Wes Struble: Analysis of Water Samples, March 4, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: March 4, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position:30 deg 37 min North Latitude & 79 deg 29 min West Longitude
Windspeed: 30 knots
Wind Direction: North
Air Temperature: 14.1 deg C / 57.4 deg F
Water Temperature: 25.6 deg C / 78.4 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1007.2 mb
Water Depth:740 meters / 2428 feet
Cloud Cover: 85%
Cloud Type: Cumulonimbus and Stratus

Science/Technology Log:

In the previous log I described a CTD cast in detail from start to finish. Now that the CTD platform is on the deck of the Ron Brown the actual sampling process can begin. The CTD has a number of Niskin bottles holding a little more than 10 liters of water each. Water samples from each bottle must be collected and analyzed for various parameters which could include: Salinity, Oxygen content, Inorganic carbon, and others. On this cruise most of the CTD casts were sampled for both salinity and dissolved oxygen.

The first step in measuring salinity involves a careful rinsing of the sample bottles. After a standard three rinses, the bottle is filled and the depth from which the water was sampled is recorded for each bottle.

As a beautiful western Atlantic sunset falls on the Ron Brown another night of CTD's begins
I prepare a water sample for dissolved oxygen analysis after a CTD Cast at 2:00 am
The dissolved oxygen analysis lab station in one of the science labs on the Ron Brown

The full sample bottles are then either taken to the dissolved oxygen lab station or the Salinity lab station for analysis.

A close-up of the amperometric titration apparatus for analysis of dissolved oxygen in one of the science labs on the Ron Brown. A solution of Manganese Chloride and a combination of Sodium Hydroxide/Sodium Iodide is added to the water sample to sequester the oxygen and then when the temperature is stable the solution is amperometrically titrated with thiosulfate.
The Ron Brown off the starboard stern from the workboat
The "climate airlock" leading to the salinity analysis lab. The airlock helps keep the water samples under constant temperature and humidity conditions.
The two Autosals in the Salinity lab. These are precision instruments for measuring the salinity of seawater
A east-west cross-section across the eastern Atlantic Ocean. The eastern US coast is at left. The diagram illustrates north (reds)-south (blues) movement of the Antilles and Deep Western Boundary Current. Vertical scale in meters horizontal scale in 100,000 meter units (100 kilometers)

Wes Struble: What in the World Is a CTD Cast? March 2, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: March 2, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26 degrees 19 minutes North Latitude & 79 degrees 55 minutes West Longitude (8 miles west of Florida’s coast)
Windspeed: 14 knots
Wind Direction: South
Air Temperature: 25.4 deg C / 77.7 deg F
Water Temperature: 26.1 deg C / 79 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1014.7 mb
Water Depth: 242 m / 794 feet
Cloud Cover: none
Cloud Type: NA

Science/Technology Log:

There are four different ship’s stations that are involved in a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, & Depth) operation: the bridge, the survey team, the winch operator, and the computer room. The bridge is responsible to keep the ship on position and stable over a predetermined latitude and longitude. The survey team is responsible for preparing the CTD platform for deployment and securing it back on deck at the completion of the cast. The winch operator controls the actual motion of the CTD platform by the use of a hoist.  The computer lab relays commands to the winch and survey team in reference to testing and sampling depths, and when to start and stop the ascent and descent of the platform. The CTD platform can carry many types of instruments depending upon the nature of the research being conducted. During this cruise our platform usually contained two each of a temperature gauge, conductivity gauge (from which you can obtain salinity), and oxygen gauge.  In addition there is one pressure gauge and a transmissometer (that measures the turbity of water which is an indicator of the phytoplankton), 23 Niskin water sampling bottles, and two Acoustic Doppler Range finders – one pointing toward the surface and one pointing at the sea floor.

The CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, & Depth) platform on the Ron Brown. The long grey cylinders are the water sampling Niskin bottles, the yellow and blue device at the bottom in the Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (for measuring distance to the sea floor) for measuring the distance to the sea floor during descent phase of a cast, the grey cylinders are weights, and the green cylinder is the power supply.
A Niskin Bottle with my Nike shoe for scale
The CTD platform being lowered over the side for start of another cast.
The "downlooking" ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler mounted on the CTD.
The "up-looking" ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler) mounted on the CTD
The Niskin Bottle trigger release. This device is used to remotely close the Niskin bottles at depth
The bridge of the Ron Brown during a CTD cast

     A CTD cast begins when the ship arrives at prearranged coordinates of latitude and longitude. The bridge will announce that we are “on station”.

A photo of the Ron Brown off the coast of Grand Bahama Island

   The survey team acknowledges and then raises the CTD platform and places it is the water at the surface for a minute or two. Then after receiving a signal from the computer operator that all functions are operating within normal parameters the platform is lowered to 10 meters and held there for two minutes to allow the instruments to stabilize.

Here I am starting my midnight to 6 :00 am shift at the CTD computer control station in the computer lab of the NOAA Ship Ronald H Brown
The "brains" of the CTD. This device also contains the pressure sensor.

   After the two minute hold at 10 meters the entire platform is brought back to the surface and the log is started as the package is lowered. The descent begins at about 30 meters/minute and eventually reaches 60 meters/minute. Many of the deep water casts on this cruise were between 4000 m and 5500 meters (about 13000 ft and 18,000 ft) and take over an hour to reach the bottom. While the descent takes place all the instruments are recording data which is stored and plotted in real time at the computer monitor.   When the CTD platform is 10 meters from the bottom the descent is stopped and the first water sample is collected by sending a signal that closes the first Niskin bottle. At this point the CTD slowly begins its climb back to the surface (another hour or more) stopping at designated depths to collect water samples.After the last Niskin bottle is closed at the surface, the CTD platform is brought back on deck, the water samples are removed, and the entire platform is prepared for the next cast.

Here I am on the weather deck in my favorite chair on the ship. I enjoy relaxing here in the sun in the morning after a night shift at the CTD computer station.
Another beautiful western Atlantic pre-sunset. I enjoyed many of these during the cruise.
The early sun rising in the east off the stern of the Ron Brown brings another night of CTD's to an end.

Wes Struble: Science Research in the Bahamas? Sign me up! February 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 27, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26 degrees 31 minutes North Latitude & 76 degrees 48 minutes West Longitude / 9 miles east of the Bahamas
Windspeed: 8 knots
Wind Direction: East by Southeast
Air Temperature: 24.8 deg C / 76.5 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.2 deg C / 75.5 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1025 mb
Water Depth: 3830 meters / 12,770 feet
Cloud Cover: Approximately 60%
Cloud Type: Some altostratus and cumulostratus

Science/Technology Log:

The temperature has become quite warm and it has been a delight to walk around the deck in the sunshine in a t-shirt and shorts (the current weather back home is between 10 and 20 deg F and snowing). As you can see from the photo below the weather continues to be clear with some fair weather cumulus clouds and a light breeze.

