Jill Bartolotta: Sounds of the Deep, June 5, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 5, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 29°01.5’ N

Longitude: 079°16.0’ W

Wave Height: 2 feet

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Wind Direction: 128

Visibility: 10 nm

Air Temperature: 27.7°C

Barometric Pressure: 1021.3

Sky: few

Science and Technology Log

What is sonar?

Sonar is the use of sound to describe the marine environment. Sonar can be compared to satellites that use light to provide information about Earth, but instead of light, sound is used. It is used to develop nautical charts, detect hazards under the water, find shipwrecks, learn about characteristics of the water column such as biomass, and map the ocean floor. There are two types of sonar, active and passive. Active sonar is sonar that sends out its own sound wave. The sonar sends a sound wave (ping) out into the water and then waits for the sound to return. The return sound signal is called an echo. By assessing the time, angle, and strength of the return sound wave or echo one can learn many details about the marine environment. Passive sonar does not actively send out a sound ping, but rather listens for the sound from other objects or organisms in the water. These objects may be other vessels and these organisms may be whales or marine ecosystems such as coral reefs.

Sound waves move through the water at different speeds. These speeds are known as frequencies and the unit of measurement for sound is a hertz (Hz). Lower frequencies (example 18 kHz) are able to go farther down because they move slower and have more power behind them. It is like when a car goes down your street, pumping the bass (always seems to happen when I am trying to sleep) and you can hear it for a long time. That is because it is a low frequency and has longer wave lengths. Higher frequencies (example 200 kHz) move faster, but have less power. The sound waves should reach the bottom, an object, or biomass in the water column, but there may be no return or echo. High frequency sound waves are closer together. High frequencies give you a good image of what is happening near the surface of the water column and low frequencies give you a good idea of what is happening near, on, or under the ocean floor.

Type of Sonar on Okeanos Explorer

There are many types of sonar and other equipment aboard Okeanos Explorer for use during mapping operations. All have different capabilities and purposes. Together they provide a complete sound image of what is happening below us.

Kongsberg EM302 Multibeam Sonar

Multibeam sonar sends sound out into the water in a fan pattern below the hull (bottom) of the ship. It is able to map broad areas of the water column and seafloor from depths of 10 meters to 7,000 meters. Only the deepest trenches are out of its reach. It is the most appropriate sonar system to map seafloor features such as canyons and seamounts. The fan like beam it emits is 3-5.5x the water depth with a max swath range of 8 km. However, when you get to its depths below 5,000 meters the quality of the sound return is poor so scientists keep the swath range narrower to provide a higher quality of data return. The widest swath area scientists can use while maintaining quality is a depth of 3,300-5,000 meters. The user interface uses a color gradient to show you seafloor features (red=shallow and purple=deep).

Swath ranges for the multibeam sona
Swath ranges for the multibeam sonar at various depths. The y-axis shows the water depth in meters and the x-axis shows the swath width in meters. Photo credit: SST Charlie Wilkins, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
Multibeam Sonar information
Some of the information that is collected using the multibeam sonar with labels describing their purpose. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Backscatter

Backscatter uses the same pings from the multibeam. People use backscatter to model or predict physical or biological properties and composition of the sea floor. The coloring typically is in grayscale. A stronger echo looks brighter in the image. A weaker echo looks darker in the image. It gives you a birds-eye view of seafloor characteristics such as substrate density and seafloor features.

Backscatter and Bathymetry
Top image is backscatter showing you a birds-eye view of the ocean floor. The bottom image shows you what it looks like when backscatter is overlaid over the bathymetry layer. You are able to see intensity of the sound return, but floor features are more noticeable. Photo credit: NOAA OER

XBT

An Expendable Bathy-Thermograph (XBT) provides you with information on the temperature gradients within the water. When the temperature profile is applied to a salinity profile (taken from World Ocean Atlas) you are able to determine sound velocity or the rate at which the sound waves can travel through the water. When sound moves through water it does not move in a straight line. Its path is affected by density which is determined by water type (freshwater or saltwater) and temperature. Freshwater is less dense than saltwater and cold water is denser than warm water. The XBT information accounts for sound refraction (bending) through various water densities. When near shore XBTs are launched more frequently because the freshwater inputs from land alter density of the water and temperatures in the water column are more varied. XBTs are launched less frequently when farther from shore since freshwater inputs are reduced or nonexistent and the water column temperature is more stable. However, ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream (affecting us on this cruise) can affect density as well. The Gulf Stream brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico around the tip of Florida and along the eastern coast of the United States. Therefore, one must also take into account which ocean currents are present in the region when determining the launch schedule of XBTs.

Loading the XBT Launcher
Senior Survey Technician Charlie Wilkins and Explorer in Training, Jahnelle Howe, loading the XBT launcher. XBTs are launched off the stern of the ship.
XBT Capture
Sound speed or velocity is determined by the density of the water, which is determined by temperature and salinity. Focus on the blue line in each graph. The first graph takes the information from the temperature and salinity graphs to determine sound speed. If we look at the first graph, we see that sound speed slows with depth. Sound speed slows because according to the second graph the temperature is colder making the water denser, thus affecting sound speed. Salinity does not vary much according to the third graph so its effect on density is most likely limited. Photo credit: NOAA OER

Simrad EK60 and EK80 Split-beam Sonar

Split-beam sonar sends out sound in single beam of sound (not a fan like the multibeam). Each transducer sends out its own frequency (example 18 kHz, 38 kHz, 70 KHz, 120 kHz, and 200 kHz). Some frequencies are run at the same time during mapping operations. Mapping operations typically do not use the 38 kHz frequency since it interferes with the multibeam sonar. Data collected with the use of the EK60 or EK80 provides information about the water column such as gaseous seeps, schools of fish, and other types of dense organism communities such as zooplankton. If you remember my “did you know” from the second blog, I discussed how sonar can be used to show the vertical diurnal migration of organisms. Well the EK60 or EK80 is the equipment that allows us to see these biological water column communities and their movements.

