I haven’t posted in a while, so lets touch base on the last three months of my grad school life. Michelle mentioned that many in our lab attended the Biennial Meeting for the Society for Marine Mammalogy. I too was there, and it was crazy, but awesome. I gave a talk on my master’s work and was the most nervous I have ever been to give a talk…biggest audience, TWO screens, up on a podium. EEK. I think it went ok though. And the best part of all was that my dad snuck in to watch. And more importantly he refrained from asking a question and embarrassing me.
But that wasn’t even the point of this blog. I just had to brag about my dad coming to my talk because how many grad students get to say that??
Well, I do. And two parts of my PhD are to compare gliders to QUEphone floats, and to work out density estimation from a glider. To do this, we need to fly gliders and floats at the same time, and we need to fly them in a place where we have known locations of animals (which we get from other hydrophones using localization…I’m sure Michelle will talk about this some day soon). Then we can figure out how far away each instrument can hear the animal, and then we do a bunch of stats, and voila! All the world’s problems are solved.
So to get the known locations of animals, we are doing two sets of field work – one using a permanent hydrophone array of bottom-mounted hydrophones called SCORE, owned and operated by the U.S. Navy, and one this summer…more later. These hydrophones were originally setup up, and are still used, for Naval training purposes, but guess what, they also hear whales. Now the M3R program of the Navy Marine Species Monitoring program can use these recordings for studying marine mammals on the training ranges. Anyway, for us to get to use it, we had to do it in the very brief window between Christmas and New Years.
Deployment – Dec 20. Right after the marine mammal conference, I went home to my parents house for a day, then flew down to San Diego, Haru, Alex, and I went out on the deployment, and things went mostly as expected. We were only able to deploy one glider because one had an antenna issue, but we also got two floats out. Yay!
Flight time – All good UNTIL Dec 30 – when we started to have communication issues with the glider…that we COULD NOT RESOLVE. The glider was trying to call the base station, we could see the lights on the modem lighting up, but it could not connect. Come to find out, as phone lines are being updated, sometimes this happens, and there was NOTHING WE COULD DO ABOUT IT. But the glider is still flying we know that, that’s good.
Recovery – Scheduled for Jan 4. Alex and I were slated to fly down from Portland to San Diego, head out early in the morning on the 4th (it takes us about 7 hours by boat to get to where the stuff was), and try to find the glider, that will surface for about 15 mins, every 5 hours, in 12 foot seas, within 2 km of a particular point.
So already, I’m NOT feeling super optimistic about it. Oh and then the offshore weather forecast is bad. Real bad. Like we might get down there, head out of the bay, and have to turn around. I was thinking if we pushed it back we might have a better chance of fixing the communication problem and find a better weather window, but remember, we are working on a typically ACTIVE Navy Range, we have to get our gear out of there before they start training again. So lets go forward as planned.
Wake up Sunday morning, Alex is going to drive from Newport to Corvallis in our rental car, so we can drive to the airport for our midday flight. Guess what. It snowed. Our rental car wouldn’t make it over the coast range. SO. We reschedule our flight for later. Alex gets a ride over the hill from Haru, who has a truck. We take my Subaru to the airport. WORST DRIVE EVER. Corvallis snow melted, Portland was in a full on ice storm. Cars sliding off the road everywhere, somehow we make it (Thank you Remy Lebeau…my car). Oh but wait, halfway there, I get a text message that our flight has been cancelled. Alaska automatically re-routes me: Portland to LA, LA to Seattle, Seattle to San Diego..midday on the 4th. REMEMBER we need to get our stuff on the 4th. The weather forecast has gotten worse for later in the week…Monday is our only chance. Oh and bonus, Alex got rerouted as well…for Tuesday the 5th, at 7pm, direct flight Portland to San Diego. SUPER GREAT!
But don’t worry, I’ve got a plan. We fly to LA, just to LA, we rent a car there, we drive the two hours to San Diego, its all good. Granted, the LA flight is from 8-10, so we would get down to San Diego by about 1 am, but we would make it to the boat for our scheduled departure at 4. So ok…lets do it.
So we call Alaska, and we wait on hold, while driving through ice, for like 45 minutes. Finally we get through to this very nice woman, who fixes everything (oh and we have to run all our travel through our accounting people too, on a Sunday night, so there are lots of calls being made). Alex and I, both on the flight to LA. Great.
We get to Portland, we park, we check in for our flights, we go to Enterprise to switch our car reservation to LA. We wait. Guess what…LA flight is delayed. Yup. Ok, we board, only an hour late. Then we sit. On the tarmac, while the de-ice the plane. Yup. I’m a west coast girl, born and raised….this is all so weird to me!!!!!!
So we make it to LA. Midnight. We sit. On the runway. For an hour. Because our gate had an oil leak. YUP. ok…we get off. its 1:00. Remember, we are supposed to be at the base at 3:30, to meet our escort to the boat at 4. It takes 2 hours to drive from LA to San Diego. So we’ve got 2.5 hours. WE MIGHT MAKE IT!!!
The enterprise shuttle is late. Its supposed to come every 10 mins, its too far to walk (45 mins, we mapped it). It comes…1:30. We get to Enterprise. WE SPRINT OFF THE BUS to beat everyone else on it (it was very crowded because we weren’t the only travelers with issues).
We get our car. its 1:45. We start driving. Thankfully I used to live in Southern California so at least I know where we are going. Plus Alex helps me navigate. We text the boat crew…we will be a little late. Forget checking in to our hotel, we are going straight to the base. YAY WE MAKE IT TO THE BASE AT 3:45!! Did I mention its raining now, and again the glider isn’t really communicating so we will be finding a needle in a hay-stack of waves. But we actually made it to San Diego.
Then we sleep. The AMAZING crew had our beds all made
—took a break from writing this blog post to get free cake—
Ok, so we sleep, for a while, till like 7 or 8, then my phone starts beeping. The crew says we are getting close. We discuss where exactly we are heading. We are super far offshore BUT we have this super cool satellite phone wi-fi hub thing that can forward sat phone texts and calls to my regular phone wherever I am on the boat (WHAAAATTT). Haru is giving me up dated info on the floats. AND. WHAT. MIRACLE. THE GLIDER CALLED IN. Oh side note, it is super rough and I’m looking at computer screens at this point and repeating over and over in my head “dont throw up dont throw up dont throw up”.
So now we’ve got a glider location, but we are a couple miles away and we don’t know how long it will stay at the surface. I go to lay down for a few minutes while we move towards it. The captain comes into the server room where are temporary bunks are. “Uh….I think I see it…”
I jump up. Run outside. There it is, sitting in a kelp patty. Just sitting there. I suddenly do not feel sick. I hug the boat captain (I can’t help it).
Then the fun begins, because its so rough and we are on a pretty big ship we deploy a little RHIB (all black, Navy style) off the back of the boat and go out to pick it up.
The rest is somewhat less memorable. The floats were easy to find, the sun came out and I lay on the back deck soaking it up, the crew made dinner, we drove in, got to the hotel at 8 am the next morning, had a mimosa, slept, packed everything the next day, and flew home.
This turned out a lot longer than I anticipated, and perhaps the stress and anxiety and then happiness did not come through this…but writing about it brought back some heart racing…so trust me…it was stressful. But it all worked out. Yippee!! Now I can’t wait to look at these data and actually do something with it.
Plus..serious shout out to Alex, best glider tech/pilot/friend I could have out there.