instrument must be physically examined to ensure that it is properly mounted in its rack.  Then these instruments are awakened to make sure that they are working properly. They are hooked up to a computer so that their operation and calibration can be tested.

The Stratus Buoy
The Stratus Buoy

Today I had a look at a mechanical current meter.  These were designed by Senior Scientist, Dr. Bob Weller as part of his Doctoral work at Scripps Institute. The instrument is housed in an aluminum cylinder that is 2 feet long and 7” in diameter.  The canister is water tight utilizing two interior rubber seals. Extending from one end is a 3’ long PCV mast that has two propeller mounts on it. At each mount are two sets of propellers on either side of the hub.  The two mounts are set at 90 degrees to one another. When water flows through the propellers revolutions are measure and the data is stored in a chip inside the canister.  The number of revolutions per given unit of time gives the velocity of the current.  Having two sets of propellers set at 90-degree angles allows the direction of the current to be determined.

There is also a second type of current meter that uses measurements of sound waves to determine current velocity.  Several of these will be deployed on the mooring along with the mechanical current meters.  Using two types of instruments allows the team to compare results.  The mechanical units have been used for about 20 years and they are known to be reliable and accurate.  Placing the acoustic velocity meter nearby will help determine the accuracy of these devices.

Questions to Consider 

Why are all the instrument cases cylindrical in shape?

Why is a “sacrificial zinc anode” placed on each end of the mechanical current meter?

How could the direction of a current be determined using two sets of propellers at 90- degree angles to one another?

Why build canisters out of aluminum?

Eric Heltzel, October 5, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific
Date: October 5, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge 

Temperature: 19.5 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 1010 mb
Relative Humidity: 90.5%
Clouds cover: 8/8, stratocumulus, altostratus
Visibility: 9 nm
Wind direction: 230 degrees
Wind speed: 6kts.
Wave height: 3 – 4’
Swell wave height: 3 – 5’
Seawater Temperature: 19.5 degrees C
Salinity: 34.7 parts per thousand

Science and Technology Log 

Notice that the seawater temperature declined from 28.7 to 18.8 degrees C between yesterday and today. We crossed the equator last night so this must have something to do with it.  I went to Doctor Weller and asked for an explanation:

At this latitude and at this season we are still under the influence of the southeast Trade Winds.  Wave motion generates and moves at 90 degrees to the wind direction.  Now the Coriolis Effect comes into play causing waves to deflect to the left in the southern hemisphere.  That means that the prevailing wave direction is from northeast to southwest south of the equator.

As the winds move into the northern hemisphere wave movement is still at 90 degrees. However, now the Coriolis Effect causes waves to deflect to the right, from southwest to northeast. So this time of year the wave motion in the two hemispheres is 180 degrees to one another.  As the surface waters move apart, deeper ocean water comes to the surface to fill the area evacuated by the surface wave motion.  This water is coming from greater depths and is colder.  This accounts for the lowering of the seawater temperature.  Dr. Weller suggests that this action brings nutrients to the surface which should enhance feeding opportunities for marine life.

Vertical and horizontal motion of ocean water causes constant exchanges of heat energy. These exchanges are between water of different temperatures and also the atmosphere.  Currents, waves, upwelling, evaporation, and winds are just some of the factors that influence heat exchanges on planet earth.  These processes are critical to maintaining global climates.  Dr. Weller’s Upper Ocean Processes Group seeks to better understand these relationships.

Ship Crew Activity 

I went to the Bridge this morning to gather weather and sea condition data.  The Officer of the Deck was LTJG Silas Ayers and the Watch Stander was Ordinary Seaman Phil Pokorski.  The Bridge Officer always has a crewmember with them whose job it is to be lookout to scan the ocean and report what can be seen.  This could be another ship, debris, or whales. The crewmember takes a sighting and determines the distance and bearing. Avoiding collision is an important job for the Officer of the Deck.

