Vince Rosato and Kim Pratt, March 22, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Vince Rosato & Kim Pratt
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
March 9 – 28, 2006

Mission: Collect oceanographic and climate modeling data
Geographical Area: Barbados, West Indies
Date: March 22, 2006

Preparing the sounder

Preparing the sounder

Science and Technology Log: The Echo Sounder

For the past few days, we’ve been transiting back and forth picking up (recovering) and launching (deploying) a special kind of buoy called an Inverted Echo Sounder (IES).  This buoy is attached to a weight and sinks to the bottom of the ocean.  There it sends out a sound pulse to the surface and measures the travel time of that pulse to hit the surface and return to the unit on the bottom of the ocean. Using the travel time of the sound, scientists use it with a historical profile of the water to estimate temperature and salinity of the water. They obtain the historical profile by doing repeated CTD casts and especially the cast before deploying the IES. Sound speed is proportional to salinity/density and scientists use the density and temperature estimations to identify water mass and current movement.  Remember, these currents are moving all over the world! The buoy we deployed also had a current sensor as well as a pressure and temperature sensor.  When scientists are ready to get the information from the buoy, they travel to the site of the buoy, and park the ship right on top of it, and the buoy sends the information to them.

The buoy at night.

The buoy at night.

The buoys stay down in the bottom of the ocean sometimes as long as 6 to 7 years but usually they’re picked up after 5 years. They cost between $25,000 and $45,000 each! When scientists are ready to pick up the buoy, they send a signal that tells the buoy to detach from the weight holding it down and then it floats to the surface attached to a large yellow float. At night, it sends a strobe light flashing across the water so it can be easily found. Also in the past week, all the Styrofoam cups that have been decorated by students at Cabello, Searles Elementary, Key Biscayne Community School, and members of the crew of the RON BROWN were lowered into the ocean at about 5000 meters, or a little more than 3 miles below sea level.  The effect of pressure can be as great as 70,500 pounds of pressure! This rids the cups of all the air and shrinks them to 75% of their original size. It’s sort of like when you dive into a swimming pool, and while going down you feel your ears get tight— that is the effect of pressure.

The buoy deployed

The buoy deployed

Finally, although we’ve been out to sea for over two weeks, we’ve seen very little wildlife.  We’ve seen pilot whales, two or three squid, flying fish and some little fish called Ballyhoo that dance on top of the water with a long snout.  They look like mini swordfish.  The reason we haven’t seen much wildlife is that there is very little life in the middle of the ocean.  In fact, if you look at the middle of the ocean from space, it almost looks purple because there is no phytoplankton, (green plant material that is the base of the food chain). You’ll find life near the coasts or in the North Atlantic because all animals need nutrients to live and you need currents or up welling to move the nutrients around to feed the phytoplankton (plants) which feed the zooplankton (little animals), which feed the fish, which feed the dolphins, which feed the sharks!  This is an example of the food chain.

 

The cups before pressure…

The cups before pressure…

Interview with Chris Churylo – Chief Electronics Technician 

An important person on any cruise is the Chief Electronics Technician or Chief ET as they are called. Their main job is to make sure that all the electronics are working – that means sonar, networks, navigation, radio and all the things that keep the ship going to where it needs to go, and people talking to whom they need to talk.  On board the RON BROWN, the Chief ET is Chris Churylo. Chris is multi-talented—not only is he a Chief ET, he’s also a Licensed Practical Nurse, an Emergency Medical Technician, a truck driver, a fireman, a pilot, has a real estate license and is a Notary. Chris likes working on the RON BROWN because he works two months on and gets two months off. While he’s at sea and not working, he likes to play chess, learn guitar and work out in the gym.  During his off-time he likes to fly his plane, a Cessna 150, explore local places and hang out with his girlfriend of 18 years.  Chris, who grew up in Philadelphia now calls a farm in West Virginia his home.  During his career he has traveled all over the world, notably to the South Pole and Barrow Alaska during his 20 years of government service.  Chris’s attitude on board the RON BROWN is contagious.  He is a happy spirit, energetic and genuinely likes what he does.

Assignment:  In your logs, illustrate the effect of pressure.  Step one – Draw your decorated Styrofoam cup at the surface.  Step two – draw it on the CTD in a bag ready to go to the bottom of the ocean.  Step three – draw it now 2/3 smaller than when it started.

