Since 2004, the WHOTS stations have been measuring the interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere, as part of a long term study on ocean circulation. The site where the WHOTS stations are deployed is called ALOHA (A Long-Term Oligotrophic Habitat Assessment), located about 100 kilometers north of Oahu, Hawaii. The ALOHA station, maintained and monitored by the University of Hawai’i since 1988, makes oceanographic measurements (like water temperature, direction and speed of ocean currents, and amounts of plankton). The objective of the project is to use the area as a case study, as it is representative of the North Pacific subtropical gyre.
WHOTS stations are moored (anchored) buoys. The buoy includes instruments floating on the surface to measure the weather (air temperature, wind speed, relative humidity, etc.), and there are also instruments along the mooring line to measure things like water temperature, currents and salinity. The instruments below the surface make measurements at the same time asthe meteorological measurements on the surface, so that air and sea interactions can be accurately studied.
Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution visit the ALOHA site every year, to deploy a new WHOTS station, and retrieve older ones. Check out this video of the WHOTS-13 research cruise!
… the Teacher:
The summer I turned five, my house was struck by lightning. The bolt blew out my window, scattering glass shards across my bed, blasted chunks of concrete out of the driveway below, and set the garage on fire — which was almost immediately put out by torrential rain. I have been fascinated by the atmosphere ever since. When I learned I had been chosen for the WHOTS-14 research cruise, I was ecstatic. Not only because I’d been selected to participate in such an amazing opportunity, but because I would have the chance to learn more about the oceans, and how they interact with the ocean of air above them.
I have taught science in New York City for eight years. For the past six years, I have taught twelfth grade geoscience at Pan American International High School at the James Monroe campus (PAIHS Monroe), in the Bronx. Each year, I do my best to get my students as excited about science as I am. For the past few years, that has meant dragging them outside in near-freezing temperatures to measure the local air quality. (So, maybe not the best method I could have chosen!)
(All of my students: “It’s too cold, Miss!” Samantha: “If it’s not too cold for the instruments, it’s not too cold for you!”)
These measurements were made as part of NASA GLOBE‘s Air Quality Student Research Campaign, and I was able to present their work at NASA Langley Research Center.
I hope that my experiences aboard the Hi’ialakai with the WHOTS-14 research cruise will teach me more about the ocean of air we live in, and help me develop more — warmer — ways to get my students interested in science!
Did You Know?
From NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation operations page: “Hi‘ialakai is a combination of Hawaiian words. Hi‘i means “to hold in one’s arms”; ala is route; and kai is the sea. Thus, NOAA named this ship to signify “embracing pathways to the sea”.”
Mother Nature has put a hamper on surveying for right now. Field work requires patience and tenacity, which is appropriate given that is the motto of NOAA Ship Pisces: Patiencia Et Tenacitas. During this downtime I was able to interview a couple members of the crew. Our first interview is with the Operations (Ops) Officer, LT. Noblitt:
The NOAA Corps is one of seven uniformed services of the U.S. What are possible paths to join and requirements? Do you need a college degree to apply? Yes, you need a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering. The only path is through the application process which starts with contacting a recruiter. NOAA Corps officers are always willing to work with interested applicants and are willing to give tours as well as to field any and all questions.
When did you know you wanted to pursue this career? I decided I wanted to pursue a career with the NOAA Corps during graduate school when I realized that I desired a career path which combined my appreciation for sailing tall ships and pursuing scientific research.
What is your rank and what responsibilities does that entail? I am an O3, Lieutenant; the responsibilities include operational management. A lot of day to day operations and preparation for scientific requests, ship port logistics, and some supervision. Operation Officers keep the mission moving forward and always try to plan for what is next.
Why is your work important? By supporting the scientists we are able to assist in enhancing public knowledge, awareness, and growth of the scientific community which ultimately not only benefits the Department of Commerce but the environment for which we are working in.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? There is nothing better then operating a ship. I enjoy the feel of the vessel and harnessing the elements to make the ship move how I choose. I enjoy knowing that I am working on something that is bigger than just the ship. This job is a microcosm of all the science that is going on around the world and knowing that we are contributing to the growth of the nation, well nothing can really compete with that.
What is the most challenging part of your work? In all honesty, being away from family simply does get challenging at times. You are guaranteed to miss birthdays, special events, and even births of your children. Gratification comes from knowing that you are providing everything you can for your family.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Now this is an interesting question; I would have to say there really is not just one tool as a NOAA Corps Officer we pride ourselves in being versatile. If it weren’t for the ability to use multiple tools we would not be capable of running and operating a ship.