While there, the three of us engaged in a discussion of nautical measurements and their equivalencies. LTJG Ayers went to the Chart Room and extracted a reference book.  Here are the values we found:

Fathom = 6 feet, 2 yards, 1.8288 meters

Cable = 720 feet, 240 yards, 219.4560 meters

Statute Mile = 5280 feet, 1760 yards, 1609.344 meters

Nautical Mile = 6,076.11548556 feet, 1852 meters, 1.150779448 statute miles

League = 3 statute miles, 4830 meters

(As in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea)

Being a Jules Verne fan, I’ve often wondered how far 20,000 leagues really is.  Now I know that it is 60,000 statute miles.  But nowhere is the ocean nearly that deep. Phil then pointed out that Verne was referring to horizontal distance traveled while submerged in the Nautilus.  Finally the title of his tale makes sense to me.

Personal Note 

Starting last evening I was hearing a squeaking sound.  At first I thought it was my deck shoes squeaking on the tile deck floors.  Then I notice that even when I wasn’t moving the sound persisted. I was beginning to wonder if being at sea and wearing a motion sickness patch wasn’t causing me to be hallucinatory.  I looked and looked for the source of the sound. I finally asked Dr. Weller if he could hear it and fortunately he said yes. It is the sound generated by the Sea Beam, the ocean floor profiler.  I was relieved to know that if wasn’t just me hearing this sound.

Eric Heltzel, October 4, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific
Date: October 4, 2005

Acoustic releases
Acoustic releases

Weather Data from Bridge

Temperature: 25.5 degrees C
Clouds cover: 6/8, stratus, altocumulus
Visibility: 12 nm
Wind direction: 245 degrees
Wind speed: 13kts.
Wave height: 3 – 5’
Swell wave height: 3 – 5’
Seawater Temperature: 28.7 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 1005 mb
Relative Humidity: 82%

Science and Technology Log 

Today Senior Scientist Bob Weller and Senior Engineer Assistant Paul Bouchard showed me the acoustic releases.  These are devices that are placed on the tether that holds the Stratus Buoy to its anchor on the ocean floor. At the deployment location the ocean depth is 4425 meters (14,518 feet).  The acoustic release will be placed 30 meters from the anchor. Attached to the tether will be 35 instruments placed at a particular distance from the buoy. Their attachment distance will determine the depth at which they are located and will allow scientists to gather data about conditions at these particular depths of the water column.

The job of the acoustic release is to detach the buoy and tether from the anchor.  When we arrive at the currently deployed buoy a digitized acoustic signal will be sent through the water.  The acoustic release will “turn loose” of the anchor and allow our team to retrieve the buoy and the instruments attached to the tether. This is important because some of the instruments contain a year’s worth of data that must be downloaded and analyzed. Another reason is the cost of the buoy itself, all of the instruments, and the cable and line that have held it to the anchor. These things are worth about $500,000 dollars and would be difficult to replace. All of the instruments can be refurbished and used again.

Cornell Hill making a line splice.
Cornell Hill making a line splice.

When we arrive at the currently deployed Stratus Buoy the acoustic release that was put in place last year will be activated.  This should allow us to retrieve the system and replace it with the one we are carrying on board the ship. The acoustic releases we are carrying will be placed in the tether holding the new buoy and will not be activated until next year when that system is recovered. Acoustic releases are also used on drilling platforms and other objects tethered to the sea floor. These machines allow the objects tethered to be freed without the need to dive into the water and cut the line. These are an ingenious piece of technology that improves the safety and convenience of oceanographic research teams.

Ship Crew Activity 

I had the opportunity to watch Boatswain Group Leader Cornell Hill making a line splice.  He took the end of the line around a metal eye that is built with a groove on the outside. The line comes back on itself and Cornell braids the strands into the main part of the line. He has a knife with a spike on it to help lift the strands so he can braid it together.  What results is a closed loop with metal lining at the end of the line.  It’s very strong and is used as an attachment point. I have long wondered how this was done so it was very interesting to see the skillful way Cornell accomplished this feat.

Terms 

Acoustic signal – a particular blend of frequency and pattern of sounds that sends a message through the water to instruct a device to perform its operation. Example is the signal sent to activate the acoustic release.

