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!

Rachel Dane, May 4, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rachel Dane
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
April 29 – May 10, 2005

Mission: Oceanographic Survey
Geographical Area: Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos
Date: May 4, 2005

Plan of the Day
0400: 1.5N CTD
0830: 2N Recovery and deploy with CTD, AOML and ARGO
2215: 2.5N CTD

Weather Data
Latitude: 1 degree N
Longitude: 95 degrees W
Visibility: 12 nautical miles
Wind Direction: 153 degrees
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Sea wave height: 1-2 feet
Swell wave height: 2-3 feet
Sea water temperature: 27.9 degrees C
Barometric pressure: 1013.2
Cloud cover: 5/8 cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Last night I ended up falling into bed, exhausted, around midnight.  Jim and I spent almost an hour having a super fun conversation about river running in Idaho and the Grand Canyon—I had no idea that he and I were both guides on the main fork of the Salmon River in Idaho!  It was a wonderful talk, and I hope to have the opportunity to chat more together.

It’s another buoy day; today we will be recovering a damaged buoy and deploying a new one in its place. Each TAO buoy is moored to the bottom of the ocean using Nilspin, which is steel cable surrounded by a protective plastic shield.  Old railroad wheels are used as anchors for each buoy in the array.  The Nilspin cable is also equipped with sensors at various depths; these sensors transmit data from the ocean to the surface of the buoy. Remember, these buoys constantly collect data on wind speed and direction, air temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, barometric pressure, sea surface and subsurface temperature, salinity, water pressure and ocean currents.  The data is gathered and transmitted via NOAA satellites, and is used by scientists all over the world who are studying the relationship between the Pacific Ocean and climatic changes.

Buoy recovery is a fairly labor intensive process that involves lassoing the floating toroid, craning it aboard, spooling in all of its cable, and cleaning the entire apparatus.  Being submerged for 6 months at a time, the buoys acquire quite a collection of barnacles!  Before a buoy can be recovered the anchor needs to be dropped; a sensing apparatus on its underside is responsible for detecting the “drop anchor” signal transmitted by the ship.  In today’s case, the recovered buoy will be stored on deck until it is cleaned, painted, and outfitted with new instrumentation; it will then be standing by, ready to replace another buoy on the array if necessary. There was some excitement today during operations when the anchor release signal was not acknowledged by the buoy—the ship’s winch was very unhappy about having to haul up the additional 2.5 tons of anchor weight!

Deploying a buoy involves all of the same steps as recovery, but in the reverse order.  First, one end of the spooled cable is attached to the bottom of the buoy’s 2.5m diameter base. The buoy is then lowered into the water and the cable is unspoooled.  Finally, the anchor is dropped. The entire buoy lifting and lowering process is done with the large cranes and winches that the KA is equipped with.

Personal Log

All hands involved in the buoy ops functioned together like a well oiled machine.  There is no doubt that everyone on board is familiar with their duties and responsibilities, and all know what needs to be done and precisely when it needs to happen in order for the procedure to be successfully executed.  It is definitely impressive. Again today, all crew members were more than happy to include me in the excitement, and all were very patient with this rookie sea-goer!  Thank you, everyone!

The weather here at the equator is much less humid than I expected.  In fact, I find it quite pleasant; maybe because there is always a sea breeze blowing.  The inside of the ship sometimes feels like a refrigerator, especially the computer and science labs which are kept cool to maintain the machines.

Teams are made and times are set; let the tournaments begin!  For the remainder of the cruise we will be competing against each other in scrabble, cribbage, darts, poker, and a card game called Sequence.  My first challenge is tonight at 6:30—Fred and I play cribbage.  Personally, I can’t wait to see the dart competition as we rock and roll our way to Mexico!

Rachel Dane, May 3, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rachel Dane
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
April 29 – May 10, 2005

Mission: Oceanographic Survey
Geographical Area: Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos
Date: May 3, 2005

Plan of the Day
0300: 0.5S CTD
1200: Equatorial mooring repair followed by a deep CTD and an ARGO
1845: 0.5N CTD
2345: 1N CTD

Weather Data
Latitude: 0 degrees N
Longitude: 94 degrees W
Visibility: 12 nautical miles
Wind Direction: 150 degrees
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Sea wave height: < 1 foot
Swell wave height: 2-3 feet
Sea water temperature: 26.5 degrees C
Barometric pressure: 1013.0
Cloud cover: 2/8 cumulus, cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

