Hayden Roberts: Data and More Data… July 11, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hayden Roberts

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 8-19, 2019


Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 11, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 28.29° N
Longitude: 83.18° W
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 11 knots
Wind Direction: 190
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 29.8°C
Barometric Pressure: 1013.6 mb
Sky: Few clouds


Science Log

As I mentioned in my introductory post, the purpose of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey is to collect data for managing commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the science involved is much more complex than counting and measuring fish varieties.

The research crew gathers data in three ways. The first way involves trawling for fish. The bulk of the work on-board focuses on trawling or dragging a 42-foot net along the bottom of the Gulf floor for 30 minutes. Then cranes haul the net and its catch, and the research team and other personnel weigh the catch. The shift team sorts the haul which involves pulling out all of the shrimp and red snapper, which are the most commercially important species, and taking random samples of the rest. Then the team counts each species in the sample and record weights and measurements in a database called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System).

Trawling nets
Trawling nets waiting on aft deck.

SEAMAP can be used by various government, educational, and private entities. For example, in the Gulf data is used to protect the shrimp and red snapper populations. For several years, Gulf states have been closing the shrimp fishery and putting limits on the snapper catches seasonally to allow the population to reproduce and grow. The SEAMAP data helps determine the length of the season and size limits for each species.

Tampa Bay area waters
Digital chart of the waters off the Tampa Bay area. Black dots represent research stations or stops for our cruise.

Another method of data collection is conductivity, temperature, and depth measurements (CTD). The process involves taking readings on the surface, the bottom of Gulf floor, and at least two other points between in order to create a CTD profile of the water sampled at each trawling locations. The data becomes important in order to assess the extent of hypoxia or “dead zones” in the Gulf (see how compounded data is used to build maps of hypoxic areas of the Gulf: https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/noaa-forecasts-very-large-dead-zone-for-gulf-of-mexico). Plotting and measuring characteristics of hypoxia have become a major part of fishery research especially in the Gulf, which has the second largest area of seasonal hypoxia in the world around the Mississippi Delta area. SEAMAP data collected since the early 1980s show that the zone of hypoxia in the Gulf has been spreading, unfortunately. One recent research sample taken near Corpus Christi, TX indicated that hypoxia was occurring further south than in the past. This summer, during surveys two CTD devices are being used. The first is a large cylinder-shaped machine that travels the depth of the water for its readings. It provides a single snapshot. The second CTD is called a “Manta,” which is a multi-parameter water quality sonde (or probe). While it can be used for many kinds of water quality tests, NOAA is using it to test for hypoxia across a swath of sea while pulling the trawling net. This help determine the rate of oxygenation at a different depth in the water and across a wider field than the other CTD can provide.

Setting up the CTD
Setting up the CTD for its first dive of our research cruise.


Did You Know?

Algae is a major problem in the Gulf of Mexico. Hypoxia is often associated with the overgrowth of certain species of algae, which can lead to oxygen depletion when they die, sink to the bottom, and decompose. Two major outbreaks of algae contamination have occurred in the past three years. From 2017-2018, red algae, which is common in the Gulf, began washing ashore in Florida. “Red Tide” is the common name for these algae blooms, which are large concentrations of aquatic microorganisms, such as protozoans and unicellular algae. The upwelling of nutrients from the sea floor, often following massive storms, provides for the algae and triggers bloom events. The wave of hurricanes (including Irma and during this period caused the bloom. The second is more recent. Currently, beaches nearest the Mississippi Delta have been closed due to an abundance of green algae. This toxic algae bloom resulted from large amounts of nutrients, pesticides, fertilizers being released into the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Louisiana because of the record-high Mississippi River levels near Lake Pontchartrain. The spillway opening is being blamed for high mortality rates of dolphins, oysters and other aquatic life, as well as the algae blooms plaguing Louisiana and Mississippi waters.


Personal Log

Pulling away from Pascagoula yesterday, I knew we were headed into open waters for the next day and half as we traveled east down the coast to the Tampa Bay, FL area. I stood on the fore deck and watched Oregon II cruise past the shipyard, the old naval station, the refinery, navigation buoys, barrier islands, and returning vessels. The Gulf is a busy place. While the two major oceans that flank either side of the U.S. seem so dominant, the Gulf as the ninth largest body of water in the world and has just as much importance. As a basin linked to the Atlantic Ocean, the tidal ranges in the Gulf are extremely small due to the narrow connection with the ocean. This means that outside of major weather, the Gulf is relatively calm, which is not the case with our trip.

