Hayden Roberts: Wait-and-See (or Is It Sea?) July 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hayden Roberts

Aboard NOAA Oregon II

July 8-19, 2019

Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 8, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 30.35° N 
Longitude: 88.6° W
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: Northwest
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 33°C 
Barometric Pressure: 1012 mb
Sky: Few clouds

Science Log

Day one of my trip and we are delayed leaving. Growing up in Oklahoma, you think you know weather until one of the NOAA fishery biologists assigned to the ship provides you a lengthy explanation about the challenges of weather on setting sail. As he put it, the jet stream is throwing off the weather. This is true. Studies have suggested that for a few years the polar jet stream has been fluctuating more than normal as it passes over parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The jet stream is like a river of wind that circles the Northern Hemisphere continuously. That river meanders north and south along the way. When those meanders occur over the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, it can alter pressure systems and wind patterns at lower latitudes and that affects how warm or raining it is across North America and Europe. 

This spring in Oklahoma, it has led to record-breaking rains that have flooded low lying areas across the Great Plains and parts of the southeastern United States. Thunderstorms have generally been concentrated in the southern and middle section of the US as the jet stream dips down. The NOAA biologist also indicated that the delay in our departure could be blamed on the El Niño effect. 

El Niño is a natural climate pattern where sea water in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean is warmer than average. This leads to greater precipitation originating from the ocean. According to NOAA scientists, El Niño is calculated by averaging the sea-surface temperature each month, then averaging it with the previous and following months. That number is compared to average temperatures for the same three-month period between 1986 and 2015, called the Oceanic Niño index. When the index hits 0.5 degrees Celsius warmer or more, such as right now, it’s classified as an El Niño. When it’s 0.5 degrees Celsius cooler or more, it’s a La Niña. During an El Niño, the southern part of the U.S. typically experiences wetter than average conditions, while the northern part is less stormy and milder than usual. During a La Niña, it flips, with colder and stormier conditions to the north and warmer, less stormy conditions across the south. However, the El Niño this year has been classified as weak, which means typically the wetter conditions do not push into the Gulf of Mexico region, but exceptions can occur. With the fluctuating jet stream, the El Nino has vacillated between the Plains region and the upper South and regions closer to the Gulf. Thus, the storm causing our delayed departure comes from a weather condition that has been pushed further south by the jet stream.

While these may be causes for the delayed departure, the actual sailing conditions at the time of our voyage are the main concerns. Looking at the NOAA Marine Forecast webpage (https://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/zone/off/offnt4mz.htm), the decision for our delay is based on a storm producing significant wave heights, which are the average height of the highest 1/3 of the waves. Individual waves may be more than twice the average wave heights. In addition, weak high pressure appears to dominate the western Gulf and will likely last mid-week. Fortunately, we are set sail into the eastern Gulf off the coast of Florida. We should be able to sail behind the storm as it moves west. We do have to watch the surface low forming along a trough over the northeast Gulf later in the week. The National Hurricane Center in Miami (which provided weather data in the Atlantic and the Gulf for NOAA) predicts that all of this will intensify through Friday (July 12) as it drifts westward. This will produce strong to near gale force winds and building seas for the north central Gulf. Hopefully by then we will be sailing south of it. 

Gulf of Mexico weather forecasts
Digital interface map for regions of the Gulf of Mexico and its weather forecasts (National Weather Service, NOAA)

Did You Know?

The weather terms El Niño and La Niña can be translated from Spanish to English as boy and girl, respectively. El Niño originally applied to an annual weak warm ocean current that ran southwards along the coast of Peru and Ecuador around Christmas time before it was linked to a global phenomenon now referred to as El Niño–Southern Oscillation. La Niña is sometimes called El Viejo, anti-El Niño, or simply “a cold event.” El Niño events have been occurring for thousands of years with at least 26 occurring since 1900.