Acoustic Release – a device that releases a line when given the proper sound signal. Used in the tether system of the Stratus buoy.

Bosun – crew member in charge of deck operations

Line – rope Line Splice – Braiding stands of a line back into itself.

Tether – attachment to a fixed object. This may be a combination of cable, chain, line, or wire. Example is the attachment of the Stratus Buoy so that it  doesn’t drift away.

Eric Heltzel, October 3, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Panama Canal
Date: October 3, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge
Clouds cover: 7/8, stratus, cumulus, altocumulus
Wind direction: 250 degrees
Wind speed: 18kts.
Wave height: 3 – 4’
Swell wave height: 5 – 5’
Seawater Temperature: 29.9 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 10.10 mb
Relative Humidity: 82%

Science and Technology Log 

Today I worked my first watch from 08:00 to 12:00.  I was responsible for being present in the main science lab and monitoring our position and being aware of where the first deployment of instruments will occur.  Since we are not yet allowed to deploy any instruments, it was a fairly slow day.  We did receive training from Sergio Pezoa on how to calibrate and activate radiosondes.  These are the instrument packages that send back information on its position, temperature, atmospheric pressure, and relative humidity.  These instrument packages carry a water-activated battery and are attached to a helium balloon. They are released into the atmosphere at prescribed times and send back by radio the information they gather to the receiving unit.  This continues until the balloon fails and the instrument package tumbles to earth.  Radiosondes are the basis for most of the information about conditions in the upper troposphere.  I’ll be working on the team that launches the weather balloons carrying these instrument packages.

Eric Heltzel, October 2, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Sailing through the Canal
Sailing through the Canal

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Panama Canal
Date: October 2, 2005

Science and Technology Log 

We’ve been in port at Panama City.  The whole idea of sailing from the Atlantic basin across part of the continent to the Pacific basin seems rather amazing. Seeing the locks in operation was fascinating. A tug helped us get into the correct position then four cables were attached, two forward and two aft. These cables were each fed out from a winch on railroad switch engines which were on tracks on either side of the lock.

The engines moved with us and kept tension on the cables so our ship stayed in the center of the lock.  The locks are 1000 feet long so our 274’ vessel could fit in with another ship. Once we were in, the lower gate closed and water started to flow in from the base of the sidewalls of the lock. I was surprised at how rapidly the lock filled with water.  The water largely flows in by gravity so little has to be pumped.  Once we finished going through the three locks we were lifted to the level of the natural lake that acts as a critical part of the passage. This lake, which is filled by the abundant rainfall, provides water to fill the locks and has a navigable channel dredged across. On the western side is the infamous cut.  Here the canal looks like it is a river going through a canyon although it has no current and the canyon is man-made.  The ship descended through locks on the Pacific side and we docked at Panama City.

A closed lock inside the Panama Canal
A closed lock inside the Panama Canal

When I awoke on Saturday the deck crew and engineers were preparing to take on fuel.  This is a ticklish business that requires a lot of attention.  It’s the same principle as pulling into the local gas station except the hoses are 8” in diameter and get bolted together then bolted to the ship. We took on 80,000 gallons of diesel fuel which we will need for the next leg of our voyage to Arica, Chile.  The RON BROWN can hold about 120,000 gallons of fuel. I was pleased that this wasn’t billed to my account.

This morning I went out for a walk around the compound where our ship is docked. This is a military compound with nicely kept grounds but around the edges the indigenous vegetation is showing itself.  There were several pathways up into the trees where I got a sense of what the forest in Panama is like.  “Green” and “busy” are two operative descriptors. In areas along the edge there were several beautiful plants in bloom. I also got to watch leaf-cutter ants carrying there booty back to their nests. These guys travel back and forth along the same path from the tree they are carving leaves from to their residence.  It always reminds me of a safari through the jungle. I also saw an Agouti in an opening. I had only seen photos of this large rodent and I was excited to see one in the field. It was in the 80’s and very humid so I returned to the ship very damp.