Navigation buoy
Navigation buoy that we passed leaving Pascagoula harbor.

As we cruise into open waters, along the horizon we can see drilling platforms jutting out of the Gulf like skyscrapers or resorts lining the distant shore. Oil and gas extraction are huge in this region. Steaming alongside us are oil tankers coming up from the south and cargo ships with towering containers moving back and forth between Latin America and the US Coast. What’s in the Gulf (marine wildlife and natural resources) has geographic importance, but what comes across the Gulf has strategic value too.

The further we cruised away from Mississippi, the water became choppy. The storm clouds that delayed our departure the day before were now overhead. In the distances, rain connected the sky to sea. While the storm is predicted to move northwest, the hope is that we can avoid its intensification over the Gulf Stream as we move southeasterly.

Choppy seas
Choppy seas as we cruise across the Gulf to the West Coast of Florida to start our research.

I learned that water in the Gulf this July is much warmer than normal. As a result, locally produced tropical storms have formed over the Gulf. Typically, tropical storms (the prelude to a hurricane) form over the Atlantic closer to the Equator and move North. Sometimes they can form in isolated areas like the Gulf. Near us, an isolated tropical storm (named Barry) is pushing us toward research stations closer to the coast in order to avoid more turbulent and windy working conditions. While the research we are conducting is important, safety and security aboard the ship comes first.

Joan Shea-Rogers: Do You Hear What They Hear, July 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Joan Shea-Rogers

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 1-22, 2018

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date: July 8, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 53º N

Longitude: 166ºW

Sea Wave Height: 1.5 feet

Wind Speed: 25 Knots

Wind Direction: SW

Visibility: 15 miles

Air Temperature: 52ºF

Water Temperature: 46º F

Barometric Pressure: 1010.61mb

Sky: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

What kinds of fish live in the Bering Sea? How many pollock are in the Bering Sea? Where are the pollock in the Bering Sea? How big are the pollock in the Bering Sea?

Those are just a few of the questions that the fisheries biologists on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson work to answer during each voyage. In my last blog, I talked about the need to manage the pollock fishery in order to protect this important ocean resource because it provides food for people all over the world. It is important, then, to be able to answer the above questions, in order to make sure that this food source is available each year.

How do they do it? There are two main sources of information used in the Acoustics-Trawl (or Echo Integration Trawl) survey to determine the abundance and distribution of pollock in a targeted area of the Bering Sea. One is acoustics data, and the other is biological-trawl data.

Acoustics:

Acoustic data is continuously collected along a series of parallel transects with a Simrad EK60 scientific echo integration system incorporating five centerboard-mounted transducers (18-, 38-, 70-, 120-, and 200- kHz). In other words: There are 5 sound wave producers (transducers) attached to the bottom of the ship, each one emitting sound waves at different frequencies. This allows scientists to look at different organisms in the water column. Different types of organisms reflect different amounts of energy at different frequencies. The amount of acoustic energy reflected by an individual animal is called the target strength, and is related to the size and anatomy of the species. For example, a fish with a swimbladder (like pollock) reflects more energy than a fish without a swimbladder because its properties are very different from the surrounding water. Some ocean dwelling organisms don’t have swim bladders. Flatfish stay on the bottom so they don’t need the buoyancy. Floating organisms like jellyfish don’t have them. These organisms will look differently than pollock on an echogram because they have a smaller target strength.

Transducer

Transducer

Transducers convert mechanical waves (sound waves) into an electrical signal and vice versa (like both a loudspeaker and a microphone combined). They contain piezoelectric materials sensitive to electricity and pressure: if a voltage is applied to them, they make a pressure or sound wave (transmit), and when a sound wave passes over them, it produces a voltage (receive). When a sound wave (echo from a fish) is received, electoral signal is sent to a computer, which displays the signals as pixels of varying colors as the ship moves along (depth changes up and down on the left of the image, and time and location changes along the bottom of the image). This datum is used to estimate the number and type of fish in the water column, and to determine where the ship should fish next.

The size and colors on the images (called echograms) represent the backscatter at different depths and is related to the density of fish and their target strength. But, since they are dots on a screen, specific identification is not possible. The scientists assume certain strong signals are pollock based on the information they have but, those dots could be other fish. To determine what kind of fish are in the water column at this location, how many are there, and how big they are, other data must be obtained. Biological Trawl Data provides that additional information. More about that in my next blog post……I bet you can’t wait!

