Theresa Paulsen: Mission Accomplished, April 2, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16-April 3rd

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: April 2, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Partly Cloudy, 26 C, Wind speed 12 knots, Wave height 1-2ft, Swells 2-4ft.

Science and Technology Log:

What are the mappers up to?

After we completed our two priority areas of the cruise, the mappers have been using Knudson subbottom sonar to profile the bottom of the trench. Meme Lobecker, the expedition coordinator sends that data directly to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for processing. They returned some interesting findings.

The subbottom sonar sends a loud “chirp” to the bottom. It penetrates the ocean floor. Different sediment layers reflect the sound differently so the variation and thickness of the layers can be observed. The chirp penetration depth varies with the sediments. Soft sediments can be penetrated more easily. In the picture below, provided by USGS, you can see hard intrusions with layers of sediments filling in spaces between.

image

The intrusions are basement relief, likely uplifting deformation ridges created by the subduction of the North American Plate. The subduction is now oblique, with the North American and Caribbean plates mostly sliding past each other now – sort of like the San Andreas Fault – but there is still some subduction happening. Subbottom Image and caption courtesy of USGS.

How does the bathymetry look?

In the last two days, I have been really enjoying the incredible details in the bathymetry data the multibeam sonar has gathered. We mapped over 15,000 square miles on our voyage! Using computer software we can now look at the ocean floor beneath us. I tried my hand at using Fledermaus software to make fly-over movies of the area we surveyed (or should I say swim-over movies). Check them out:

I also examined some of the backscatter data. In backscatter images soft surfaces are darker, meaning the signal return is weaker, and the hard surfaces are whiter due to stronger returns. One of the interns, Chelsea Wegner, studied the bathymetry and backscatter data for possible habitats for corals. She looked for steep slopes in the bathymetry and hard surfaces with the backscatter, since corals prefer those conditions.

Intern poster project

Intern Poster Project by Chelsea Wegner

Chelsea Wegner Poster (pdf)

On the next leg, the robotic vehicle on the ship will be used to examine some of the areas we were with high-definition cameras. You can watch the live stream here. You can also see some of the images and footage from past explorations here.
This is a short video from the 2012 expedition to the Gulf of Mexico to tempt you into tuning in for more.

Personal Log:

The people on this vessel have been blessed with adventurous spirits and exciting careers. Throughout the cruise, I heard about and then came to fully understand the difficulty of being away from family when they need us.

I would like to dedicate this last blog to my father, Tom Wichman. He passed away this morning at 80 years of age after battling more than his share of medical issues.  As I rode the ship in today I felt him beside me. Together we watched the pelicans and the boobies fly by. I am very glad I was able to take him on a “virtual” adventure to the Caribbean. He loved the pictures and the blog. I thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for helping me make him proud one last time.

My parents

My Parents, Tom and Kate Wichman

“To know how to wonder is the first step of the mind toward discovery” – L. Pasteur. These words decorate my classroom wall but are epitomized by the work that the NOAA Okeanos Explorer and the Office of Exploration and Research (OER) do each day.

Thank you to the Meme, the CO, XO, the science team, and the entire crew aboard the Okeanos for teaching me as much as you did and for helping me get home when I needed to be with family. I wish you all the best as you continue to explore our vast oceans! My students and I will be watching and learning from you!

I would also like to thank all of the people who followed this blog. Your support and interest proves that you too are curious by nature. Life is much more interesting if you hold on to that sense of wonder, isn’t it?

Answers to My Previous Questions of the Day Polls:

1.  Bathymetry is the study of ocean depths and submarine topography.

2. The deepest zone in the ocean is called the hadal zone, after Hades the Greek God of the underworld.

3.  It takes the vessel 19 hours and 10 minutes to make enough water for 46 people each using 50 gallons per day if each of the two distillers makes 1 gallon per minute.

4.  NOAA line offices include:

  • National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • National Ocean Service
  • National Weather Service
  • Office of Marine & Aviation Operations
  • Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

5. The pressure on the a diver at 332.35m is 485 pounds per square inch!

6.  The deepest part of the Puerto Rico Trench is known as the Milwaukee Deep.

Thank you for participating!  I hope you learned something new!

Theresa Paulsen: Where There is a Will, There is a Way! April 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16-April 3rd

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: April 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:  Partly Cloudy, 26˚C, waves 1-3ft, swells 3-6ft.

Science and Technology Log:

Dr. Wilford (Bill) Schmidt has demonstrated the saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way,” throughout this  entire cruise.  He knew this voyage would put his new free vehicle design to the test and he came prepared to modify this, tweak that, collaborate with the crew, confer with his university team, test, and repeat.  He is an engineer and that is the name of the game.

1.  The first deployment looked great. The vehicle reached 1000m.  The magnetometer and 3-axis accelerometer worked great.  All systems were a go.  A water sampling device was used as a dummy payload.

