Theresa Paulsen: Getting my Hands Dirty with Data, March 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16 – April 3, 2015

Mission:  Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area:  Puerto Rico Trench
Date:  March 24, 2015

Weather from the Bridge:  Scattered Clouds, 26.6˚C, Wind 10kts from 100˚, Waves 1-2ft, swells 2-3ft

Science and Technology Log

Now that the interns have been trained in data collection and processing, it was my turn to learn.

Mapping Intern Chelsea Wegner taught me how to launch an XBT and how to process the data gathered by the multibeam sonar. It is a fairly simple procedure that requires diligent record keeping in logs.  I processed four “lines.” A line is about one hour of data collection, or shorter. Two of my lines were shorter because the sonar had to be turned off due to a whale sighting! This is bad for data collecting, but AWESOME for me! Again, I missed it with the camera, though.

Mapping Instructors
My Mapping Instructors: Intern, Chelsea Wegner; Expedition Coordinator, Meme Lobecker; and Mapping Watch Lead, Jason Meyer.

I have also been given the task of using a sun photometer to measure direct sunlight over the ocean as part of the Maritime Aerosol Network, a component of AERONET, a NASA project through the Goddard Space Flight Center.  Every two hours when the sun is shining and there are no clouds in the way of the sun, I use this tool to measure the amount of sunlight able to penetrate our atmosphere.

Using the Sun Photometer
Using the Sun Photometer

I use a GPS to determine our location and transfer that information to the sun photometer.  Then I scan the sunlight with the photometer for about 7 seconds and repeat 5 times within two minutes.  Keeping the image of the sun in the target location on the photometer while standing on a rocking boat is harder than it may look!

Sun Photometer
The little bright light in the dark circle above my right hand is the image of the sun.  It must remain in the center of the traget circle during a solar scan.

According to the Maritime Network, the photometer readings taken from ground level helps determine the Aerosol Optical Depth, meaning the fraction of the sun’s energy that is scattered or absorbed while it passes through the earth’s atmosphere. The reduction in energy is assumed to be caused by aerosols when the sunlight’s path to earth is free of clouds.  Aerosols are solid or liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere.  Sea-salt is a major contributor over the ocean as well as smoke and dust particles from land that are lifted and transported over the oceans.  There are many stations over land that collect this data, but using ships is also important because the data is used to provide “ground truth” to satellite measurements over the entire earth, including the oceans.  The data is also used in climate change research and aerosol distribution and transport modeling.

Aerosols in our Atmosphere
“This portrait of global aerosols was produced by a GEOS-5 simulation at a 10-kilometer resolution. Dust (red) is lifted from the surface, sea salt (blue) swirls inside cyclones, smoke (green) rises from fires, and sulfate particles (white) stream from volcanoes and fossil fuel emissions.” (NASA,Goddard website)
Image credit: William Putman, NASA/Goddard

It is pretty cool to be part of such an interesting project!  The people here are interesting too.  I thought I’d highlight some of their stories in my next few blogs.

Career Profile of Intern Chelsea Wegner

Chelsea’s story is a great example for high school students.  She graduated from a high school in Virginia that is similar in size to Ashland High School, where I teach.  Her family enjoyed spending time near the ocean and had a library of books about ocean adventures.  Her grandfather served in the Navy on Nuclear Submarines and liked to build models of ships.

Chelsea Wegner reading "My Father, the Captain:  My Life with Jacque Cousteau"  by Jean Michel Cousteau  in her free time.
Chelsea Wegner reading “My Father, the Captain: My Life with Jacque Cousteau” by Jean Michel Cousteau in her free time.

In high school, her career interests began to take shape in her Environmental Science in Oceanography class.   She went to college at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia majoring in environmental science with particular interest in geology and river systems.  She took advantage of a research opportunity studying sediment transport from rivers to the coast during her undergraduate career.  She took sediment core samples and analyzed them to determine human impacts, contamination, and dated the sediment layers.  She took more research courses that took her to the US Virgin Islands to conduct a reef survey, identifying and counting fish.  She described that as a pivotal experience that led her toward her Masters Degree in Marine Science.  Her Masters thesis project was a coastal processes study the potential effects of sea level rise on coral reefs and the corresponding coastline.  She used the connections she had in the US Virgin Islands and in her university to fund and/or support her research.

