Catherine Fuller: National Mooring Day, July 11, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 29 – July 18, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 11, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 59° 00.823 N
Longitude: 148° 40.079 W
Wave Height: 1 ft, ground swell 3-4 ft
Wind Speed: 5.4 knots
Wind Direction: 241 degrees
Visibility: 5 nm
Air Temperature: 13.3 °C
Barometric Pressure: 1014.6 mb
Sky: Overcast


Science and Technology Log

At home, I regularly check information from the buoys that literally surround our islands.  They give me real time, relevant data on ocean conditions and weather so that I am informed about storm or surf events.  We also have buoys that track tsunami data, and the accuracy and timeliness of their data can save lives.  Deploying and monitoring these buoys is a job that requires knowledge of ocean conditions, electronics, rigging and computer programming. 

preparing buoy system
Pete (foreground) and Seth set up the buoy system in preparation for deployment
buoy anchors
The anchors for the buoys were made of train wheels

Pete Shipton is onboard as the mooring technician from UAF’s Seward Marine Center. This morning, he, Dr. Danielson and the crew deployed three moorings near oceanographic station GAK6i (about 60 miles offshore in the Northern Gulf of Alaska) at a depth of 230 meters. The search for the right depth required that R/V Sikuliaq do an acoustic survey of the area last night to find a kilometer-long area of the right depth and bottom slope.  The three moorings will be situated close enough to each other that for all purposes they are collecting a co-located set of readings representative of this site, yet far enough apart, with small watch circles, that they don’t overlap and foul each other.  The set of three is designed to have one surface buoy on either side with sensors at the surface and through the water column and a third buoy in the middle with sensors also distributed across all depths.

The first buoy, GEO-1, gives information on physics, optics, nutrient
chemistry and has a profiling instrument that will “walk” up and down the mooring wire from about 25 m above the seafloor to 25 m below the surface, collecting profiles four times a day. The mooring has many of the sensors that the ship’s CTD has, including an ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler), a weather station with a GPS that measures wind speed, relative humidity, sea level pressure, and air temperature.  The buoy system was designed to withstand and operate in 8 m waves; in larger waves the surface buoy is expected to become submerged.  At one meter of depth, GEO-1 measures the temperature, salinity, chlorophyll fluorescence and photosynthetically available radiation. 

On GEO-2 (the center buoy), similar data is recorded at 22 m below the surface.  There will also be a sediment trap, mammal acoustics recorder, particle camera, and an AZFP (acoustic zooplankton fish profiler), which has four frequencies that can detect sea life from the size of fish down to the size of zooplankton. It records sound reflections from all sizes of creatures and can see fish migrations during day or night within a range of 100m (from 100m depth to the surface).

Buoy GEO-3 is the primary “guard” buoy, or marker for the whole set. It also has a real-time transmitting weather station and near-surface measurements.

Linking the mooring lines and the anchors are acoustic releases,
which are remotely controlled tethers whole sole function to listen for a “release” command that will tell them to let go of the anchor.  Since the limiting factor on the instruments is the life of the batteries, they will be picked up in a year and the acoustic release will allow the instruments to be brought back aboard Sikuliaq. These buoys will be providing real time information for groups such as the Alaska Ocean Observing System (www.aoos.org) about weather and ocean conditions, while also collecting
information about sea life in the area.

Pete and Seth on buoy
Pete (left) and Seth (right) test the stability of the buoy

Deploying the buoys was a lengthy process that required careful
coordination of parts, lines, chains and personnel.  Luckily everything
went off perfectly!  As the anchor weights for the two surface buoys deployed, they briefly pulled the buoys under, causing a bit of joking about whether the line length was calculated correctly. The brief “dunk test” was an excellent first trial for submergence during this coming winter’s storm conditions.

The second buoy briefly scares us by going under!


MarTechs:

There are opportunities for careers at sea in a wide variety of positions on board a research vessel.  One of the most interesting is the MarTech (Marine Technician), because of their dual role during a scientific cruise. 