Tropical flowers
Tropical flowers

We are preparing to depart on the next leg of the cruise.  We expect to pull away about 17:30 after the Pilot comes on board.  Twelve more members of the scientific team arrived yesterday so we now have our full complement.  I have assigned my first “watch” tomorrow from 08:00 to 12:00.  We will be trained on deployment of drifters and ARGOS buoys this evening.  I also will be helping the meteorological team by launching weather balloons. We’re going to begin the scientific research tomorrow.  Wow!

Things to pursue: Design of the Panama Canal, History of the Panama Canal, and Plants and animals of Panama

Eric Heltzel, September 30, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Panama Canal
Date: September 30, 2005

Science and Technology Log 

At 12:00 local time, we are sailing south towards the Panama Canal.  To portside, mountains rise up directly from the ocean.  Ahead is the isthmus lying low just above the horizon. As I watch the distant skyline, Captain Wright appears on the deck below.  As he walks the decks of his ship, he stops to make sure that I am armored against the tropical sun. He sees that I am wearing long sleeves, a sun hat, and gloves and asks if I have on sunscreen, which I do. He then comments, “we don’t have to worry about looking good at our age.” He looks sharp in his khaki uniform, and those of you who have seen me in my sun clothes know what prompted his comment.  Oh well.

As I scan the sea southward I can tell when the Canal begins because of the silhouettes of numerous ships.  All through the morning we have seen other ships traveling headings that converge on the Canal.  Captain Wright says that usually ships go through in convoys of four or five and the trip takes about twelve hours.  We will be starting about 16:30 so most of our passage will be at night.

I’m sitting on the deck just below the bridge.  This affords me a good view of where we are going. It’s the rainy season in Panama and there are banks of cumulonimbus clouds over the land.  Captain Wright cautions that I should be prepared for sudden downpours. Going through the Panama Canal is an experience I never expected having. I’m very excited.

Eric Heltzel, September 29, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Caribbean
Date: September 29, 2005

Science and Technology Log 

I can hardly believe that this is my fourth full day on board the RON BROWN.  We are sailing southward across the Caribbean towards Panama.  It is so very different from my life in Wyoming.  Outside are temperatures in the 80’s and low 90’s with high humidity.  I’m having a bit of difficulty adjusting to the fact that the deck (floor) is in constant motion.  Walking down a corridor, I must be prepared to catch myself.  I’m a bit slow in finding my “sea legs.”

Yesterday I had the opportunity to interview the Executive Officer, Stacy Burke.  What follows is a synopsis of that interview.

The Executive Officer (XO) is number two, second only to the Captain.  Her responsibilities focus on the ship’s personnel.  She is responsible for hiring crew, solving problems that might arise, and overseeing the wellbeing of the crew.  Commander Burke stands half watch (4 hours) on the Bridge.  When there, she is responsible for “driving” the ship, navigation, avoiding collisions, and executing maneuvers to enable the scientific missions.

Commander Burke has been working for NOAA for nineteen years.  The last six of those have been “at sea.” She indicated that operating a ship is complex and she enjoys being part of a team that works towards the success of the mission.  “Going to sea is not solitary,” says Commander Burke. The crew lives and works together, often for months at a time.  A working cruise has little resemblance to “taking a cruise.”  This ship rarely calls in at ports. Most missions take the RON BROWN to remote locations to enable the gathering of scientific data.

To become a NOAA officer Commander Burke suggests a bachelor’s degree in one of the “hard” sciences (physics, chemistry) or engineering.  Oceanography works if the student focuses on the technical aspects of the field.  She also said, “I have openings right now for Deck Hands.” Operation of a large research vessel requires crew performing many different jobs.

I hope to continue interviewing personnel aboard the RONALD H. BROWN to help clarify what ship life and ocean research are like.