Water column information
Water column information collected with the EK60 or EK80 split beam sonar. If you look at the first row you can see, in the image to the left, the blue dots are at the top and in the second image the blue dots are moving back down into the water column as the sun rises. The process of organisms’ movement in the water column at night to feed is known as vertical diurnal migration. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Knudsen 3260 Sub-bottom Profiler

The purpose of using a sub-bottom profiler is to learn more about the layers (up to 80 meters) below the ocean floor. It works in conjunction with the sonar mapping the ocean floor to provide more information about the bottom substrate, such as sediment type and topography features. Sub-bottom data is used by geologists to better understand the top layers of the ocean floor. A very low frequency is used (3.5 kHz) because it needs to penetrate the ocean sediment. It will give you a cross section of the sea floor so floor features can be detected.

Cross section of the ocean seafloor
Cross section of the ocean seafloor shows you substrate characteristics. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Telepresence

Telepresence aboard the ship allows the science team to get mapping products and raw data to land on a daily basis. The science team can also live feed data collection to shore in real time. By allowing a land based shore team to see the data in real time you are adding another system of checks and balances. It is one more set of eyes to make sure the data being collected looks correct and there are no issues. It also allows a more collaborative approach to mapping, since you are able to involve a worldwide audience in the mission. Public viewers can tune in as well.  Support for the technology needed to allow telepresence capabilities comes in partnership with the Global Foundation of Ocean Exploration (GFOE). With GFOE’s help, the protocols, high-speed satellite networks, Internet services, web and social media interfaces, and many other tools are accessible when out to sea. The NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER) provides the experts needed to develop, maintain, and operate the telepresence systems while at sea, but also at shore through the Exploration Command Centers (ECCs) and the University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center.

Live interaction
Live interaction with Okeanos Explorer, Inner Space Center at URI/GSO, and a group of high school students. Photo credit: NOAA OER

All in all, the equipment aboard Okeanos Explorer is impressive in its abilities to provide the science team with a high quality and accurate depiction of the ocean floor and water column. The science team aboard is able to interpret the data, clean out unwanted data points, store massive data files on computers, and send it back to land daily, all while rocking away at sea. Very impressive and very cool!

Personal Log

I learned all about memes today. Apparently they are very popular on the ship. So popular, we are even in the middle of a meme contest. For those of you unfamiliar to memes like I was, a meme is a funny picture with a clever caption that makes you laugh or relates to something in your life. After my tutorial in meme making, we had a great time out on the bow of the ship playing corn hole and hanging out. The night was beautiful. The humidity subsided and there was a great breeze. After the sun set, I watched the stars come out and then went inside to learn more about the mapping process. I am starting to get a better understanding of what the science team is doing. You know the how and the why of it all. After I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, I made my nightly venture out onto the bow to look from some bioluminescence, the glittering of zooplankton in the night. A magical site. I will leave you wondering how the ocean glitters until one of my future blogs when I describe the process of bioluminescence.

Corn hole
General Vessel Assistant Sidney Dunn (left) and General Vessel Assistant Christian Lebron (right) playing corn hole on the bow at sunset.

Did You Know?

The SOFAR (Sound Fixing and Ranging) channel occurs in the world’s oceans between depths of 800 to 1000 meters in the water column. Because of the density and pressure around this channel, sound waves travel for an extended distance. It is thought that fin whales travel to this channel to communicate with other fin whales many kilometers away.

Meredith Salmon: Xtreme XBTs, July 14, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meredith Salmon

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

July 12 – 31, 2018

 

Mission: Mapping Deep-Water Areas Southeast of Bermuda in Support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation

Geographic Area:  Atlantic Ocean, south of Bermuda

Date: July 14, 2018

Weather Data from the Okeanos Explorer Bridge – July 14, 2018

Latitude: 28.58°N

Longitude: 65.48°W

Air Temperature: 27.4°C

Wind Speed:  13.96 knots

Conditions: Rain and clouds

Depth: 5183 meters

 

Science and Technology Log

Temperature and salinity are two main variables when determining the density of water. The density of water or any acoustic medium is a very important factor in determining the speed of sound in water. Therefore, temperature data collected by Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) probes, as well as historical salinity profiles from the World Ocean Atlas, are used to create sound velocity profiles to use to correct for sound speed changes in the water column.

Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) probes are devices that are used to measure water temperature as a function of depth. Small copper wires transmit the temperature data back to the ship where it is recorded and analyzed. At first, I was surprised to learn that temperature data is such an important component of multibeam mapping operations; however, I learned that scientists need to know how fast the sound waves emitted from the sonar unit travel through seawater. Since these probes are designed to fall at a determined rate, the depth of the probe can be inferred from the time it was launched. By plotting temperature as a function of depth, the scientists can get a picture of the temperature profile of the water.