The Marine Technicians are technically assigned to the science team although they are a part of the ship’s crew.  Bern and Ethan are the MarTechs on this cruise and both work specifically with R/V Sikuliaq. They are considered a part of whatever science team is on board at the time. The MarTechs are on 12-hour shifts, from 8:00 to 8:00.  Ethan is on at night, and Bern is on during the day, although there is some overlap.  The two men help to deploy and recover instruments for the science team and as well as helping the crew with any deck operations.  They also are responsible for the computer lab and overseeing the data displays and production from the various sensors, as well as maintaining the instruments on the ship that provide information.  Although they are always at hand to help when we need it, you will often find them also repairing and upgrading ship’s equipment and helping with engineering tasks.

Bern sets up camera
Bern setting up one of his cameras.

Bern has been a MarTech on R/V Sikuliaq since 2013, and had previous experience on other research vessels, both American and international.  Bern is also the ship’s unofficial documentation guy; he has a number of small cameras that he regularly uses to capture the action on board, whether from the vantage point of one of the cranes or on top of his own helmet. You can find examples of Bern’s camera work on R/V Sikuliaq’s Instagram site (@rvsikuliaq).

Ethan and Ana
Ethan helps Ana with the iron fish.

Like Bern, Ethan has also worked on other research vessels but has been on R/V Sikuliaq since it was built.  This is the only ship he’s been a MarTech on.  His interest in oceanography, especially marine acoustics, led him to this career.  Marine acoustics is more than just listening for large species such as whales.  There are acoustic sensors that “listen” to the ship and help ensure that it is functioning normally.  Other acoustic sensors, such as the ones based in the open keel of the ship use sound technology to map the ocean floor as we progress on our path.  Ethan was kind enough to show me the keel and explain the instrumentation. In addition, there are instruments that constantly record salinity, temperature, current strength, solar radiation and other measurements along the path we travel to provide a more complete picture of the environmental conditions existing at every point. 

open keel
The ship’s acoustic instruments are mounted in the open keel; it’s open to the sea!

The marine technicians manage the computer lab when they are not needed for operations.  This lab is the nerve center of the ship and allows the science team to work closely with the bridge to coordinate the movement of instruments and the speed of the vessel through the water to achieve optimum results.  You can find information on meteorology, navigation, engine performance, depth sounders, closed circuit monitors, ship acoustics and deck winch statistics by looking at specific screens.  In addition, the staterooms have monitors that also allow viewing of certain screens. 

computer lab
The screens in the computer lab provide all the information needed to make decisions about how and when to deploy data-gathering instruments.

By far the two displays that are followed most closely are the CTD cast screens and the AIS screen.  The AIS screen gives our course on a map, and shows our progress as well as future waypoints.  It also shows our speed and bearing to our next point as well as ocean depth and wind speed and direction.  The CTD screen shows real-time results in a number of categories such as salinity, oxygen, chlorophyll, temperature, nitrates and light as the CTD descends and ascends through the water column.  Based on the results of the down cast, the teams determine the depths from which they’d like water samples collected as the CTD rises. 

AIS screen
The OLEX or AIS screen shows our path as well as navigational information.
The CTD screen looks like spaghetti until you understand the color code for each line.


The Bridge:

The equipment on the bridge represents the pinnacle of technology as far as ship operations go.  The captain’s chair has been described by some members of the science team as the “Battlestar Galactica” or “Star Trek” chair, and it really does look like it fits in a science fiction movie.  Displays on the bridge show performance of the engines, radar returns and our bearing and range from them, and any other pertinent information to vessel performance.  Ship movement and waypoints are hand plotted by the second mate, who also oversees ship movement along with the captain, chief mate and third mate.  The ship’s officers work the bridge on a rotating watch schedule.  One of the cool features of this ship is that it operates two Z-drives, similar to what is used on tugboats.  These are propellers that can move independently of each other and turn in any direction.  They allow the ship to be maneuvered precisely, which is a great help when we need to stay on a station through multiple operations.  Various views of the bridge and the navigational instruments used by the ship’s crew are shown in the gallery below.