FV Dummy Test

The free vehicle with a water sampling device as a dummy payload.

 

Test Data

Data from the Test Deployment

 

Crossing fingers for more success.

2.  The next step was to attach a CTD (a probe that measures Conductivity, Temperature, Depth).  The deployment and retrieval process again went smoothly, this time to 2126m, but there was a problem retrieving the log file from the bottom sphere and one of the anchor burn wires did not burn.

 

FV with CTD

The free vehicle with CTD attached.

Collaboration required with folks on shore and the electronics technicians on this ship.  Tweak this, fix that.

Troubleshooting

Dave Blessing, Electronics Tech, and Bill Schmidt troubleshooting.

Bill opened the spheres to change the batteries for the satellite transponder.

Open Sphere

One of the opened spheres

Keeping a log

Zamara Fuentes keeping a log of all of the adjustments and parameters

Repressurizing the sphere

Rolf Vieten pressurizing the sphere

All systems were a go again.

3.  The crew deployed the free vehicle with the CTD to 4679 m.  It took a little longer to find and retrieve the vehicle.

FV Retrieval

Retrieval of the free vehicle

The data files indicated that the galvanic releases released the anchor prematurely, at about 100 meters from the bottom.  Both spheres worked during the mission.  Data files were retrieved from each.  During inspection water was found in the bottom sphere.  Spalling of the glass (flaking) was seen on the inside.  The leak is assumed to have taken place as the surface under low pressure conditions, otherwise the damage would have been worse.  The electronics were in good shape but the bottom sphere had to be retired.

Oh no!  Is that the end?  Not when you have great minds on board!

This is where engineering in the ocean environment gets tricky.  Bill can’t just head back to the university and make the necessary repairs.  Instead he needs to make use of the very valuable ship time by pinch-hitting.  Bill recalculated the buoyant force on the vehicle with only one sphere.  It might just work!

Tweak this, lighten that, new attachments there. Ready for a float test!

Single sphere float test

The single sphere float test was a success!

Will the single sphere allow it to ascend from the bottom fast enough for us to deploy and retrieve it during our mission?  That question required further testing.  So the crew planned to lower it into the water a short distance with the winch and allow it to float back up.  The weather would not allow it.  The seas were too rough to allow the ship to stay in one place during the vehicle test without dragging the free vehicle thereby negating the results of the test.

Operations team meeting

Operations team meeting

Plan B?  The operations team hatched a plan to tie the free vehicle to buoys on a long rope.  That allowed the vehicle to sink and be recovered easily if it rose too slowly. First a buoyancy test had to be done to make sure the buoys wouldn’t sink with the vehicle.

Buoy Float Test

Buoy float test

The vehicle rose in less than 10 minutes so the team was back on track!  With a few extras like flags for better visibility, the vehicle was ready to dive!

Preparing for the big dive to 8000+ meters!

Preparing for the big dive to 8000+ meters!

4.  The deployment into the trench went smoothly.  The crew had that routine down pat.  After 10 hours it was time for the retrieval.  Everyone gathered at the bridge to try to spot it.

FV lookout

On the lookout for the free vehicle.

Port side lookouts

Port side lookouts

Free Vehicle Returns

The free vehicle returns from the deep!

It successfully collected data down to the bottom at 8379m, a possible record for a free vehicle!

Successful Dive

Bill content with a successful dive

The CTD data was processed and looked great during the descent.

FV CTD data

Free vehicle CTD data from the Puerto Rico Trench

Inspection of the data log showed that while the vehicle was ascending from the bottom, something was triggering a mission cancel order – 28 times!  This bug required more testing and mission simulating before another deployment in the trench.  Just after 8pm, Bill announced his equipment was ready to go for a 6 am deployment the next day.

5.  The next day, the retrieval took a bit longer due to choppier sea conditions.

The crew bringing the free vehicle aboard.

The crew bringing the free vehicle aboard.

Again the vehicle logs showed “cancel mission” messages during the ascent.  It is confounding Bill and his team back home, because during mission simulations the mission goes to completion without a problem.

In all the voyage has been very constructive for Bill’s engineering team.   They successfully deployed the vehicle to the bottom of the Puerto Rico Trench known to be the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean.  That is something to celebrate!  They have learned a great deal about what types of modifications they should make to improve the retrieval process.

This was a great first test of the free vehicle design.  The next time out at sea will come soon enough and Bill’s team will be ready!

Personal Log

As the voyage comes to an end and we travel nearer to shore, I am filled with mixed emotions.  I will miss the ocean, the feeling of being a part of an exploration expedition, and these people.  I am also very happy to be going home to my family and my students.  I am looking forward to sharing what I have learned.  I will be looking for partnerships to help get students involved in reseach on our inland sea, Lake Superior.  If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below!

Exciting moments?  Seeing these creatures!

Whale

Small whale swimming next to the vessel.