A view of the wide western Atlantic off the Ron Brown's bow from the weather deck several days after leaving the port of Charleston, SC
The Ron Brown's wake trailing off into the west as we head toward our first CTD station
NOAA research scientist, Dr. Molly Baringer, Chief Scientist during the cruise, catches up on some computer work and reading in the shade of the bridge on the "lifeguard chair" on the "steel beach" (the weather deck) of the NOAA research vessel Ronald H Brown
A drifter buoy arrives prepackaged and ready for deployment
Removing the plastic packaging and recording the coordinates and serial number of the drifter buoy before deployment
A drifter buoy ready for deployment by Dr. Aurelie Duchez
Dr. Aurelie Duchez tosses the drifter over the stern of the Ron Brown. This cruise is a continuation of a long period of study (over 30 years) of the Gulf Stream and the Western Boundary currents in and around the region of Florida and the Bahamas. This region is of particular interest because of the impact these currents have on the weather and climate patterns of the northeastern North America and Northern Europe. The Gulf Stream current helps transport large amounts of heat energy derived from the equatorial Atlantic to the northern latitudes of America and Europe. An image of the Gulf Stream current from space - NASA photo. The Gulf Stream is the orange colored current that passes on the east coast of Florida and flows north along the eastern seaboard of the US

This phenomenon helps to moderate the climates of those areas by producing milder temperatures than would normally occur at these latitudes. Changes in the characteristics of these currents could potentially have a profound affect on the climates of these regions and it would be of particular interest to understand in detail the nature and interaction of these mobile bodies of water. To study these currents a combination of techniques have been employed. We should all be familiar with the concept of induction – the process of producing a current in a conductor by moving it through an electromagnetic field. This was one of the more important discoveries of Michael Faraday and is one for which we should be very grateful since most of our modern world depends upon the application of this scientific discovery.

Michael Faraday - the great British Scientist

As an example think of what modern life would be like without electric motors or generators. Well, it just so happens there exist old communications cables on the seafloor under these very currents between south Florida and the Bahamas. These cables are affected by a combination of the earth’s magnetic field and the motion of the seawater (a solution composed primarily of dissolved ions, charged particles, of Na+ and Cl). This combination of charges, motion, and the earth’s magnetic field causes a weak electrical current to be induced in the cable – a current which researchers have been able to measure.

A schematic showings the induction of an electric current in the underwater cable by motion of the sea water current (NOAA Image)

The electric current in the cable can be related mathematically to the strength of the ocean currents flowing over them. In addition to the data produced by the cable, the NOAA scientists are also deploying moored buoys below the surface that measure the characteristics of the seawater (temperature, density, etc) and use an Acoustic Doppler array to measure the relative motion of the current.

ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler) and two other types of buoys - image from Grand Valley State University
An ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler) buoy - Image from SAIC
A buoy deployment operation on the Ron Brown. Notice the large orange spherical ADCP buoys in the right foreground on the deck of the ship
These two data acquisition systems (in addition to the drifter buoys and CTD sampling) provide the data used to analyze the dynamics of the currents. As more data is collected and analyzed the nature and impact of these currents is slowly unraveled. Consider visiting the following website for a more detailed explanation:


Wes Struble: The Engine Room, February 24, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 24, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South/Southeast
Air Temperature: 23.9 deg C/75 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.5 deg C/76 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1016.23 mb
Water Depth: 4625 meters/15,174 feet
Cloud Cover: less than 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Science/Technology Log

Moving a ship through the water has come a long way since Ben-Hur was chained to a rowing bench as a Roman War Galley slave. I was interested in what systems powered the Ron Brown and Lt. James Brinkley was kind enough to take me on a tour of the ship’s engine rooms.

The Ron Brown has a total of six separate power units. Three of these are V16 (16 cylinders) diesel engines connected to electric generators.

Second Assistant Engineer Jake DeMello sits watch in the entrance to the engine room

These generators produce electricity to run the ship’s electric motors which turn the screws (propellers). In the past the diesel engines would have been connected directly to the propeller shaft, but in the last 20 – 30 years many ships have gone to using electric motors as an interface between the diesel engines and the propellers. On the Brown at any given time two of the V16 diesel engines are online running the generators while the third engine is held in reserve. These generators produce 600 volts of AC current. A transformer converts the 600 V AC to a DC current to run the ship’s large DC electric motors.

Image credit: nauticexpo.com
This image shows a diesel engine connected directly to the “Z” drive.
On the Ron Brown there is a generator and an electric motor between the
diesel engine and the “Z” drive.

A view of the main propulsion diesel engines of the Ron Brown. The V16 propulsion engines are in the foreground while the Ship Services V8 engines are in the background
Close-up of two of the V16 Marine diesels on the Ron Brown. For scale notice the flight of stairs behind the engines

Most ships have a propeller shaft that exits the rear of the ship parallel to the keel. The propeller is stationary – it can only rotate to propel the ship forward or backward. To turn the ship a rudder is employed which is usually controlled by a wheel on the bridge. The Ron Brown does not have a rudder; instead it is propelled by a “Z” drive. This type of propulsion system is specially suited for research vessels.  In a “Z” drive the main drive shaft from the electric motors comes out parallel to the ship’s keel. It then is joined to a type of “spline gear” and makes a 90 degree turn down. At this point the shaft exits the ship where there is another “spline gear” which turns 90 degrees again parallel to the keel.

NOAA Corps Officer Lt. James Brinkley stands next to one of the V16 "exhaust pipes" from the main propulsion engines on the Ron Brown

The region between the two “universal joints” is mounted on a kind of turn table which allows each of the screws (there are two – one on the starboard side of the ship another on the port side) to rotate 36o degrees. In addition to precise maneuvering, this system of two “Z” drives and a bow thruster, when interfaced with a computer control system and GPS, allows the ship maintain an exact position in the water to within a few feet or better.

The Ron Brown's inboard portion of the "Z" drive. The electric motor that propels the ship is at left. If you look carefully just to the left of center you can see the main drive shaft connecting the motor to the "Z" drive mechanism
The engine status monitor. Notice at the very top it indicates that Propulsion engines 1 & 2 are operating.

The Ron Brown has three other smaller V8 diesel engines that power generators that are used to provide electricity for SS (ship services). This would represent things like radios, heating & air conditioning, lighting, computers, etc. The electricity produced by these three generators goes through two step-down transformers. The first reduction drops the potential from 600 V to 480 V. The next step down brings it from 480 V to 120 V. This is the form that is available to power the equipment throughout the ship. In addition, these three smaller engines and their generators can be used to power the Ron Brown’s propulsion in case of an emergency.

NOAA Corps Officer, Lt. James Brinkley stands next to one of two cable spools, located in the stern of the Ron Brown, that contain 5000 meters of cable each. They are used for long distance towing. For scale Lt. Brinkley is 6'3".

I would like to thank Lt. James Brinkley for the tour and Second Assistant Engineer Jake DeMello for explaining some of the technical aspects of the engines and answering my questions.

Wes Struble: Get to Know the Scientists, February 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 21, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26 deg 30 min north Latitude & 74 deg 48 min west Longitude
Windspeed: 11 knots
Wind Direction: 40 deg / NE
Air Temperature: 21.3 deg C/70 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.3 deg C/ 75 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1021.38 mb
Water Depth: 4500 meters/14765 ft
Cloud Cover: mostly clear with some clouds
Cloud Type: cumulus & statocumulus

Science and Technology Log

In a previous post I mentioned that two of the researchers I work with here on the Ron Brown are Shane Elipot and Aurélie Duchez. Both are originally from France but currently work for a UK government organization called NERC (Natural Environment Research Council). Shane works for the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool and Aurélie works for the same governmental department but is stationed at their branch in Southampton. Both have earned Doctoral degrees in Oceanography.