After competing her Masters Chelsea applied for a marine science and policy fellowship, the Knauss Fellowship, which allowed her to work as an assistant to the Assistant Administrator of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) within NOAA, Craig McLean, for one year.  Through this fellowship, Chelsea traveled the world to places like Vietnam, the Philippines, New Zealand, and France getting a first-hand look at how science informs marine policy and vice versa.

Chelsea learned early on that experience matters most when trying to make yourself marketable.  That is why she is here now serving as a mapping intern.  She takes the opportunity to learn every piece of equipment and software available to her.  She is a rising star in the world of science.  After this voyage, she will begin her new job as a program analyst at OAR headquarters working in the international office handling engagements with other countries such as Indonesia and Japan.  And she is only 28!

Did You Know? 

At 10 AM this morning there was tsunami drill, LANTEX (Large Atlantic Tsunami Exercise) on the east coast from Canada all the way down to the Caribbean.   So students in schools inside Tsunami-threatened areas likely participated in evacuation drills.  The test is part of NOAA National Weather service Tsunami Warning Program.  It helps governments test and evaluate their emergency protocols to improve preparedness in the event of an actual tsunami.

Question of the Day

Gina Henderson: Samples Aplenty, August 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Prof. Gina Henderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
August 19 – 27, 2012

Mission: Western Atlantic Climate Study (WACS)
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Thursday, August 23, 2012
Weather conditions: calm conditions overnight leading to widespread radiation fog immediately following sunset. Ship had to make use of foghorn for a couple of hours overnight. Today, cloudy with possible rain showers. Winds SW from 10-15 kts, with gust up to 20 in rain showers. Seas from the SW at 3-5 ft.

Science and Technology Log

WACS Field Campaign Update:

This morning we reached the 3-day mark for sampling at station 1, which was in the high chlorophyll concentration off of Georges Bank. During these 3 days, we have been continuously sampling aerosols using both the Sea Sweep and the Bubble Generator (see last post for descriptions of each of these methods).

Some issues that have cropped up throughout this time are linked to our extremely calm and settled weather. Although the calm winds have made for minimal seas, ideal conditions for the Sea Sweep, those scientists sampling ambient air have been picking up ship exhaust in their measurements, despite the bridge keeping our bow head-to-wind. However, during our transit this complication should not be an issue and ambient sampling can take place continuously.

Conductivity, Temperature and Depth:

CTD rosette
Conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) rosette after deployment. Niskin bottles can be tripped at different depths for seawater sampling at various levels.

We also took a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) profile using the CTD rosette on the 21st, collecting water near the bottom at 55m and other levels on the way to the surface.  These water samples were utilized by numerous scientists on board for experiments such as, testing for surface tension, biological testing and chlorophyll measurement.

The science plan for today involved one final CTD cast while at station 1, with all Niskin bottles being tripped at 5m. This large volume is necessary for a Bubble Generator experiment that will be run with this CTD water during the transit to station 2.

After the CTD cast was completed, the Sea Sweep was recovered and other necessary preparations for the transition to our new station. While underway for approximately 24 hours, intake hoses were switched to enable sampling of ambient aerosols along the way.

How to sample aerosols?

One of the tasks that I have been helping out with is the changing of aerosol impactors that are used to collect aerosol samples. These impactors consist of metal cylinders with various “stages” or levels (upper left photo below). Each level has different sizes of small holes, over which a filter is laid. During sampling, these impactors are hooked up to intake hoses where airflow is pumped through them and as the air is forced through the different “stages” or levels, the aerosols are “impacted” on the filters.

Filters being changed inside aerosol impactors (upper left). Picture of me unhooking impactors from inlet hoses for filter switching (upper right). Kristen just finished changing filters in a clean box (bottom).

This all seems simple enough…. However can be a little more cumbersome as the impactors are heavy, climbing up ship ladders with heavy things can be tricky depending on current sea state, and 2 of our impactor changes happen routinely in the dark, making things a little interesting at times!

Seawater sampling for chlorophyll:

Megan filtering raw seawater for chlorophyll extraction and measurement.

Another type of sampling I have helped out with involves the filtration of raw seawater to extract chlorophyll. This is done in the seawater van where we have a continuous flow of in situ water that is taken in at the bow at a depth of approximately 5m. This is done with two different types of filters, a couple of times a day. The photo below shows Megan running a sample through one type of filter, which will later be prepared with an acetone solution and after a resting period, be measured for chlorophyll concentration using a fluorometer.