Personal Log

I boarded NOAA’s Oregon II yesterday when the ship was virtually empty. It was Sunday, and we were not set to leave until mid-afternoon the following day (and now Tuesday, July 9). Spending the night on the ship was more comfortable than I had expected. While the stateroom was cramped (I share it with one other crew member), the space is surprisingly efficient. I had plenty of space to store my gear. The bunkbed was more cozy than restricted.

NOAA Pascagoula Lab
Even though it was Sunday and everything was closed, I had to stop for a selfie.
NOAA Ship Oregon II
My first look at NOAA Ship Oregon II.

My first day in Pascagoula, MS was spent learning about the town. Pascagoula is a port city with a historic shipyard. Pascagoula is home to the state’s largest employer, Ingalls Shipbuilding, the largest Chevron refinery in the world, and Signal International, an oil platform builder. Prior to World War II, the town was a small fishing community, but the population jumped with war-driven shipbuilding. The city’s population peak in the late 1970s, but today, there are less than 25,000 in the area. Pascagoula continues to be an industrial center surrounded by the growing tourism industry across the Gulf region to the east and west of the port. The population also declined when Naval Station Pascagoula was decommissioned in 2006. The old naval base is located on manmade strip of land called Singing River Island and is in the middle of the port. The port still maintains a large Coast Guard contingent as well as serving as the home portfor the NOAA Ships Gordon GunterOregon II, and Pisces. The NOAA port is actually called the Gulf Marine Support Facility and is located a block from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Mississippi Laboratory.

Michael Wing: Introduction to El Niño, July 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of Bodega Bay, California
Date: July 22, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Northwest wind 15-25 knots, wind waves 3’-5’, northwest swell 4’ – 6’ at eight seconds, overcast.

Science and Technology Log

UC Davis graduate student and Point Blue Conservation Science intern Kate Davis took some plankton we collected to the Bodega Marine lab in Bodega Bay. She said she is seeing “tropical” species of plankton. A fellow graduate student who is from Brazil peeked into the microscope and said the plankton looked like what she sees at home in Brazil. The flying fish we saw is also anomalous, as is the number of molas (ocean sunfish) we are seeing. Plankton can’t swim, so some of our water must have come from a warm place south or west of us.


The Farallon Islands are warmer this year

The surface water is several degrees warmer than it normally is this time of year. NOAA maintains a weather buoy near Bodega Bay, California that shows this really dramatically. Click on this link – it shows the average temperature in blue, one standard deviation in gray (that represents a “normal” variation in temperatures) and the actual daily temperature in red.

NOAA buoy data

Surface seawater temperatures from a NOAA buoy near Bodega Bay, California


As you can see, the daily temperatures were warm last winter and basically normal in the spring. Then in late June they shot up several degrees, in a few days and have stayed there throughout this month. El Niño? Climate change? The scientists I am with say it’s complicated, but at least part of what is going on is due to El Niño.

Ryan at flying bridge

San Francisco State University student and Point Blue intern Ryan Hartnett watches El Nino

So what exactly is El Niño?

My students from last year know that the trade winds normally push the surface waters of the world’s tropical oceans downwind. In the Pacific, that means towards Asia. Water wells up from the depths to take its place on the west coasts of the continents, which means that places like Peru have cold water, lots of fog, and good fishing. The fishing is good because that deep water has lots of nutrients for phytoplankton growth like nitrate and phosphate (fertilizer, basically) and when it hits the sunlight lots of plankton grow. Zooplankton eat the phytoplankton; fish eat the zooplankton, big fish eat little fish and so on.

During an El Niño event, the trade winds off the coast of Peru start to weaken and that surface water bounces back towards South America. This is called a Kelvin wave. Instead of flowing towards Asia, the surface water in the ocean sits there in the sunlight and it gets warmer. There must be some sort of feedback mechanism that keeps the trade winds weak, but the truth is that nobody really understands how El Niño gets started. We just know the signs, which are (1) trade winds in the South Pacific get weak (2) surface water temperatures in the eastern tropical pacific rise, (3) the eastern Pacific Ocean and its associated lands get wet and rainy, (4) the western Pacific and places like Australia, Indonesia, and the Indian Ocean get sunny and dry.