Dr. Elipot and Dr. Duchez take a short break from their research to answer some of my questions

Dr. Aurélie Duchez attended high school in Nîmes, France until 18 years of age. Following high school she participated in 2 years of of grandes écoles (preparatory classes) held at her high school in Nîmes to prepare her for engineering school. From here she enrolled in an engineering school in Toulon (the ISITV) where she majored in “Applied Mathematics” with a specialty in fluid mechanics. This three year course of study not only involved normal class work but also included three different internships in the following order: A six week internship concentrating on computing, a two month internship in Miami, Florida working on breaking waves, and a six month internship in Grenoble, France studying ocean modeling in the South Atlantic. She remained in Grenoble and after three years earned her PhD by studying ocean modeling and data assimilation of the Mediterranean Sea. She secured a post-doctoral fellowship as a research scientist at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK where she currently works as an ocean modeler.

Dr. Duchez prepares some documents for her research in the Main Science Lab of the Ron Brown

Dr. Shane Elipot attended high school in France until 18 years of age majoring in the sciences. After high school he spent two years in preparatory classes to take the competitive entrance examination for the “grandes écoles” (France’s engineering schools). After being accepted, he majored in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering with a specialization in hydrography and oceanography. During this period he earned two masters degrees: Master of Advanced Studies in Meteorology, Oceanology & Environment and a Masters in Oceanography & Hydrography. He followed these with a PhD in Oceanography from Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California and the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Elipot currently resides in Liverpool, UK where he works for the National Oceanography Centre.

Dr. Shane Elipot monitors a CTD cast in the Ron Brown’s Computer lab during the early morning hours
Data acquisition hardware for the CTD in the Science Computer Lab of the Ron Brown

They are both serious and dedicated scientists who enjoy their work and they are also a pleasure to engage in conversation. I am glad to have had the opportunity to meet them.

I would encourage you to consider visiting the following websites:

Scripps Institution of Oceanography                http://sio.ucsd.edu/

Natural Environment Research Council            http://www.nerc.ac.uk/

Wes Struble: Arrival and Departure, February 19, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 19, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26 deg 30 min MN Latitiude & 71 deg 55 min Longitude
Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South (bearing 189 deg)
Air Temperature: 23.2 deg C / 74 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1013.9 mb
Water Depth: 17433 feet
Cloud Cover: 30%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

With some minor travel changes in Seattle and a redeye flight into Charleston, South Carolina I arrived at NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown at about 10:30 am Tuesday morning – tired but grateful. We left port mid-morning the next day and headed south/southeast. On the way out of port we were treated to a dolphin escort – five or six dolphins surfed our bow wave for half an hour or more. I share a stateroom with another teacher, David Grant. My stateroom  is comfortable and I will be sleeping on the upper bunk – a somewhat tight fit and something I haven’t done since my brother and I were sharing a room while we were in junior high school.

The Ronald H. Brown docked at the pier before our departure

David Grant, my fellow teacher-at-sea, working in our stateroom
A Dolphin escort off the bow of the Ron Brown as we head out of Charleston

The Ron Brown is the largest ship in the NOAA fleet. She was commissioned in 1997 and is named in honor of Ronald H. Brown, Secretary of Commerce under the Clinton Administration who died in a plane crash on a trip to Bosnia. With a length of just under 280 feet the Ron Brown has ample deck space for hauling all the various amounts of materials and equipment needed for a research cruise.  The ship’s captain is Captain Mark Pickett, the Executive Officer is Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Jones, the operations officer is Lieutenant James Brinkley, the medical officer is Lieutenant Christian Rathke, with Ensign Aaron Colohan, and Ensign Jesse Milton making up the remaining officers. The entire ship’s complement is divided up between the NOAA Corps crew members, the merchant marines, and the science staff. For this trip we have approximately 50 people on board including the crew and the scientists.  From the science group there are four of us that will be dividing up the CTD watch: David Grant, Shane Elipot, Aurélie Duchez, and myself. As I mentioned earlier, David Grant is my Teacher at Sea colleague for this cruise. He hails from Sandy Hook, New Jersey which is considered the most northern sandy beach in the state. David teaches a variety of science courses at a community college. Shane & Aurélie are from France (although they both currently work in the UK for the Natural Environment Research Council).

A Coast Guard Ship shared the pier with the Ron Brown
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge over the Cooper River, Charleston SC - a fine example of a graceful Cable Stay Bridge
A view of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from below as the Ron Brown passes under the bridge
A view of Fort Sumter - one of the icons of the War between the States
A mass of sargassum (floating seaweed) - from which we derive the name of this part of the Atlantic Ocean - the Sargasso Sea

After the Brown got underway we had the first of many drills. All of the science crew met in the main lab where one of the NOAA Corps officers, ENS Jesse Milton, reviewed the proper use of the rescue breathing apparatus, the Gumby suit, and the PFD (personal flotation device). When the meeting was over we had three practice drills: Fire/Emergency, Abandon ship, and Man Overboard. Each of these emergency situations has their own alarm bell pattern and all those aboard have particular responsibilities and particular muster stations to which they are to report.

A Fire/Emergency is identified by a long (10 seconds or more) continuous alarm bell. When the bell sounds everyone is to move to their assigned stations. The science crew is to go to the main lab and await instructions. If the main lab is actually where the fire or emergency is located our second muster point is the mess.

A series of short blasts (at least 6) followed by a long continuous blast indicates Abandon ship. When this alarm sounds you are to drop whatever you are doing return to your stateroom and retrieve your PFD and Gumby suit and report to your muster station. In addition to the life saving articles, you should be wearing long pants, a long sleeve shirt, and a hat (to protect you from exposure while drifting at sea in the life boat). For this emergency situation I am to report to fire station 15 with a number of other members of the crew and be ready to load into a lifeboat.

Three long alarm bells announce a man overboard. During this emergency different groups of people are assigned different positions around the ship to look for and point to the person who has gone overboard. When the floating person is spotted, all those on deck are to indicate the overboard person’s position by pointing with their outstretched arm. A person floating in the water produces a very low profile and can be very difficult to see from a small boat bouncing in the waves. If the rescue team has trouble locating the floating person they can look up at the ship and see where all the spotters are pointing. This can direct them toward the overboard person’s location.

Wesley Struble, 3 August, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
July 8 – August 10, 2010

Mission: Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) cruise
Geographical area of cruise: Equatorial Pacific from 110 degrees W Longitude to 95 degrees W Longitude
Date: 3 August 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 7 degrees north latitude & 95 degrees west longitude
Cloud Cover: 5/8
Cloud Type: Cumulus, Stratocumulus, & Cirrus
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 14 knots; Wind Direction: 240 degrees
Wave Height: 1 foot; Swell Height: 3 – 4 feet
Atmospheric Pressure: 1010.5 mb
Temperature: 27.2 degrees C (81 degrees F)

Science and Technology Log

As I have mentioned before many of the buoys in this part of the Pacific Ocean are badly vandalized and some are completely missing. Buoys that have been deployed for 6 months or more often sit low in the water. This is not because the flotation toroid loses buoyancy (although when damaged they can take on large volumes of water), rather it is usually due to the massive amounts of marine life that tends to cling to the buoy and its underwater substructure.