Dolphin

A dolphin playing in our wake. Photo credit: Jossue Millan

Other great moments include driving the ship and making video fly-bys of the ocean floor with the bathymetry and backscatter data.  Very awesome!  The videos will be coming soon so stay tuned!

Did you know?

Do you remember the flying fish I wondered about a few blogs ago?  I have never seen them before.  At first I thought I was seeing things.  I thought I saw a very large dragonfly dive into the water.  Then I saw more.  – schools of them jumping away from the boat all at once.  In a blink of an eye they were gone.

A flying fish.  Image courtesy of “Bermuda: Search for Deep Water Caves 2009 Exploration,”  NOAA Ocean Explorer

According to Wikipedia, there are 64 species of flying fish!  They fly out of the water to evade predators.  That’s a pretty cool adaptation!  You can learn more here.

Question of the Day:

Theresa Paulsen: How Low Can You Go? March 29, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16-April 3rd

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: March 29, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:  Partly Cloudy, 26.7˚C, waves 1-3ft, swells 2-4ft.

Science and Technology Log:

We launched and recovered a CTD earlier this week.

A CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth probe) is used to study the characteristics of ocean water masses, as well as to insure data quality and accuracy from XBTs (Expendible Bathythermograph). In a previous blog, I discussed how the XBT is used to measure the temperature of the water to a depth of about 760 meters. That coupled with the conductivity sensors on the vessel are used to calculate salinity and pressure to derive a measure of the velocity of sound through water, an important factor when collecting sonar data.

An XBT can be launched while the vessel is underway without pausing the sonar, but it doesn’t collect data all the way to the bottom of the water column.

Launching an XBT

Trying my hand at launching an XBT

A CTD can go all the way to the bottom, depending on the depth of the ocean, the length of the tether cable, and the pressure rating of the frame and equipment making up the CTD.  The titanium frame and equipment making up the CTD currently aboard the Okeanos can be lowered to 6500 meters.   It is very large and requires the vessel to stay put during the entire process since it is tethered to the ship.

Since a CTD collects all three factors involved in the computation of speed of sound in water (salinity, temperature, and depth) and is therefore more accurate than an XBT which only collects temperature, it is used at least annually to provide comparison data for the XBT measurements. This is the reason our scientists used it on this cruise.  Additionally, scientists on board a vessel may want to deploy a CTD more often if water masses are expected to change, or if they are interested in studying other features of the water column such as particulates, gaseous seeps, dissolved oxygen or oxygen reduction potential, or if they want to collect water samples at different depths.

The CTD

Survey Tech, Scott Allen and the CTD.

In the above photo the small red arrow is pointing to the water sample tubes, the large blue arrow to the CTD, and the large red arrow to the altimeter which senses when the probe is within 200 meters from the bottom allowing winch operators to slow the descent to avoid damaging equipment.  Scott Allen is the Survey Tech on board.  His job is to maintain and calibrate the CTD.  He helps launch and recover the CTD and then operates the software to collect and process the data.

CTD Data

Our first CTD launch data.

The CTD software plots the temperature (green), sound velocity (pink), conductivity (yellow), and the salinity (blue) on the x-axes against depth on the y-axis.  You can see locations on the graph where the values for temperature and salinity shift in a significant way with changes in depth.  These shifts can indicate a boundary between different water masses.  The upward spikes in the data are likely caused by some error in the equipment connections.

Let’s conduct an experiment!

Have you ever wondered what would happen to a styrofoam cup if you lowered into the water 2100 meters? The folks here tell me you get some pretty interesting results, so we had to give it a try.

Problem:  Determine the effect of extreme pressure on a styrofoam cups.

Background:  Styrofoam, properly called expanded polystyrene foam, is made by infusing air into polystyrene (a synthetic polymer) using blowing agents. Learn more here.

Hypothesis:  What is your hypothesis?  What do you think will happen to the air pockets if we send the cups to the depths of the ocean?

Procedure:

1.  Decorate your cups, leaving one as a control for comparison after submersion.

Styrofoam Cups

Decorating 12 oz styrofoam cups

Cup Decorations

More cup designs

The Before Picture

2.  Place the cups in a mesh dive bag and attach to a CTD.

Cups ready

Our cups are ready to dive!

3. Lower the CTD to 2100 meters

Launching the CTD

Launching the CTD

4.  Raise the CTD and examine the cups.

Raising the CTD

Raising the cups and CTD

Analysis:

So how much pressure was exerted on the cups at 2100 meters?  We can use this formula to calculate it:

P = pgh

Pressure in a fluid = (density of water) x (acceleration due to gravity) x (height of the fluid above the object).

If the density of seawater is 1027 kg/cubic meter, the acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 m/s/s and the depth is 2100 meters, what is the pressure?