This happens every two to seven years, but most of the time the effect is weak. The last time we had a really strong El Niño was 1997-1998, which is when our current cohort of high school seniors was born. That year it rained 100 inches in my yard, and averaged over an inch a day in February! So, even though California is not in the tropics we feel its effects too.

Sausalito sunset

Sunset from the waterfront in Sausalito, California

We are in an El Niño event now and NOAA is currently forecasting an excellent chance of a very strong El Niño this winter.

NOAA map

Sea surface temperature anomalies Summer 2015. Expect more red this winter.

What about climate change and global warming? How is that related to El Niño? There is no consensus on that; we’ve always had El Niño events and we’ll continue to have them in a warmer world but it is possible they might be stronger or more frequent.

Personal Log

So, is El Niño a good thing? That’s not a useful question. It’s a part of our climate. It does make life hard for the seabirds and whales because that layer of warm water at the surface separates the nutrients like nitrate and phosphate, which are down deep, from the sunlight. Fewer phytoplankton grow, fewer zooplankton eat them, there’s less krill and fish for the birds and whales to eat. However, it might help us out on land. California’s drought, which has lasted for several years now, may end this winter if the 2015 El Niño is as strong as expected.

Golden Gate Bridge

Rain will come again to California

Did You Know? El Niño means “the boy” in Spanish. It refers to the Christ child; the first signs of El Niño usually become evident in Peru around Christmas, which is summer in the southern hemisphere. The Spanish in colonial times were very fond of naming things after religious holidays. You can see that in our local place names. For instance, Marin County’s Point Reyes is named after the Feast of the Three Kings, an ecclesiastical holy day that coincided with its discovery by the Spanish. There are many other examples, from Año Nuevo on the San Mateo County coast to Easter Island in Chile.

Window selfie

Michael Wing takes a selfie in his reflection in the boat’s window

Alex Miller: Making Waves, June 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015 

Putting ourselves in the way of beauty. Several members of the science crew joined me to witness this sunset.

Putting ourselves in the way of beauty. Several members of the science crew joined me to witness this sunset.

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Friday, June 5th, 2015

Weather Data:

  • Air Temperature: 14.0°C
  • Water Temperature: 12.7°C
  • Sky Conditions: Clear
  • Wind Speed (knots/kts) and Direction: 21.9 kts, NNW
  • Latitude and Longitude: 45°00’19”, 124°19’94”


Before I go into the events of the research and life onboard the Shimada, let me explain the weather data I share at the beginning of posts at sea. Weather can change quickly out at sea so the ship’s Officer(s) of the Deck (OODs) keep a running record of conditions throughout the cruise. On the Shimada, the OODs all happen to be NOAA Corps Officers, but there are civilian mates and masters on other ships.

Another important reason to collect weather conditions and location information is that it’s need to be linked to the data that is collected. The ship collects a lot of weather data, but I’ve chosen to share that which will give you an idea of what it’s like out here.


The bridge with a view of the captain’s seat.

First, I’ve shared the temperature of both the air and the water. Scientists use the Celsius temperature scale but Americans are used to thinking about temperatures using the Fahrenheit scale. On the Celsius scale, water freezes at 0°C and boils at 100°C, whereas on the Fahrenheit scale, water freezes at 32°F and boils at 212°F. I won’t go into how you convert from one scale to another, but to better understand the temperatures listed above, temperatures around 10°C are equal to about 50°F.

Second, the sky conditions give you an idea of whether we are seeing blue or gray skies or I guess at night, stars or no stars. Clear skies have graced us intermittently over the past few days, but we’ve seen everything from light showers to dense fog.

Third, is the wind direction and speed. Knots is a measurement used at sea. It stands for nautical miles per hour. 1 knot = 1.2 miles/hour or 10 knots = 12 mph.  The NOAA Marine Weather Forecast allows us to prepare for what might be coming at future stations. Depending on wind speed, some nets cannot be deployed. If wind speeds reach 25-30 kts, the kite-like neuston will literally fly away. If a weather day ends up keeping scientists from collecting data that can be very disappointing and, unfortunately, there’s no way to make up for lost time.

