Eric Heltzel, October 8, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific
Date: October 8, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Temperature: 25.5 degrees C
Clouds cover: 6/8, stratus, altocumulus
Visibility: 12 nm
Wind direction: 245 degrees
Wind speed: 13kts.
Wave height: 3 – 5’
Swell wave height: 3 – 5’
Seawater Temperature: 28.7 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 1005 mb
Relative Humidity: 82%

Science and Technology Log 

I’ve been working with the meteorological team from NOAA in Boulder, Colorado. I’ve been teamed with Dr. Jessica Lundquist to manage the 13:00 weather balloon launch. Balloons are launched four times a day at intervals of six hours.  A balloon carries an instrument called a radiosonde to a height often exceeding 20 kilometers.  Eventually the balloon ruptures and the instrument and spent balloon fall to earth.

When preparing a radiosonde we take the battery pack and add water to activate it. As the battery is soaking, the sonde is attached to the computer interface/radio receiver, and it is activated and calibrated.  It is necessary to have real-time weather measurements to input into the sonde so it has a comparison to ensure accuracy.  A radio transmitting frequency is selected then the sonde is detached from the interface and attached to the battery.  While it is still in the lab, we make sure that data is being transmitted.  If all of this goes correctly the radiosonde is set to launch.

We take the activated radiosonde out to the staging bay, which looks a bit like a garage. There are two overhead doors, a workbench, and bottles of helium.  We inflate the balloon with helium to a diameter of about five feet.  When it is inflated we close the balloon with a zip-tie, then attach the radiosonde by its hook, and close it with another zip-tie. We call the Bridge and let them know we are about to launch a balloon.

Now comes the tricky part, walking out on the fantail of the rolling ship carrying a large balloon in one hand and the radiosonde in the other.  Today there 16-knot winds coming from the SE and a wind generated by the ship’s speed of an additional 10 knots from due south.  To complicate matters further, the superstructure of the ship blocks the wind and creates erratic eddies. We check the wind direction and decide on which corner of the fantail will give us the cleanest launch.  Walking aft, the balloon is buffeted by the wind. It pulls and pushes you in various directions while you try to maintain balance on the heaving deck.  When you reach the railing, you hold your hands out and release the balloon and radiosonde. If it clears the A frame and the other equipment you stand and watch your balloon ascend until it enters the cloud layer and disappears.  We call the Bridge and let them know the balloon is away.

Now we return to the Lab to check that our sonde is sending out data.  Measurements of temperature, relative humidity, and atmospheric pressure are taken and sent back every two seconds. The GPS tracking device allows us to know wind speed, wind direction, altitude, and location of the radiosonde.  The measurements of temperature and relative humidity allow the computer to calculate the dew point.  Data streams in until the balloon reaches an elevation where the atmospheric pressure of  about 30, the balloon fails and the radiosonde falls to earth. Tomorrow: More about radiosonde information.

Questions to Consider 

-What is an eddy?

-What will happen to the volume of the balloon as it rises in the atmosphere?

-Why does atmospheric pressure decrease as elevation increases?

-What is the relative humidity when dew point and air temperature are the same?

-What is the adiabatic rate?

-What is a temperature inversion?

Personal log

I am a Pollywog.  Yes, that’s right. I’m one of those slimy little creatures with a spherical body and a tail. At least that’s what the Shellbacks tell us.  A pollywog is a person who has never sailed across the equator and gone through the ceremony and initiation to move onward. Shellbacks are people who have been through these rites.  I made the mistake of admitting that I don’t know what a Shellback is.  I fear that admission will come back to haunt me.  Initiation is approaching. I don’t know what I’ll have to do. I’ll keep you posted.

Eric Heltzel, October 3, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Heltzel
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 25 – October 22, 2005

Mission: Climate Observation and Buoy Deployment
Geographical Area: Panama Canal
Date: October 3, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge
Clouds cover: 7/8, stratus, cumulus, altocumulus
Wind direction: 250 degrees
Wind speed: 18kts.
Wave height: 3 – 4’
Swell wave height: 5 – 5’
Seawater Temperature: 29.9 degrees C
Sea level Atmospheric pressure: 10.10 mb
Relative Humidity: 82%

Science and Technology Log 

Today I worked my first watch from 08:00 to 12:00.  I was responsible for being present in the main science lab and monitoring our position and being aware of where the first deployment of instruments will occur.  Since we are not yet allowed to deploy any instruments, it was a fairly slow day.  We did receive training from Sergio Pezoa on how to calibrate and activate radiosondes.  These are the instrument packages that send back information on its position, temperature, atmospheric pressure, and relative humidity.  These instrument packages carry a water-activated battery and are attached to a helium balloon. They are released into the atmosphere at prescribed times and send back by radio the information they gather to the receiving unit.  This continues until the balloon fails and the instrument package tumbles to earth.  Radiosondes are the basis for most of the information about conditions in the upper troposphere.  I’ll be working on the team that launches the weather balloons carrying these instrument packages.

