Wesley Struble, 19 July, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
July 8 – August 10, 2010

Mission: Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) cruise
Geographical area of cruise: Equatorial Pacific: 110 deg W Longitude to 95 deg W Longitude
Date: Monday, 19 July 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Cloud Cover: 5/8, Cloud Type” Cumulus,
Visibility: 10 Nautical miles,
Wind bearing: 150 degrees,
Wind speed: 20 knots,
Wave height: 2 – 3 feet,
Swell height: 6 -7 feet,
Atmospheric pressure: 1015.5 mb,
Temperature: 24.5 degrees C (76.1 degrees F)
Current Position: 2 degrees North Latitude, 110 degrees West Longitude

Science and Technology Log

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time talking with Senior Survey Technician (SST), Tonya Watson. Tonya was a Cold War Ocean Systems Technician for four and half years in the US Navy, worked for six years at the California State Dept of Water Resources in the benthic macro invertebrate lab and water quality lab, and has been a civilian Wage Mariner in NOAA for six and a half years both on the Hydrographic vessel Rainier and on the Ka’imimoana (KA). She has an Associates of Science degree from Shasta College and triumphs people who have to rely on work experience without the benefit of four year degrees. Her primary responsibility is running the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Density/Depth) sensor array.

Senior Survey Tech, Tonya Watson

Collecting data from the CTD involves lowering a large cylindrical aluminum frame (about 5 feet high and 5 feet in diameter) to a predetermined depth, typically 1000 or 3000 meters (0.6 miles or 1.9 miles), into the sea and slowly retrieving it to the surface, thus creating a classic temperature salinity profile on the way down and collecting water samples for salinity processing on the way up. A typical 3000 meter run takes about 4 hours from start to finish and the CTD is generally deployed at each buoy station and at a number of intermediate latitude coordinates.

Above: The CTD; Right: An open Niskin bottle

The platform has numerous points onto which a variety of sensors and ballast may be secured, such as other current profiling sensors like an ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler), or varied optics. The SST monitors the operation of the sensors (when the sensors are actually operating and collecting data) and handles tag lines (lines that control the horizontal position of the CTD) during the deployment and retrieval of the CTD package and communicates via radio with a winch operator who operates a “J” Frame winch from a control station located directly above the Survey Operations room. While the CTD is being deployed, a NOAA Corps conning officer is navigating the ship from a remote helm called the Bridge Wing. This location permits the officer to observe the deployment and attempt to hold the ship as stable as possible using only rudder maneuvering by watching the angle of the CTD cable entering the water. The conning officer has to be paying close attention to the wind direction and local ocean currents – anything that will affect the position and motion of the vessel, in order to avoid having the package get fouled under the boat or in the screws. The whole operation can be likened to a musical trio – each playing a different instrument but working to play in harmony to complement one another and complete the piece of music: The conning officer stabilizing the ship, the hoist operator raising and lowering the CTD, and the SST monitoring and operating the sensors, while all three continuously communicate back and forth. It is a fine example of effective team work.

Crewmember, Francine Grains, operating the J-hooist during the CTD deployment
NOAA Corps Officer, Sarah Slaughter, at the starboard bridge wing during the CTD deployment

The CTD also has the ability to collect water samples during the retrieval phase of operation. The sensors send back a continuous stream of data during the entire round trip measuring the conductivity, the temperature, and the density (depth) of the sea water. In addition, there are a number of 5L water sampling bottles (called Niskin Bottles) secured to the CTD platform that can be remotely triggered to close bringing water samples back from specific depths (they are left open on the way down to avoid being crushed by the immense pressure). These water samples are analyzed in the KA’s wet lab for salinity (concentration of salt) in an Autosal.

The results from the lab work are then compared to the CTD conductivity data log for the same depth. Because there is a direct mathematical relationship between electrical conductivity and salt concentration, this procedure compares the two outcomes looking for a high level of precision (an effective way to verifying the accuracy of the electronic data). Also, an important historical database can be created for an area of the ocean not often accessible to many scientists, which can show trends in temperature and salinity.