How many days are you usually out at sea a year? On average the ship sails 295 days a year.
What does an average day look like for you on the NOAA Ship Pisces? You are living the average day. Day and night operations three meals a day and keeping operations moving smoothly, all this happens as the ship becomes a living entity and takes on a personality of her own.
What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing? In the beginning and early on in a NOAA Corps career an Officer may feel underutilized especially in regards to their educational background when they are working on trivial duties, however with growth over time our scientific backgrounds serve us more than we realize.
What’s at the top of your recommendation for a young person exploring a uniformed service or a maritime career? If you are seeking to travel and discover an unknown lifestyle at sea; being a Commissioned Officer is a truly diverse whirlwind of experiences that goes by faster then you realize.
What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA? If I was not working for NOAA I would probably try working for a similar governmental entity, or even NOAA as a civilian, studying near coastal benthic (bottom of aquatic) ecosystems.
Our second interview is with Todd Walsh, who is a Survey Technician on NOAA Ship Pisces:
What is your title and what responsibilities does that entail?
Operations and some equipment maintenance of position sensors, sonars, and software. You need to know water chemistry because you also take water samples such as temperature, depth, conductivity to determine the speed of sound. From that we can make sure the sonar is working right, so you need the math to make it happen.
Pisces is different than some other NOAA vessels because it has a lot of other sensors. On some other NOAA vessels I have worked on there are also smaller boats that have the same equipment to keep in shape. You also need to analyze the data and make recommendations in a 60 page report in 90 days.
What are the requirements to apply for this job? A bachelor’s of science in computer mapping, engineering, geology, meteorology, or some other similar degree.
When did you know you wanted to pursue this career? I was a project engineer for an engineering company prior to this. We did work on airports, bridges, etc. I retired and then I went back to work in 2009 and I’ve been working for NOAA ever since. I got involved with NOAA because I wanted to see Hawaii and I found a job on board a ship that would take me there. I’ve now worked in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific.
Why is your work important? No matter which NOAA division you are working at it is integral to commerce in the country. The work we are doing here is important for red snapper and other fisheries. The work I did in the Bering Strait helped determine crab stocks. Ever watch Deadliest Catch? I got to play darts with the captain of the Time Bandit. There’s a different code for people who are mariners. You help each other out.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? I like that we get to go exploring in places that most people never get to go (in fact, some places have never been visited before), with equipment that is cutting edge. There are always puzzles to solve. You also meet a lot of different people.
Working on NOAA vessels as a survey technician means keeping state-of-the-art equipment and software operational.
Sonar picture of a ship wreck Todd mapped out.
What is the most challenging part of your work? It is: -Man versus nature. -Man versus machine. -Man versus self because you are pushed to your limits. Another challenge is missing my wife and kids.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Since you are stuck on a boat, the biggest tool is to be able to deal with that through being friendly and having ways to occupy yourself in downtime.
Work-wise, it used to be the calculator. Now it’s the computer because it can do so much. All the calculations that used to be done by pen and calculator are now by computer. Cameras are also very useful.
How many days are you usually out at sea a year? Used to be 8 months out of 12. That’s tough since there is no cellphone coverage but some ships are close enough to shore to use them. The oceanographic vessel Ronald H.Brown went around the world for 3 years.
What does an average day look like for you on the NOAA Ship Pisces? I’m relatively new to this ship, but all ships are unique depending on what they’re studying. Each ship is a different adventure.
What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing? When I was in Alaska training less experienced survey technicians in the Bering Strait, I got to see really neat stuff like being next to a feeding orca, atop a glacier, and got too close to a grizzly bear.
What’s at the top of your recommendation for a young person exploring a maritime career? Stick with the science classes and you can never go wrong with learning more math.
When bringing in a camera array today that was left out overnight, a huge wave crashed aboard all the way up to the top of the bridge. At that same time I was in my stateroom laying down trying to avoid seasickness. I could hear the metal moving, the engines running strong, and knew something interesting was happening. I almost went down to check out the action, but decided against bumping into everyone during higher seas operations and potentially really getting sick.
Quote of the Day:
Joey asked which stateroom I am in and I say, “The one next to the turny-door-thingy.” to which Joey replies, “You mean the hatch?” What can I say? If you can not remember a word, at least be descriptive.