On our expedition, we have been deploying XBTs on a schedule as the ship is making its way to the survey area. The XBT Launcher is connected to a deck box, which translates information to computer systems onboard so the data can be logged when the probes are deployed into the water. Aboard the Okeanos Explorer, up to 8 tubes can be loaded at one time and launched by scientists.

XBT closet in the Dry Lab

XBT closet in the Dry Lab

 

XBT Launcher

XBT Launcher on the Okeanos

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Loading the XBT Launcher

 

 

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Savannah and I after a successful XBT load

 

XBT Data

XBT Data from a launch aboard the Okeanos Explorer. The colors on the graph indicate the XBT number and the data is plotted on a temperature and depth scale.

 

 In addition to launching XBTs and collecting data, we completed a Daily Product so that we can communicate the data we have collected to anyone on shore. The Daily Products are completed not only to ensure that the hydrographic software systems are working correctly but to also inform the public our current location, where we have collected data, and if we are meeting the objectives of the mission. Once onshore, NOAA uses this information to analyze the quality of the data and use it for analysis for dive planning. In order to generate the Daily Field Products, we use hydrographic computer systems such as QPS Qimera for advanced multibeam bathymetry processing, Fledermaus for 4D geo-spatial processing, and Geocap Seafloor for digital terrain modeling. In addition, the Daily Field Products allow us to double check the quality of the data and search for any noise interferences due to the speed of the ship or the type of seafloor bottom (hard vs soft).

 

Personal Log

One of the coolest parts of learning aboard the Okeanos Explorer is the fact that I am a part of scientific exploration and discovery in real time.  Known as “America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration,” the Okeanos Explorer is the only federally funded U.S. ship assigned to systematically explore our largely unknown ocean for the sole purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge. This is the first U.S.-led mapping effort in support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation and all of this information is going to be available for public use. Not only do I get the opportunity to be involved with “real-time” research, but I am also responsible for communicating this information to a variety of different parties on shore.

Being immersed in the “hands-on” science, learning from the survey techs and watch leads, and observing all of the work that is being done to collect, process, and analyze the data is a really exciting experience. I am definitely out of my element when it comes to the content since I do not have any prior experience with seafloor mapping, sonars, etc., but I am really enjoying playing the role as the “student” in this situation. There is definitely a lot to learn and I am trying to soak it all in!

 

Did You Know?

XBTs contain approximately 1,500 meters of copper wire that is as thin as a strand of hair!

 

Resources: 

http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/phod/goos/xbtscience/news.php

https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/xbt.html

Nichia Huxtable: Time to Make a Map, May 8, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Nichia Huxtable

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

April 28 – May 9, 2016

Mission: Mapping CINMS
Geographical area of cruise: Channel Islands, California
Date: May 8, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge:

Science and Technology Log

Seafloor in CINMS

Seafloor in the CINMS

In previous posts, I’ve discussed the ME70 multibeam sonar on board Shimada. You’d think that I’ve told you all there is to know about the wondrous data this piece of equipment provides, but oh, no, dear readers, I’ve merely scraped the surface of that proverbial iceberg. In this post, I will explain how the raw data from the ME70 is used to create important seafloor maps. Heck, I’ll even throw in a shipwreck! Everyone loves shipwrecks.

Nichia Huxtable, Diana Watters, ME70, and EK60; aboard Shimada

Nichia Huxtable, Diana Watters, ME70, and EK60; aboard Shimada

Back to the multibeam. As you may remember, the ME70 uses many beams of sonar to capture a 60 degree image of the water column. It collects A LOT of data, one survey line at a time. Lots of data are good, right? Well, if you want to map the bottom of the ocean, you don’t need ALL the data collected by the ME70, you just need some of it. Take, for example, fish. You don’t want big balls of fish obscuring your view of the seafloor, you just want the seafloor! Leave the schools of fish for Fabio.

Kayla Johnson aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

Mapping maven Kayla Johnson

The person you need to make your seafloor map is Kayla Johnson. First, she sends the raw data to a program called MatLab. This nifty software separates the bottom data from all the other stuff in the water column and packages it in something called a .gsf file. Next, this .gsf file goes to this huge processing program called CARIS HIPS, where it is converted into an something called HDCS data.

You’d think that all you’d need to make an accurate seafloor map would be data from the multibeam, but it is actually much more complicated than that (of course you knew that! just look at how long this blog post is). Think about it: while you’re running your survey lines and collecting data, the ocean and, therefore, the ship are MOVING. The ship is heaving, rolling, and pitching, it’s travelling in different directions depending on the survey line, the tides are coming in and out, the temperature and salinity of the water varies, etc. etc. All of these variables affect the data collected by the ME70 and, hence, must be accounted for in the CARIS software. Remember how I said it was HUGE? This is why.

Cross-section of the topography found in the CINMS

Cross-section of the topography found in the CINMS

Everyone still with me? Ok, let’s continue processing this data so that Kayla can make our beautiful map. Next up, she’s going to have to load data into CARIS from the POS. POSMV (POSition of Marine Vehicles) is a software interface used on the ship that collects real-time data on where we are in relation to the water (heave, pitch, and roll).  She’s also going to load into CARIS the local tide information, since the ship will be closer to the seafloor at low tide than at high. Not including tidal change is a good way to get a messed-up map! Once the POSMV and tide files are loaded into CARIS, they are applied to the survey line.