Lowering the CTD

Once the data is collected the SST uses various software to put the file into a more readable and easier to use format, and distributed via DVD and ftp upload to the various organizations referred to as “”customers. These customers are other government institutions (both US and foreign), universities, or even other research organizations. In addition, much of this data is available online to the general public for those that are interested. Besides the typical CTD measurements that are made during a standard run other instruments can be mounted on the CTD platform. For example, sensors that measure water clarity (transmissometer), dissolved carbon dioxide concentration, dissolved oxygen concentration, and more can be added to the frame.

Personal Log

The first buoy we reached was at 8 deg N, 110 deg W Longitude. There were no problems with this buoy so this visit was simply for a visual inspection and this we accomplished by making several passes circling around it. Since this buoy is moored in French territorial waters (it is not far from the Clipperton Islands, which is owned by France) we had to obtain permission from the French government to be able to do more than cruise straight by the buoy. We did not receive that permission until the morning of the day we were scheduled to reach the buoy. During this time a number of the crew members put fishing lines out off the fantail (the extreme stern) of the ship. The buoys appear to attract various small fish which of course attract bigger fish and so on up the food chain. In a short time they had caught four nice size (3 – 4 feet long) Mahi mahi (also known as the Dolphin Fish). I assume we will be having a fish dinner sometime very soon. After the inspection we ran a CTD to 3000 meters that did not finish until quite late at night.

The 8 deg North, 110 deg West, TAO Buoy
Crew member Dana Mancinelli with her Mahi mahi

Animals Seen

I already mentioned that we caught a number of Mahi mahi during the day but during the evening CTD run we had a real treat. Normally a large powerful spotlight is pointed at the water’s surface where the CTD is placed into and removed from the water. During this evening run I joined several of the science members of the crew on deck at the ship’s railing watching squid drawn to the bright spotlight in the water. At times we saw 6 or 7 squid at a time near the surface. They appeared a pinkish red color and were up to approximately a foot long or so. After a while we spied a shadowy figure swimming around and when it came close to the surface we realized it was a small shark no doubt drawn by either the light or the prospects of an evening meal.

Karolyn Braun, November 1, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karolyn Braun
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
October 4 – 28, 2006

Mission: TAO Buoy Array Maintenance
Geographical Area: Hawaii
Date: November 1, 2006

Plan of the Day: Arrive in Kwajalein, RMI

TAS Braun assists in driving the KA’IMIMOANA
TAS Braun assists in driving the KA’IMIMOANA

In many of my past journal entries I have talked about El Niño or ENSO, so what is it?  Well El Niño is an oscillation of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific having important consequences for weather around the globe. Among these consequences is increased rainfall across the southern tier of the US and in Peru, which has caused destructive flooding, and drought in the West Pacific, sometimes associated with devastating brush fires in Australia. Observations of conditions in the tropical Pacific are considered essential for the prediction of short-term (a few months to 1 year) climate variations.  To provide necessary data, NOAA operates and assists in the TAO buoy project, which measure temperature, currents and winds in the equatorial band. These buoys daily transmit data, which are available to researchers and forecasters around the world in real time.

In normal, non-El Niño conditions the trade winds blow towards the west across the tropical Pacific. These winds pile up warm surface water in the west Pacific, so that the sea surface is about 1/2 meter higher at Indonesia than at Ecuador.  The sea surface temperature is about 8 degrees C higher in the west, with cool temperatures off South America, due to an upwelling of cold water from deeper levels.  This cold water is nutrient-rich, supporting high levels of primary productivity, diverse marine ecosystems, and major fisheries.  Rainfall is found in rising air over the warmest water in the west Pacific, and the east Pacific is relatively dry.

The track of the KA’IMIMOANA for TAS Braun’s science cruise.
The track of the KA’IMIMOANA for TAS Braun’s science cruise (in light blue).