…and the cups after pressure!

…and the cups after pressure!

Personal Log – Kimberly Pratt 

Yesterday was a quiet day.  We headed back to Marsh Harbor, Bahamas so the science staff had most of the day off with CTD casts in the evening.  I got to do some reading about Great White Sharks off the Farallones Islands – outside of San Francisco Bay.  One of the main researchers in the book is Peter Pyle, who I sailed with last year on the MCARTHUR II. I’ve really met some great people being a Teacher at Sea.  This trip feels like it is winding down with less than a week to go.  The weather is still beautiful.  Sorry to hear about all the rain and hail back home.  Keep writing I love hearing from you all.

Personal Log – Vince Rosato 

Sad news came on three fronts today.  First, a crewmember heard by ship’s phone of a tragedy in the family and had to be brought to shore to catch a plane back home.  If you noticed the ship tracker had us going back and forth from Abaco Island, one of those trips was to bring a crewmate ashore.  Second, I heard from my home that a neighbor friend had a stroke and is under observation in the hospital.  And third, from my school, a teacher friend is taking the rest of the year off for health reasons.  Those things drained my energy. Work doesn’t stop whether we are happy or sad, so I continued becoming proficient at salinity analysis.  If counting time, however, I spent most of the day replying to your wonderful emails and working on logs.  I got to call out on the radio set the depths to the winch driver, and fire the CTD bottles on the late night cast.  That boosted my morale with Dallas, the author, and Mick, the father of Dr. Beal.  We have formed a bond with Carlos, our CTD team leader, through our tradition of after-shift snack time in the galley.

 

Vince Rosato and Kim Pratt, March 19, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Vince Rosato & Kim Pratt
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
March 9 – 28, 2006

Mission: Collect oceanographic and climate modeling data
Geographical Area: Barbados, West Indies
Date: March 19, 2006

A view of the RON BROWN from the Zodiac (a small boat).

A view of the RON BROWN from the Zodiac (a small boat).

Science and Technology Log: The “Way Cool” Factor 

Today I spoke to Lisa Beal who introduced me to the “Way Cool” factor of the science we’re doing. I kept asking the question… why?… why?…why?… and now I realize how what we’re doing makes sense. This is a physical oceanography trip and it’s easy to get confused by the testing, measuring and chemistry that we’re doing.

So, the Way Cool Factor: The ocean has many currents, or rivers, running through it.  Some vary with the seasons and are called inter-annual (more than one time per year).  What is measured is the circulation and overturning of the ocean. We need to measure this overturning of water because it affects our climate and considering that two-thirds of our planet is covered with water, that’s important to know. Also, water masses have separate identities.  They all have a unique signature that is determined by the salinity (salt content) and temperature.  It’s sort of like a fingerprint.  These water masses travel all over the ocean in both a horizontal flow and a vertical flow.  Scientists track these water masses as they flow around the ocean.

What’s really cool is some of these water masses are over 100 years old.  For instance, North Atlantic Deep Water starts at the North Pole and travels all around the Pacific and even in the Indian Ocean and back again.  It’s sort of like a migration of water.  The colder (measured by temperature) and more dense (measured by salinity) water sinks to the bottom and scientists can then follow it around the globe.

Pretty interesting huh?  It helps make what we’re doing make sense.

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Dr. Molly Baringer, NOAA scientist

Interview with Dr. Molly Baringer, Chief Scientist  

Today I had the good fortune to sit and talk to Dr. Molly Baringer, Chief Scientist on the RON BROWN. Molly is an Oceanographer with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), based out of Miami, Florida.  She’s been with NOAA for 12 years and is currently working on the Deep Western Boundary Currents (DWBC) project.  The Deep Western Boundary Time Series, take her all over the Caribbean and into the Florida Straits taking measurements to measure the conductivity, salinity, temperature and depth of the ocean.  She is studying the currents, or the rivers, in the deep water of the ocean. This study has been on-going and it will really help the scientists understand the ocean better.

As a child, she always liked science.  She originally had a desire to be a neuroscientist and graduated from Tulane University where she was a premed/math major.  Her minor was in science.  She became a Research Assistant working with numerical models for a professor who was an oceanographer and, behold, her love for science coupled with the environment, became a perfect fit.