Today is my first full day on the KA’IMIMOANA (KA).  After sleepily answering my 3:30 AM wake-up call and quickly grabbing a hot cup of caffeine, I met Shawn and Jay on deck to begin the first CTD cast of this second leg of the KA’s journey along the equator. CTD is an acronym for “Conductivity, Temperature, Depth”; it is essentially an analysis of the salinity and chlorophyll levels of a site specific water sample. The casts are performed at each 1 degree change in latitude along the entire TAO array.  The CTD “package” consists of 15 cylinders, each about 1.25m high, attached to a sensing apparatus. Based on commands from the deck, this sensing apparatus will open and close the cylinders and provide real-time data of water conductivity, temperature, density and salinity. For the purposes of this morning’s sample, the package was lowered to a final depth of 1000m for sample collection.  Final depths vary with each cast.  Once the cask is deployed, data analysis of the water sample is displayed graphically on a nearby computer—this morning I was able to view a graphical representation of the thermocline for the first time!

Before lunch, I shadow Doc during her weekly safety inspection.  What a great opportunity for me to see the inner workings of this impressive vessel!  After lunch, the announcement that we have arrived at the site of our first buoy repair comes echoing over the loudspeakers, and it’s buoy time!

The equator! For me, it’s no longer simply a line around the globe.  Not only does the equator represent the dividing line between the northern and southern hemispheres of the earth, but this is also the region where Pacific ocean currents are being extensively studied by NOAA in order for us to better understand the relationship between the oceans and climate.  Essentially, the TAO buoy array acts as a 6000 mile antennae that scientists use to monitor ocean trends.

Donning hard hat and life jacket, I ran to the third deck clutching my zip locked camera and climbed into one of the orange work rafts attached to the KA’s port side.  We (Dave, Brian, Chris, Matt and I) were gently lowered into the water by attentive crew members, and off we motored to our waiting buoy, about 75m away.  Unfortunately, this buoy had been damaged by a fishing vessel so Dave and Brian had some repairs to make.  Fish prefer to swim in the vicinity of buoys because schools feed on the growth that accumulates on the underside, and it is quite common for large fishing vessels to tie up to TAO buoys; oftentimes damage occurs in the process.  After the repairs were complete, I was enthusiastically invited to jump onto the mooring buoy, and it was the absolute highlight of my day! Since fish like to hang out by the buoys sea birds do too; this was immediately obvious to me once I had hopped onto the platform and was clinging to the rungs of the tower.

The entire apparatus was covered from top to bottom with dried guano, and within minutes of climbing and perching on the tower, so was I!  Kind of gross; however, this did not prevent me from reveling in the experience of being on the equator and bobbing like a cork, completely and utterly surrounded by water.  It felt as though I had stepped into a completely foreign liquid universe.  Other than our work boat, the only object in the panoramic view was the KA’IMIMOANA headed towards the horizon. I believe that I could have very happily floated on that buoy for the rest of the day, reveling in the vastness.

Once back in the orange raft, our expert coxswain Chris kicked it into turbo gear and off we sped on a high speed chase, in hot pursuit of our ocean home.  Although the KA remained in sight for the entire operation today and although I longed for more time bobbing in the serene, blue stillness of the equatorial Pacific, there was a feeling of extreme comfort in riding to port side of the mighty Ocean Seeker.  Looking up, we saw 10 of our crew members peering anxiously over the rails on all decks, ready to work together to bring us home safely.

Personal Log

On a daily basis, I continue to be amazed by this ship.  So many aspects of life aboard the KA’IMIMOANA are extremely refreshing: that it is a floating home that operates so efficiently through the patience, teamwork and cooperation of all hands, that a hallway passing almost always evolves into a friendly conversation, and that crew members are consistently willing to share their knowledge and experience with me and excitedly teach new information.

Despite my best intentions and despite a 4.5 mile run on the treadmill, I was not able to squeeze in a rest this afternoon. Now it’s 10:30pm and I’m feeling exhausted, but too overwhelmed to sleep.  This evening I studied the Southern Cross and surrounding constellations with Don. Although I live at the Grand Canyon and regularly study extremely impressive night skies, the stars here rival what I’ve become accustomed to at home.  Thanks to Jimbo’s call I watched over 100 squid swarming on our starboard side, and kudos to Tony–his expert fishing skills have ensured that we will all enjoy fresh calamari tomorrow night!  Matt was the first person to introduce me to an actual example of bioluminescence tonight, visible in the ship’s wake; thank you, Matt, it was so incredibly cool! I definitely plan on taking him up on his offer for me to borrow the “Blue Planet” series to learn more about deep ocean luminescence.  So, brimming with curiosity and excitement, I look forward to the gentle rocking of the ship once I tumble into my bunk later this evening.