With the wind speeds picking up, so have the swell sizes, making for a rougher ride. As funny as it can be to watch a colleague swerve off their intended path and careen into the nearest wall, chair or person, we have to remember to, “save one hand for the ship,” meaning, be ready to steady yourself.


Randy (foreground) and Larry (background) in their culinary kingdom.

Randy (foreground) and Larry (background) in their culinary kingdom.

Considering how well taken care of I’ve been on this cruise, it only seems right to tell you guys all about the heroes of the mess (also galley, basically, it’s the dining area), Larry and Randy. Larry and Randy plan and prepare three meals a day on board the Shimada. There’s always a hot breakfast and our dinners have included steak, mahi-mahi, and I like to think they were catering to the quarter of me that’s Irish when they made corned beef and cabbage last night. This dynamic duo really outdo themselves. Both are trained merchant mariners, meaning they hold their Z-card, and they tell me that working as a chef at sea definitely helps to bring home the bacon.

It feels good knowing that they don’t want us to just have cereal and sandwiches for the two weeks we are at sea.

Larry (background) and Randy (foreground) admiring their hard work.

Larry (background) and Randy (foreground) admiring their hard work.

I especially want to shout out Randy, the denizen of the desserts. So far Randy has made from scratch: bread pudding, chocolate white-chocolate cookies, rum cake and date bars. Good thing for me his mother was a chef because he’s been cooking since around the age of 6.

I just finished a Thanksgiving style turkey meal prepared by these two and all this told, I’m thankful there’s an exercise room on board with a stationary bike. Seriously though, these guys are doing a lot to make the ship feel like a home. With the disruption in my sleep cycle, I’ve been sleeping through some meals. Like 50% of meals. They noticed. When I came walking into dinner yesterday, after sleeping through two meals, they were full of concern and questions. Awww.

So, on behalf of all the crew and scientists, I want to say thank you for all that you do!


Wednesday night, or Thursday morning–days tend to run together when you’re working the night shift–the net picked up an unusual jelly that Ric had to key out using a jelly identification manual. Using photos in the Pacific Coast Pelagic Invertebrates by Wrobel and Mills, Ric identifies this jelly as the Liriope (sp. ?). While Ric is an accomplished biologist, he specializes in fish identification, so the question mark after the scientific name of this jelly represents the need for a jelly expert to confirm the identification as Liriope. But what’s in a name, right? What’s really interesting about this jelly is that it usually inhabits warm water areas between 40S and 40N. We were towing north of the 44th parallel!

Liriope (?)

Liriope (sp. ?)

That wasn’t the only unusual sighting we had. Amanda, who does her surveys exclusively in the Northeast Pacific, meaning relatively close to shore (12 – 200 km) saw, for her first time in the wild, the Hawaiian petrel, a bird whose name alone suggests that Oregon is too far north to be seeing them. Additionally, it’s being more of an offshore bird makes it even more unlikely to see as far east as we are.

All images in this slideshow were taken by Amanda Gladics, Faculty Research Assistant, Oregon State University. 

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Her initial reaction to the sighting was mild surprise that she saw something she didn’t quite recognize, she decided to grab her camera and photograph the bird so she could take a second look at it. Later, she realized just how rare of a sighting she had made. After consulting with Josh Adams at USGS, it was confirmed that the bird was a Hawaiian petrel.

Though most of the community nests on the big island of Hawaii, smaller colonies are found on Oahu and Kauai, and Adams explained that they tend to loop around areas of high pressure when foraging (searching) for food. It just so happens that such an area is within our transect range. If you look at the image to the right you can see this area as a loop marked with 1024 (mb, millibars, a pressure measurement) just off the coast of Oregon.