Cleaning a buoy substructure
Cleaning a buoy substructure

When the buoy is slowly lifted onto the fantail work area at the stern of the ship it will be encrusted with barnacles that can add up to an additional 500 to 1000 lbs to the buoy’s weight. Many are attached directly to the float’s surface while others have extended themselves and hang down several inches. Sometimes they have completely covered the substructure. These barnacles create a lot of extra work for the science crew – scraping, cleaning, and repainting of the buoy toroid.

A colorful crab found on the buoy’s substructure during cleaning

In addition to the barnacles one often finds small crabs. Most of these are no bigger than a half dollar coin (although we did find one larger specimen – see the included photo). One of the most odd and dangerous creatures often present hidden in and around the barnacles are Fireworms (see photos). These particular polychaeta organisms can reach up to 20 inches in length and have a diameter about the same size as an average adult human finger. They are covered with a very impressive set of spines and/or hairs that carry a potent toxin that stings and burnstouched. I have been told that the sting is particularly painful. These organisms can get relatively large and at times there can be quite a few on one buoy. The science team has to be wary when they are handling and cleaning a buoy so as to avoid touching these creatures. On the previous buoy we found a total of six.

In addition, we even found one small fish that got caught in the substructure and brought in with the buoy. It is not difficult to understand barnacles attaching to the buoy substructure because we know that ships often will have problems with barnacles on their hulls. But it is more difficult to understand how Fireworms and crabs (which usually inhabit the sea floor) could be living on the buoys where the water is over 10,000 feet deep!

Two Fireworms removed during a buoy cleaning

We have also had more aerial visitors the last several days (probably due to our relative proximity to the Galapagos Islands – which are currently about 200 nautical miles to the east). Earlier today some members of the crew sighted a Boobie and we are now being followed by a small flock of frigate birds. In fact, one of the frigate birds was hiding inside the central cavity of the buoy. It escaped when we began retrieving the buoy line.

SST Tonya Watson prepares an Argo float for release

We just released an Argo buoy yesterday afternoon. There are a number of differences between the Argo buoys and any of the other floats or buoys we work with here on the KA. First of all they are much smaller and lighter (they weigh about 60 pounds, but are precision weighted in order to maximize buoyancy ability. Nothing extra can be put on them without buoyancy compensation being taken into consideration) than the large TAO buoys (which weigh in the neighborhood of 1500 lbs.). Most buoys are anchored to the ocean floor in order to get a constant data return from a particular location. The Argo buoy, on the other hand, is a drifting buoy, like a disposable/portable CTD – it is not tethered to the sea bed but drifts with the currents collecting temperature, salinity, and density readings.

The other main difference is the way that Argo buoys collect data. These buoys are semi-autonomous being programmed to follow a particular sequence of data collection events and motions. When released the buoy begins floating at the surface in a horizontal position. There is a small hole in a compartment at the base of the buoy. This cavity slowly fills with water causing the buoy to flip to an upright position. When in this position the buoy’s antenna is out of the water and is able to transmit data to the data collection center. After a time it slowly sinks to a depth of 2000 meters (over 6000 feet or over 1 mile) where it remains for 10 days. After this period the buoy then rises to the surface to expose its antenna and transmit data, which it does for a period of hours depending on how long it takes to transmit the data. There are many Argo buoys drifting in the Pacific and you can see their current positions and review the collected data on this web site http://www.argo.ucsd.ed

KA crew member Francis Loziere prepares to release an Argo float
Argo float drifting away from the KA

Personal Log

I have been at sea now for just about four weeks and I am starting to get a bit anxious to get back home. Assuming there are no problems or difficulties we should be pulling into Manzanillo, Mexico on the morning of the 10th of August. After being out of sight of land for over a month it will be a welcome sight. It has been a very interesting experience to get up in the morning day after day, week after week, and see nothing but water in every direction for as far as one can see. It took me a while to adjust to the constant motion of the ship – now I take it for granted and don’t really think about it that much. I am curious how I will react and how it will feel when I step back on land and have a completely stable surface on which to walk. The ship seemed very large when I first came on board but as you can imagine as the days and weeks have gone by the vessel has gotten smaller and smaller.

Animals Seen

We had a rare treat during one of our recent buoy operations. While recovering the buoy at 5 degrees north latitude we noticed many fish in the water around the ship – especially off the stern. All of a sudden off the starboard side a small school (10 – 20) of large Mahi mahi started jumping out of the water in arcs as they swam. They did this for several hundred meters, first moving parallel to the ship and then off the starboard stern. A number of them were very large (4 – 5 feet) and a beautiful blue color. It makes one wonder if they are enjoying themselves.

We also have had quite a few birds, mostly gulls and frigate birds, beginning to follow the ship, although I did see a smaller bird darting around the fantail that I could not identify (but it reminded me of an oversized starling).

Wesley Struble, 31 July, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
July 8 – August 10, 2010

 Mission: Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) cruise
Geographical area of cruise: Equatorial Pacific from 110 degrees W Longitude to 95 degrees W Longitude
Date: Thursday, 31 July 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Current Position: 2.25 degrees South Latitude & 95 degrees West Longitude;
Cloud Cover: 5/8,
Cloud types: Nimbostratus, Stratus, & Altostratus;
Visibility: 10 nautical miles;
Wind Speed: 13 knots;
Wind Direction: 130 degrees;
Wave Height: 1 – 2 feet;
Swell Height: 4 – 5 feet,
Atmospheric Pressure: 1014.0 mb;
Temperature: 20.0 degrees C (68 degrees F)

Science and Technology Log

It is easy to get wrapped up in the day- to-day cruise activities that are involved in maintaining the buoy array and the ship. Lest we forget, I wanted to spend a little time in this log discussing the overall purpose that has led to the investment of all this technology, science, and financial resources.

A moment of respite during a buoy deployment operation

This cruise (and many others that follow on a regularly scheduled basis) maintains the TAO buoy array. TAO stands for Tropical Atmosphere and Ocean. The buoy array is located at approximately 15 degree intervals from 95 degrees West Longitude (just west of the Galapagos Islands) across the Pacific to 135 degrees East Longitude (north of the Island of New Guinea). In addition, the buoys are placed north and south of the equator at 8 degrees, 5 degrees, 2 degrees with one buoy positioned on the equator itself.

These buoys measure a variety of ocean and atmosphere conditions: Air temperature, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, and relative humidity. They also measure water temperature and conductivity. The buoys generally transmit their data hourly. Besides the huge amount of information that is collected over time that can be used to study atmospheric and oceanographic weather conditions, the TAO array also has a very specific goal – to collect data to increase our understanding the El Niño/La Niña cycle, otherwise known as the Southern Oscillation.

NOAA Corps Ensign Alise Parrish at the controls of Aftcon (Aft control room) during a buoy deployment

Most people have at least heard of the El Niño phenomenon but, other than knowing that it somehow affects weather patterns, many are ata loss when asked to actually explit. The El Niño is a cyclic weathphenomenon that affects a very large portion of the globe. In its simplest form it is a shifting of warm Pacific Ocean water from the western part of the basin (near New Guinea, Indonesia, and northern Australia) across the equatorial Pacific toward the South American Continent near Peru/Ecuador.

In normal climate years the Trade winds (the Trade winds are easterly winds) and ocean currents (specifically the Equatorial current – a west flowing current) work together to keep the warm equatorial waters in the western Pacific piled up near New Guinea & Indonesia). These warm waters produce huge amounts of evaporation pumping massive amounts of moisture into the atmosphere in this part of the globe. This moisture returns to the earth in the form of the monsoons and rainy seasons so typical for that part of the world.