You should get 21 million Pascals (Newtons/square meters) or 21,000 kPa.  If 1 kPa = 0.145 psi, how many pounds of pressure per square inch are exerted on each cup?   About 3000 pounds per square inch.  That’s about the weight of a compact car over each square inch!  For comparison, at sea level the atmospheric pressure is 14.7 psi.

So what happened to our cups under all that pressure?  Check it out!

Cups after dive

Our cups after a dive to 2100m. They are tiny!

Shrunken cups

More shrunken cups.

Shrunken cups

Showing off my shrunken cups.

Conclusion:

Was your hypothesis supported or refuted?  What happened to the air trapped in the styrofoam?

Air extraction is the reason that Dr. Wilford Schmidt uses iron rebar rather than cement to provide the anchor for his free vehicles.  The cement crumbles as the air pockets give way and air is squeezed out.  Cement is not as flexible as the polystyrene.

Free Vehicle

The free vehicle with rebar anchor

What other materials might change under pressure?  If you don’t have access to the deep ocean or a CTD, you could always try a pressure cooker – but be safe!

Personal Log:

I am inspired by all the people working on this vessel.  They are so adventurous and have seen so much.  I wondered what inspired them to do what they do.  Here are some of their answers:

Mapping Intern, Kristin Mello:  Took a class in scuba diving and realized she loved it and wanted to learn more.  Her dive instructor encouraged her to do an internship as a research diver and she has been studying the ocean ever since.

Free Vehicle Tech, Zamara Fuentes:  Built a model of a volcano in school became very interested in geology.  Now she studies tsunami impacts on the Caribbean islands.

NOAA Corps Officer, Nick Pawlenko:  Had never really spent much time on boats as a kid, but was inspired by Clive Cussler novels to explore the ocean.

Expedition Coordinator, Meme Lobecker: Her love of the oceans made her want to put her geography skills and interest in data collection to work in the ocean environment.

Engineer, Chris Taylor:  Wanted to put his love of engineering to work for good pay.  “There is never a dull moment,” he says.

Mapping Watch Lead, Melody Ovard:  Just likes being near the ocean.  “It’s a proximity thing.  I am curious about what goes on in it,” she says.

Free Vehicle Scientist, Bill Schmidt:  Loved surfing and was interested to learn what caused the changes in the surfing conditions day-to-day.  Then he read Willard Bascom’s book, Waves and Beaches, and was hooked.

NOAA Corps Officer, Bryan Pestone:  Swimming competitively and lifeguarding on the beach led him to a degree in marine biology.

Mapping Intern, Jossue Millan:  An astrobiology poster caught his eye in his physics class, which peaked his interest in life in extreme environments.  He enjoys the interdisciplinary sciences.

Teacher at Sea, Theresa Paulsen:  I am inspired by the wonder in a kid’s eye or on a proud parent’s face and by the beauty that surrounds us from the depths of the oceans to the expanses of space.  Life is amazing – and far too short to waste, so we have to make the most of it while we can.

Sunset Image

Thanks for the inspiring conversation everyone!

What inspires you?  Post a comment and let me know!

Did You Know?

For every 10 meters you go below the surface, pressure increases by one atmosphere (14.7 psi).  Scuba instructors typically don’t recommend diving deeper than 40m to decrease the risk of decompression sickness, known as “the bends,” or equipment failures that could lead to drowning.

Question of the Day:

The deepest successful dive in the Guiness Book of World Records is currently 332.35 meters (1090ft)!  Yikes!  Read about it here.

Theresa Paulsen: Intriguing Deployments, March 19, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16-April 3rd

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: March 19, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:  Partly Cloudy, 26.7˚C, waves 1-3ft, swells 2-4ft.

Science and Technology Log:

This morning at breakfast Commanding Officer Mark Wetzler, or CO, explained that we would be deploying instruments today.  The first one was a glider for the Navy. The Slocum electric glider is like a tiny, unmanned submarine built like a non-explosive torpedo with small wings. It has the ability to be remote-controlled for weeks to months at sea operating 24 hours a day even in the worst weather.  They can be programmed to travel back and forth, dive, and rise periodically to communicate data back to the mainland and accept new missions.  These autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) can collect many different types of data such as temperature, conductivity, or audio recordings, depending on the sensors attached. Gliders like this one can help detect tsunamis or other changes in the ocean.

Our vessel also records data 24 hours a day but is limited in its duration at sea by the needs of the people and fuel onboard.  Have you wondered how we can stay out at sea for nearly 3 weeks at a time without hitting the grocery store or service station?  I’ll explain more about that in a future blog.