Lots of sightings during transit:

As we headed south during our transit to station 2, we had an afternoon full of sightings! An announcement from the bridge informing us that we were now in “shark infested waters” sent an air of excitement around the ship as we all raced to the bridge for better viewing. Some loggerhead turtles were also spotted. Our final sighting of the day was a huge pod of porpoises riding the wake from our bow.

Pod of porpoises riding the bow wave during our transit south to station 2.
Everyone races to the bridge after an announcement about “shark infested waters!”

Gina Henderson: 30 Days of Science in 9 Days… August 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Prof. Gina Henderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
August 19 – 27, 2012

Mission: Western Atlantic Climate Study (WACS)
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Weather Data: Winds light and variable less than 10 kts. Combined seas from the SW 3-5 ft, lowering to 2-4 ft overnight. Into Wednesday 22nd, winds continue to be light and variable, becoming NE overnight less than 10 kts. 

Science and Technology Log

WACS Field Campaign Update

Greetings from Georges Bank off the coast of New England! This is our first of 2 sampling stations during the Western Atlantic Climate Survey (WACS) field campaign, over the next 9 days. Our current location was chosen due to its high chlorophyll values, indicating productive waters. Shortly after our arrival here approximately 0700 on the 20th, the Sea Sweep instrument was deployed, and aerosol collection began (see picture below). However, for many of the scientists onboard, data collection began almost immediately after disembarking Boston, on the 19th.

The Sea Sweep
Photographs showing the Sea Sweep (top left), deployment of the Sea Sweep (bottom left), and Sea Sweep underway with bubble generation and aerosol collection taking place (right).

Upon my arrival to the ship in Boston, I quickly learned that this field campaign is a little unusual due to the sheer volume of equipment being utilized, and the short nature of the cruise itself. As we disembarked the Coast Guard pier in Boston, a running joke being echoed around the ship was, “30 days of science in 9 days…. ready, set, and GO!”

Science vans on deck
Looking from the bow towards the bridge, not visible in this photograph due to the mobile lab vans that have been installed on the deck for this cruise.

Over 9 mobile research vans were loaded onto the Ron Brown in preparation for this campaign making for a “low-riding ship”, joked our captain at our welcome meeting on the 19th. Each van contains multiple instruments, computers, ancillary equipment and supplies, and they also serve as research labs for the science teams to work in.

During the past two days, I have been making the rounds to each of these lab vans to hear more about the science taking place in each. With the help of the Chief Bosun, Bruce Cowden, I have also been able to shoot some video of these visits. With the assistance of Bruce, I am learning how to stitch these clips together into some fun short video pieces, so stay tuned for more to come!

A Little about the Sea Sweep

The Sea Sweep instrument consists of floating pontoons that hold a metal hood. The hood is mounted on a frame that protrudes below the water line when deployed, with two “frizzles” or “bubble maker” nozzles that air is pumped through to produce freshly emitted sea spray particles. These particles are then collected through two intake pipes attached to the hood, and are piped into the AeroPhys van. From there, samples are collected and also the intake is drawn into other vans for additional measurements.

Comparison of Sea Sweep Data with “the Bubbler”

Aerosol generator
Scientist Bill Keene from University of Virginia talking to me about “the bubbler”.

Sea spray particles are also being produced and collected via another method onboard, allowing for comparison with the Sea Sweep data. The picture below shows bubbles being generated in seawater that is fed into a large glass tower. This is an aerosol generator (a.k.a. “the bubbler”) brought on board by the University of Virginia. Through sampling with both the Sea Sweep and the bubbler, a greater size range and variety of aerosols can be sampled throughout the cruise.

Personal Log

After waiting a day or so for things to settle down and instruments to get up and running, I was eager to dive right in and be put to work on board. After an announcement made by the chief scientist, Trish Quinn, during our first evening meeting I was quickly solicited by a few different people to help with a range of tasks. So far these have included helping change impactor filters necessary for aerosol sampling 3 times a day (1 of these switches has been happening at 0500, making for some early mornings but pretty sunrises), getting raw sea water samples every 2 hours from different sampling points on board, preparing sea water samples for different analysis such as surface tension, and measuring samples for chlorophyll, dissolved organic carbon and particulate organic carbon.