During El Niño, the trade winds relax in the central and western Pacific leading to a depression of the thermocline in the eastern Pacific, and an elevation of the thermocline in the west.  This reduces the efficiency of upwelling to cool the surface and cut off the supply of nutrient rich thermocline water to the euphotic zone.  The result is a rise in sea surface temperature and a drastic decline in primary productivity, the latter of which adversely affects higher trophic levels of the food chain, including commercial fisheries in this region.  The weakening of easterly trade winds during El Niño is also evident.  Rainfall follows the warm water eastward, with associated flooding in Peru and drought in Indonesia and Australia. The eastward displacement of the atmospheric heat source overlaying the warmest water results in large changes in the global atmospheric circulation, which in turn force changes in weather in regions far removed from the tropical Pacific.

Unfortunately, NOAA recently issued an unscheduled EL NIÑO advisory due to El Niño conditions that developed in the tropical Pacific and are likely to continue into early 2007. Ocean temperatures have increased remarkably in the equatorial Pacific during the last two weeks. “Currently, weak El Niño conditions exist, but there is a potential for this event to strengthen into a moderate event by winter,” said Vernon Kousky, NOAA’s lead El Niño forecaster.

During the last 30 days, drier-than-average conditions have been observed across all of Indonesia, Malaysia and most of the Philippines, which are usually the first areas to experience ENSO-related impacts.  This dryness can be expected to continue, on average, for the remainder of 2006. Also, the development of weak El Niño conditions helps explain why this Atlantic hurricane season has been less active than was previously expected.  El Niño typically acts to suppress hurricane activity by increasing the vertical wind shear over the Caribbean Sea region.  However, at this time the El Niño impacts on Atlantic hurricanes are small.

So for the past month I have been on the cutting-edge research that assists physical scientists with data that will create ENSO forecast models to improve our understanding of underlying physical processes at work in the climate system.  On our way into Kwajalein, I got to steer the ship.  Didn’t go very straight but not bad for my first time.  I want to give a HUGE thank you to Commanding Officer Mark Pickett; Executive Officer Robert Kamphaus; Field Operations Officer Rick Hester; the Junior Officers, the science team and the crew of the KA’IMIMOANA for the amazing opportunity I’ve had the honor to experience.

Karolyn Braun, October 31, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karolyn Braun
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
October 4 – 28, 2006

Mission: Tropical Atmosphere Ocean Buoy Array Maintenance
Geographical Area: American Samoa
Date: October 31, 2006

Plan of the Day: Transit to Kwajalein, RMI; Science Wrap-up meeting; Celebrate Halloween.

TAS Karolyn Braun, Junior Officer Rebecca Waddington, Junior Officer Phoebe Woodward show off their Halloween costumes.
TAS Karolyn Braun, Junior Officer Rebecca Waddington, Junior Officer Phoebe Woodward show off their Halloween costumes.

Did you know Halloween originated as a Pagan festival among the Celts of Ireland and Great Britain with Irish, Scots, Welsh and other immigrants transporting versions of the tradition to North America in the 19th century? Most other Western countries have embraced Halloween as a part of American pop culture in the late 20th century. The term Halloween, and its older spelling Hallowe’en, is shortened from All-hallowsevening, as it is the evening before “All Hallows’ Day” (also known as “All Saints’ Day”). The holiday was a day of religious festivities in various northern European Pagan traditions, until Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV moved the old Christian feast of All Saints Day to November 1.

Many European cultural traditions hold that Halloween is one of the liminal times of the year when spirits can make contact with the physical world and when magic is most potent (e.g. Catalan mythology about witches, Irish tales of the Sídhe).  The American tradition of “trick-or-treating” dates back to the All Souls’ Day parades in England. During this time, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes.”  They gave them these cakes if they promised to pray for their dead family members.

Handing out soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits.  The practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.  Today, they receive candy instead. So there you have it!

So the day began as usual with breakfast, a work out, and helping the officers on board create their costumes.  Then I went down to the galley and made Halloween cookies, cupcakes and caramel apples with Don and Carrie, the Stewards.  During the afternoon, I packed some then Phoebe, Rebecca and I dressed up for dinner and a little fun of handing out candy to everyone onboard. A good time had by all!

Karolyn Braun, October 30, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karolyn Braun
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
October 4 – 28, 2006

Mission: TAO Buoy Array Maintenance
Geographical Area: Hawaii
Date: October 30, 2006

Plan of the Day: Transit to Kwajalein, RMI

TAS Braun suits up in fire gear.
TAS Braun suits up in fire gear.