Navy Glider

Close-up of Navy glider

Deploying the Navy Glider

Navy Glider Deployment

Navy Glider at Sea

Navy Glider at Sea

 

The next deployment was a test run of a “free vehicle.”  Dr. Wilford “Bill” Schmidt, and his assistants, Rolf-Martin Vieten and Zamara Fuentes from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayguez (UPRM) are testing the design of vehicles that can be deployed from a vessel like the Okeanos Explorer or a smaller ship.  These vehicles are inexpensive to make, easy to deploy, and do not need to be tethered to the ship.  They can be programmed to dive to the deepest parts of the ocean, or whatever depth desired, in order to take samples or record data.  Once the vehicle has completed data collection or sampling, it releases its anchor and rises the surface where it is retrieved.  Meanwhile the deployment vessel can continue other operations such as mapping.  Time is not wasted on a research vessel!  On this cruise they will use the device to sample the conductivity, temperature and depth of the water column.  This will help them learn more about the interaction between different water masses in the Puerto Rico Trench.

 

Bill's Team

Wilford “Bill” Schmidt, Zamara Fuentes, and Rolf-Martin Vieten with the Free Vehicle

Water masses in the trench are of particular interest to Bill, a professor of physical oceanography, because they could hold a key to understanding the flow of different ocean currents.  He explained that water masses form at the surface at a particular temperature and with a certain salinity corresponding to the surface conditions at the time.  Temperature and salinity are conservative properties, meaning they don’t change as the water mass moves.   So as a water mass formed in Antarctica sinks and moves toward the deepest parts of the ocean due to its density, its cold temperature and salinity don’t vary significantly. So temperature and salinity can serve as fingerprints of water masses.  Therefore as he measures these factors through the entire water column in the trench, we would expect to see the values change as we move from the North Atlantic Deep Water to the Antarctic Bottom Water.  The image below shows a generalized representation of the typical flow pattern of large water masses.

Ocean Circulation

The ocean circulation system. Image courtesy of NASA.

Bill’s work is supported by NOAA and the National Science Foundation. The NOAA Office of Exploration and Research recently provided him with an award to produce 5 free vehicles with his university team.  The fact that Bill’s vehicles are able to travel untethered into the hadal zone at a very low cost makes them uniquely valuable to researchers.  Data from the hadal zone is virtually non-existant because only enormous vessels would be able to support winches that could handle the 10,000+ meters of cable that would be required for the tethered vehicles currently used.  Since the average depth of the ocean is only 4000m, there is not a large enough demand to make manufacturing such large winches economically feasible.

Also, Bill’s free vehicles are small and can be deployed on very short notice, allowing them to capture data as major events occur. The vehicles can carry interchangeable payloads that could be used in all scientific disciplines. A biologist could request water or bottom substrate samples to examine life forms in the hadal zone that may not exist elsewhere.  A geologist might also like to sample the bottom substrate or might wish to record seismic activity at the bottom of the trench to better understand plate interactions.  A chemist interested in oceanography could examine the water for trace elements or compounds that were emitted into the air at one point in time, such as chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) that were once used but are now illegal in the US due to their impact on the ozone layer, or tritium (H-3) remnants from nuclear bombs used in WWII. This could provide us with an estimate of how long ago the water mass was at the surface and help us determine the rate of flow into the trench.  The research possibilities are endless.

FV Test

The first free vehicle test of the voyage

Initial tests looked good. During our 19 day voyage, Bill’s team and the crew will deploy the vehicle up to 11 more times with up to 6 locations strategically placed in the Puerto Rico Trench.

Personal Log:

Are you interested to know what the accommodations are like aboard the Okeanos?  They are comfortable enough for a work boat.  Take a look for yourself!

Porthole

The porthole in my room.

 

My Bed

My Bed

I love the curtain around my bottom bunk.  It reminds me of the forts my brothers and sisters and I built as kids.  I have slept like a baby ever since arriving.  The rocking of the boat is very calming.

There are a couple of nice spots to relax and chat, and write in my blog.  Here are the library and the lounge.

Library

Chris Taylor and Nick Pawlenko in the library

Lounge

The Lounge

I am surprised that I really haven’t been seasick. Motion sickness medication really helps. If you really get sick, there is a medical officer on board and sick bay.

The Sick Bay

The Sick Bay

I showed you the galley in the last post.  We eat in the Mess Hall.  The Chief Steward puts tennis balls on the bottom of the chairs to avoid scratching the finish on the floor.  Good thinking!

The Mess Hall

The Mess Deck

And when I have eaten too much, there is the fitness room!  There is a scale in the fitness room, but when you stand on it, the action of the boat rocking causes the scale to oscillate by 30-40 pounds.  It is a great demonstration of the difference between mass and weight!

Fitness Room

The Fitness Room

The best place to hang out is outside, of course, where you can possibly see a spouting whale or swimming dolphin.  I have seen both on this trip already but I need to be quicker with the camera!  Maybe next time!!

View from the bow

The view from the bow of the ship

Question of the Day:

David Murk: Sun Sets on This Story, May 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Murk
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7 – 22, 2014.