Amongst all the sampling taking place however, it has been nice to take a break every once in a while to enjoy the extremely calm and settled weather we are having. A very memorable moment yesterday occurred when an announcement over the ship’s intercom alerted all aboard to a pod of whales off the port bow. It was nice to see the excitement spread, with both crew and science team members racing to the bow in unison with cameras in tow!

fun pics aboard
Early morning sky after an impactor filter change (left). All hands rush to the bow after whale sighting is announced (right).

Mary Cook, December 19, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
December 5, 2004 – January 7, 2005

Mission: Climate Prediction for the Americas
Geographical Area: Chilean Coast
Date: December 19, 2004

Location: Latitude 25°07.83’S, Longitude 81°54.62’W
Time: 0830

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature (Celsius) 19.04
Water Temperature (Celsius) 19.42
Relative Humidity (percent) 56.95
Air Pressure (millibars) 1018.17
Wind Direction (degrees) 155.6
Wind Speed (knots) 15.91
Wind Speed (meters/sec) 7.99
Sunrise 0734
Sunset 2116 (9:16 pm)

Questions of the Day

Why is the sunset so late in the day?

Positive Quote for the Day

“The world of achievement has always belonged to the optimist.” J. Harold Wilkins

Science and Technology Log

We tossed the last of fifteen drifting buoys this morning! It’s not the end, but the beginning of a wonderful new program. I’d say the Adopt-a-Drifter program got underway with a big splash! Teachers and their students around the world can adopt a drifting buoy just like my students at Southside Middle School in Batesville, Arkansas. They can map its path as it goes with the flow of the ocean currents. These drifting buoys also provide sea surface temperature and air pressure. This information can be utilized to gain a better understanding of the global oceans. I watched as Jeff and Bob deployed another Argo float. These floats are lowered over the back of the ship and when the quick-release mechanism comes in contact with the water, the powder in a small device dissolves and this releases a spring that unhinges the float from the straps. The straps are pulled back onboard as the ship leaves the Argo float in its wake.

I sat down and had a conversation with Chief Scientist Dr. Robert Weller of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution about the importance of oceanic/atmospheric studies. He made some very good points that highlighted the fact that when just 1ºC of heat energy is released from the ocean water into the atmosphere it affects the air flows for thousands of miles. This then can be like a domino effect and continue around the globe influencing weather patterns for people everywhere.

At 2:00 we interviewed Richard Whitehead, Chief Steward. Richard is over the food preparation in the galley. Richard shared that he has been working on ships for over 40 years and has had several trainings for the position he now holds. He said that the menus were developed based on nutritional guidelines and availability of produce. Richard shared with us that they keep the produce fresh for weeks by keeping it very cool and placing it in special bags that slows the deterioration. He also said that there are many safety issues that concern food preparation on a moving ship. All the pots and pans are deep, there are railings on the stovetop, and special care must be taken with knives. The countertops must be covered with anti-slip cloths to keep everything from sliding around. He also said that they consider the weather when deciding what to prepare because you wouldn’t want to bake a cake while the ship was moving through rough waters.

We changed “6:00 Science on the Fantail” to “6:00 Science in the Van on the Bow” because we wanted to interview Jason Tomlinson of Texas A & M about his work with aerosols. First of all, Jason explained that an aerosol is not a spray can. It is a small particle in the air. Jason showed us the Tandem Differential Mobility Analyzer (TDMA). It looks like a mad scientist’s invention with wires, tubes, canisters, and radioactive components! It is one of the best devices in the world for analyzing small particles in the air. It draws in air from outside then dries the air. It then separates the particles according to size. Jason said that these particles are too small to see with the naked eye but they have a great influence on cloud formation and cloud life length. The TDMA can determine what the particles are made of by adding moisture or by adding heat. The TDMA costs about $70,000! He also showed us the Aerodynamic Particle Sizer (APS) which analyzes larger particles. They mostly get sea salt and dust out here in the ocean. Jason said that there’s a mystery about the sea salt and its influence on clouds. The APS costs about $35,000. He also said that occasionally they take in the ship’s exhaust and that destroys their data for that particular time. He concluded by saying that it all gets back to climate change and using these data to make better models for predictions.