Personal Log

The Calm Before the Storm:

So far my trip has been smooth sailing, literally. As NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson sails across the Bering Sea there is a bit of rocking the ship experiences at all times. This is easy enough for one to get used to and sometimes it even becomes comforting, like being rocked to sleep as a child. You adjust to the motion. Over the past couple of days I have been hearing talk of a storm coming our way. On a ship, there are many preparations that occur in order to get ready for a storm. Many items are always secured, such as shelves that have a wall in front so that things don’t fall off. There are “handle bars” in showers and next to toilets (think about that). Along hallways and stairways there are handrails on each side. Mini refrigerators in staterooms are bolted to walls. In fact most things are bolted to walls or stored in containers that are bolted to the wall. In the mess hall (dining room) condiments on tables are in a box so they can’t slide off.

Why do you think this coffee mug is shaped like this (wider at the bottom than the top)?

 

At-Sea Coffee Mug

At-Sea Coffee Mug

Ans. The wider bottom of the mug above prevents it from sliding as the ship rocks.

Our bulletin board reminds us to secure for bad weather. This morning, I put small items in drawers, stowed books on shelves and packed my equipment (phone, laptop, camera, chargers and small items in a backpack that can be safely secured in my locker (the “closet” in my stateroom).

In talking to my shipmates with at sea experience, I am getting lots of helpful hints about storm preparations and strategies to use during the storm. Here are some of those suggestions:

*always hold on to railings with both hands when walking or going up steps. At all other times, remember to keep one hand for you (to do whatever you are doing) and one hand for the ship (to hold on).

*keep something in your stomach at all times, even if you are not feeling well

*eat saltines

*drink lots of water

*when sleeping in your bunk, place pillows between you and the edge so as not to roll off (I will definitely follow this one, as I am on the top bunk) It also depends upon which direction the ship is rolling. Pillows may need to be put between your head and the wall to prevent head bumps

*go to the lower parts of the ship because the top part will sway more with the waves

I also have been wearing patches to prevent seasickness. Hopefully they will continue to help. Only time will tell how we weather the storm (pun intended). Let’s hope it moves through quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emily Sprowls: Whirlwind Return to Shore, April 11, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emily Sprowls

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

March 20 – April 3, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 11, 2017

Weather Data

The weather on the last scheduled day of the cruise was so bad (12 ft. seas! 30 knot winds!) that the ship came into port early on Sunday. The strong winds and waves kicked up and a string of severe storms and tornadoes swept through the area just after my flight home left on Monday morning.

Science and Technology Log

The last few days of the cruise brought in a lot of sharks, fish and data. We were kept pretty busy, putting in and hauling out 3 or 4 lines each shift. In total between both shifts we set 53 stations and caught 679 vertebrate specimens (not counting the invertebrates: sea stars, sea cucumbers and all those isopods)! There were points when this was totally exhausting and repetitive, but then there were moments when we were holding sharks and it was all worth it! We caught some amazing creatures, and some just floated or flew by for a visit like jellyfish and migrant birds.

In between stations the scientists worked to collect and label tissue samples from the specimens needed by different research labs, including fin clips, parasites, muscles, and eye lenses.

Personal Log

To be completely honest, there was a point about two-thirds through the cruise when I felt pretty tired, a little bit nauseous, and like I had already seen and learned so much that I was ready to go home. That happened to be a day when another thunderstorm blew in, and we had to take a break from sampling. That terrific weather break (during which we lounged with popcorn and a not-so-terrific movie) also coincided with the forecast suggesting a possible early end to the cruise. Suddenly, it seemed like my trip was almost over — I realized that I had so many more questions for my new scientist friends and not enough time to learn everything!

Fortunately, the scientists on board were very kind and eager to answer my students’ questions with the best information they could find. We had several engaging discussions while answering the kids’ questions… in fact, at one point we were so engrossed in a conversation about dogfish life history that we were suddenly interrupted by radio calls from the deck and bridge that we had missed hauling in our line! We grabbed all our gear: boots, gloves, life jackets, hardhats, clipboards, cameras, laptop; and ran out on deck as fast as we could muster. We had all forgotten it was April Fool’s Day! Ha!