NOAA Corps Ensign Linh Nguyen catching some sun and reading time during a cool afernoon on near the equator

During an El Niño cycle the Trade Winds and currents weaken allowing the warm western Pacific water to move east across the basin relocating the warm water nearer the South American continent. This rearrangement of ocean water – warm water to the east and colder water to the west – tends to suppress the rainy seasons and monsoons in the western Pacific and brings huge amounts of moisture and storms to the eastern Pacific. Hence, countries, such as New Guinea, India, Indonesia, and others in the region, which depend on the rain and moisture, are left dry and often experience significant drought conditions. These droughts place many people’s livelihoods and even their lives in danger due to starvation and economic loss.

On the other side of the ocean those countries in the eastern Pacific (from Peru north through California) will often have their coasts battered by large storms causing huge amounts of destruction and loss of life. In addition, in the interior they often experience heavy rains in areas that are normally mildly arid. This produces disastrous and lethal flash floods and mud slides. In those areas with little or no sanitation removal, poor or non-existent sewage treatment systems, in combination with compromised drinking water delivery systems can be followed by deadly outbreaks of typhoid and cholera and other life threatening diseases.

With these awful potential consequences, knowing when conditions for an El Niño cycle are in their early stages would be very helpful. The TAO array acts like an early warning system. During the Cold War the United States depended heavily on the DEW (Distant Early Warning) line in northern Canada, Alaska, and Greenland. This was a series of radar stations that looked north over the pole to identify a launch of nuclear missiles soon after they left the ground from the former Soviet Union. The idea being that it would give the U.S. as much time as possible to prepare for the strike and to prepare a response. In a similar way the TAO array is a distant early warning system that registers the changes in ocean temperature and current direction as the warm water of the El Niño moves east across the Pacific. This information gives the countries affected by an El Niño time to prepare for all the possible problems they might experience. The system is expensive to maintain but, much like hurricanes, if you know it is coming well ahead of time preparations can save millions or billions of dollars and thousands of lives.

Personal Log

Mahi Mahi
Mahi Mahi

Yesterday I spent some time with Tonya Watson (the SST) in the wet lab. She explained the operation of the Autosal and ran a few samples. This machine indirectly measures the salinity of sea water by actually measuring the conductivity of the sample. I hope to explain this in some detail in a future log. Later in the day one of the crew members, Frank Monge, caught a very large and brilliantly colored, Mahi mahi. We are hoping to see more marine life as we get closer to the Galapagos Islands. The water will be shallower and warmer and I hope to be able to spot some whales. The weather conditions have continued to remain cool, mostly in the 70’s, with mixed clouds, wind, and sunshine. I am grateful that the cooler than normal temperatures have been the rule for this cruise.

Wesley Struble, 26 July, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
July 8 – August 10, 2010

Geographical area of cruise: Equatorial Pacific from 110 degrees W Longitude to 95 degrees W
Date: 26 July 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 8 degrees South Latitude and 104.5 degrees West Longitude
Cloud Cover:
5/8 with cumulus and stratocumulus clouds
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind bearing: 150 degrees
Wind Speed: 17 Knots
Wave height: 2 – 3 feet
Swell Height: 6 – 9 feet
Atmospheric Pressure: 1016.6 mb
Temperature: 23.7 degrees C (74.7 degrees F)

Muster Station 4 on the boat deck and the Life Raft

The sea has been rough the last several days with large swells up to 12 feet or more that are really causing the ship to pitch quite strongly. The captain has had the anti-roll tanks filled and that has helped but the ship still pitches and rolls quite a bit. I am typing this up on deck sitting at a picnic table because the chair in my room is a typical desk chair with small wheels and if I use it I wind up rolling all over the room.

We are approaching the southern extreme of the TAO at 110 degrees West Longitude. After we visit the last buoy on this line located at 8 degrees south latitude, we will plot a course due east and head for the 95 degree West longitude line (about 900 nautical miles east). We expect to arrive there in a few days after which we will do maintenance on the buoy located at 8 degrees south latitude and then proceed north following 95 degrees West longitude.

The KA skiff

Today we had two emergency drills (as we do every week). These drills are not the same as we have in school where alarm rings and the principal measures the amount of time it takes to get the entire school evacuated. On a ship it is much more complicated because if (for example) there is a fire we cannot simplyevacuate the ship and call the fire department – we are the fire department! With this in mind there is a detailed plato follow every time there is a drill. are three common emergency bell signals and a drill that matches each. Three long bells signal that a man is overboard.this happens every person has a stationwhich they are required to report.

My station is the buoy deck (the aft part of the ship) and my job is to find the person in the water, point to their location, and not lose sight of them. This might seem straightforward, but with the moving of the ship, large waves, and enormous swells (behind which a floating person can easily disappear) it makes it a bit tricky.

Immersion Suit
Immersion Suit

During man overboard there are many people acting as spotters placed at different stations on the deck so that the location of the man overboard is always known. Once the location has been established the skiff will be lowered into the water and the person retrieved. Six short bells followed by one long bell is the signal that means abandon ship.

As with all drills every person has a specific station to which they are to report and has particular duties for which they are responsible. If we were actually required to abandon ship then my first task is to report to station four which is located on the port side of the ship on what is called the boat deck. Once there the officer in charge of the group takes role to make sure all are accounted for. We are all required to bring three things: a life jacket (which you don immediately), your “Gumby” suit (a kind of water survival suit that keeps you warm and dry in cold water), and a small sack containing a pair of long pants, a long sleeve shirt, and a hat (all for protection from exposure).

My job is to deploy the Jacobs ladder (this is the ladder used to climb down the side of the ship to access the inflatable life raft) and bring several large jugs of drinking water. In addition, if no one else is available then I would also deploy the life raft.

A fire drill (or collision) is represented by one long (longer than 10 seconds) continuous bell. During a fire drill I am to report to the mess (with several other people) and act as a runner and await further instructions. Fire drills usually entail some sort of scenario where a mock fire is reported in some part of the ship. There is usually a discussion before the drill to be certain that everyone understands what this particular drill is trying to accomplish. Our first fire drill was designed to have a mock fire on the boat deck caused by ruptured or leaking fuel cans. Our second fire drill was a scenario designed to respond to a fire with a lot of smoke in the galley. These drilhave been a real learning experience for me. They are helpful because they build confidence and cut down immensely on confusion and response time in case of a real fire.

Me in my Gumby Suit
Me in my Gumby Suit

Personal Log

Up till this point I have been pleasantly surprised at how cool and breezy the cruise has been. I expected that the temperatures would be in the 90’s and the humidity in the same range. However, the temperature has rarely reached 80 degrees F (most of the time in the mid to upper 70’s) and even though the humidity has been high the constant breezes have kept it very comfortable. In addition, much of the cruise has taken place under various amounts of cloud cover. We have been at sea 19 days and only a handful of them have been clear and sunny. In fact, it has been much hotter at my home in north Idaho than it has been here on the equator. I have lived in equatorial regions before so I know that this is definitely an anomaly – but I hope it continues.