Completed map around San Miguel Island

Completed map around San Miguel Island

Next, Kayla has to compute the TPU (Total Propagated Uncertainty). I could spend the next four paragraphs explaining what it is and how it’s computed, but I really don’t feel like writing it and you probably wouldn’t want to read it. Let’s just say that nothing in life is 100% certain, so the TPU accounts for those little uncertainties.

Since the data was collected using multiple beams at a wide angle, there will be beams returning bad data, especially at the edges of the collection zone. Sometime a bad data point could be a fish, but most often bad data happens when there is an abrupt change in seafloor elevation and the beams can’t find the bottom. So, Kayla will need to manually clean out these bad data points in order to get a clean picture of the seafloor.

Almost done! Last, Kayla makes the surface. All the data points are gridded to a certain resolution based on depth (lots of explanation skipped here…you’re welcome), with the end result being a pretty, pretty picture of the bottom of the seafloor. Phew, we made it! These seafloor maps are incredibly important and have numerous applications, including fisheries management, nautical charting, and searching for missing airplanes and shipwrecks (see! I told you there would be a shipwreck!). I’ll be getting into the importance of this mapping cruise to the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary in my final post, so stay tuned.

Endnote: A word about XBTs                                                                                                      

Deploying an XBT off Shimada

Deploying an XBT off Shimada

 Before all your data are processed, you need to know how fast the sound waves are travelling through the water. When sound is moving through water, changes in temperature and salinity can bend the wave, altering your data. An XBT is an expendable bathythermograph that is sent overboard every four hours. It transmits temperature and salinity readings throughout its quick trip to the ocean bottom, allowing the computer to make data adjustments, as needed.

 

 

Did You Know?
Hey, you’ve made it to the bottom of this post! If you are interested in seafloor mapping, have I got an institute of higher learning for you. The College of Charleston has a program called BEAMS, which trains future ocean surveyors and includes a course called Bathymetric Mappings. Three of the hip young scientists on board have taken this course and it seems to be pretty amazing. If you love sailing the high seas AND data processing, you might want to check it out.

Cristina Veresan, Lights, Camera, Ocean! August 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, August 13, 2015

Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 59° 18.31’N
Longitude: 141° 36.22’W
Sky: Overcast
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: 358
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea Wave Height: < 1 feet
Swell Wave: 2-3 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.2°C
Dry Temperature: 15°C

Science and Technology Log

When my shift begins at 4am, I often get to participate in a few “camera drops” before the sun comes up and we begin sailing our transect lines looking for fish. We are conducting the “camera drops” on a grid of 5 km squares provided by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center bottom trawl survey that shows whether the seafloor across the Gulf of Alaska is “trawlable” or “untrawlable” based on several criteria to that survey. The DropCam footage, used in conjunction with a multi-beam echosounder, helps verify the “trawlability” designation and also helps identify and measure fish seen with the echosounder.

cameralaunch

The Drop Camera being deployed

The DropCam is made up of strobe lights and two cameras, one color and one black and white, contained in a steel frame. The cameras shoot in stereo, calibrated so scientists can get measurements from rocks, fish, and anything else on the images. When the ship is stopped, the DropCam can be deployed on a hydrowire by the deck crew and Survey Tech. In the Chem Lab, the wire can be moved up and down by a joystick connected to a winch on deck while the DropCam images are being viewed on a computer monitor. The ship drifts with  the current so the camera moves over the seafloor at about a knot, but you still have to “drive” with the joystick to move it up and down, keeping close to the bottom while avoiding obstacles. The bottom time is 15 minutes for each drop. It’s fun to watch the footage in real-time, and often we see really cool creatures as we explore the ocean floor! The images from the DropCam are later analyzed to identify and length fish species, count number of individual fish, and classify substrate type.

emilydriving

Emily “drives” the camera from the Chem Lab as the sun begins to rise

camershots

DropCam images (clockwise from top left) a skate, brittle stars, a cruising halibut, two rockfish in rocky habitat

Technology enables scientists to collect physical oceanographic data as well. The Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) is a probe that is dropped from a ship and measures the temperature as it falls through the water column. The depth is calculated by a known fall rate. A very thin copper wire transmits the data to the ship where it is recorded in real-time for later analysis. You launch the probe from a hand-held plastic launcher tube; after pulling out the pin, the probe slides out the tube. We also use a Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) aboard the Oscar Dyson; a CTD is an electronic device used by oceanographers to measure salinity through conductivity, as well as temperature and pressure. The CTD’s sensors are mounted on a steel frame and can also include sensors for oxygen, fluorescence and collecting bottles for water samples. However, to deploy a CTD, the ship must be stopped and the heavy CTD carousel lowered on a hydrowire. The hand-held XBT does not require the ship to slow down or otherwise interfere with normal operations. We launch XBT’s twice a day on our survey to monitor water temperatures for use with the multi beam echosounder.

xbt

Cristina launching the XBT probe Photo by Alyssa Pourmonir

ctd

Survey Tech Alyssa servicing the CTD carousel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shipmate Spotlight: An Interview with Ensign Benjamin Kaiser

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Ensign Benjamin Kaiser, NOAA Corps

Tell me a little more about the NOAA Corps?
We facilitate NOAA scientific operations aboard NOAA vessels like hydrographic work making charts, fisheries data collection, and oceanographic research.

What do you do up on the bridge?
I am a Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD), so when I am on the bridge driving the ship, I am accompanied by an Officer of the Deck (OOD). I am on my way to becoming an OOD. For that you need 120 days at sea, a detailed workbook completed, and the Commanding Officer’s approval.