Oregon2 crew

NOAA Corps Officers LCDR Lecia Salerno, LT Reni Rydlewicz and ENS Chelsea Parrish

I am so grateful to the entire crew for their hospitality and their willingness to teach me about their jobs. They shared not only their homes on the boat, but also their own stories and knowledge about the work we were doing. I was lucky to share my first boat experience with Ensign Parrish, who was on her first cruise as a newly minted NOAA officer. Her infectious smile and clear love for being at sea, all while learning the ropes of the Oregon II, helped pull me right along with her enthusiasm.

The main person responsible for my excellent experience aboard was the Field Party Chief.

Baby tiger shark

The amazing shark wrangler Kristin Hannan with a young tiger shark!

Kristin Hannan was friendly and generous with her time, all while coordinating stations with the bridge, managing the scientific crew, and preparing for the next research trip. She was also indefatigable! By the time I would get my baiting gloves off, catch my breath, and get ready to help clean up, she had already finished scrubbing the barrels and decks! Most endearing, however, were her encyclopedic knowledge of shark anatomy and population ecology, and her love of all things shark (even the movie JAWS), tempered by a clear, rational, scientific perspective on issues facing the Gulf of Mexico.

Eventually, the trip drew to a close. As we approached the final sampling stations, there were many species I had hoped to see that hadn’t come up yet. It was as if all I had to do was wish for them and they appeared in the final hauls: Stingrays – CHECK! Big bull shark – CHECK! Beautiful baby tiger shark — CHECK! Adorable spinner shark — CHECK!

I started to see why this work was so addictive and attractive to the crew. But, at the end, I was definitely ready to be on stable land and order whatever I wanted from a restaurant. Going home to my incredibly spacious queen-sized bed and enormous 50 square foot bathroom was also quite nice! I loved my adventure at sea, while I also so admire the tenacity and grit that the scientists and crew on the Oregon II have for living the boat life for much, much longer than two fun weeks. Thank you!

Kids’ Questions

What types of sharks will you catch in the Gulf?

On our leg, we caught the following shark species:

Scalloped hammerhead

Scalloped hammerhead

  • Blacknose shark , CARCHARHINUS ACRONOTUS
  • Spinner shark, CARCHARHINUS BREVIPINNA
  • Blacktip shark, CARCHARHINUS LIMBATUS
  • Sandbar shark, CARCHARHINUS PLUMBEUS
  • Gulper shark, CENTROPHORUS GRANULOSUS
  • Little gulper shark, CENTROPHORUS UYATO
  • Tiger shark, GALEOCERDO CUVIERI
  • Dusky smoothhound shark, MUSTELUS CANIS
  • Gulf smoothhound, MUSTELUS SINUSMEXICANUS
  • Sharpnose shark, RHIZOPRIONODON TERRAENOVAE
  • Scalloped hammerhead shark, SPHYRNA LEWINI
  • Cuban dogfish shark, SQUALUS CUBENSIS

 

 

Clearnose skate

Clearnose skate

We also caught the following batoid species:

  • Southern stingray, DASYATIS AMERICANA
  • Roughtail stingray, DASYATIS CENTROURA
  • Bullnose ray, MYLIOBATIS FREMINVILLII
  • Clearnose skate, RAJA EGLANTERIA

 

What is the most populous type of shark in the Gulf of Mexico?

Sharpnose sharks were the most common in our sampling (we caught 247!) Bonnethead sharks are the more common species closer to shore, and blacktip sharks tend to be more common out farther to sea.

Are some shark species more or less sensitive to pollution?

Bull sharks are tolerant of extremes in water conditions (they have been found in the Mississippi River!), so they may be less sensitive to pollution. In general, hammerhead species are more sensitive and younger sharks are also in sensitive life stages, so they might be more sensitive. This is exactly the kind of questions that scientists might be able to answer more definitively someday using the large amounts of data collected by the Oregon II.

What are sharks’ lifespans?

Each shark species is different, but generally they live a long time. Small sharpnose sharks can live about 10 years. Dogfish can live up to 70 years. Other sharks average about 30 years. There is speculation that a Greenland shark has lived over 100 years! These long lifespans are part of the reason many shark populations are vulnerable because it takes them a long time to reach maturity and they do not reproduce quickly. Life history information about sharks is important to know as the NOAA scientists help manage fisheries.