Rachel Dane, May 2, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rachel Dane
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
April 29 – May 10, 2005

Mission: Oceanographic Survey
Geographical Area: Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos
Date: May 2, 2005

Science and Technology Log

Today is the big day—my first day at sea! I am excited and nervous at the same time; with no experience sailing my main hope is that sea legs will develop quickly for me!  As Academy Bay receded behind us I was a bit wistful at having to leave the Galapagos with so much left unexplored, but I am phenomenally happy to have had the experience to travel here and truly hope to return someday.

Much of my afternoon was spent picking the brain of Patrick Rafter, our Ph.D. student from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Patrick boarded the KA in San Diego at the start of this cruise, and is amazingly knowledgeable about marine chemistry.  He is also super patient with all of my questions, and very fun to chat with! You rock, Patrick! I basically asked him for a crash course in oceanic interactions, and this is what he taught me—too cool!

Essentially, the ocean can be viewed as the shallow, warm “mixed layer” at the surface and the deep, cold ocean. The dividing line between these two is called the thermocline, and it is the level at which a rapid change in water temperature occurs. Think about it as a multi-layered cake, with each water layer maintaining a fairly unique and consistent salinity, density and water temperature.  Generally, the mixed layer at the surface is the warmest.  In the equatorial pacific this surface layer has a depth of about 100m, and it is this first layer of oceanic cake that NOAA is most interested in studying.  Normally, the thermocline that divides the high warm layer from the lower cold layer maintains a gradually increasing easterly slope.  Under normal conditions, there is also less convection occurring and less wind is present.  However, under El Nino conditions the dividing line between the two layers becomes more level, creating a deeper, warmer top layer. This increase in depth of the top layer affects marine interactions in several ways.  First, a much larger percentage of surface water is warmer.  Second, more convection is occurring due to the warmer water temperature, and third, more wind is present.  One of the major uncertainties that TAO project data is attempting to explain is the cause of this thermocline change.

Personal Log

After a long Monday and a fabulous shrimp dinner, I feel quite tired and ready to call it a day. Tomorrow, Joe will set up my ship email account; I am really looking forward to being in touch with friends and loved ones at home, and also communicating with my students! It pleases me to report that, surprisingly, my stomach feels more settled at sea then it did when we were anchored in the Bay!  I’m not feeling 100% yet, but definitely well enough to give the treadmill a try tomorrow—and maybe I can even skip the Dramamine… Until tomorrow!

Rachel Dane, May 1, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rachel Dane
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
April 29 – May 10, 2005

Mission: Oceanographic Survey
Geographical Area: Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos
Date: May 1, 2005

Personal Log

Following 16 hours of travel that brought me to Guayquil, Ecuador, a 2 hour flight has transported me to the northernmost tip of Baltra Island in the Galapagos.  The Galapagos Islands is the name given to this isolated group of volcanic mounds, which consists of 19 major islands and scores of inlets located 1000km west of mainland Ecuador.  From the air I could observe most of the land mass of the archipelago, which covers 7882 square km.  That these islands have so profoundly influenced scientific thought is astounding! The handful of animals that made their way out here have, through isolation, developed into completely unique species without fear of predation.

After a 10 minute ferry ride from Isla Baltra to the northern tip of Isla Santa Cruz, I am driven 42km south to Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the archipelago.  The population of this town is growing (too fast!) due to immigration from mainland Ecuador, and now numbers about 12,000 individuals.  During the drive I was observing the vegetation and wildlife, and noticed many plants with brightly colored flowers ranging from deep red to vibrant pinks and purples. Also present were a plethora of small, lemon yellow butterflies. Soon, Academy Bay was stretching far out to the east, and anchored peacefully in the turquoise water I spotted what was to be my home for the next 12 days: the NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana (Hawaiian for “Ocean Seeker”).

Once dropped off at the pier, I was ferried out to the KA’IMIMOANA (KA) via a local “panga”, or water taxi. I was welcomed by Doc, Joe and Sean (more to come about my crew mates!) and given a brief tour of the ship.  Eager to explore Isla Santa Cruz, Joe and I headed back to the island with our panga.  One of the most popular visitor sites in Puerto Ayora is the Charles Darwin Research Station, which is where I met the giant Galapagos tortoises face to face!  The station directs a captive breeding program for several of the 11 remaining subspecies of tortoise, and I was happy to learn that the captive bred animals are generally released to their home islands when they are about 4 years old.

Tired but elated after spending the afternoon at the research station, I enjoyed a meal of delicious fresh sea bass at a local restaurant.  My first day in the Galapagos closed after the short water taxi trip back to the vessel, and meeting several more of my helpful and welcoming ship mates.  I was lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the anchored ship, and the comforting view of stars from the window of my berth.