Map of pressure systems

Map of pressure systems and precipitation in the Pacific. Note the high pressure system of the coast of Oregon (1024 mb). Photo courtesy of Amanda Gladics.

Amanda has also sent her images to Greg Gillson and Peter Pyle, two experts in the field; Gillson confirms the sighting as a Hawaiian petrel and is notifying the Oregon Birding Association Records Committee. She is still waiting to hear back from Pyle.

Super cool!


Considering these two events alongside some warmer water temperatures the CTD and ship sensors have picked up in our transect area, the conclusion several of the scientists are reaching is that these unusual sightings are coincident with an El Niño event this year. El Niño events occur in a cycle. They are a disruption of the normal ocean temperatures, leading to anomalously warm temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. This can affect weather and climate and perhaps it can also affect animal behavior. There’s also that warm blob to consider. You yourself can see that the water temperature is warmer here than it was at our earlier transects.

For more information on how NOAA monitors El Niño events, please follow this link.


Personal Log

In an effort to gain a deep understanding of all the research taking place on board the ship, I’ve started transitioning back to the day shift. After investing five days in training myself to stay up all night, I’m now trying to sleep through the night. My body is utterly confused about when it’s supposed to be asleep, so right now it’s settled on never being asleep. I’ve been able to catch naps here and there but I’m resorting to caffeine to keep me going.

However, there’s always a silver lining. This morning I climbed to the flying bridge for a bit of solitude with the rising sun. Few things can compare to a sunrise on a ship while it’s traveling northeast and to top it all off the swells crashing against the bow were so high that, at times, I could feel the sea spray. So I thought I would make this .gif so you can share this moment too.



Until next time, scientists!


Question of the Day:

Amanda can only survey when the ship is traveling faster than 7 kts. If the ship travels at 7 knots for 1 hour, how many nautical miles does it cover? Standard miles?

Richard Jones & Art Bangert, January 7, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Jones
January 4 – 22, 2010

Mission: Oceanographic Survey
Geographical Area: Hawaiian Islands
Date: January 7, 2010

Cups heading to the depths

Cups heading to the depths

Science Log

Today was a day of transit. We did a lot of work on the buoys, preparing them for deployment and Rick, with the help of Tonya our Chief Survey Technician, got about half of the cups that his students decorated for ‘shrinking’ into the mesh bags to attach to the deep CTD when we do one . The CTD is a rosette of bottles that are sent to depth, in this case 3000 meters (how many feet is that and how many atmospheres of pressure?) where water samples and a record of the Conductivity (salinity), Temperature, and Depth are taken. These CTD’s will help provide a double check for the electronic data that our buoys collect and add to the data used to model El Nino/La Nina. One of the side activities of the CTD is to send down the cups to be squeezed by the pressure. We also have a cup of similar size that will be used as a control so that students will be able to see the changes that the cups undergo. Rick also has brought along a Styrofoam wig head from his daughter Teri to see the effect on a larger scale.

In addition to our work on the buoys we had our first at sea drills including an abandon ship drill.But since we had a similar drill in port we only were required to muster to our stations with our exposure suits, long sleeve shirt, head cover, and long pants and wear our personal flotation device.

Ship safety drill

Ship safety drill

A wee bit rocky today.We have a swell that seems to be coming from the starboard (right) aft quarter, which gives the ship a strange movement that has made some of the folks a little queasy.Ships tend to roll (movement around an imaginary line running bow to stern) pitch (movement up and down around an imaginary line running 90 degrees to the direction of roll) and yaw (movement left or right of the imaginary line running bow to stern).Today the KA is doing all three at the same time which is why we are encouraged to take Meclizine HCL (Dramamine) for a few days prior to the trip and for the first few days at sea. Taking this makes it easier for the crew to function in an environment that has un-natural motion without getting ‘seasick’. Even with the weird motion of the ship, we still have work to do and for us “newbies” things to learn before we are allowed to do them, like learn how to set the ‘painter line’ for the RHIB so that we will stay attached to the ship in the advent that the engine of the RIHB doesn’t start or other various bad things that can happen to a little boat in a big ocean. We didn’t actually ride in the RHIB today, we simply learned how to enter the boat, where to sit , where the emergency items are located, and how to start and steer the boat.