Early Evening over the East Pacific

Wesley Struble, 23 July, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
July 8 – August 10, 2010

Mission: Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) Cruise
Geographical area of cruise: Equatorial Pacific from 110 degrees W Longitude to 95 degrees W Longitude
Date: Friday, 23 July 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Current location: 4 degrees South Latitude & 110 degrees West Longitude
Cloud Cover: 5/8
Cloud Type: Stratocumulus
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Bearing: 100 degrees
Wind Speed: 20 Kt
Wave Height: 2 feet
Swell Height: 5 – 7 feet
Barometric Pressure: 1015.5 mb
Temperature: 24.8 degrees C (76.6 degrees F)

Science and Technology Log

There are a variety of buoys used by NOAA in the Pacific Ocean. One of the more interesting is the ADCP buoy. ADCP stands for Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler. This buoy is anchored to the sea floor like most of the other buoys deployed on this cruise. The major difference is that the ADCP buoy does not float at the surface but rather is tethered with a line short enough to keep it submerged approximately 300 meters below the surface of the sea. In addition, it is only deployed with the TAO buoys at the equator and not at any of the other TAO buoy locations. The buoy’s name defines its function – current profiling – using acoustic signals (similar to sonar) the buoy provides a profile (or vertical map) of the ocean currents from the depth at which the buoy is tethered to the surface. The ADCP is able to measure both the speed of the current and the direction in which it is moving. Even though the TAO buoy at the same latitude is generally visited more often, the ADCP buoy is visited only once per year. During the visit the buoy is retrieved, cleaned, damaged parts replaced or repaired, data downloaded, batteries replaced, and sensors upgraded (if necessary).

Buoy with newly attached ADCP unit – A
KA skiff at the ADCP buoy

The flotation component of the buoy is a large orange sphere just over four feet in diameter. This float is made of syntactic foam. In general, foam is a mixture of two substances: a gas phase in a solid or liquid phase. Syntactic foam should not be confused with the common foam with which we are all familiar (like the typical Styrofoam coffee cup). Most of these foams are generally composed of expanded polystyrene (a thermoplastic polymer) where the gas phase is air and the solid phase is polystyrene. Syntactic foams on the other hand use other substances for the components.

The ADCP acoustic transmitters & receivers

One of the more common syntactic foams uses small glass spheres 10 – 200 micrometers (millionths of a meter) in diameter. These glass spheres are filled with air during the manufacturing process. The spheres are then mixed in with some type of epoxy resin and allowed to cure to produce the foam. The buoyancy of the foam is affected by the size, number, and wall thickness of the glass spheres. Some of the applications that typically utilize syntactic foams are the manufacture of radar transparent materials, acoustic attenuating materials, and more specifically deep sea buoyancy floats. Our float is anchored to the sea floor with a large (several thousand pound) weight that prevents it from drifting. The material used to attach it to the anchor is very stable and exhibits little elongation under tension, thus keeping the buoy consistently at the same depth. The payload (the ADCP itself) is approximately 1 meter long and about 20 centimeters in diameter and is mounted in a circular well that is bored vertically through the center of the float. The ADCP has four sending/receiving units mounted at the top of the main body. One can see these in the photographs. These units send and receive a 75 kHz signal that reflects (echoes) off the sea/air boundary and returns to the buoy.

When we were close to the location of the ADCP buoy one of the scientists activated an acoustic trigger that released the buoy from its sea floor mooring anchor. Since it was almost 1000 feet under water it took a few minutes for the float to reach the surface. When the buoy was spotted the ship made a slow pass to visually inspect the float and to launch the skiff. The skiff towed a long and very strong line from the ship which was then attached to the top of the buoy. At this point the skiff was brought back aboard. The ship then came about so that the buoy was directly a stern. When all was ready the winch began to retrieve the line and slowly bring the buoy on board. When it reached the deck of the fantail it was made secure and the tether line (that attached the buoy to the anchor) was tied off to a chain on the ship’s deck.

Working on the ADCP buoy on the fantail of the      KA – B

The buoy was then disconnected from its tether line and the line was attached to a large winch and all several thousand meters of it was rolled onto a number of large empty spools and stored on board. While the anchor line was being retrieved the science crew downloaded the stored data from the ADCP and prepared the buoy for redeployment. When the deck hands were ready the process was reversed. First, the tether line was attached to the buoy and it was lowered over the fantail. Then the line was slowly played out. When the ship was in the appropriate position she began to move forward as the crew played out line. When they reached the end of the line a large (several thousand pound) anchor was attached, lowered, and released. This entire process took the better part of a day.

Crew member Nemo McKay & Scientist Will Thompson retrieving the ADCP buoy

Personal Log

I have enjoyed getting to see the crew work together. One can tell that they clearly get along well and appear to enjoy working together because of all the friendly banter that passes between them. I have been impressed with how conscious they are about safety. I have been able to begin participating in some of the work deck activity during the buoy operations and it has helped in my understanding of what actually takes place. It has also helped me to get to know a number of the crew members better.

“Did You Know?”

Did you know that the greatest buoy equipment problem that occurs in this area of the ocean is vandalism? Many of the buoys are damaged, stolen/cut loose, or destroyed. This might be done either out of anger and frustration, for financial gain (the buoys have quite a large mass of aluminum framing and electronic equipment), or by accident. Regardless of the reason, much time, data, and financial resources are lost and consumed in maintaining TAO array in the Pacific Ocean.

Wesley Struble, 19 July, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
July 8 – August 10, 2010

Mission: Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) cruise
Geographical area of cruise: Equatorial Pacific: 110 deg W Longitude to 95 deg W Longitude
Date: Monday, 19 July 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Cloud Cover: 5/8, Cloud Type” Cumulus,
Visibility: 10 Nautical miles,
Wind bearing: 150 degrees,
Wind speed: 20 knots,
Wave height: 2 – 3 feet,
Swell height: 6 -7 feet,
Atmospheric pressure: 1015.5 mb,
Temperature: 24.5 degrees C (76.1 degrees F)
Current Position: 2 degrees North Latitude, 110 degrees West Longitude

Science and Technology Log

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time talking with Senior Survey Technician (SST), Tonya Watson. Tonya was a Cold War Ocean Systems Technician for four and half years in the US Navy, worked for six years at the California State Dept of Water Resources in the benthic macro invertebrate lab and water quality lab, and has been a civilian Wage Mariner in NOAA for six and a half years both on the Hydrographic vessel Rainier and on the Ka’imimoana (KA). She has an Associates of Science degree from Shasta College and triumphs people who have to rely on work experience without the benefit of four year degrees. Her primary responsibility is running the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Density/Depth) sensor array.

Senior Survey Tech, Tonya Watson

Collecting data from the CTD involves lowering a large cylindrical aluminum frame (about 5 feet high and 5 feet in diameter) to a predetermined depth, typically 1000 or 3000 meters (0.6 miles or 1.9 miles), into the sea and slowly retrieving it to the surface, thus creating a classic temperature salinity profile on the way down and collecting water samples for salinity processing on the way up. A typical 3000 meter run takes about 4 hours from start to finish and the CTD is generally deployed at each buoy station and at a number of intermediate latitude coordinates.