What education or training is required for your position?
I have an undergraduate degree in Marine Science from Boston University. My training for NOAA Corps was 19 weeks at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut– essentially going through Coast Guard Officer Candidate School.

What motivated you to join the NOAA Corps?
A friend of mine was an observer on a fisheries boat, and she told me about the NOAA Corps. When I was in high school and college, I didn’t know it was an option. We’re a small service, so recruiting is limited; there’s approximately 320 officers in the NOAA Corps.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I love not being in an office all the time. In the NOAA Corps, the expectation is two years at sea and then a land assignment. The flexibility appeals to me because I don’t want to be pigeonholed into one thing. There are so many opportunities to learn new skills. Like, this year I got advanced dive training for Nitrox and dry suit. I don’t have any regrets about this career path.

What is the most challenging part of your work?
There’s a steep learning curve. At this stage, I have to be like a sponge and take everything in and there’s so much to learn. That, and just getting used to shipboard life. It is difficult to find time to work out and the days are long.

What are your duties aboard the Oscar Dyson?
I am on duty 12pm to midnight, rotating between working on the bridge and other duties. I am the ship’s Safety Officer, so I help make sure the vessel is safely operating and coordinate drills with the Commanding Officer. I am also the Training Officer, so I have to arrange the officers’ and crew members’ training schedules. I am also in charge of morale/wellness, ship’s store, keys, radios, and inspections, to name a few.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career?
I grew up in Rhode Island and was an ocean kid. I loved sailing and swimming, and I always knew I would have an ocean-related career.

How would a student who wanted to join the NOAA Corps need to prepare?

Students would need an undergraduate degree from a college or university, preferably in a STEM field. Students could also graduate from a Maritime Academy. When they go to Officer Candidate School, they need to be prepared for a tough first week with people yelling at them. Then there’s long days of working out, nautical science class, drill work, homework, and lights out by 10pm!

What are your hobbies?
I enjoy rock climbing, competitive swimming, hiking, and sailing.

What do you miss most while working at sea?
There’s no rock climbing!

What is your favorite marine creature?
Sailfish because they are fast and cool.

Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Chem Lab

chemlab

This lab is called the Chem Lab (short for Chemical). For our survey, we don’t have that many chemicals, but it is a dry lab with counters for workspace when needed. This room is adjacent to the wet lab through a watertight door, so in between trawls, Emily and I spend a lot of time here.  In the Chem Lab, we charge batteries for the CamTrawl and the DropCam. There are also two computer stations for downloading data, AutoLength analysis, and any other work (like blogging!). There is a window port to the Hero Deck, where the CTD and DropCam are deployed from. In the fume hood, we store Methot net samples in bottles of formalin. There is a microscope for viewing samples. Note the rolling chairs have their wheels removed and there are tie-downs on cases so they are safer at sea. Major cribbage tournaments are also played in this room!

Personal Log

It has been so calm on this cruise, but I have to say that I was looking forward to some bigger waves! Well, Sunday night to yesterday afternoon we experienced some rain and rough seas due to a nearby storm. For a while the ship would do big rolling motions and then a quick lurchy crash. Sea waves were about 2 feet in height, but the swell waves were over 5 feet at times. When I was moving about the ship, I’d have to keep a hand on a rail or something else secured. In the wet lab while I was working, I would lean against the counter and keep my feet spread apart for better balance.

waves

Seas picked up and the ship was rocking and rolling!

Remember the Methot net? It is the smaller net used to catch macroplankton. We deployed one this week and once it came out of the water, it was rinsed and the codend was unscrewed. When we got the codend into the wet lab, we realized it was exclusively krill!

methotlaunch

The Methot net is deployed by the Survey Tech and deck crew members

Krill

#krillfordays

Krill are  small crustaceans that are found in all the world’s oceans. Krill eat plant plankton (phytoplankton), so they are near the bottom of many marine food chains and fed on by creatures varying from fish like pollock to baleen whales like humpbacks. They are not so small that you need a microscope to see them, but they are tiny. We took a subsample and preserved it and then another subsample to count individuals…there were over 800 krill in just that one scoop! Luckily, we had them spread out on a board and made piles of ten so we did not lose count. It was tedious work moving individual krill with the forceps! I much prefer counting big things.

I love it when there is diversity among the catch from the AWT trawls. And, we caught some very memorable and unique fish this week.  First was a beautiful Shortraker Rockfish (Sebastes borealis). Remember, like the Pacific Ocean Perch, its eyes bulge when its brought up from depth. The Shortraker Rockfish is an open-water, demersal species and can be one of the longest lived of all fish. There have  been huge individuals caught in Alaskan waters that are over 100 years old. This fish was not particularly big for a Shortraker, but I was impressed at its size. It was probably my age.

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Holding a Shortraker Rockfish. Photo by Emily Collins

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Smooth Lumpsucker fish: so ugly it’s cute?! Photo by Mackenzie Wilson

We also caught a Smooth Lumpsucker (Aptocyclus ventricosus). It was inflated because it was brought up from depth, a form of barotrauma. This scaleless fish got its name for being shaped like a “lump” and having an adhesive disc-shaped “sucker.” The “sucker,” modified pelvic fins, are located ventrally and used to adhere to substrate. These pelagic fish are exclusively found in cold waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic, and North Pacific. The lumpsucker fish, and its roe (eggs) are considered delicacies in Iceland and some other countries.

lumpsucker

You can see the “sucker” on the bottom of its body. Photo by Mackenzie Wilson

Pollock are pretty slimy and they have tiny scales, so when we process them, everything gets covered with a kind of speckled grey ooze. However, when we trawled the other day and got a haul that was almost entirely Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), I was amazed at their scales. For small fish, the herring had scales that were quite large and glistened like silvery sequins. The herring’s backs are an iridescent greenish-blue, and they have silver sides and bellies. The silver color comes from embedded guanine crystals, leading to an effective camouflage phenomenon in open water.