Captain Eric Piper
Captain Eric Piper shows off his new jacket


Personal Log

Happy Mooring Day!  It’s our self-declared “national holiday”! Because the process of deploying the moorings and buoys took up all of the morning and a part of the afternoon, most of the rest of the science team took the morning off and slept in.  So many of them ran on the treadmill that running might become a part of our “holiday” tradition.  My roommate even took bacon back to her room to eat in bed.  Gwenn brought out her Twizzlers…somewhat appropriate because they look like steel cable (even though the moorings did not use cable).  It was a nice breather for the science team, who have been working very hard to collect samples and run experiments.  Somewhere along the line, the idea of making Mooring Day a “holiday” caught on, and it’s become a bit of a joke amongst the team.  We’re down to a week to go, and everyone is beginning to think about what happens when we get in and when we all go home.  But… we’re not quite there yet, and there’s a lot of work left to do.


Animals Seen Today

stowaway
Our stowaway came to inspect today’s deployment.

We apparently have a stowaway…a small finch-like bird that flits about the ship.  It must have joined us when we were near land, and now we ARE the land. 

Roy Moffitt: Life on a LEGO, August 14-15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

Mission: Healy 1801 –  Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 14-15, 2018

 

Current location/conditions:

Evening August 15 – North- Northwest of Wainwright, Alaska

Air temp 35F, sea depth  47m , surface sea water temp 32.2F

 

Life on a LEGO

The LEGO is a nickname given to the large green plastic pallet-like mooring. Their retrieval from the sea floor is pictured here.  This equipment was retrieved after being deployed for a year on the sea floor in about 40 meters of water.  The mooring is called a DAFT (Direction Acoustic Fish Tracker).  On the DAFT there are instruments that measure ocean temperature, salinity, and pressure.  The primary instrument is an echo sounder that records any schools of fish that may pass overhead.

Lego Retrieval

Retrieval of the “Lego,” a large plastic mooring that has spent the past year collecting data at the ocean bottom

What the DAFT was not designed to do, but does well, is catch sea life. The fiberglass pallet has 1 1/2″ square holes in it that allow water to pass through on retrieval and it also catches sea life as if it were a net. Yesterday we pulled two of these “Legos” from the sea and they were covered with marine life. The most remarkable sight were the large blue king crabs, (around half dozen on one pallet). Here I am holding one of the bigger ones– such awesome looking creatures!

Roy and crab

TAS Roy Moffitt holding a blue king crab

On the smaller size, we found a hermit crab (shown here hiding in a shell).

Hermit Crab

Hermit Crab

Also on board were many sea stars. Most were the Brittle Stars. This is the picture of the sea star with the small legs. I think they are called the Brittle Stars because when I tried to gently remove them from the mooring, sadly their legs kept breaking off. There were dozens of these on the mooring.

Sun Star

Sun Star

There was another sea star with nine legs. It was very pretty and looks like a drawing of the sun. Not surprising, I found out this one is called the “Sun Star.”

Some not-so-pretty items on the moorings I like to call “mooring acne” are called tunicates. These are filter feeders and come in many different forms.

The one on my hand looks like a giant pimple and when you try to take it off the mooring it squirts you in the face. Not surprisingly this tunicate is called the “Sea Squirt.”

 

Think about it…

All of the life on the Lego mooring was sent back to the sea to hopefully find a new home.  The Lego pallet mooring mentioned above is not large, about 4 ft by 6ft.  The mooring in this story was only in the ocean one year and became the home of the above mentioned marine animals – crabs, sea stars, tunicates, and also thousands of barnacles!  One tiny piece of the sea floor contained all this life! Imagine how rich in life the entire unseen ecosystem is in the Chukchi Sea!

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

For the last two days, I saw several walruses. Pictured below is one that popped up by a piece of ice.   Teaser – look for a future blog focusing on walrus and their habitat.

Walrus by ice

A walrus pops its head up above water near a piece of ice

 

Now and Looking forward

We are now seeing small bands of pack ice and individual pieces of ice called “growlers”.   Sea ice has not interrupted science operations, as of today. There is plenty of open water so far. We should see ice of different concentrations for the rest of the trip as we continue to head north.  Look for future pictures and some of the science on sea ice coming soon. For now here are a couple pictures from August 15.