Mary Cook, December 6, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
December 5, 2004 – January 7, 2005

Mission: Climate Prediction for the Americas
Geographical Area: Chilean Coast
Date: December 6, 2004

Location: Latitude 19° 50.49` S, Longitude 73° 22.51`W
8:30 am

Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Direction (degrees) 144.45
Relative Humidity (percent) 68.72
Temperature (Celsius) 18.65
Barometric Pressure (Millibars) 1012.77
Wind Speed (knots) 11.36
Wind Speed (meters/sec) 5.51

Question of Day

Based on the name, what do you think a thermosalinograph measures?

Personal Log

Good morning, everyone! Wow! What a great way to get a good night’s sleep, in a gently rocking ship. It’s like sleeping on a waterbed. The morning shower was a challenge, though. Being wet and soapy even on a gently rocking ship could be very dangerous. After breakfast, we met with Dan Wolfe and Chris Fairall for radiosonde deployment training. A radiosonde is a really cool giant helium filled balloon with instruments attached to a cord dangling beneath it. The radiosonde must be assembled and calibrated before launching. As the instruments detect the relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, and temperature readings they transmit these data back to the computer onboard the ship. A radiosonde lasts for about one and a half hours and goes about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) high. Dan actually deployed a radiosonde and we watched it go up, up and away! Then we went back into the lab and observed the data coming into the computer. I can’t wait until it is mine turn to deploy a radiosonde!

Our next training session was led by Jeff Lord and he showed us how to deploy the drifter buoys and the Argo floats. These are fairly simple to get into the water. Just record their identification numbers, fill in the log sheet for time, date, GMT, latitude and longitude, then toss them overboard. The drifting buoys are small and they measure surface temperature and pressure. The drifters have a long caterpillar-shaped drogue extending far down into the water that ensures the buoy will drift with the ocean currents and not the wind. In a few days we will deploy the first of fifteen drifter buoys and my students at Southside School will adopt this one and keep track of it online. I am amazed at the designs of all these instruments. It’s almost unbelievable what ingenuity has gone into these designs. Some are high-tech and some are low-tech but they all work together to obtain the necessary data for the scientists.

The Argo floats sink down to 2000 meters then float to the surface. On their way up they measure temperature and salinity. When the float reaches the surface, it then sends the information to a satellite. The float has a bladder that deflates and it sinks again to repeat the process. The Argo floats can keep on going for two to four years depending on their battery life.

After our training sessions, Diane and I sat down with Bruce Cowden, the ship’s boatswain, who’s also an artist, to brainstorm for a children’s book about the science work of this cruise.

At 1415, we had our “surprise” safety drills: a fire drill and an abandon ship drill. The fire drill was pretty simple. Upon hearing the alarm, we reported to our muster stations. Then the chief scientist called the bridge and said that all persons were present.

The abandon ship drill was quite another story. When we heard the alarm, we had to go to our staterooms to get our life vests and emergency bag containing the big red “gumby suit”. Then we went to our lifeboat station and put on the suit. Its purpose is to keep you dry and afloat in the event you were forced to abandon the ship.

Diane and I are taking water surface temperature readings every thirty minutes. This is really kind of fun. There’s a thermometer in a tube-shaped “bucket”. The bucket is attached to a long cord. We then swing it over the edge of the ship into the water until the bucket fills up. We raise the bucket and read the temperature immediately. This is compared to the temperature reading on an instrument mounted underneath the ship called a thermosalinograph.

Later this afternoon, we finally arrived at the deployment site for the Chilean Armada tsunami buoy. We are about 200 miles off the coast of Chile. The ship hovered over the location while the buoy was hoisted by a crane then swung over the edge and lowered into the water. At this time the men are unrolling over 5000 meters of cable to attach to the anchors which happen to old railroad wheels. It will take about one hour for the anchors to sink to the bottom of the ocean. The bottom pressure recorder will then be lowered. It detects the slightest changes in pressure as small as two centimeters and sends messages back to the surface buoy which then relays that to a satellite which has direct ground communications. The ship will stay in this position for a few hours to make sure the tsunami buoy and ground pressure recorder are communicating with each other. A RHIB ride is in the near future!

And I hope I’m on it. RHIB stands for rigid hull inflatable boat and they go really fast! Some of the workers will be riding out to the tsumani buoy to check everything out before we leave it.