As this last week comes to a close, I am not ready to say goodbye…

hand

Herring scales are nature’s sequins

Vincent Colombo, Dynamic Positioning, June 15, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Vincent Colombo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Annual Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: The Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 15, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Wind Speed: 4.52 knots
  • Sea Temperature: 8.5 degrees C
  • Air Temperature: 6.4 degrees C
  • Air Pressure: 1034.33 mb

A United States Coast Guard Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawk flying over the Oscar Dyson

A United States Coast Guard Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawk flying over the deck of the Oscar Dyson

Science and Technology Log:

Are you a morning person? How about a night owl? Well if you said yes to the first question, then Alaska during the summer is your place to be. Currently where we are right now, the sun officially rises at 5:08 and sets at 23:12 (that’s 11:12 pm for those of you not used to 24 hour format). But, do not think that it means it turns dark by any means. Sunrise and Sunset are when the sun is officially seen, or disappears on the horizon respectively. So far in my time spent here in Alaska, I have only seen it dark for about one hour.

The 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth exaggerates the effect of the sun during the time around a solstice

The 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth exaggerates the effect of the sun during the time around a solstice

The reason why is easily explained, seasons. Students in Delaware learn about seasons in 8th grade, and again if they take Physics or Astronomy in high school. The tilt of the earth causes the northern hemisphere to be more exposed to the sun for longer periods of time. Thus the concept of day and night is greatly changed.

In order to fully grasp this concept, you must also understand why it never gets dark either. The term we use is twilight, or the time between darkness and sunrise in the morning,  and sunset and complete darkness in the evening. Twilight is also defined as when there is light outside, but the sun is below the horizon.

There are 3 types of twilight: civil, nautical, and astronomical.

  • Civil twilight occurs when the Sun is between 0 degrees and 6 degrees below the horizon. In the morning, civil twilight begins when the Sun is 6 degrees below the horizon and ends at sunrise. In the evening, it begins at sunset and ends when the Sun reaches 6 degrees below the horizon. Typically civil twilight begins and ends one half hour before or after sunrise or sunset. Most outdoorsmen know this as the 1/2 hour before and after rule. If you’re a deer hunter, civil twilight signifies legal shooting time has begun or ended.
  • Nautical twilight occurs when the geometrical center of the Sun is between 6 degrees and 12 degrees below the horizon. Nautical twilight is usually an hour before and after sunset. This twilight period is less bright than civil twilight and artificial light is generally required for activities.The term, nautical twilight, dates back to the time when sailors used the stars to navigate the seas. During this time, observers on Earth can easily see most stars. Although not completely dark outside, one could safely get around.
  • Last is Astronomical twilight, and this occurs when the Sun is between 12 degrees and 18 degrees below the horizon. In the morning, the sky is completely dark before the onset of the astronomical twilight, and in the evening, the sky becomes completely dark at the end of astronomical twilight. This is typically an hour and a half before or after sunrise or sunset respectively.
  • During the summer months, especially around the Summer Solstice, the North and South Poles experience several days with no complete darkness at all. Currently our civil, nautical, and astronomical twilights are exaggerated, only leaving about an hour of actual darkness.

My next scientific topic I would like to discuss is the system the vessel Oscar Dyson uses called Dynamic Positioning. When we were calibrating the acoustic equipment in my last post, the ship did not move more than 0.3 meters in any direction.

Dynamic positioning diagram

Dynamic positioning diagram

The ship uses GPS systems to hold it in one single place for a period of time. Using a minimum of three satellites and triangulation, the ship’s position is able to be maintained. The ship uses its main engines as well as bow thrusters to keep it steady in one position.  I was also introduced to some new vocabulary:

  • surge: moving the ship forward or back (astern)
  • sway: moving the ship starboard (right) or left (port)
  • heave: moving the ship up or down
  • roll: the rotation about surge axis
  • pitch: the rotation about sway axis
  • yaw: the rotation about heave axis

How a ship is able to maintain it's position

How a ship is able to maintain its position

Not only can the ship stay in one position, I also learned that it can stay in one position over a column of water, which is vital for a research ship like the Oscar Dyson when conducting research one specific area of the ocean.

A view of the dynamic positioning monitor from the bridge

A view of the dynamic positioning monitor from the bridge

A view of the current state of the rudder of the ship. It changes as the dynamic positioning controls the ship

A view of the current state of the rudder of the ship. It changes as the dynamic positioning controls the ship

The bow thruster control on the bridge of the ship

The bow thruster control on the bridge of the ship

Personal Log:

It took us almost three days to reach where the scientific study was to begin. For those of you who know me, it is hard for me to stay in one place for an extended period of time. Luckily the ship has an abundance of DVDs to watch, Direct TV and a fantastic galley (aka kitchen) to make it feel more like home. I can honestly say the food is some of the best I have ever eaten.