Out on the deck

Out on the deck

One of the tasks that needs to be done prior to the deployment of our first Buoy at 8N:155W is to determine (as close as possible) the ideal position for the buoy’s anchor. To do this it is essential to know the true depth of the ocean and the topography (collectively called bathymetry) of the area within a few miles of the target latitude and longitude for the buoy.Brian, our Chief Scientist, will determine the depth and location for the anchor by using both satellite sea surface heights and actual sonar depth data from ships that have been in the area. In reality, there really isn’t much hard data, physical sonar tracks, for much of the ocean and much of the depth is determined by the actually height of the sea surface as measured by satellite. These measurements take into account variables, such as orbit of the satellite, atmospheric effects on radar, and tides and compare the computer result to a mathematical ellipsoid model of the Earth’s shape. Sounds pretty complicated, and it is, but we can use this calculated sea surface to help determine the depth of the ocean since the surface mirrors the actual topography of the ocean floor. For Academy students, you will have the opportunity to do two activities from the American Meteorological Society (AMS) that will help you understand what it is that we are attempting to do.

Bathymetric map

Bathymetric map

Catch of the day!

Catch of the day!


Karolyn Braun, November 1, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karolyn Braun
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
October 4 – 28, 2006

Mission: TAO Buoy Array Maintenance
Geographical Area: Hawaii
Date: November 1, 2006

Plan of the Day: Arrive in Kwajalein, RMI

TAS Braun assists in driving the KA’IMIMOANA

TAS Braun assists in driving the KA’IMIMOANA

In many of my past journal entries I have talked about El Niño or ENSO, so what is it?  Well El Niño is an oscillation of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific having important consequences for weather around the globe. Among these consequences is increased rainfall across the southern tier of the US and in Peru, which has caused destructive flooding, and drought in the West Pacific, sometimes associated with devastating brush fires in Australia. Observations of conditions in the tropical Pacific are considered essential for the prediction of short-term (a few months to 1 year) climate variations.  To provide necessary data, NOAA operates and assists in the TAO buoy project, which measure temperature, currents and winds in the equatorial band. These buoys daily transmit data, which are available to researchers and forecasters around the world in real time.

In normal, non-El Niño conditions the trade winds blow towards the west across the tropical Pacific. These winds pile up warm surface water in the west Pacific, so that the sea surface is about 1/2 meter higher at Indonesia than at Ecuador.  The sea surface temperature is about 8 degrees C higher in the west, with cool temperatures off South America, due to an upwelling of cold water from deeper levels.  This cold water is nutrient-rich, supporting high levels of primary productivity, diverse marine ecosystems, and major fisheries.  Rainfall is found in rising air over the warmest water in the west Pacific, and the east Pacific is relatively dry.

The track of the KA’IMIMOANA for TAS Braun’s science cruise.

The track of the KA’IMIMOANA for TAS Braun’s science cruise (in light blue).

During El Niño, the trade winds relax in the central and western Pacific leading to a depression of the thermocline in the eastern Pacific, and an elevation of the thermocline in the west.  This reduces the efficiency of upwelling to cool the surface and cut off the supply of nutrient rich thermocline water to the euphotic zone.  The result is a rise in sea surface temperature and a drastic decline in primary productivity, the latter of which adversely affects higher trophic levels of the food chain, including commercial fisheries in this region.  The weakening of easterly trade winds during El Niño is also evident.  Rainfall follows the warm water eastward, with associated flooding in Peru and drought in Indonesia and Australia. The eastward displacement of the atmospheric heat source overlaying the warmest water results in large changes in the global atmospheric circulation, which in turn force changes in weather in regions far removed from the tropical Pacific.