Above: The CTD; Right: An open Niskin bottle

The platform has numerous points onto which a variety of sensors and ballast may be secured, such as other current profiling sensors like an ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler), or varied optics. The SST monitors the operation of the sensors (when the sensors are actually operating and collecting data) and handles tag lines (lines that control the horizontal position of the CTD) during the deployment and retrieval of the CTD package and communicates via radio with a winch operator who operates a “J” Frame winch from a control station located directly above the Survey Operations room. While the CTD is being deployed, a NOAA Corps conning officer is navigating the ship from a remote helm called the Bridge Wing. This location permits the officer to observe the deployment and attempt to hold the ship as stable as possible using only rudder maneuvering by watching the angle of the CTD cable entering the water. The conning officer has to be paying close attention to the wind direction and local ocean currents – anything that will affect the position and motion of the vessel, in order to avoid having the package get fouled under the boat or in the screws. The whole operation can be likened to a musical trio – each playing a different instrument but working to play in harmony to complement one another and complete the piece of music: The conning officer stabilizing the ship, the hoist operator raising and lowering the CTD, and the SST monitoring and operating the sensors, while all three continuously communicate back and forth. It is a fine example of effective team work.

Crewmember, Francine Grains, operating the J-hooist during the CTD deployment
NOAA Corps Officer, Sarah Slaughter, at the starboard bridge wing during the CTD deployment

The CTD also has the ability to collect water samples during the retrieval phase of operation. The sensors send back a continuous stream of data during the entire round trip measuring the conductivity, the temperature, and the density (depth) of the sea water. In addition, there are a number of 5L water sampling bottles (called Niskin Bottles) secured to the CTD platform that can be remotely triggered to close bringing water samples back from specific depths (they are left open on the way down to avoid being crushed by the immense pressure). These water samples are analyzed in the KA’s wet lab for salinity (concentration of salt) in an Autosal.

The results from the lab work are then compared to the CTD conductivity data log for the same depth. Because there is a direct mathematical relationship between electrical conductivity and salt concentration, this procedure compares the two outcomes looking for a high level of precision (an effective way to verifying the accuracy of the electronic data). Also, an important historical database can be created for an area of the ocean not often accessible to many scientists, which can show trends in temperature and salinity.

Lowering the CTD

Once the data is collected the SST uses various software to put the file into a more readable and easier to use format, and distributed via DVD and ftp upload to the various organizations referred to as “”customers. These customers are other government institutions (both US and foreign), universities, or even other research organizations. In addition, much of this data is available online to the general public for those that are interested. Besides the typical CTD measurements that are made during a standard run other instruments can be mounted on the CTD platform. For example, sensors that measure water clarity (transmissometer), dissolved carbon dioxide concentration, dissolved oxygen concentration, and more can be added to the frame.

Personal Log

The first buoy we reached was at 8 deg N, 110 deg W Longitude. There were no problems with this buoy so this visit was simply for a visual inspection and this we accomplished by making several passes circling around it. Since this buoy is moored in French territorial waters (it is not far from the Clipperton Islands, which is owned by France) we had to obtain permission from the French government to be able to do more than cruise straight by the buoy. We did not receive that permission until the morning of the day we were scheduled to reach the buoy. During this time a number of the crew members put fishing lines out off the fantail (the extreme stern) of the ship. The buoys appear to attract various small fish which of course attract bigger fish and so on up the food chain. In a short time they had caught four nice size (3 – 4 feet long) Mahi mahi (also known as the Dolphin Fish). I assume we will be having a fish dinner sometime very soon. After the inspection we ran a CTD to 3000 meters that did not finish until quite late at night.

The 8 deg North, 110 deg West, TAO Buoy
Crew member Dana Mancinelli with her Mahi mahi

Animals Seen

I already mentioned that we caught a number of Mahi mahi during the day but during the evening CTD run we had a real treat. Normally a large powerful spotlight is pointed at the water’s surface where the CTD is placed into and removed from the water. During this evening run I joined several of the science members of the crew on deck at the ship’s railing watching squid drawn to the bright spotlight in the water. At times we saw 6 or 7 squid at a time near the surface. They appeared a pinkish red color and were up to approximately a foot long or so. After a while we spied a shadowy figure swimming around and when it came close to the surface we realized it was a small shark no doubt drawn by either the light or the prospects of an evening meal.

Wesley Struble, 14 July, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
July 8 – August 10, 2010

Mission: Tropical Ocean Atmosphere (TOA) cruise
Geographical area of cruise: Equatorial Pacific from 120ΕLongitude to 95Ε Longitude
Date: 14 July 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Cloud cover: 6/8 (75%) with stratocumulus clouds
Visibility: 10 nm (nautical miles)
Wind: bearing 330Ε at 14 knots
Atmospheric Pressure: 1012.0 millibars
Temperature: 24.6ΕC (76.3ΕF)
Wave height: 1 – 2 feet

Science and Technology Log
The last few days I have spent some time up on the bridge of the Ka’imimoana. Ensign Linh Nguyen, one of the NOAA Corps officers, showed me around and explained some of the equipment. They have three general types of equipment available on the bridge which I will categorize as: communication, propulsion, and navigation.

The bridge of the KA

The communications system first includes intra-ship lines. These are mostly carried out by an intercom type system. Each major area of the ship (including each stateroom) is connected to this intercom system by a phone that permits communication with any other part of the ship. The ship also has numerous hand-held radios available for use when one is not near a phone. In addition, the bridge has both inter-ship and ship-land communication capabilities. The KA (short for Ka’imimoana – Hawaiian for Ocean Seeker) also has access to the Iridium satellite platform for communication with land in addition to access to a satellite internet and internet VOIP system.

Autopilot and propulsion controls

There are two types of propulsion on the ship. First, there are four large diesel engines that power a generator. This generator produces the electrical power that runs each of the two electric motors that drives the screws (propellers) located at the stern (rear) of the vessel. While moving through the harbor all four diesel engines are running sending power to the generators. When the ship is out at sea only three of the diesel engines are used. The ship can operate with only two engines in service for power generation but under this configuration the ship will cruise at slower speeds. The KA has two screws: port (the left side of the ship if one is facing the bow or front of the ship) and starboard (the right side of the ship if one facing the bow). Each screw runs independent from the other with separate controls on the bridge. The conning officer (the officer who is in charge of the bridge at any given time) can change course by turning the rudder (the most common way) or by altering the speed (rpm) of one of the screws (without using the rudder). The KA also has a bow thruster (also powered by an electric motor) that is mounted in a tunnel through the forward part of the hull. This thruster permits the conning officer to move the forward part of the ship port or starboard without the main screws driving the ship forward. The bow thruster allows more subtle and precise motion that could be used for docking or perhaps helping keep the ship over a precise location while collecting data at those particular coordinates.

The bow thruster control
AIS screen
The fathometer

The captain of the KA, LCDR (Lieutenant Commander) Matthew Wingate, described the navigation system of the KA as modern but not state-of-the-art. The ship has many redundancies built into its guidance system. Two radar consoles, three compasses (two digital/electronic and one analog), an AIS (Automatic Identification System), paper charts, a fathometer (sonar) and of course, binoculars and the naked eyes of those on constant watch. The radar system is quite fascinating. It has an adjustable range with the ability to scan out to almost 100 nautical miles. The system plots the projected course of the ship and the predicted course of other ships within its range using vector analysis. This information is necessary to be able to prevent (well ahead of time) any possible collisions that might take place if the ships hold to their current courses. In addition, it is possible to set a radar alarm range of a particular radius around the ship. If any object comes within that range an alarm sounds to alert the pilot of the danger.