Luckily (knocking on wood), our ship has not hit any rough seas. It has taken a day or so to get used to the rocking, just make sure you have a free hand to grab hold of something when moving about.

Underway, I got to deploy the first An Expendable Bathy Thermograph or XBT for short. You can find out more by going to this NOAA website: XBT uses

Getting briefed on use of the sensor

Getting briefed on use of the sensor. Notice I am harnessed in.

Deploying the sensor

Deploying the sensor

According to our Executive Officer, LT Carl Rhodes, we will be seeing some AMAZING Alaskan geography including volcanoes. Check back for some awesome photos.

Did You Know?

Most modern oil rigs are not fixed to the sea floor! They also use dynamic positioning. Learn more about dynamic positioning here.

 

DJ Kast, Pre-Cruise, May 18, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: East Coast

Date: May 18, 2015 (Pre-cruise)

Personal Log

Chris Melrose picked me up from the hotel and really helped me get a grasp of life aboard a research vessel. I learned all about Narragansett Bay and the lab here in Rhode Island.

I then met Jerry Prezioso, the Chief Scientist for the voyage, who gave me a great tour of the Narragansett Bay Lab. I learned what an XBT (expendable bathythermograph) was and how it measures temperature at various depths.

XBT  Photo by: DJ Kast

XBT
Photo by: DJ Kast

 

I learned how a Niskin bottle works and how many Niskin bottles lined up in a circle to make a piece of equipment called a rosette. The Niskin bottle is like a hollow tube with a mechanism that closes the tube at a specific depth that will then bring a water sample indicative of that depth. They apparently cost $400 each.  I am already making plans on how to make a DYI one for the classroom.

Niskin Bottle Photo by: DJ Kast

Niskin Bottle
Photo by: DJ Kast

This is a Rosette with 12 niskin bottles. Photo by: DJ Kast

This is a Rosette with 12 niskin bottles. Photo by: DJ Kast

With Jerry, I also met Ruth Briggs who works for the Narragansett Bay Apex Predators division and she showed me the shark tags that she has citizen scientists put onto sharks on the base of their dorsal (top) fin that they catch. When the sharks are caught again, the information she requests is sent back to her and includes species, size, sex, location to shore, and weight. She even let me borrow a decommissioned tag to show to my students in California.

Decommissioned shark tag from the Narragansett Bay Apex Predators Division Photo by: DJ Kast

Decommissioned shark tag from the Narragansett Bay Apex Predators Division
Photo by: DJ Kast

 

I saw a drifter buoy that I will be decorating with all of my programs (USC, JEP, YSP and NAI) logos.

Jerry also sent me the map of all the stations that we will be visiting on our ship and at each station we are projected to measure salinity, depth, temperature, nutrients and plankton! I am so excited! We are expected to go as far south as North Carolina and as far north as the Bay of Fundy in Canada (International Waters!!!).

TAS and the NOAA Ship Arrival

My stateroom is amazing! My roommate and I even have our own head (bathroom) in our room with sink, shower and all. There are two beds in a bunk bed format, and since I showed up about 6 hours before the other scientists I chose the bottom bunk and the cabinet I wanted for my stuff. I unpacked (and gladly didn’t over pack) and managed to fit it all in the closet that was given to us. I feel so fortunate to have such amazing accommodations like this.

Important People who Keep the Ship Afloat and on Course

Today I met the Operations Officer, Laura, who showed me the ropes and introduced me to people on the ship at dinner at the bowling alley on the naval base here in Newport, RI. She also showed me the buoy yard filled with lots of different buoys that indicate different paths of travel and safe/unsafe waters for ships coming into port.

I entered a yard of buoys on the Newport Naval Base and here I am for a size comparison. They are HUGE!

I entered a yard of buoys on the Newport Naval Base and here I am for a size comparison. They are HUGE!

Here is a look at what happens when  a buoy is freshly painted and when its being fouled by marine organisms and algae (RUST!) Photo by: DJ Kast

Here is a look at what happens when a buoy is freshly painted and when its being fouled by marine organisms and algae (RUST!) Photo by: DJ Kast

 

Important Ship Personnel
CO: Commanding Officer
XO: Executive Officer
CME: Chief Marine Officer
OO or Ops: Operations Officer= Laura
NO: Navigational Officer or Nav= Eric
CB: Chief Boson or Deck Boss= Adrian
AB: Able Seaman or a Deckhand = Roger

Meal Schedule
I also learned about food times (Very important).
7AM- 8 AM or 0700-0800 hours= Breakfast
11- 12 PM or 1100-1200 hours= Lunch
5- 6 PM or 1700-1800 hours = Dinner

Roommate in Stateroom 2-22

 

DJ Kast on the Gateway Photo by: DJ Kast

DJ Kast on the Gangway
Photo by: DJ Kast

Here I am boarding the NOAA Henry B. Bigelow Photo by: DJ Kast

Here I am boarding the NOAA Henry B. Bigelow
Photo by: DJ Kast

 

I met my amazing roommate Megan and she is a master’s student at the University of Maine. We will sadly have opposite schedules for most of the trip because I will be on the 12 PM- 12 AM shift and she will be on the 12 AM- 12 PM shift. We have a lot of things in common including our love of the ocean, geology and Harry Potter. She will be looking at dissolved nutrients in the water and she will be monitoring the instruments that measure conductivity, temperature and depth or (CTD) and requesting water samples while at various stations.