 

Taken by LTJG Begun

Taken by LTJG Begun

 

Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping

Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, U.S. East Coast

Weather Data from the Bridge – Tuesday, May 20

We are at: 36⁰N, 074⁰W

Weather: Few clouds

Visibility: 10 miles

Wind : 12 Knots from 270⁰ (use your 360⁰ compass)

Temperature: Water is 15⁰ Celsius, as is the air.

Our present location can also be found at: (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/).

Science and Technology :

“We’ll start the first plankton tow around 1:30 or 2,” said Chris Taylor (NOAA Fisheries scientist). Note to selfmake sure I have sunscreen… Then Chris added – “a.m. not p.m.” – new note to self- forget sunscreen, instead buy travel mug at ship store.”   Ever since our plankton tow net was damaged in Florida, Chris has been on his computer and conferring w/ his office, the CO and Derek Sowers, the Expedition Coordinator on how to get another net. Thanks to a lot of people’s flexibility, a net was found. So, like taking an early morning run to 7-11 for a gallon of milk, we took a run into Cape Canaveral and met a charter boat with net and frame.

After searching for samples on the west side of the Gulf Stream, we are now crossing it and going fishing on the east side of this “river” that moves more water per second than all the world’s rivers combined.  (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/gulfstreamspeed.html )

There are many different ways to do plankton tows, each for a different purpose. An underwater sled is hauled behind the boat called a “Continuous Plankton Recorder” that is like a conveyor belt and does what the name implies. Our method was to use a frame about the size of a hockey net (GO BLACKHAWKS!)  attached to a fine screen net. The tapered net was about 18 feet (6 meters) long and was towed off the side of the ship. The trick is to have the net rise and fall at the surface and down to 60 feet below the surface. Tyler Sheff (Chief Boatswain) found every available weight to attach to the frame and cable that held the net. After a few trials and adding about 200 pounds to the net it worked like a charm.

Picture taken by LTJG Begun

Picture taken by LTJG Begun

By 4 a.m. we were pulling in our first haul. Amongst the Sargassum plants were FISH! Chris and I meticulously washed the net with salt water and then he separated out all the plankton (phytoplankton are the plants and zoo plankton are microscopic animals). He then put each tow’s sample in alcohol for preservation to send to the lab for genetic analysis to see if some of the many fish larvae and eggs were indeed Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.

Going Fishin'!

Going Fishin’!

 

Taken by LTJG Begun

Taken by LTJG Begun

ChrisTaylor washing sargassum

 

Juvenile (and very healthy) pufferfish amongst plankton.

Did you know?

First – find the differences in these two pictures :

George S. Blake - courtesy of Wikipedia

George S. Blake – courtesy of Wikipedia

Okeanos Explorer -photo courtesy of NOAA

Okeanos Explorer -photo courtesy of NOAA

 

We have spent a large amount of time on the Stetson Mesa on the Blake Plateau. Why the name “Blake Plateau”?  Short answer is that it is named after a ship that was named after a man.  The ships above both were ships designed to explore.  The urge to explore and answer questions brought about from those explorations is timeless. NOAA’s origins were during President Thomas Jefferson’s administration. This branch of the country’s uniformed service will continue to evolve. America’s 21st century premier exploration ship, the Okeanos Explorer, is following in the footsteps of the 19th century’s premier exploratory ship – the George S. Blake. That ship was named after the man who saved the Constitution. (and you thought it was Nicholas Cage)   But that’s a story for another time and can be found at:

http://www.history.noaa.gov/ships/blake.html

and :

George S. Blake’s claim to fame

And one loose end – speaking of finding the differences in photos- and kudos to TAS Denise Harrington & Kalina’s dad for finding the difference in my second blog’s mystery photo challenge of the fact that because of rough seas, the rails on the tables in the mess can be raised to prevent food from sliding to the floor.

 

Personal Log 

Everyone’s nose has turned toward home. Some of the crew have been out to sea since February and the missing and euphoria for terra firma and the lap of family is thick.   The same for me with Mollie, Sophie, Izzie and Owen, I miss them tremendously. I’m so anxious to see the best fifth graders ever and my other friends and family. We really don’t need a quote to send it home but Frank Herbert’s words hit the nail on the head.

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

The Okeanos Explorer will get a facelift in North Kingston and head out in August.

I’ll come back for 3 glorious days with my class, forever changed by the privilege of getting a view into other people’s lives.

Saying thank you for this experience is a must.