 

 

Kirk Beckendorf, July 18, 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
Date:
July 18, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time 9:15 ET
Latitude- 44 01.29 N
Longitude- 67 13.5 W
Air Temperature 14 degrees C
Water Temperature 13 degrees C
Air Pressure 1015 Millibars
Wind Direction at surface Southeast
Wind Speed at surface 10 MPH
Clouds Cloudy

Daily Log

What do you do if the weather gets rough? (Besides get seasick and throw up.)

The weather forecast for tonight calls for strong winds and 15 foot waves (the ceiling in your bedroom is probably 8 feet high). The crew has been making sure that nothing is loose on the ship. Everything needs to be strapped, tied or chained down. If the ship is pitching and rolling a lot, you don’t want things flying around, otherwise someone could get hurt or something could get broken. We have also been instructed to make sure none of our own supplies are loose.

I spent some time visiting with Chris, a member of the deck crew. He has been on the BROWN for a little over two years. Before that he was working on commercial ships. He said the roughest seas he has sailed in weren’t that big, only about 20 foot waves. When the waves are closer together, he says it isn’t as rough as compared to when they are further apart. Chris said, as the ship climbs up a wave and then beaks over the top, if there is not another wave to land on, the ship drops down into the trough below. This makes for a lot rougher ride than when the waves are close together, and the ship can land on the next wave. After this cruise, he will be transferring to a higher position on another NOAA ship. Eventually, he would like to work back on shore for a fire department. A lot of the safety training he has received from being a deck hand on the ship would fit right into a fire department. As part of the deck crew’s training, he has received EMT (Emergency Medical Technician); fast boat and other rescue training and firefighting training. When your ship is at sea for a month or so at a time, 300 days a year, the crew really needs to be self sufficient. You are your on fire department and medical team; there may not be anyone close by to call.

Drew Hamilton now works at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab in Seattle, but before that he worked on NOAA ships for 15 years. He said his first cruise with NOAA was in the middle of the Sargasso Sea in hurricane with 30 foot seas. Ten years ago he was on a ship delivering supplies to scientists working in Antarctica. For 4 days the ship fought its way through high winds and 30 foot waves. Almost everyone was sea sick, even the experienced sailors. It was a rough way to start his sailing career.

Sallie Whitlow, a scientist from the University of New Hampshire, has her instruments on top of a large container van on the bow of the ship. Once during a storm she was working on the equipment. When the waves started breaking over the bow, she decided it was time to go inside.

At this evening’s science meeting the new weather report shows that the storm is not going to be as intense as was previously thought. The rough seas probably won’t happen. Bummer, I was looking forward to an exciting ride.

Questions of the Day

What town and state was the ship from, that was lost in “The Perfect Storm”?

Where are we located compared to where that storm occurred?

Where is the Sargasso Sea?

Jennifer Richards, September 10, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 10, 2001

Latitude: 13º 25.1 N
Longitude: 100º 58.4 W
Temperature: 26.1ºC
Seas: Sea wave height: 6-8 feet
Swell wave height:
Visibility: 0.5 – 1 mile
Cloud cover: 8/8
Water Temp: 29.6ºC

Science Log

A lot of the scientists got very little work done today because the cloud cover was interfering with their instruments. The radar group from Colorado State University was in good spirits because they had a real opportunity to test their equipment during stormy conditions. They are still working out some of the bugs so that when we reach international water, they will be able to work efficiently.

Travel Log

This was the first day in a week that I felt somewhat seasick. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the makers of Meclizine for making a darn good product. We are in the middle of a storm, as you can see from the higher waves and lower visibility reported above. It certainly could be worse- I mean, the waves are only 8 feet, but it’s still an adjustment for my body since the trip has been so nice up until now. I saw a satellite image of this part of the world and you can see a huge storm brewing. I encourage you to search the Internet for current weather images (try a Yahoo search of “NCAR RAP”) and find our latitude and longitude on the map. It looks pretty impressive. It could easily develop into a tropical storm, but hopefully not until it has passed us a little. So what does it feel like to be in a storm? Well, the boat is rocking a LOT, and I’ve been losing my balance all day. I went outside to take some pictures, and was drenched in the few minutes I was there. The deck has about an inch of water sloshing around. And there’s no view of the sunset on the deck after dinner tonight.

Question of the day: What are the two factors that are used when classifying a storm as a tropical depression, tropical storm, or hurricane?