Theresa Paulsen: Getting my Hands Dirty with Data, March 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16 – April 3, 2015

Mission:  Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area:  Puerto Rico Trench
Date:  March 24, 2015

Weather from the Bridge:  Scattered Clouds, 26.6˚C, Wind 10kts from 100˚, Waves 1-2ft, swells 2-3ft

Science and Technology Log

Now that the interns have been trained in data collection and processing, it was my turn to learn.

Mapping Intern Chelsea Wegner taught me how to launch an XBT and how to process the data gathered by the multibeam sonar. It is a fairly simple procedure that requires diligent record keeping in logs.  I processed four “lines.” A line is about one hour of data collection, or shorter. Two of my lines were shorter because the sonar had to be turned off due to a whale sighting! This is bad for data collecting, but AWESOME for me! Again, I missed it with the camera, though.

Mapping Instructors

My Mapping Instructors: Intern, Chelsea Wegner; Expedition Coordinator, Meme Lobecker; and Mapping Watch Lead, Jason Meyer.

I have also been given the task of using a sun photometer to measure direct sunlight over the ocean as part of the Maritime Aerosol Network, a component of AERONET, a NASA project through the Goddard Space Flight Center.  Every two hours when the sun is shining and there are no clouds in the way of the sun, I use this tool to measure the amount of sunlight able to penetrate our atmosphere.

Using the Sun Photometer

Using the Sun Photometer

I use a GPS to determine our location and transfer that information to the sun photometer.  Then I scan the sunlight with the photometer for about 7 seconds and repeat 5 times within two minutes.  Keeping the image of the sun in the target location on the photometer while standing on a rocking boat is harder than it may look!

Sun Photometer

The little bright light in the dark circle above my right hand is the image of the sun.  It must remain in the center of the traget circle during a solar scan.

According to the Maritime Network, the photometer readings taken from ground level helps determine the Aerosol Optical Depth, meaning the fraction of the sun’s energy that is scattered or absorbed while it passes through the earth’s atmosphere. The reduction in energy is assumed to be caused by aerosols when the sunlight’s path to earth is free of clouds.  Aerosols are solid or liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere.  Sea-salt is a major contributor over the ocean as well as smoke and dust particles from land that are lifted and transported over the oceans.  There are many stations over land that collect this data, but using ships is also important because the data is used to provide “ground truth” to satellite measurements over the entire earth, including the oceans.  The data is also used in climate change research and aerosol distribution and transport modeling.

Aerosols in our Atmosphere

“This portrait of global aerosols was produced by a GEOS-5 simulation at a 10-kilometer resolution. Dust (red) is lifted from the surface, sea salt (blue) swirls inside cyclones, smoke (green) rises from fires, and sulfate particles (white) stream from volcanoes and fossil fuel emissions.” (NASA,Goddard website)
Image credit: William Putman, NASA/Goddard

It is pretty cool to be part of such an interesting project!  The people here are interesting too.  I thought I’d highlight some of their stories in my next few blogs.

Career Profile of Intern Chelsea Wegner

Chelsea’s story is a great example for high school students.  She graduated from a high school in Virginia that is similar in size to Ashland High School, where I teach.  Her family enjoyed spending time near the ocean and had a library of books about ocean adventures.  Her grandfather served in the Navy on Nuclear Submarines and liked to build models of ships.

Chelsea Wegner reading "My Father, the Captain:  My Life with Jacque Cousteau"  by Jean Michel Cousteau  in her free time.

Chelsea Wegner reading “My Father, the Captain: My Life with Jacque Cousteau” by Jean Michel Cousteau in her free time.

In high school, her career interests began to take shape in her Environmental Science in Oceanography class.   She went to college at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia majoring in environmental science with particular interest in geology and river systems.  She took advantage of a research opportunity studying sediment transport from rivers to the coast during her undergraduate career.  She took sediment core samples and analyzed them to determine human impacts, contamination, and dated the sediment layers.  She took more research courses that took her to the US Virgin Islands to conduct a reef survey, identifying and counting fish.  She described that as a pivotal experience that led her toward her Masters Degree in Marine Science.  Her Masters thesis project was a coastal processes study the potential effects of sea level rise on coral reefs and the corresponding coastline.  She used the connections she had in the US Virgin Islands and in her university to fund and/or support her research.

After competing her Masters Chelsea applied for a marine science and policy fellowship, the Knauss Fellowship, which allowed her to work as an assistant to the Assistant Administrator of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) within NOAA, Craig McLean, for one year.  Through this fellowship, Chelsea traveled the world to places like Vietnam, the Philippines, New Zealand, and France getting a first-hand look at how science informs marine policy and vice versa.

Chelsea learned early on that experience matters most when trying to make yourself marketable.  That is why she is here now serving as a mapping intern.  She takes the opportunity to learn every piece of equipment and software available to her.  She is a rising star in the world of science.  After this voyage, she will begin her new job as a program analyst at OAR headquarters working in the international office handling engagements with other countries such as Indonesia and Japan.  And she is only 28!

Did You Know? 

At 10 AM this morning there was tsunami drill, LANTEX (Large Atlantic Tsunami Exercise) on the east coast from Canada all the way down to the Caribbean.   So students in schools inside Tsunami-threatened areas likely participated in evacuation drills.  The test is part of NOAA National Weather service Tsunami Warning Program.  It helps governments test and evaluate their emergency protocols to improve preparedness in the event of an actual tsunami.

Question of the Day