I’ve just found out that I will have morning watch each day from 0800 until 1200. Everyone on board is assigned a daily four hour watch duty. My duty will be in the main lab and I will stay in contact with the bridge and help out when needed.

So tune tomorrow for more on our exciting adventure!


Kevin McMahon, July 29, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin McMahon
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 26 – August 7, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
July 29, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat. 42 deg 43.99
Lon. 70deg 02.99
Barometer 1015.71 mb
Rel Humidity 94.6%
Temp. 17.1 C
Radiosond aloft at 0710.

Daily Log

Science meeting at 0800. It has been decided that we will try to rendezvous with the J31 out of Pease at approximately 1130 and if all goes well send another radiosonde aloft.

Since I came onboard the RONALD H. BROWN on the 26th of July I have been completely amazed at how sophisticated life onboard a modern research vessel has become. On the first day waiting in line for lunch I inquired as to how long we can expect to have the fresh fruits and vegetables? Mr. Whitehead, the chief steward answered me that, “we always serve up fresh salads, very little of our produce is frozen.” When I inquired as to how they do it, I was informed that the ships refrigeration system was equipped with a device which filters out the Ethylene, a compound which causes produce to rot. As a result we can expect to have fresh salads on a daily basis.

This little tidbit of information got me to thinking about the possibility of a lesson plan which would incorporate some chemistry and some biology.


1. Can you draw the molecular structure of Ethylene?

2. What bacteria are involved in the spoilage of food and how does the elimination of ethylene play a part in this process?

Most of my time over the last 3 days has been spent getting to know the ship, the crew, and the scientific staff. It is odd in that I am being drawn more towards the operation of the vessel than I am to the scientific community. But both aspects are keeping me busy.

I have been working with Dan Wolfe, one of the main meteorologists onboard. I had thought that because I teach Earth Science, I knew something about weather forecasting. I have a long way to go. It has been an education. We have been sending aloft four radiosonde balloons per day. One every six hours. Each device is carried aloft by a balloon filled with helium. The radiosonde sends back to the ship its location, direction of travel, velocity, and altitude as a result of the barometric pressure.


Which gas law equation does one use to calculate the relationship between pressure and volume?

1400 hours and I have just been informed that my hands are needed to assist with the preparation and launch of an ozonesonde. 1500 hours and we have been informed that a DC3 out of Pease will rendezvous with us in about 30 minutes. An ozonesonde has many of the characteristics of the radiosonde but also has the capability to measure ozone levels at various altitudes. It also has a longer life span and stays aloft about 2 hours and 45 minutes. The DC3 is really an aerial platform which has equipment onboard to measure ozone. I have been informed that the DC3 is nearing our location so it is time to fill the balloon.

Kirk Beckendorf, July 6, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
July 6, 2004

Daily Log

If you are standing on the ground, or in our case floating on the ocean, looking up into clear skies how could you tell the speed and direction of the wind a mile or two above you?

I spent the morning with Dan and Michelle who are from NOAA’s Environmental Technology Lab in Boulder, Colorado. Dan spent most of the morning showing me how the wind profiler he designed, can determine the wind speed and direction at any point above the ship, up to 6 kilometers in altitude. Dan was the chief engineer in designing NOAA’s wind profiler network, which has facilities strategically located across the United States. One of the phased-array radar wind-profilers is also installed on the BROWN. The profiler uses radar to remotely detect wind speed and direction in the column of air above our location. Five radar beams are aimed upwards from the ship, one looks straight up and the other four look upwards but at a slight angle. The radar signals bounce off turbulence in the air (kind of like air bubbles in a flowing river) and are then picked up by an antenna back at the profiler. The instrument then combines the signals from the five beams and determines the wind speed and direction at any point above the ship, up to about 6 kilometers (km). The computer monitor on the profiler gives a constant readout of the air’s movement. The chart this morning is showing that the air from the surface to about 3 km has shifted considerably both in speed and direction during the past 24 hours as a weak cold front passed through. However, the air above 3 km did not change its speed and direction much at all.

Dan and Michelle will also be launching radiosondes (commonly called weather balloons) four times a day. The radiosonde is attached to a large helium balloon. As it is rises through the atmosphere it measures relative humidity, air temperature, air pressure, wind speed and wind direction. Normally the sonde will rise to a height of 50,000 – 60,000 feet before the balloon burst and the radiosonde falls back to Earth. So this afternoon we went to the aft (back) of the ship. There Dan filled the balloon with helium until the balloon was about four feet in diameter. He then attached the radiosonde, which is smaller than a paperback novel, so that it was hanging from the bottom of the balloon. Once the computer had a good signal from the radiosonde’s Global Positioning System (GPS) he released the balloon. We all went back inside to the computer monitor that was graphing the relative humidity, air temperature, air pressure, wind speed and wind direction as the balloon ascended.