Photo Descriptions: Today’s photos include 5 shots relating to the storm we are in. You’ll see several pictures of the bow of the ship and the low visibility. At all times, there is someone on the bridge on lookout for “objects” in the water (boats, buoys, etc.) During low visibility conditions this job is even more important, since the Captain would have very little time to react if something was spotted. Of course, there is always the radar system, but it doesn’t catch everything. Finally, a picture of the Doppler radar dome, taken prior to the storm. This Doppler radar provides crucial data about the weather conditions around the ship.

Until tomorrow,
Jennifer

Jennifer Richards, September 8, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 8, 2001

Latitude: 19º 57.1N
Longitude: 108º 21.4W
Temperature: 30.0ºC
Seas: Sea wave height: 2-3 feet
Swell wave height: 3-4 feet
Visibility: 10-12 miles
Cloud cover: 4/8
Water Temp: 29.4ºC

Science Log

Today I met with the radar scientists from Colorado State University (Ft. Collins, Colorado). These guys are meteorologists who are studying the internal structure of storms over tropical oceans. As radar scientists, they rely primarily on radar systems for obtaining data. They are using pretty sophisticated equipment and software for their research, and have been spending the last several days just getting everything set up.

Although all four members of this group – Dr. Rob Cifelli, Dr. Walt Peterson, Mr. Bob Bowie and Dr. Dennis Boccippio – are very nice guys with a great sense of humor, from my perspective, they are somewhat the villains on the ship. These guys are hoping we will encounter storms- lots of them- the bigger, the better. Have any of you seen the movie “The Perfect Storm?”

Here’s some background information that will help you understand the research this group is working on. Storms on land and storms on the ocean tend to be about the same size vertically, but the way they function internally is quite different. On land, storms can be generated over pretty short periods of time, and can run themselves out pretty quickly. A lot of people in the mid-west are familiar with the daily rain storms that hit during summer afternoons- suddenly coming out of nowhere, and then disappearing as fast as they arrived. This is because land is full of heat pockets. You could have rivers, farms, asphalt and concrete highways, homes, and forests, and they all heat and cool at different rates. The differences in the rate of heating cause pressure gradients, which can lead to volatile weather conditions.

The ocean does not contain heat pockets the way the land does, and therefore, the air above the ocean heats more slowly. Pressure gradients in the air above the ocean are not as steep, so when storms are generated over the ocean, they grow slowly over long periods of time, and can become quite large. Do you remember hearing in the news about hurricanes? The weathermen will track hurricanes for many days to see where it is moving and how large it is getting. This is an example of an ocean storm growing slowly to a very large size.

If we can understand how storms form and behave in a certain area, it will help us understand the climate in that area. If you want to learn about the climate of San Diego, California, for example, it’s not very hard. You can visit the library and find all sorts of documents about the climate and typical weather conditions. There have been weather stations in San Diego for at least a hundred years, and there is plenty of data that has been collected. There aren’t too many surprises.

But what do we really know about climate over the oceans? Not a whole lot. Storms heat the atmosphere and affect the climate. NASA and NASDA (the Japanese Space Agency) have a satellite called TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission) provides data about storms from very far away, but we don’t have oceans full of weather stations to show us exactly what’s going on at the surface and in the troposphere. Plus, TRMM can only measure what it sees from the sky- the tops of storms. You have to be on the ocean to see the rest of the storm. And since the satellite passes over each location on earth only twice a day, the data can be up to 12 hours old. When’s the last time you heard of a storm that hadn’t changed in 12 hours?

How do the atmosphere and the ocean interact? How are storms in the tropics different from storms in the mid-latitude regions? What impact does the tropical ocean water have on the air above it? What impact does it have on storms that form over it? That’s where this group from Colorado State University comes into the picture. The R/V RONALD H. BROWN is equipped with a Doppler Radar system that uses microwaves to echo off of condensed water, ice crystals, and hail. It can create 3D profiles of storms within 150 km of the ship. A satellite can only see the top of the storm, but the radar system on the ship can see the internal structure of it. And if we happen to be in the middle of a big storm, the radar can see everything going on around us for the duration of the storm (not just once every 12 hours, like the TRMM satellite). Unfortunately, hurricane Henrietta was too far away to effectively measure with the radar. These guys will also be launching weather balloons from the ship to gather additional atmospheric data in the sky above us.

What can the world hope to learn from the research being done by this group? Well, if we have a better understanding of how storms are behaving in the tropics, we will have a better understanding of the factors affecting ocean climate. Since events such as El Niño originate in the tropical area of the Pacific Ocean, this research may help us better understand what causes seasonal climate changes and El Niño and provide better forecasting of such events.