Unfortunately, NOAA recently issued an unscheduled EL NIÑO advisory due to El Niño conditions that developed in the tropical Pacific and are likely to continue into early 2007. Ocean temperatures have increased remarkably in the equatorial Pacific during the last two weeks. “Currently, weak El Niño conditions exist, but there is a potential for this event to strengthen into a moderate event by winter,” said Vernon Kousky, NOAA’s lead El Niño forecaster.

During the last 30 days, drier-than-average conditions have been observed across all of Indonesia, Malaysia and most of the Philippines, which are usually the first areas to experience ENSO-related impacts.  This dryness can be expected to continue, on average, for the remainder of 2006. Also, the development of weak El Niño conditions helps explain why this Atlantic hurricane season has been less active than was previously expected.  El Niño typically acts to suppress hurricane activity by increasing the vertical wind shear over the Caribbean Sea region.  However, at this time the El Niño impacts on Atlantic hurricanes are small.

So for the past month I have been on the cutting-edge research that assists physical scientists with data that will create ENSO forecast models to improve our understanding of underlying physical processes at work in the climate system.  On our way into Kwajalein, I got to steer the ship.  Didn’t go very straight but not bad for my first time.  I want to give a HUGE thank you to Commanding Officer Mark Pickett; Executive Officer Robert Kamphaus; Field Operations Officer Rick Hester; the Junior Officers, the science team and the crew of the KA’IMIMOANA for the amazing opportunity I’ve had the honor to experience.

Mary Cook, January 3, 2005

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: January 3, 2005

Location: Latitude 45°49.53’S, Longitude 75°03.22’W
Time: 0930

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature (Celsius) 11.90
Water Temperature (Celsius) 13.55
Wind Direction (degrees) 343.52
Wind Speed (knots) 5.85
Relative Humidity (percent) 66.50
Air Pressure (millibars) 1016.06
Cloud Cover 6/8 Altocumulus
Sunrise 0615
Sunset 2152

Question of the Day

What is phytoplankton?

Quote of the Day

“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move men.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Science Log

This afternoon I interviewed Co-chief Scientist, Julio Sepúlveda, an oceanography graduate student from the University of Concepción. Julio did his Master’s thesis work for eight months at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. In April, he’s leaving for Germany to spend three years continuing his education toward a PhD. in marine organic geochemistry. Julio has been kind enough to further explain the work they’ve been doing onboard the RONALD H. BROWN. The Chilean group of scientists include Pamela Rossel, Sergio Contreras, Rodrigo Castro, Alejandro Avila, and Luis Bravo. He says that their work has two parts: the water column process and the sedimentary record. The water samples and the sediment traps give a “picture of the moment”. They conducted the transect of samples starting at the shallow coastal waters and moving into the deeper offshore waters. These samples will provide a gradient of the nutrient concentrations at the Bay of Concepción which is part of an active upwelling location. To put it simply, they are looking at how the phytoplankton (plant-like microscopic organisms) uses the nutrients in the water. In particular they are looking at the nitrogen stable isotopes (nitrogen atoms with different masses) and their concentrations. They are trying to see how this is related to El Niño which greatly affects Chile and many places around the world. Julio explained that normally the upwelling brings cooler water containing nutrient-rich materials up to the surface. During El Niño events, the upwelling brings warmer, less nutrient-rich waters to the surface. This changes many things including the weather. The causes of El Niño are multi-varied air-sea fluxes that are not fully understood. In the last ten years the scientific community has been especially interested in knowing the possible influence of global warming in the El Niño variability. It seems that its frequency is changing and several articles indicate that El Niño is occurring more often. So their research provides a few “pixels” for capturing the entire “picture” of El Niño.

The second part of their research involves the core samples. The purpose of the core sampling is to collect the layers of sediments on the ocean floor. Julio described the layers to be like pages in a history book. Each layer tells the “story” of what was going on in the water at that location during that time. They are also looking at the degradation of the organic matter in the core samples. So, Julio says the water samples tell us about the present and the core samples tell us about the past. Using these methods of research, it is their intention to better understand the history of El Niño and better predict future El Niño events.