Well, we are on our third day of overcast and rain.  Our sailing path has taken us into the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ).  The ITCZ is an area of low pressure that forms where the Northeast Trade Winds meet the Southeast Trade Winds near the earth’s equator. As these winds converge, moist air is forced upward.  This causes water vapor to condense, or be “squeezed” out, as the air cools and rises, resulting in a band of heavy precipitation around the globe. This band moves seasonally, always being drawn toward the area of most intense solar heating, or warmest surface temperatures.  It moves toward the Southern Hemisphere from September through February and reverses direction as the Northern Hemisphere warms during its summer that occurs in the middle of the calendar year. However, the ITCZ is less mobile over the oceanic longitudes, where it holds a stationary position just north of the equator.  In these areas, the rain simply intensifies with increased solar heating and diminishes as the sun moves away. An exception to this rule occurs when there is an ENSO event, during which the ITCZ is deflected toward unusually warm sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific.

Some crewmembers of the KA’IMIMOANA enjoy some of TAS Braun’s cooking.
Some crewmembers of the KA’IMIMOANA enjoy scrabble

So what else did I do today…well I will tell you!  The morning I spent creating a Halloween costume out of duct tape, line, painter’s tape and rags from the Bosun’s locker. It sounds a bit odd I know but it will all come together!  After lunch, the afternoon was full of fire drill and abandoned ship drill excitement.  During the fire drill, the scenario was that a fire broke out in the aft steering access tunnel.  As scientists, we assist the officers in closing vents and act as runners for DC central, Damage Control.  Patrick and I had to carry 5-gallon barrels of fire-fighting foam around the ship to the fire fighters, and we had to fetch air tanks as the fire reflashed. Very crazy stuff.  When the drill was suspended, the fire fighters were wet head to toe from sweat, shaky and drained from the adrenaline that was flowing through them.  At the day’s end, and after a little air drying, I was able to try one of the fire suits on and got a hint of what they go through during a drill or a real fire. The suit was heavy and hot and that was before I had the tanks, mask and helmet on.  I applaud anyone who has had the privilege to call himself or herself a firefighter. That evening I made a Happy Halloween banner I hung in the mess while some of the others continued on with game night!

Karolyn Braun, October 29, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karolyn Braun
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
October 4 – 28, 2006

Mission: TAO Buoy Array Maintenance
Geographical Area: Hawaii
Date: October 29, 2006

Chief Scientist, Patrick A’Hearn replaces a rain gauge and sea surface salinity sensor on a TAO buoy.
Chief Scientist, Patrick A’Hearn replaces a rain gauge and sea surface salinity sensor on a TAO buoy.

Plan of the Day: Repair TAO buoy 8N/International Date Line and Transit to Kwajalein, RMI

Today was our last TAO buoy of the cruise. I was able to go on the repair and assist the Chief Scientist, Patrick A’Hearn in a rain gauge and a sea surface salinity sensor replacement.  Let’s talk TAO buoys.

Development of the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array was motivated by the 1982-1983 El Nino event, the strongest of the century up to that time, which was neither predicted nor detected until nearly at its peak. The event highlighted the need for real-time data from the tropical Pacific for both monitoring, prediction, and improved understanding of El Nino. As a result, with support from NOAA’s Equatorial Pacific Ocean Climate Studies (EPOCS) program, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory,  (PMEL) began development of the ATLAS (Autonomous Temperature Line Acquisition System) mooring.  This low-cost deep ocean mooring was designed to measure surface meteorological and subsurface oceanic parameters, and to transmit all data to shore in real-time via satellite relay.  The mooring was also designed to last one year in the water before needing to be recovered for maintenance.  In August of 1996, the KA’IMIMOANA was commissioned and dedicated to servicing the TAO array east of 165E.

braun_log23aThe TAO surface buoy is a 2.3 m diameter fiberglass-over-foam toroid, with an aluminum tower and a stainless steel bridle.  When completely rigged, the system has an air weight of approximately 660 kg, a net buoyancy of nearly 2300 kg, and an overall height of 4.9 m.  The electronics tube is approximately 1.5 m long, 0.18 m diameter, and weighs 27 kg.  The buoy can be seen on radar from 4-8 miles depending on sea conditions.