Travel Log: The air temperature is getting much warmer each day, and you can definitely tell we’re in the tropics. One of my students, Kalen, asked if I had seen any wildlife? Excellent question. I forgot to mention earlier that I saw a bunch of flying fish! They were really cool- almost looked like birds jumping out of the ocean, flying 10 or 20 feet, then diving back in. You could see them just about any time you looked for them during the last couple days. We also passed a huge school of at least a hundred porpoises, about a mile away. I’m hoping we’ll see some more a little closer so I can get some pictures for you.

Have you ever heard of sailors seeing a green flash at sunset? Captain Dreves announced last night that the conditions were good to see it, so I ran out on deck. After staring at the horizon a couple minutes I saw what looked like neon green flashes of lightening, only for a second. I waited and waited and finally the sun dipped below the horizon, but I’m not sure if I saw it. I’m not sure if what I saw was THE green flash, or if my eyes were getting strained from staring at the sunset too long. I told Captain Dreves “well, I guess I have 3 and a half more weeks to see it again” and he said “I was at sea 30 years before I saw my first one.” Oh, well.

Question of the day: What causes the green flash that sailors sometimes see at sunset?

Photo Descriptions: Today’s photos show some of the equipment that the group from the Colorado State University are using for their research. Dr. Rob Cifelli and Dr. Walt Peterson are working on the computer to establish the radar settings they will be using to collect data. Bob Bowie is standing at the radar station that controls the Doppler Radar unit on the ship. Dr. Dennis Boccippio inflates a weather balloon, which you see aloft in a separate picture. Finally, all four members of the CSU team pause for a picture.

Keep in touch,
Jennifer

Susan Carty, March 22, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Carty
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
March 14 – April 20, 2001

Mission: Asian-Pacific Regional Aerosol Characterization Experiment (ACE-ASIA)
Geographical Area: Western Pacific
Date: March 22, 2001

Well, well, well.. And I thought last night was something. Rather like an amusement ride on Coney Island! When I went to bed the swells were 14-15 ft., but during the night they increased to 20ft. And the winds increased from 30kts. to 40kts. No wonder I almost fell out of bed! The trick is to use your life jacket as a brace to wedge yourself into your bunk. Tends to give you a false sense of security.

This morning we had a “damage assessment” meeting, taking note of any equipment that became mobile during the night. It seems that some of the portable vans changed location on the deck during the night. There will not be much testing going on today. We are battening down the hatches until the storm passes. This morning, one humorous (or possibly disturbed) scientist was actually reading a book titled Shipwrecks of the Pacific while I, on the other hand, was looking for the book titled The One Minute Mariner. It occurred to me that this experience should be a mandatory freshman course for anyone interested in oceanography.  That would certainly separate the men from the boys (or girls as it were). And probably save some tuition strapped parent a few dollars as well.

Last nights “science night” meeting was very helpful to me It clarified a number of issues regarding the project as a whole. ACE-ASIA is a part of the International Aerosol Experiment that has been ongoing since 1995. One of the goals is to bring to the public a broader understanding of the impact of aerosols on society in general. Not only is the issue of climate change a concern, but also the issue of human health, crop production (particularly of wheat and rice in China) and other economic impact.

Specific goals of this trip are to quantify the interactions between aerosols in the atmosphere and to quantify the physical and chemical processes/characteristics of the various aerosols. The interactions of these particles in the air and at the air-water interface are believed to be of significant impact on multiple earth process systems. Not only can the aerosols create a cooling effect by reflecting light energy, but they also can create a warming effect by absorbing light energy. Another interesting point is that the aerosols can have a cloud nucleating effect. They can actually cause the clouds to become larger for longer periods of time… Or, possibly the opposite effect. The question is : What is the impact of all of these processes as they occur simultaneously? Interesting, isn’t it?

What I find particularly fascinating is the process in which Saharan dust clouds travel all the way to Europe and the Atlantic. What other interesting types of particles could be traveling along with that dust? Something to think about….

Since one of the pieces of testing equipment on board is an OCEC Analyzer (organic carbon/elemental carbon) lets have a question that relates to that instrument.

Questions of the Day: What is the difference between organic carbon and elemental carbon? What might be the sources of each type of carbon?

Oh, by the way. It is actually Thursday out here for me. It’s only Wednesday for you. When will I catch up with that lost day?

I am enjoying your email. Keep them coming!
Bye for now,
Susan