  • I have to thank NOAA for selecting me for this opportunity. So many others more deserving, but I’m glad someone was asleep at the bridge last winter and allowed me to sneak in.
  • Expedition leader- Derek Sowers for his constant humor and patience at having to rewrite my drafts so as not to incur costly and lengthy litigation and Chris Taylor for not getting mad that I bungled the salinity #’s.
  • Commander Ramos and his Officers Pralgo, Rose, Begun, and Pawlenko for their tolerance with the interns and me constantly seeking permission to enter the bridge. They also shared with me a wealth of knowledge and career opportunities in NOAA for my students.  Gracias to the other crew- TR, Pedro, and James and Head and Second Engineers Vinnie and Nancy, and Chief Boatswain Tyler for their willingess to answer questions and give me time and not complain when i was standing in exactly the wrong spot.
  • The mapping interns, Danielle, Kalina, and Sam for their appetite for hilarity, work and meals.
  • To Vanessa and Jackie for always being quick to laugh or answer my questions.
  • To my mom and sister for taking care of business and Lil’ Sebastian.
  • To Mrs. Steinman, Mrs. York, Mrs. Helminski, Dr. Scarpino, Char, Diane and my students for allowing me this time away.
  • And most of all to Mollie, Sophie, Izzie , Owen and Jacqui for going full sail during the windiest month of the year.

I miss my class

 

David Murk, Why Are We Here? . . . . Wish You Were Here, May 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Murk
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7 – 22, 2014.

 

Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping

Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, U.S. East Coast

Date: May 16, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

We are at 28⁰ N – 079⁰ W heading west from Cape Canaveral, Florida:

Weather:  Few clouds

Visibility: 10 miles

Wind : 20 knots out of the northwest.

Water  Depth: 444 fathoms or 812 feet.

Temperature: water : 27° Celsius

Air temperature: 22°Celsius (I heard there was snow in Illinois, so I’ll leave the temp. in Celsius)

Our location can also be found at: (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/).

 

Science and Technology Log

Storms and subsequent rainbows with dolphins cavorting in the Okeanos Explorer’s bow wake get you asking the big questions.

Why are we here?

Not in the larger philosophical, sense but why is the Okeanos Explorer at 29⁰N, 79⁰W? With 95% of the ocean unexplored, why did NOAA choose the Blake Plateau (Stetson Mesa) to map? I went to Derek Sowers, the Expedition Coordinator for this cruise, to find out.

Derek is a Physical Scientist with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER), which is the program that leads the scientific missions on the Okeanos Explorer. In preparation for the ship’s explorations this year, OER staff asked many scientists and ocean managers in the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. Atlantic southeastern seacoast for priority areas for ocean exploration.The main purpose for the Okeanos Explorer is to explore largely unknown parts of the ocean and then put the data and discoveries out there for other scientists to use as a foundation for further research and improved stewardship. OER staff boil all these ideas down to a few and talk about the pros and cons of the final exploration focus areas. Once an operation’s area is determined for a cruise, OER then asks scientists what additional science can be done in these areas while the ship is planning to go there.

Much of this “extra” science benefits other parts of NOAA – such as the scientists that study fisheries and marine habitat. To manage this extra scientific work, the ship often hosts visiting scientists. On the current cruise, Chris Taylor from NOAA Fisheries Oceanography Branch joined the cruise to lead the plankton tow and oceanographic measurement work to search for Bluefin Tuna larvae in this part of the ocean and to understand the ocean chemistry here. It is important to NOAA to multi task and utilize the ship 24/7 to accomplish numerous scientific objectives. During March and April, lots of details were nailed down and by the middle of April Derek knew that the expedition could include time to do the plankton tows and extra water sampling.

Top View of Bathymetric image of Blake Plateau

Top View of Bathymetric image of Blake Plateau

Now, just like a family vacation, things happen along the way that require everyone to make changes. A road could be closed, someone could get sick, the car could break down. These expeditions are no different. So, how do decisions happen at sea?

The crew of the Okeanos Explorer are responsible for safe operation of the ship and for supporting the visiting scientists in accomplishing their objectives for the cruise. The visiting scientists, as led by the Expedition Coordinator, must make decisions about how, where, and what needs to get done to accomplish the science objectives of the cruise. The Expedition Coordinator discusses these plans with the ship’s Operations Officer and she consults with the head of the various department on the ship (Deck, Engineering, Medical, etc.) and the Commanding Officer to most effectively support safely achieving the science team’s goals. There is a daily Operations Meeting for all of these leaders to meet and ensure coordination throughout the day so that things run smoothly on the ship. The Commanding Officer is responsible for making sure the crew implements their duties, while the Expedition Coordinator (often called the Chief Scientist) is responsible for making sure the scientists implement their duties.

For complex decisions, like our present decision whether or not to go inshore to get a replacement plankton net, lots of factors are weighed and the final call is with the Expedition Coordinator and the CO. The Expedition Coordinator weighs trading off seafloor mapping time with getting more plankton data and decides if it is worth it to go get the net. Commander Ramos must decide if it is safe and reasonable to do so and makes the final decision of where and what the ship does.

For seafloor mapping work that happens 24 hours a day, there are three teams of two people who “stand watch” on 8 hour work shifts (called a “watch”). Each watch has a watch leader that works at the direction of the Expedition Coordinator. The Watch Leader ensures the quality of the mapping work accomplished during their 8 hour watch. The ship’s Survey Technician, Jacklyn James, works closely with the visiting mapping scientists to run all of the complex computer systems under standard operating procedures.