Moorings are deployed in water depths between 1500 and 6000m.  To ensure that the upper section of the mooring is nearly vertical a nominal scope of 0.985 (ratio of mooring length to water depth) is employed on the moorings in water depths of 1800 meters or more.

Rachel Dane, May 4, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rachel Dane
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
April 29 – May 10, 2005

Mission: Oceanographic Survey
Geographical Area: Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos
Date: May 4, 2005

Plan of the Day
0400: 1.5N CTD
0830: 2N Recovery and deploy with CTD, AOML and ARGO
2215: 2.5N CTD

Weather Data
Latitude: 1 degree N
Longitude: 95 degrees W
Visibility: 12 nautical miles
Wind Direction: 153 degrees
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Sea wave height: 1-2 feet
Swell wave height: 2-3 feet
Sea water temperature: 27.9 degrees C
Barometric pressure: 1013.2
Cloud cover: 5/8 cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Last night I ended up falling into bed, exhausted, around midnight.  Jim and I spent almost an hour having a super fun conversation about river running in Idaho and the Grand Canyon—I had no idea that he and I were both guides on the main fork of the Salmon River in Idaho!  It was a wonderful talk, and I hope to have the opportunity to chat more together.

It’s another buoy day; today we will be recovering a damaged buoy and deploying a new one in its place. Each TAO buoy is moored to the bottom of the ocean using Nilspin, which is steel cable surrounded by a protective plastic shield.  Old railroad wheels are used as anchors for each buoy in the array.  The Nilspin cable is also equipped with sensors at various depths; these sensors transmit data from the ocean to the surface of the buoy. Remember, these buoys constantly collect data on wind speed and direction, air temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, barometric pressure, sea surface and subsurface temperature, salinity, water pressure and ocean currents.  The data is gathered and transmitted via NOAA satellites, and is used by scientists all over the world who are studying the relationship between the Pacific Ocean and climatic changes.

Buoy recovery is a fairly labor intensive process that involves lassoing the floating toroid, craning it aboard, spooling in all of its cable, and cleaning the entire apparatus.  Being submerged for 6 months at a time, the buoys acquire quite a collection of barnacles!  Before a buoy can be recovered the anchor needs to be dropped; a sensing apparatus on its underside is responsible for detecting the “drop anchor” signal transmitted by the ship.  In today’s case, the recovered buoy will be stored on deck until it is cleaned, painted, and outfitted with new instrumentation; it will then be standing by, ready to replace another buoy on the array if necessary. There was some excitement today during operations when the anchor release signal was not acknowledged by the buoy—the ship’s winch was very unhappy about having to haul up the additional 2.5 tons of anchor weight!

Deploying a buoy involves all of the same steps as recovery, but in the reverse order.  First, one end of the spooled cable is attached to the bottom of the buoy’s 2.5m diameter base. The buoy is then lowered into the water and the cable is unspoooled.  Finally, the anchor is dropped. The entire buoy lifting and lowering process is done with the large cranes and winches that the KA is equipped with.

Personal Log

All hands involved in the buoy ops functioned together like a well oiled machine.  There is no doubt that everyone on board is familiar with their duties and responsibilities, and all know what needs to be done and precisely when it needs to happen in order for the procedure to be successfully executed.  It is definitely impressive. Again today, all crew members were more than happy to include me in the excitement, and all were very patient with this rookie sea-goer!  Thank you, everyone!

The weather here at the equator is much less humid than I expected.  In fact, I find it quite pleasant; maybe because there is always a sea breeze blowing.  The inside of the ship sometimes feels like a refrigerator, especially the computer and science labs which are kept cool to maintain the machines.

Teams are made and times are set; let the tournaments begin!  For the remainder of the cruise we will be competing against each other in scrabble, cribbage, darts, poker, and a card game called Sequence.  My first challenge is tonight at 6:30—Fred and I play cribbage.  Personally, I can’t wait to see the dart competition as we rock and roll our way to Mexico!