After our interview with Jason, we ran outside to glimpse San Felix and San Ambrosio Islands! Our first land sighting in over two weeks! These small islands, located about 300 nautical miles from Chile, are volcanic in origin. They are basically huge, desolate rocks protruding up from the ocean floor. As far as I could tell nothing is growing on them. Seafaring birds do nest on the cliffs. Since 1975 the Chilean Navy has had an installation on San Felix Island where they operate a short airstrip, a weather station and a tide station.

Personal Log

I’m just beginning to realize that this trip is nearly over. We only have four days left. I knew it wouldn’t go on forever but as the old saying goes “time flies when you’re having fun”. What a superb voyage this has been for me-a voyage that is continuing my personal quest to search out the majesty of Earth. In doing so it is my heart’s desire to absorb the inexplicable magnificence of our Earth. I want to be permeated with awe for the splendor as I soak it in with my eyes and ears and nose and skin. I am amazed. How can I take it all in? Where was I when the Earth was formed and hung in the nothingness of space? From where did this splendor come? Clouds and rain and snow and hail are amazing! Mountains and valleys and canyons and caves are amazing! Oceans and rivers and glaciers and springs are amazing! Rocks and minerals and soil and sand are amazing! People and animals and languages and ideas are amazing! And they all work together in a symphony of overwhelming magnitude. I believe that we’re all an inextricable part of this grand masterpiece. Traveling is not the essential element in a voyage. Life is a voyage no matter where you are. Our voyage is how we perceive our surroundings, how we face our challenges, and how we come to Truth. Actually, none of us ask for this voyage called life. We’ve been thrust into it by forces greater than ourselves. So here we are. We do have some choices, though. Will we make the most of this journey or will we let it sweep us along without ever wondering, and questioning and being amazed?

Until tomorrow,


Kirk Beckendorf, July 5, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
July 5, 2004

Personal Log

I woke this morning in my bunk, which is a good thing since it is a long way to the floor from my top bunk. It may be a long way to the floor but it is not very far to the ceiling. I cannot sit up in bed without hitting the ceiling.

I talked to Wayne, one of the engineers on the BROWN, who helps keep the ship’s engines running. He and some of the crew needed to work on one of the small boats kept on the ship for excursions off the BROWN. It had to be lowered down to the water from about two stories high where it is kept secured in place. Wayne has had his job with NOAA on the BROWN for about 2 years. Before that he was a guide on fishing and scuba boats in Florida and the Cayman Islands. He loves working on the BROWN since he gets to travel all over the world. One of his favorite places to visit is Brazil because the people are so friendly.

Tim, the chief scientist, called a science meeting at 10:00 this morning. The meeting was to answer any final questions before we leave port this afternoon. He also wanted to make sure everyone has settled into their staterooms and have what they needed. Someone asked him where they could get soap. He explained where we could find soap, toilet paper and other similar items. One of the scientist mentioned that if we used toilet paper we wouldn’t need so much soap.

During the day I visited with Graham Feingold. He will be one of the many scientists working on shore throughout the project, he hopes to be analyzing data on aerosols and clouds. Aerosols are very fine particles that are suspended in the atmosphere. They have major effects on climate change. Graham hopes to learn more about the effect the aerosols have on clouds and water droplets. Water droplets can form around these particles. If there are more of the particles for moisture to attach to, fewer but smaller drops may form. Since the drops may not get very large they may not be heavy enough to fall out of the cloud. What effect that will have on precipitation patterns and climate is unknown?

The warm sunny days left today. This morning began with cloudy skies which have persisted throughout the day. We were scheduled to depart Portsmouth at 4:00 PM but were delayed because of a large ship which came into port. There was not room in the channel or under the bridge for both of us. Even though there was a cold drizzle when we left the dock, everyone was still out on the decks watching as we pulled away. The bridge was raised so that we could get underneath and the BROWN headed out the river channel into a misty gray sea. Once away from land we turned south down the coast towards Boston.

The plan is to stop just north of the shipping lane, the “two lane highway” large ships must use to enter Boston Harbor. The forecast is for the winds to be blowing relatively clean air towards us from the shipping lane. As the wind blows the passing ship’s exhaust across the BROWN, our instruments will measure the specific chemicals in the pollution. By comparing the polluted air to the clean air, the instruments on board can be used to determine the chemical makeup of each ship’s pollution. It is critical that the bow of our ship is pointed into the wind, otherwise the BROWN’s exhaust would blow into the scientists’ instruments.