Here is an example of how routine small decisions are made. Let’s say that Vanessa Self-Miller (see personal log) is on duty as the Watch Leader and wants to have the ship move over 500 meters to get better sonar coverage of the seafloor below.

Vanessa uses the intercom to call the deck officer on the bridge and tells the officer she would like the ship to move over 500 meters. The officer checks the AIS (see last blog) and sea conditions to see if this would be a safe maneuver for the ship. The reasons for not approving the mapping team’s request would almost always be safety based. Most of the time, the officer says “Sure Thing. Roger That.” and in the space of a few minutes the ship has changed course as requested.

The answer to “why are we here?”  is a complex, time-consuming endeavor, but when it works, like on this expedition, it is magic to watch unfold.

Personal log

Wish you were here.

http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/explorations/ex1304/dailyupdates/dailyupdates.htmlhttp://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/explorations/ex1304/dailyupdates/dailyupdates.htmlen.wikipedia.org

The storm was not one of those Illinois summer thunderstorms that come racing in from Iowa – gathering energy like a 5th grade class the last few weeks of school. Nope. No simultaneous lightning thunder howitzers that you feel in your spine; just some lightning and wind gusts to 50 knots, but I sure wanted to see how things looked from the bridge once I heard the foghorn. The bridge on the Okeanos Explorer is one of my favorite places on this ship. I always ask permission for entry and if the circumstances allow, the officer on duty will grant it.

Operations Officer Lt.Rose’s IPod was playing Pink Floyd while she divided her attention between the myriad of dials and screens and  talking navigation with mapping intern Kalina Grabb.   AB Tepper-Rasmussen and NOAA Corps Officer LTJG (Lieutenant Junior Grade) Bryan Begun peered into the foggy soup and monitored the AIS.

The irony of the moment struck me because while the crew unconsciously played percussion on the brass rail overhead or mumbled lyrics and David Gilmour and Roger Waters sang about not needing an education, there was so much education and proof of education going on in this little room. That is the defining image I’ll always have of this space on the Okeanos Explorer. It is a place where the acquisition and exhibition of knowledge are so evident and invigorating. You can’t spend more than 4 minutes in this space without learning something or being amazed at how smart these people are and how devoted they are to use that knowledge to carry out the science of this mission.   On this particular night, the skies lifted and we had hopes of seeing a launch at Canaveral, 40 miles to the west.   Lt. Rose announced to the whole ship that a double rainbow could be seen portside and even the dolphins responded to her call to educate the right side of our brains.

Dolphins after the storm (picture courtesy of John Santic)

Dolphins after the storm
(picture courtesy of John Santic)

Lieutenant Junior Grade Begun and Mapping Intern Kalina Grabb checking the error of the gyrocompass using the azimuth

 

What else have I been doing?

In addition to spending time on the bridge- I have been helping with the XBT launches, using the photometer to add data to the NOAA’s Aerosol Project – with the ever faithful Muffin from good ol’ Hampshire Elementary and preparing for a night launch of CTD and plankton tows – more on that next blog.

Launching the XBT – taken by Expedition Coordinator, Derek Sowers

Photo taken by mapping intern Danielle Lifavi

Photo taken by mapping intern Danielle Lifavi

Preparing for night launch of CTD and plankton tows.(photo taken by LTJG Bryan Begun)

DID YOU KNOW?

Vanessa Self-Miller

Vanessa Self-Miller

Like all women, Vanessa Self-Miller’s mom was great at multi-tasking. While she got things rolling for the evening in the household, Vanessa was her mom’s guinea pig for the next day’s science lessons for her 6th grade students at Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Louisiana. She also instilled a love of the scientific method in her daughter.

Her father was a math guy and found out early that Vanessa was going to be the 3rd wheel with her brother on typical father son activities that involved mechanics or being out in nature.   That nurturing and her work ethic prompted Vanessa to get a degree in physics at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She went on to work for the U.S. Navy as a hydrographer doing a lot of mapping harbors and near the shore. She received her masters degree in Hyrdrographic Science from University of Southern Mississippi.

Now she is thrilled to be a physical scientist/hyrdrographer for NOAA.   While it is a challenge to coordinate job related travel with her husband and two children, she loves working for NOAA. NOAA respects a work-life balance and that allows her to pursue her passions in life. She wants to encourage all students but especially the young girls to start early in their path to a career in science. She feels that how parents nurture their girls is important in their seeking employment in the fields of science.

On a personal note, any time a question came up from this naive teacher or any of the mapping interns, Vanessa was able to answer it completely and without pause. She encourages all the 5th graders out there, male or female, to pursue their scientific oceanographic dreams. NOAA will need today’s fifth graders to investigate sea level rise and all the Ocean Engineering energy products that our country will need twenty years from now. There will always be a need for scientists who love to explore and want to work for NOAA.