Kirk Beckendorf, July 13, 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 13, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time 11:30 AM ET
Latitude- 42 56.92 N
Longitude- 70 36.22 W
Air Temperature 17 degrees C
Wind Direction at surface East
Wind Speed at surface 20 MPH
Cloud cover and type Cloudy- Stratus
Air Pressure
11:30 AM 1014 Millibars
7:15 PM 1009 MB
10:15 PM 1008 MB

Daily Log

Look at what the air pressure has done today. What do you think our weather is like now at 11:00 PM (past my bedtime)?

Keep in mind that we are sitting out in the ocean in a ship, sometimes you can see land, other times you can’t. Rarely can we see any buildings much less a city. How are we supposed to know where to go to find some pollution? Especially if we are looking for particles that are too small to see and gasses that are colorless. Not to mention there may be less than 1 part per billion of that gas mixed in with the air. That is where Wayne Angevine and Jim Koermer come in. They are two meteorologists who are on shore. Twice a day they send us weather forecasts. Wayne works for NOAA and Jim is a professor at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. (Check out Jim’s website at

Based on their forecast, Wayne also sends recommendations for where we should go to find pollution. Today they are predicting that winds will be from the southeast and east through at least tomorrow. We know that pollution comes from automobiles, power plants, ships and factories. Although some of the chemicals involved in air pollution do also come from trees and other plants. Pollution of course blows with the wind so we want to be down wind of the pollution sources. If you look at a map to see where we are located the only thing east of us for a very long way is water, so easterly winds bring us clean air. There aren’t any cities or automobiles floating out here on the ocean, but there are ships. Wayne’s recommendation today was for us to move to Mass. Bay to get down wind of the shipping lanes and sample ship exhaust as they come by. That is what we have been doing most of the day.

Wayne says that possibly tomorrow afternoon the winds will shift and come from the southwest. If that happens Boston’s pollution will be flowing out over the water again and if that happens he suggest we sample it as we did yesterday, which was to zigzag back and forth across the plume coming from Boston. We couldn’t actually see it but we know where Boston is, we knew which way the wind was blowing and many of the instruments are measuring and recording what is in the air in real time. The captain also has charts that show how deep the water is so we didn’t run aground as we got close to shore.

It has been very interesting switching rolls from my normal job of being the teacher to the roll I am in on the ship which is, being the student. This past year after a particularly hard lesson one of my students said my brain hurts; now I know how he felt. This afternoon I went down to the ship’s gym to try and digest all that I have been learning the past two weeks, by working out physically rather than mentally. Plus I had to work off some of the great food the stewards feed us here on the Brown.

With the drop in air pressure the winds have picked up, it has started raining lightly and the ship is rocking and rolling. Nothing extreme, but it should rock everyone to sleep tonight.

We had another abandon ship drill today.

This afternoon we saw a pirate ship. Well ok it really wasn’t a pirate ship but it kind of looks like one, with its sails down and floating in the mist. It is actually a Mexican Navy training ship.

Questions of the Day

Today we had a low pressure system, what kind of weather can we expect if we have a high pressure system?

What activities do you that would create air pollution?

From which way is the wind blowing today, where you live?

What is up wind of you? What is downwind of you?

Jennifer Richards, September 8, 2001

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

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

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

Science Log

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep in touch,