Personal Log

This morning we entered the fjords! Several of us were up and outside on the deck at 0630, “ooohing” and “aaahing”, taking pictures even though it’s very cold and windy out there. It is an irresistible attraction. We’re passing by the peninsula Tres Montes and we’re headed for the Bay of Tarn. All morning we’ve been sailing by emerald forest-covered mountains and black craggy rocks that have been eroded into peculiar shapes by the waves relentlessly smashing against them. The clouds are ominous and hanging low. The albatross are soaring with wings spread wide. An occasional whale sends a plume of spray into the air. I want these scenes to be indelibly saturated into my mind’s eye. I never want to forget this. No dwellings. No other ships. It’s just us. Just us and the birds and the whales. It’s good. It’s all good.

Until tomorrow,


Nancy Lewis, September 27, 2003

Nancy Lewis
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
September 15 – 27, 2003

Mission: Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO)/TRITON
Geographical Area: Western Pacific
Date: September 27, 2003

Transit to Honolulu, HI

Sunday night arrival at Hotel pier, Pearl Harbor

Monday morning:  clear Customs/Immigrations/Agriculture

Refuel, then depart approximately 1500 for Snug Harbor

Weather Observation Log:  0100

Latitude:  17 degrees, 18.4’ N
Longitude:  153 degrees, 17.5’ W
Visibility:  12 nautical miles
Wind direction:  080 degrees
Wind speed:  14 knots
Sea wave height:  3-4 feet
Swell wave height:  5-7 feet
Sea water temperature:  26.8 degrees C
Sea level pressure:  1013.5 mb
Dry bulb pressure:  27.2 degrees C
Wet bulb pressure:  25.0 degrees C
Cloud cover:  1/8 Cumulus, alto-cumulus

Science and Technology Log

Today I will try and summarize for you the “El Nino Southern Oscillation Diagnostic Discussion” that was forwarded to me by Captain Ablondi of the KA’IMIMOANA.  This report was issued by the Climate Prediction Center.

Current atmospheric and oceanic conditions are near normal and do not favor either the development of El Nino or La Nina. Sea surface temperature anomalies of +0.5 degrees Celcius were noted west of the International Dateline, but there were near-zero anomalies in the equatorial Pacific east of 150 degrees West longitude.  During August, very little SST anomalies were observed in the El Nino regions.

In May there were gains in upper-ocean temperature which spread eastward into the central and eastern Pacific.  This was associated with an eastward Kelvin wave, that resulted from weaker than average easterly tradewinds that occurred in May and June.  SST (Sea Surface Temperatures) anomalies increased during June and July, but then subsided during August.

The Tahiti-Darwin SOI (Southern Oscillation Index)  showed a great deal of month to month variability, but shows no trend towards the development of either El Nino or La Nina.

Most of the statistical forecasts display near neutral conditions for the remainder of 2003 and 2004. This forecast is consistent with the trends revealed by all other oceanic and atmospheric measurements and data.

I have copies of the graphs associated with the above report, and would be happy to make them available to any classes, students or teachers upon request.

Personal Log

Today everyone is readying for our arrival tomorrow night into Pearl Harbor.  Accounts with the ship’s store are being squared up, and some of the computers are having operating systems reinstalled.  Most of us are starting to pack.  I am still answering e-mails, cataloguing photos and catching up with my daily logs.

The real treat came just at sunset after dinner.  The Big Island was visible from our position of 100 miles away.  Mauna Loa showed clearly on the horizon, and I thought I could even see Kilauea off to the east.  It was an exceptionally clear evening, but in spite of that, we saw no “green flash”.  I was really excited to get my first glimpse of land in so many days, and be able to see my much loved mountain.  One other crew member, Curt, also lives on the Big Island, and we joked that we could probably jump ship and swim home.

The prediction is that we will pass by South Point around 2 in the morning.  I plan to be on the bow!

Question of the Day:  What is phytoplankton?

Land Ho!

Nancy Lewis