Did You Know?
NOAA operates the nation’s largest fleet of oceanographic research and survey ships. It is America’s environmental intelligence agency.
Mission: WHOI Hawaii Ocean Timeseries Station (WHOTS)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean, north of Hawaii
Date: June 26th, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: 100 degrees (slightly east southeast)
Temperature: 24.5 degrees C
Barometric Pressure: 1014.7 mb
Science and Technology Log
One of the primary objectives of this WHOTS project is to deploy WHOTS-13 mooring. This will be accomplished on our second day at sea.
The mooring site was chosen because it is far enough away from Hawaii so that it is not influenced by the landmasses. Mooring 13 will be located near mooring 12 in the North Pacific Ocean where the Northeast Trade Winds blow. Data collected from the moorings will be used to better understand the interactions between the atmosphere and the ocean. Instruments on the buoy record atmospheric conditions and instruments attached to the mooring line record oceanic conditions.
There is a lot more going on than just plopping a mooring in the sea. Chief Scientist Al Plueddemann from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and his team began in-port prep work on June 16th. This included loading, positioning and securing the scientific equipment on the ship. A meteorological system needed to be installed on the Hi’ialakai to collect data critical to the mission. And then there was the assembly of the buoy which had been shipped to Hawaii in pieces. Once assembled, the sensors on the buoy were tested.
As we left Oahu, we stopped to perform a CTD (conductivity/temperature/depth) cast. This allowed for the testing of the equipment and once water samples were collected, the calibration of the conductivity sensors occurred.
Sunday, June 26th, was the day of deployment. Beginning very early in the morning, equipment was arranged on deck to make deployment efficient as possible. And the science team mentally prepared for the day’s task.
Promptly at 7:30 am, deployment began. The first stage was to deploy the top 47 meters of the mooring with sensing instruments called microcats attached at 5 meter intervals. A microcats has a memory card and will collect temperature, conductivity and pressure data about every three minutes until the mooring is removed next year.
This portion of the mooring is then attached to the surface buoy, which is lifted by a crane and lowered overboard. More of the mooring with instruments is lowered over the stern.
The remainder of the mooring is composed of wire, nylon, 68 glass balls and an anchor. At one point, the mooring wire became damaged. To solve this problem, marine technicians and crew removed the damaged portions and replaced the section with wire from a new spool. This process delayed the completion of mooring deployment but it showed how problems can be solved even when far out at sea.
After dinner, the nylon section of the rope was deployed. Amazingly, this section is more than 2000 meters long and will be hand deployed followed by a section of 1500 m colmega line. It was dark by the time this portion was in the water. 68 glass floats were then attached and moved into the water. These floats will help in the recovery of the mooring next year. The attachment to the anchor was readied.
The anchor weighs 9300 pounds on deck and will sit at a depth of 4756 meters. That is nearly 3 miles below the ocean surface. The crane is used to lift the anchor overboard. The anchor will drop at 1.6 m/s and may take about 50 minutes to reach the bottom. As the anchor sinks, the wire, nylon and the rest of the mooring will be pulled down. Once it reaches the bottom, the mooring will be roughly vertical from the buoy to the anchor.
I sailed aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson in 2013 so I already had a general idea of what life aboard a ship would be. Both ships have workout areas, laundry facilities, lounges, and of course messes where we all eat. But on the Hi’ialakai, I am less likely to get lost because of the layout. A door that goes up is near a door that goes down.
On our first day aboard, we held two safety drills. The first was the abandon ship drill. As soon as we heard 6 short and 1 long whistles, we grabbed our life jacket, survival suit and a hat. We reported to our muster stations. I am assigned to lifeboat #1 and I report the starboard side of 0-3 deck ( 2 levels up from my room). Once I arrived, a NOAA officer began taking role and told us to don the survival suit. This being my first time putting the suit on, I was excited. But that didn’t last long. Getting the legs on after taking off shoes was easy as was putting one arm in. After that, it was challenging. It was about 84 F outside. The suit is made of neoprene. And my hands were the shapes of mittens so imagine trying to zip it up. I finally was successful and suffered a bit to get a few photos. This was followed by a lesson for how to release the lifeboats. There are enough lifeboats on each side of the ship, to hold 150% of the capacity on board.
Safety is an important aspect of living aboard a NOAA ship. It is critical to practice drills just like we do at school. So when something does happen, everyone knows what to do. A long whistle signals a fire. All of the scientists report to the Dry Lab for a head count and to wait for further instruction.