Radar screen
Radar tower

While I was on the bridge there were three other ships registering on the radar monitor each traveling in different directions. The two digital compasses are mounted side-by-side and their readings (and the difference between the readings) are projected at the navigation console. Above one’s head and not far from the digital compass readout is also a standard magnetic compass. The AIS (Automatic Identification System) is probably the most fascinating device I have seen on this ship. It is similar to radar readouts but provides much more information. First, one needs to understand that when ships are at sea they continuously send out a signal that provides identification information. The AIS receives this information and plots the locations and courses for these ships in addition to the location and course of the KA. All of this information is superimposed on a digital nautical chart that shows islands, shoals, exposed rocks, depth contours, and continental shorelines that can be adjusted for different scales. At the right margin of the AIS screen is listed navigation information such as the latitude and longitude of the ship, course bearing, ship speed in knots, and other pertinent data. Besides the course plotted on the AIS the conning officer also plots out the ship’s course on a paper chart and cross-checks it with the AIS. The fathometer shows the depth of the water under the ship and therefore the contours of the ocean bottom. This information can also be cross-checked with the charts and the AIS to make sure that they all agree. Last of all there is always someone on the bridge keeping watch on the instruments and the horizon verifying what is on the charts and monitors with what they see with their eyes through the binoculars.

Digital compasses

Personal Log

I have enjoyed walking about the ship during the day taking pictures and looking at the various types of equipment on the decks. I hope to describe these in later logs. I was on one of the lower weather decks this morning simply taking in the views of endless water in all directions. When the sun is out the water has a deep blue color with a very slight greenish tint. As the bow cuts through the water, waves and foam are pushed out creating a variety of tints of blues, greens, and white. It is beautiful indeed.
While I was watching, out popped a flying fish! It jumped out near the bow wave and glided about a foot off of the water for about 50 yards or more. When it would hit a wave crest it would boost itself with its tail and go a little farther. I stayed at that location for another half hour and watched many others, some small groups, and several large schools of 50 or more “fly” at one time. The longest “flight” was about 100 yards with the fish in the air maybe 5– 10 seconds. I would not have even thought to look for one of these fish. Like most children I had read about them and seen pictures of them when I was younger but never really thought that I would ever see one. What a great surprise.

Pacific Ocean and clouds
Pacific Ocean and clouds

Being from Idaho’s northern latitudes, the sun only gets approximately 67Ε above the horizon on the Vernal equinox. It has been interesting to have the sun literally directly overhead during a portion of the day. This, of course, produces few areas of shadow to get out of the sun’s harsh equatorial rays. When we left San Diego it was in the mid to lower 60’s but as we have worked or way south (about 200-250 miles per day) the temperature has been slowly rising. I am told that it will soon be very hot and humid so I should enjoy this mild weather while I can.

New Terms

I have learned a few new terms for parts of the ship that might be helpful for future logs. Deck – refers to any floor on the ship. I would refer to the floor of my stateroom as the deck. Bulkhead – this refers to any walls on the ship. I am required to keep the deck and bulkheads of my stateroom clean. Head – this refers to a bathroom on the ship. I have a head that I share with a crew member in the stateroom next to me and there is also a “public” head available on this same level. Aft – can mean in back of, behind, or toward the stern of the ship. Forward (sometimes simply fore) – can mean in front of, in front, or toward the bow of the ship.

Wesley Struble, 11 July, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
July 8 – August 10, 2010

Mission: TOA (Tropical Ocean Atmosphere) Cruise
Geographical area of cruise: Equatorial Pacific (120Ε W Long – 95Ε W Long)
Date: Sunday, 11 July 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Cloud cover: 6/8 (75%)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind speed: 12 knots at 320Ε
Barometric pressure: 1015.2 mb
Air temperature: 18.6ΕC (65.5ΕF) Ocean is relatively calm with 2 – 4 foot seas

Science and Technology Log

Me in front of NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
Me in front of NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana

We left the San Diego Naval Base at approximately (0830 hours) 8:30 am Friday morning (9 July) under a gray and overcast sky with the temperature in the low 60’s. Our original departure date was delayed one day to repair one of the ship’s cranes that had some mechanical problems (specifically it was a problem with the anti-two-block, a device that prevents the crane operator from hoisting too much of the cable up and jamming the cable into the boom arm).

View of the fantail and buoy deck of the Ka’imimoana. Notice the large buoy floats stored on the deck and the three cranes used to move equipment around.

After the problem was resolved to the captain’s satisfaction we pulled away from the pier and headed for the fueling station that is near the entrance to San Diego harbor. Fueling took several hours. First the ship slowly approached the fueling pier and maneuvered in close enough for heaving lines to be tossed from the deck to the fueling team. Large mooring lines were then pulled over and the ship was secured to the pier. At this point one of the ship’s cranes raised a gangway off the deck and lowered it into place between the ship and the pier where it was secured with flexible mounts to allow the ship to rise and fall while fueling took place.

View of gangway
View of gangway

With fueling complete we left the harbor and headed out to sea at about 1730 hours (5:30 pm) toward our first target buoy located at approximately 33.5ΕNorth latitude and 120ΕWest longitude. This buoy is near South Santa Rosa Island, California and is in water with a depth of approximately 1021 meters (3350 feet) and took us the better part of the night and half the following morning to reach. The buoy measures general weather and sea conditions: Air & Sea temperatures, wave height, wind direction and speed (both average and maximum gusts), and atmospheric pressure. The buoy is also fitted with a GPS unit. All of the sensors transmit to a satellite every hour and the data is uploaded to an internet site where there is public access at the NDBC (National Data Buoy Center). The purpose of our visit to the buoy was to replace the payload. The payload is an electronic circuit box about the size of a breadbox. It contains the hardware and software that controls the buoy’s sensors. After the payload was replaced the system was checked by verifying the output three times. After completed we began our long cruise (7 days) to the 110ΕW longitude line. We will begin working on the TOA buoys at 8Ε north of the equator and work our way to the 8Ε south buoy. This will involve repairing some buoys that have been damaged and completely replacing others that have been lost.

Approaching the fueling pier

Personal Log

As I mentioned earlier the ship’s departure was delayed one day. I therefore, rented a room in a hotel for one night in downtown San Diego. As I was checking into the hotel at the main desk the building began to quietly rumble, the counter shook, the floor moved, and the lights above us began to sway somewhat. Those of us who were standing at the counter looked at each other with wide eyes when we realized we were in the middle of an earthquake! Fortunately the quake only lasted for a few seconds and little if any damage was done. Later that night I was watching the news in my room and the reports stated that the earthquake had a magnitude of 5.4 and more than likely took place along the San Jacinta fault – a fault that runs approximately parallel to but east of the famous San Andreas Fault. The next day (Friday) we boarded the ship in the late morning and I helped here and there with loading the last minute supplies (especially numerous cases of ice cream!) My state room is small but comfortable. I have a head (bathroom) that I share with the state room next to me. That room is occupied by the assistant steward, Mike.

Animals Seen Today

Earlier in the day I was feeling somewhat seasick so I went up on deck to get some fresh air. While there I noticed a dolphin swimming about 200 yards from the ship parallel to us. I kept him in sight for several minutes until he final faded from view. In addition, as we were all in the mess having dinner, one of the crew announced from the bridge that whales were spotted off the port side of the ship. I went up to take a look a bit later and could see them spouting – although they were too far to identify the species.