What she likes best about being a scientist is that she gets to be creative, learns new things every day, and she is valued for her thinking. She spends most of the day and sometimes nights on board the RON BROWN checking data, supervising casts, problem solving, and overseeing all the science that is happening.

The CTD seen here is just under the water’s surface.

The CTD seen here is just under the water’s surface.

While at sea she really looks forward to talking to her two children, Anna and John, and her husband (a computer scientist) who are awaiting her return.  While at home, she really likes to spend time with her family helping at their school, checking their homework, and going places and doing things.  Her hobbies are quilting, needlepoint, Bridge, and before she had her children, she and her husband used to golf approximately 3-4 times a week.

She hopes that eventually we’ll have an ocean observing program that will be institutionalized so we can continually monitor the state, or health, of our oceans.  She states that being a scientist is a great profession.  You get to be creative every day, you learn new things, and most of all you are valued for how you think.

Assignment:  Compare the movement of water masses of the Atlantic with the migration of gray whales. In your science logs, draw a picture of both.  Remember Gray Whales migrate (move) from Alaska (their feeding grounds in the summer) to Baja California warmer waters (for mating and calving) in the winter and back again.  North Atlantic Deep Water masses move from the North Pole south, into the Pacific and back again.

Personal Log – Kimberly Pratt 

Hi all. Until now Vince has been writing the scientific logs, but starting today I’ll be submitting them as well.  I’ve really missed discussing the science I’m learning with you.  I was really happy to talk to Dr. Beal who quite simply explained what we were doing.  It can get quite confusing and intimidating learning new things, but I’m adapting slowly.  The weather has been beautiful. Yesterday we deployed the Argo Buoy with New Haven’s name on it so we’ll be able to track it.  And we also deployed the drifter buoy that has been adopted by Cabello, Searles and Dr. Molly’s daughter’s school, Key Biscayne Community School. Today has been beautiful!  Awesome weather, beautiful blue water and we even got cell service!  I miss you all.  Hello students!  Keep e-mailing me and doing all your great work.  Remember you are the brightest, best and most confident fifth graders (soon to be sixth graders)!

Personal Log – Vince Rosato 

Thank you second grade reading buddies from Mrs. Mares class, for Juliet, the flat person, who has gotten in pictures with the drifter, visited the dining room, the bridge, the science lab and even went with the Zodiac party (speed boat) to get our passports cleared today. I’m sorry to report the laundry bag used to sink our Styrofoam cup mementos was lost at sea after ten years of loyal and faithful service.  We’re here off Abaco Island today. I looked out from the bridge deck into the starry night last night.  In pitch dark the vastness of the heavens is AWESOME!  It reminded me of camping in the mountains away from the city.  Clear views, crystal smooth water and imagine no television and only random music for three weeks.  I like it—very recollective.  Thanks, also to NHTA for the blue shirts showing our dedication to students as our special interest.  Finally, I was glad to call home today and find out in voice conversation all are well.

Vince Rosato and Kim Pratt, March 13, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Vince Rosato & Kim Pratt
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
March 9 – 28, 2006

Mission: Collect oceanographic and climate modeling data
Geographical Area: Barbados, West Indies
Date: March 13, 2006

Science and Technology Log: CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) Test Cast  

The “Package”

The “Package”

We learned what to do to help the scientists today. In other words, all science personnel were trained in CTD Data Acquisition Procedures. “The package,” is what we send down to the bottom, about 5600 meters, more than three miles deep.  The package, or CTD, is mostly a rosette of 23 cylinders, (specially machined thick PVC tubes). It is deployed, or lowered, overboard. A winch, a machine run by trained sailors, does this lowering. It has a strong wire and pulley to lift and put the package into the ocean.  Once on the surface of the ocean, the CTD was lowered to 10 meters, to get the air out of the system.  The distance of 10 meters is where the atmospheric pressure doubles.  The CTD is then returned to the surface.  We bring it back to the surface after getting all the bubbles out, in order to mark the winch line to zero so they know how far away the bottom is.  Not only is the winch line zero, but the software begins at a good water only profile level as well. All the tubes are open in the rosette on the way down so they do not burst with the pressure and they can collect water at various depths on the way back up from the bottom.  On the way down water passes right through the open tubes.  The procedure for lowering the package with the commands is given by the survey crew to the winch operator. They are simple and brief, explained Jonathan Shannahoff, the Chief Survey Technician, who along with the Chris Churylo, the Chief Electronics Technician, are in charge of the use of all the electronic equipment onboard.