I am reminded of how small our world really is. At dinner Saturday, I discovered one of the new NOAA officers was from Cottage Grove, Oregon. Cottage Grove is just a short drive south of Eugene. She had a friend of mine as her calculus teacher. Then a research associate asked me if I knew a kid, who had graduated from South Eugene High School and swam in Virginia. I did. He had not only been in my class but also swam with my oldest son on a number of relay teams growing up. Small world indeed.
Did You Know?
The Hi’ialakai was once a Navy surveillance ship (USNS Vindicator) during the Cold War. NOAA acquired it in 2001 and converted it to support oceanic research.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown July 4 – 23, 2004
Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 28, 2004
How do you decide where to fly to find and measure pollution?
I spent today at the NEAQS Operation Center at Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth. The Op Center is the temporary “headquarters” for the air quality study. It is located in a college campus. About 15 large classrooms are being used as group offices for the approximately 100 scientists. I arrived just in time for the morning DC-8 briefing. The DC-8 is a NASA research plane which is loaded with equipment similar to what is on the RON BROWN. This morning about 20 scientists are planning tomorrow’s flight.
To begin the meeting several meteorologists showed some current weather movements and their predictions for tomorrow. Then the modelers who predict pollution motion and chemical changes explain what they expect to be happening to some pollution tomorrow. What this group plans to study tomorrow is a large bunch of pollution moving out of the New England and out across the Atlantic Ocean. About half way to Europe the pollution makes a large loop to the south and then loops back north. They want to fly through all of the pollution and see how the chemicals change as the pollution ages. There are three satellites that will be passing overhead at specific times and they want to be under them. So they have to time their flight schedule accordingly. Once everyone is on the same page of the general plan, they start planning the actual flight. The main idea is to fly out over the Atlantic following the looping band of pollution. At several points they want to spiral up and down to take measurements close to the ocean surface all of the way to the top of the pollution.
With a computer image of the NE US and the N. Atlantic being projected onto a screen, one of the scientists begins to type in a flight plan, as he types in latitudes and longitudes the route shows up on the map. As the route is being plotted, there continues to be discussion about where they should go to get the best measurements. Because of the points brought up in the discussion, the route and where they will spiral up and down are changed a number of times. Finally they have a flight plan. However, it is about an hour longer than they should be in the air. So the route is modified and remodified a number of times, until everyone feels that they will be able to make the measurements needed, and still have enough fuel to get back.
Question of the Day
What is your latitude and longitude?
The pollution being sampled by the DC-8 is also being measured in the Azores? Where and what are the Azores?
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown July 4 – 23, 2004
Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 27, 2004
Jim Koermer invited me to come up today and “work” a session with him. Jim is a Professor of Meteorology at Plymouth State in Plymouth, New Hampshire. During NEAQS he is responsible for providing the scientist on the BROWN twice daily forecast of the weather conditions. Yesterday evening I drove the 2 hours to Plymouth and went to Jim’s house. After a short visit with Jim and his wife it was about 9:00 PM. It was time for a nap, only a nap because his work session today started at midnight.
One of Jim’s students had worked the previous session. After we arrived he gave Jim a brief summary of what he had been doing. Rachel, another of Jim’s students soon joined us and she went to work immediately gathering some of the data necessary to make the forecast.
Along one wall of the long room, where they build the forecast, is a bank of 34 displays each continually updating satellite images, radars, computer models, webcams and other global and local weather information. On the desk are four computers which are used to gather other weather data and computer models which give real time, delayed time and computer models which predict general weather patterns.
Rachel and Jim are writing a very specific forecast for the area of the Gulf of Maine in the location of the BROWN. Their predictions give details such as wind speed and direction, air temperature, rainfall, cloud cover and where pollution will be starting from and then will move to. Even though they send the BROWN these predictions twice a day the forecast are for the next 48 hours, at six hour intervals. Until 6:00AM the two of them analyze the information from all of the different sources and then they hand draw some of the predictions on maps and type the rest. The drawn maps are scanned and merged with the typed predictions and the entire file is loaded to a website for the BROWN to access when it connects to the web by satellite at 7:00. You can see one of the hand drawn predictions in one of the pictures I sent in earlier from the BROWN.
The scientists on the BROWN will then use the predictions to determine what will be the best place for them to sample pollution. The BROWN does not travel very fast so plans have to be made ahead of time to catch certain pollution events.