Growlers in fog

“Growlers” – the view looking from the deck of USCGC Healy down into the fog

Walrus broken ice

Another view of the walrus, swimming near broken up ice

 

Roy Moffitt: Moorings All Day, August 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Healy 1801 –  Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 12, 2018

 

Current location/conditions: mid day August 12  Northwest of Icy Point Alaska

Air temp 34F, sea depth 43 m , surface sea water temp 43F

 

Moorings all day

Moorings are essentially anything left tied to an anchor at sea. In this case, moorings hold many different types of scientific instruments that have been anchored at sea for a year. We are only here in the Arctic for a couple weeks. In order to monitor the ocean when people are not here, many different kinds of underwater instruments that have been designed to record ocean conditions are left under the ocean attached to moorings.  To service these moorings they must be retrieved. This is one of the main tasks of this trip.  When we arrive at a mooring station, one would not know it as the mooring is underneath the ocean, hidden from sight.  A audio signal is sent to the underwater release and a buoy (a large yellow float) is deployed. Then, the Coast Guard steps into action.  This picture below shows a Coast Guard crew fishing for a buoy in a not-so-calm sea.  When they hook the buoy they will tie it to a rope that is hooked into the Healy‘s on board winch.  The winch will pull in the buoy as the rope is wrapped around a turning spool.

Moffitt_Mooring Retrieval_small

The Coast Guard crew fish for a buoy in a not-so-calm sea

When the buoys and attached instruments come out of the ocean they can be covered with sea life, such as barnacles which you may be able to see as small white shell looking creatures in the picture below. The buoy in the picture is mostly covered in bryozoans.  Although it looks like seaweed, bryozoans are not plants, but tiny sea filtering animals chained together.  Either way it has got to go.  This was my job today.  I washed all the buoys and cleaned the instruments.  For the sensitive parts on the instruments, this meant using a sponge and toothbrush. For the rest of the instrument, I used a power washer.

Mooring retrieved from the ocean

A mooring retrieved from the ocean, covered in marine life – mainly bryozoans.

 

cleaned instrument

A close-up of the mooring instrument, post-cleaning

Once this instrument is in the science lab, the sound recorder (as mentioned in the August 8th blog post) was taken apart and thoroughly cleaned.  It will be reused at another station during this trip if all is functioning well.  In the next picture, this equipment is now shown cleaned and sitting in the lab. Much of the cleaning was done with toothbrushes and a wire brush.  So another important role for a scientist is spending a lot of time cleaning equipment! Not exactly glorious!

 

The Mustang Suit

In my life, I have power washed many things, but aboard the Healy in the Arctic, for safety reasons, I have to wear a Mustang suit.  Essentially the Mustang is an oversized orange snowsuit designed to save a life if anyone falls overboard into the near freezing Arctic waters.  It has a light beacon and a whistle attached for rescuers to find you and it is designed to keep body heat in for a longer amount of time than plain clothes.  This is to try to keep anyone from immediately getting hypothermia and hopefully provide the additional few minutes it would take to rescue a man overboard.  I prefer to call the Mustang a big fluffy orange sweat suit– even though it was 34 degrees out I was sweating in it!

NH dudes

Teacher at Sea Roy Moffitt (left) and UNH researcher Anthony Lyons (right) wearing Mustang Suits

Here I am, in this picture, looking like an orange Pillsbury doughboy with fellow New Hampshire resident Anthony Lyons.  Anthony is from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and is a Research Professor at the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering. Anthony is retrieving and deploying moorings with passive acoustic devices that record animal sounds and rain from under the ice. The instruments also measure the density of plankton and fish in the water, both food sources for marine animals.  With data over time, changes in density of these populations with changes of ice cover can be found.

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

Sometimes life clings on to the moorings.  These basking starfish were attached to a mooring we pulled in yesterday.  Then, the next picture is an Anemone curled up in a ball that was also attached to another mooring.