Eric Heltzel, September 26, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

TAS Eric on board, Miami in the background
TAS Eric on board, Miami in the background

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Caribbean
Date: September 26, 2005

Science and Technology Log 

As I sit to write this entry I realize I’ve been on the ship just over 24 hours.  It’s interesting how perceptions change. I can now find my way to my berth without difficulty. I’ve had three excellent meals and can remember the first names of all the Scientists on the Stratus Project team.  It is odd how I can hear sounds of moving water through my wall, intermittent sloshing.  We are under way now so I can only assume that this noise is normal.  I hope so!

Today was a very busy day. We had a lot of equipment that still needed to be loaded onto the ship and then secured.  They have these really neat threaded holes all over the decks and in the science labs that you can put eye bolts into.  These are attachment points for come-along straps that are used to keep objects from moving around. Much of the equipment was loaded on board with cranes that are mounted on the rear deck. We then use dollies and pallet jacks to move heavy objects around.  There is stuff galore. I helped the Deck-Hands move and secure equipment this morning and helped the Science team to move equipment into the Labs.  It was quite hot and humid and fairly heavy work. I felt good to help get the ship ready to go.

When we were two miles offshore we started doing safety drills.  There are three, man overboard, fire, and abandon ship.  Every person is assigned a mustering station where an officer (in my case, the Lead Scientist) checks to make sure we are all there.  Hopefully we will not have to follow any of these procedures for real. (Sorry kids, I’m really not planning on falling overboard)  There were inspectors checking that we did things correctly. We even had to put on our survival suits to see how they fit. These are a lovely red with built in gloves, booties, and a hood. Very becoming, perhaps a good school uniform?

We finally got under way about 19:00 and are traveling in a southerly direction.  I went on deck to watch the sun go down behind a cumulus cloudbank.  The skyline of Miami was backlit with a rosy glow.  I even saw a Dolphin racing along beside us. It has been a full day and a great start to my adventure on board the RONALD H. BROWN.

Eric Heltzel, September 25, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Caribbean
Date: September 25, 2005

Science and Technology Log 

Today I flew from Salt Lake City to Orlando, then on to Miami.  This was an educational experience in and of itself. Having chosen a seat with a view my head was pressed against the window for the first hour. We flew along the south slope of the Uinta Mountains and I could look down on Tungsten Basin where we caught such beautiful Brook Trout last summer.  I could see King’s Peak and the length of the range.  What a great way to connect studies of maps and experiences on the ground.  It was like looking at the best three-dimensional map possible

Having received a degree in Geography from the University of Colorado it was great to get such a bird’s eye view of the places I had studied.  I saw the mountains near Crested Butte and gazed delightedly at the highest fourteeners in the Sawatch Range.  The view changed when looking down on the striking contrast of the light color of Great Sand Dunes National Monument.  A bit was vertical view of the summit of the Spanish Peaks. I could see dikes radiating from the summit of the western mountain.  It was striking evidence of the geologic complexities of these mountains that were once active volcanoes.

As we crossed over the flatter country my interest became more focused on the atmosphere.  Looking northward from over New Orleans I was searching for the remnants of Hurricane Rita.  By this time she had moved inland and was already downgraded below a Tropical Depression. My gaze was drawn to where I thought her center would be and there were tall, well-developed cumulonimbus clouds.  The phenomenon that interested me most was the sight of bands of mid-level cumulus clouds radiating southward from what was Rita’s center. They were in bands with clouds alternating with clear air.  Students, I don’t have a clear hypothesis as to why this occurred.  I’d be curious to hear your ideas. I hope to discus this with the scientists on board.

Speaking of on-board I arrived at NOAA Ship RONALD H. BROWN at the Coast Guard facility in Miami Beach at 1900 without a hitch.  The ship is larger that I had visualized, about 270 feet long and over 50 feet wide.  My berth is one level below the main deck and has no porthole. It is, however, quite comfortable.  I have a small bunk (too low to sit up in, but plenty long), a desk, storage for my clothing and equipment, and a bathroom I share with the room next to me.  It strikes me as comfortable and I am sitting at my desk as I write this first entry.

Tomorrow we sail.  I hope to get some photos of our departure.  So far it looks great!