In the evenings after dinner the scientists have show and tell time. Different research groups showed some of the data that was collected today and gave a status report of how their equipment is working.

Questions of the Day

Why would the helium balloon burst as it reaches high altitudes?

How many MILES high can Dan and Michelle’s wind profiler determine wind speed and direction?

What is a GPS used for?

Debra Brice, November 14, 2003

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Debra Brice
Onboard R/V Roger Revelle
November 11-25, 2003

Mission: Ocean Observation
Geographical Area: Chilean Coast
Date: November 14, 2003

Data from the Bridge

1.  141700Z Nov 03
2.  Position: LAT: 14-54.6’S, LONG: 084-55.0’W
3.  Course: 180-T
4.  Speed: 12.2 Kts
5.  Distance: 293.6 NM
6.  Steaming Time: 24H 00M
7.  Station Time:  00H 00M
8.  Fuel: 4245 GAL
9.  Sky: OvrCst
10. Wind: 120-T, 17 Kts
11. Sea: 120-T, 2-3 Ft
12. Swell: 140-T, 3-5 Ft
13. Barometer: 1016.2 mb
14. Temperature: Air: 21.5 C, Sea 19.0 C
15. Equipment Status: NORMAL
16. Comments: None.

Science and Technology Log

We are still underway, about 800 miles off the coast of Peru.  We will arrive at the Woods Hole Stratus Buoy tomorrow at about noon.  We will be taking out a small boat ( zodiac or the RHIB) to look it over before we try to bring it in.  It is heavily instrumented and will be covered in many animals.  They will have to be cleaned off and I will enjoy preserving and identifying some of them.  I found a copy of my old invertebrate zoology book onboard so this should be worth several hours of entertainment for me.  Dr. Weller’s group will be removing the instruments in preparation for taking the buoy out of the water and loading it onboard.  Then we will spend another day deploying the new Stratus Buoy.  The old one will be shipped back to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for Arica, Chile.

Most of the day we were deploying sea surface drifters and several radiosondes for the ETL group.  Tomorrow Jason Tomlinson, from Texas A&M will be taking some aerosol samples for his research.  I will be interviewing the Chief Engineer, Paul Maurice and touring the engine room of the REVELLE. Radiosondes are used to collect data on atmospheric temperature, humidity, pressure and uses onboard GPS for wind direction and windspeed from the surface up to the lowest part of the Stratusphere.  I have put up some pictures of the radiosondes.  My e-mails and internet access are being made possible by the ROADnet system that is installed here on the R/V REVELLE.  We have “live” cameras off the fantail of the boat and in the main lab as well as telphone and internet capabilities due to ROADnet.  The Visualization Center at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, located at the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics ( IGPP),houses the state of the art system  that allows scientists to take enormous data sets, such as earthquake activity east of San Diego, the morphology of the global seafloor, or the topography of Mars and illustrate them on a large screen in 3 dimensions.  One new project taking advantage of the Visualization’s data management capabilities is termed ROADnet ( Real time Observatories, Applications, and Data Management Network). ROADnet sensors, located throughout the world and on Scripp’s largest ship, the Roger Revelle, deliver real-time data to the center for nearly instantaneous review by scientists on campus.  I will be using ROADnet to do a broadcast to a geography class next week at San Marcos HIgh School in San Marcos, California.  The class of teacher Larry Osen will be able to see me and the scientists on the Revelle as we deploy a CTD as it is happening and ask questions of the scientists.  This system is presently being installed on Scripps other large ship the R/V MELVILLE.  This is an exciting example of how technological innovations help advance scientific understanding of the oceans.

Personal Log

I’m a little disoriented on my times as I am doing the 12am to 4am watch.  I get up a little later that I normally would, about 10:30am.  Tomorrow we will come up on the buoy so I need to be up earlier enough to participate.  We will be filming and doing interviews during the recovery.  Besides if I get up earlier enough they might let me go out in the zodiac!  I will ride on any boat that floats, so this is too good an opportunity to miss.  Since the buoy has been out at sea for a year it will be covered in animals and surrounded by fish.  Anything that floats in the open ocean becomes a little miniature ecosystem,  So there will be some fishing and lots to see.  We will also being doing our first CTD cast tomorrow and I will have some pictures and descriptions of what a CTD is and why we are deploying it ( actually some of us are deploying it just to shrink our decorated styrofoam cups!)  I will be explaining that tomorrow too.  What oceanographers do for entertainment on long voyages.  So tune in tomorrow for some fun at sea!