  

Now and Looking Forward

Air temperature has dropped to 34 degrees F, and although the surface sea temperature is 43, lower in the water column the temperatures are actually near or below freezing. It looks like we may see some pieces of ice as soon as next mooring stations tomorrow.  Those changing conditions will have to be monitored for mooring retrieval, as a buoy cannot pop up through ice!

Julia Harvey: More to a Mooring than meets the Eye, June 26, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Julia Harvey

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

June 25 – July 3, 2016

 

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.

Site of Mooring-13 courtesy of WHOTS Project Instructions

Site of Mooring-13
(courtesy of WHOTS Project Instructions)

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.

A look at interactions between the atmosphere and the ocean.

A look at interactions between the atmosphere and the ocean. [R. Weller, WHOI]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Meteorological Station on the Bow

Meteorological Station

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.

Predeployment

The deck before deployment began. The buoy is the blue item on the left.

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.

Sensing instruments for the morring

Microcats for recording oceanic conditions

readied microcats

Microcats readied for deployment. They are lined up on the deck based on their deployment depth.

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.

glass floats for recovery

These glass floats will help when the mooring is recovered next year.

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.

 

Mooring Structure

Mooring Structure

Personal Log

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.

Survival Suit & Julia

Abandon Ship drill with Survival Suit

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.

 

 

 

Sue Oltman: Getting My Sea Legs, May 22, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Oltman
Aboard R/V Melville
May 22 – June 6, 2012

Mission: STRATUS Mooring Maintenance
Geographical Area: Southeastern Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Chile and Ecuador
Date: May 22, 2012

Science and Technology Log

It’s finally the day we will leave port!  I’m awakened by the feeling of my bed shaking and a crash of something falling, this could have been an earthquake.  The science party boards the boat after breakfast and spends a lot of time fastening all equipment down and securing it to shelving; even my laptop needs to be affixed to my desk with Velcro.

My stateroom is on the 02 deck, which is one floor below the main deck. I’m in 02-50-2 with a private “head.” Everything is made of steel (even the toilet and shower) and is bolted down, too.

Stateroom

Here’s where I will sleep for the next two weeks…and take naps so I can do my 4 a.m. watch shift.

As we move out towards open  ocean, the R/V Melville – all 278 feet of it –  is moving northwest at about 11-12 knots and all seasoned hands comment on how calm the seas are. However, there are factors such as pitch, roll and heave which I am not accustomed to!  Ocean conditions affect the ship with  roll of about 3° to 5°  – swaying back and forth to the left (port) and right (starboard.)  Pitch is the hull tilting forwards or backwards and is about 1 ° or less.  Heave is vertical displacement of the ship and is a meter or less. The roll starts getting to me after dinner, despite the sea-sick medicine! Fortunately, after lying down for a while, the sickness passes.

Next, I went up to the lab where all the monitors are to see what I can learn about our course. Watching the multi-beam sonar display (from the Bathymetry XTD) as the ocean floor drops out from below us is fascinating. An array of 191 SONAR beams maps it out. The colors appear like the depth color key on classroom maps we use of the ocean floor – dark blue where deepest and yellow or even red where it is shallower.

The monitors showed the ocean floor depth as it dropped from 2500 m to about 4700 m in an hour or so. The ship was beginning to sail over the trench!

This monitor shows the bathymetry or depth of the ocean in real time as we sail.

Two safety drills were conducted – a fire drill and an abandon ship drill. There was also training on the scientific equipment we will deploy, the UCTDs  (underway conductivity, temperature and depth probes), and ARGO drifter buoys. Sean Whelan led the class on UCTD training and Jeff Lord prepped us on the drifters. These smaller buoys will be released and will float freely, carried by the currents.

The UCTDs will be deployed hourly around the clock on the aft deck (back of the ship.) Salinity and density are derived from these values. The probe is dropped into the water, will sample for about 2 minutes to 400 m or so and then be retrieved. The casting line is then rewound onto the spool to be ready for the next deployment like a sewing machine bobbin being wound.  The data is transmitted to the computer via Bluetooth when a magnetic key is inserted to activate it.