So we followed a very detailed procedure of lowering the package to the depth of 2,000 meters and popped the tubes, closed the tubes on the rosette, thus collecting water samples at the depth of 2,000 meters.  This was a test cast.  It was brought to the surface and we practiced taking various samples from the water.  Kim got to do the salinity and nutrient samples and Vince got to work with Dr. Shari Yvon-Lewis, CFC Project Lead, and Julia O’Hern, post-graduate CFC analyst, with the trace element samples.  Each type of sample has a procedure to follow to make sure it is done in the same manner so no mistakes are made with the data.  The first actual data collection casts will be coming up on Monday. We expect to do 55 or so casts and make more than 20 samples from each cast. Yes, today was all practice. We labeled vials and sample bottles to make them more orderly. The scientific process requires that you replicate experiments, which means that someone else can do the same thing as we do under similar conditions and get the same results.  Without that procedural similarity, reliability of data is compromised.  In other words, if you don’t do the same thing you did the last time you did it, you may not get the same conclusions.

Captain Gary Petrae on the bridge of the RON BROWN

Captain Gary Petrae on the bridge of the RON BROWN

Interview with Captain Gary Petrae 

When you enter the bridge of the RON BROWN, you probably will meet Captain Gary Petrae. Captain Petrae has spent over 27 years with the NOAA Corps. He joined NOAA after graduating from Florida Institute of Technology where he majored in physical oceanography.  Captain Petrae chose NOAA because he likes adventures and loves a challenge. His favorite ports are Barbados W.I., Kodiak AK, and San Diego, CA.  When he’s not on duty, he catches up on paperwork, reads, and watches movies.  He encourages all his staff and crew to stop and relax and he tries to practice this daily himself.

CAPT Petrae really enjoys his commission, but does admit that the family separation is difficult. He encourages anyone to join NOAA and you can apply with a college degree to the commissioned corps, or in an entry-level position with a high school diploma.  A great benefit for NOAA employees is that you can live on-board a ship, (don’t have to pay rent), eat three meals a day and you can see the world. This is CAPT Petrae’s first command upon the RON BROWN which is a class one research vessel that travels all over the world.  The RON BROWN measures 274 feet stem to stern, is 52.5 feet wide, and needs 20 feet of water in which to operate.  The RON BROWN uses diesel fuel and has six generator motors.  The ship makes its own water using an evaporation system. The RON BROWN is scheduled to go to Brazil later in the year, and CAPT Petrae with his love of adventure is ready to go!

Personal Log – Vince Rosato 

You have asked, what is it like on the ship? The cabin I’m in has two bunks and two wall cabinets with closet space and drawers and one tall metal Chester drawer all of which I share with my cabin mate Ho, a doctoral student from the UK.  I have the bottom bunk and I work the noon-midnight watch.  He has the midnight to noon watch, which means each of us gets the room to ourselves for the time we’re not on watch.  We share the bathroom that has a fixture and shower stall with our adjacent cabin.  When we use it we lock both entry doors and remember to unlock them when we leave.  There is a sink with a mirror in each cabin as well.  The room has two sofa-like chairs and a stool that can be used like a desk chair next to the Chester drawers that has a pullout section that acts like a desktop. In each double size bunk there are drapes around three sides since one side faces the metal wall.  They shield the light in either direction because there is a bunk light with an outlet inside.  All in all the cabins are practical and spacious and we are in charge of keeping them neat and tidy.  Speaking of tidy, I did my laundry today two decks below.

Personal Log – Kimberly Pratt 

Hi all. The weather is beautiful.  I’ve spent the last two days doing interviews, taking pictures and forming friendships on board the RON BROWN.  Yesterday I was trained in CTD collection procedures and really felt like a scientist as I got to take samples.  I’ll be processing salinity samples as well as non-organic nutrients.  The ship has stopped rocking and rolling so seasickness is at bay.  Today I really go to work, collecting samples as my shift is from noon to midnight.  The crew and officers have been very helpful and friendly. It’s been going really well, and it’s nice to have a fellow teacher on board!