UCTD

A UCTD is taken back to the surface after gathering data. Sean Whalen, an Engineering technician, taught the class on UCTDs.

Everyone was trained how to use the winch as they will need to use it on watch. Each watch has 3 people and is 4 hours long, and then you have 8 hours off. My assigned watches are 0400 – 0800 hours and 1600-2000 hours (4 to 8) so I will need to alter my sleeping schedule! Those on watch must stay in the downstairs lab and conduct UCTD releases during those hours. The instruments inside the UCTD are very sensitive and costly and must be handled very deliberately.

There is one more session. Keith – the ship’s “res tech” or resident technician – conducts a CTD handling class. The “rosette: is the circular frame in which water sampling devices called CTDs are placed to take water sampled in international waters. These are different from the UCTDs because deep zone water is sampled for salinity and temperature. This will be done about 7 times on this cruise. It is large and the instruments are housed in a sturdier casing so it is heavier and the winch operator must lower this into the ocean with a crane.

We are looking forward to be seeing some great sunrises and sunsets from our research vessel during watches!

Sunset

Enjoying the spectacular sunset with me are Elsie Denton, volunteer translator, and Jamie Shambaugh of NOAA.

Sue Oltman: Greetings from the Ring of Fire! May 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Oltman
Aboard R/V Melville
May 22 – June 6, 2012

Mission: STRATUS Mooring Maintenance
Geographical Area: Vina del Mar, Chile
Date: May 20, 2012

Personal Log

I’m staying in the town of Vina del Mar, about 90 minutes from Santiago and close to the busy port city of Valparaiso.  Learning a bit more about the culture of this country. Once again, I’m reminded how useful it is to know other languages. The science team from WHOI (affectionately called by its acronym, pronounced hooey) is led by Dr. Robert Weller, the chief scientist, a renowned oceanographer whose expertise is moorings. The mooring for STRATUS 11 will be recovered and STRATUS 12 will be deployed. Another significant science contribution of WHOI is the Alvin submersible. Alvin has explored the mid-ocean ridge in the Atlantic Ocean extensively.

Valparaiso

From the R/V Melville, in port, looking towards shore, there are many smaller touring and fishing boats in addition to cargo vessels.

Last time, I shared that earthquakes are almost expected here, so there is a common concern about tsunami preparedness.  In 2010, many Chileans lost their lives due to a tsunami they did not know how to react to. The country’s leaders are trying to implement better evacuation plans, so there is a large public drill planned in about a week here. There are banners in the street announcing the upcoming drill!  Think of the school fire drills we have…a whole country will practice in a coordinated earthquake and tsunami drill to ensure that lives will be spared in the future.

Valparaiso colorful street

Many of the steep hills of Valparaiso were colorful – the homes and artistic graffiti.

The port of Valparaiso is very colorful and busy, with a lot of commerce taking place. New cars enter South America here, as does steel for construction and other goods. The U.S. oceanographic research  ship R/V Melville arrived and the team has been getting equipment ready for the mission ahead.  The new buoy and instruments have been shipped here separately, and the technician, Val Cannon, has been checking them out before they are deployed.It’s not an everyday event that a US Navy ship enters Chile, so local government will take the opportunity to somehow enrich their citizens.  A school group visited for a tour of the ship as well as an overview of the scientific research happening aboard the vessel. The Melville science crew prepared to give a presentation to the group of high school students on Saturday morning.  The research vessel  Melville had come into port on the heels of 2 weeks of  earthquake research by Oregon State University scientists. This scientist gave a presentation about her work first.

Scientists present to Chilean students

Dr. Sebastian Bigorre, WHOI, and Elsie Denton, translator, and I speaking to the students.

Next, Dr. Sebastien Bigorre (Seb) gave a talk about the atmospheric research in the Stratus project which I will elaborate more about in upcoming blogs.  He showed them the location of the stratus mooring and why that location is chosen – it is in the area of persistent stratus cloud cover in the lower atmosphere.  Did you know that some ocean water masses have a specific “fingerprint? ” This allows scientists to determine where that water mass travels to, and this reveals more information about winds and currents in the region.I gave the students an overview of the Teacher at Sea program and how NOAA  provides resources for science instruction, and invites teachers to experience cutting edge science in the oceans.  Teachers at Sea create new lessons and curriculum related to their cruises which are then shared on the NOAA website. The Chilean science teachers asked if these materials were available to them as well, and were happy to find out that they were.

Today was also a busy day of shipboard work inValparaiso, heavy work and long hours of getting the project’s equipment aboard.

Crates and crates of equipment and gear was unloaded, involving cranes and heavy lifting by all.  Even the top scientists are not exempt from the gritty hard labor! In the video clip, you will see Dr. Weller and other hardworking, versatile scientists assembling the mooring on deck. The ocean is all around us, but no one is swimming in it.
The water is pretty cool here, due to the Peru current which bring Antarctic water masses northward. There is continuous upwelling from about 1,000 meters where the thermocline is.

The coastline is on the edge of the Peru-Chile trench, part of the network of tectonic plate boundaries surrounding the Pacific. While on land, we are on the South American plate, and when we put out to sea, we will be above the Nazca plate.  This is a subduction zone where the trench descends to as deep as 6,000 meters in places! The Nazca plate is subducting under the continent. The R/V Melville will mostly be sailing in water in the 4,000-4,500 meter range.  This teacher is ready to set sail! Comment below to let me know your questions about the ship.

Answers to previous polls:

The KMS hat won! Upwelling is the movement of deep,cold, nutrient rich water to the surface. The cables can be over 4000 meters long.

Sue Oltman: Moorings and More, May 10, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Oltman
Aboard R/V Melville
May 22 – June 6, 2012

Personal Log:

In a few days, I will be en route to Santiago, Chile and meet up with the Stratus  research team that I will spend about 3 weeks with.  The scientists are from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts.  After some preparation, the Melville will depart from the port of Valparaiso.

Moorings will be referenced many times, I expect – and that’s not something we  often encounter in landlocked Atlanta, GA.  When something is “moored” it is fastened or secured in place by a cable, rope or anchor. So a boat can be moored as an alternative to being tied to a dock in a marina. Obviously, there will not be any docks and marinas in the middle of the eastern tropical Pacific!

Stratus surface mooring

One of the moorings we will recover during this mission (photo courtesy of WHOI)

The scientific instruments involved in the Stratus project are integrated into buoys and into the cable that secures them to the ocean floor. These surface data buoys are moored and are sometimes just called moorings. There are buoys in the ocean that collect all kinds of data way beyond just temperature – wind direction and speed, salinity, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and more. Some provide early detection of potential tsunamis, a concern in this area – last month,Valparaiso experienced a 6.8 magnitude earthquake, and in Chile, earthquakes are no surprise.

Location map of Stratus project

The Stratus project focuses on a specific area in the open ocean. (image courtesy of WHOI)

Speaking of earthquakes, the largest earthquake ever recorded occurred in Chile in 1960. Technology and our ability to predict and warn has come a long way in the last 50 years! Stratus is using data to predict climate change – this cruise will be the 11th mission of the team to collect more data for this project. It is exciting to think of the potential this holds for us!
[polldaddy poll=6211066]

Personal log:

NOAA survival suit

Here I am with the NOAA survival suit – in a San Diego museum!

Ship life is going to be different for me! I’ve learned that there are some similarities in rules to the Rock Eagle and Jekyll Island field trips I’ve taken with students! First of all, I will sleep in a bunk bed; next, I am only allowed to wear flip flops in my cabin – no open toed shoes on the deck of the ship. I’ll be expected to clean my room and my own bathroom before I leave the ship. Absolutely no swimming is permitted! One thing that will be different is that there will always be someone working around the clock – and that means someone will always be sleeping. Safety is of the utmost importance – one of the first things we will do is conduct a safety drill. Instead of a PFD, NOAA uses survival suits in case of emergency.
What do you want to know about the ship? Send me your question by leaving a comment.