This post comes to us from Sharon Nieukirk, Senior Research Assistant:
As a marine mammal acoustician (studying the sounds produced by marine mammals) I am typically in an office, and my recorded data come to me. Other members of our team deploy the recorders or “hydrophones” Haru described in a previous blog, and they sway on their moorings in remote oceans of the world, recording the sounds of the sea. However, last week I had a chance to go into the field to collect acoustic data in person as part of an (e)DNA project led by OSU researchers Dr. Scott Baker and Dr. Holger Klinck. The main objective of this project is to “develop next-generation sequencing methodology for detection and species identification of cetaceans using environmental (that’s the “e”) DNA collected from seawater”. What this means in layman’s terms is Dr. Baker is developing a method to detect what species of animals have moved through a portion of a bay or ocean by collecting water samples and looking at the DNA present in that sample.
Sounds a lot like something out of the TV show CSI, doesn’t it? The method is still under development, and to test this idea the team conducted a series of experiments in the vicinity of killer whales near San Juan Island in Puget Sound. We started with killer whales because the population is well known, the whales are relatively accessible from shore and Puget Sound is a semi-enclosed ocean environment. During August and September, the team spent two weeks at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratory (FHL), and launched our small 18’ boat each day to find the whales and sample water. Friday Harbor is an amazing place to work on killer whales; there are numerous researchers working in the area (i.e. NOAA, Center for Whale Research), there is a thriving whale watching industry which also collects killer whale information (Orca Network) and virtually the entire island is “wired for sound” with listening stations set up to monitor the vocalizations of killer whales (Salish Sea Hydrophone Network). After touching base with others working in the area, we’d leave the FHL dock in the early morning, proceed to an area where killer whales had been spotted….and get in line. The number of boats, from both U.S. and Canadian ports, in the vicinity of whales is truly staggering. Luckily, there are strict rules for how you should behave when you are near killer whales… and just in case you forget the rules the volunteers from Soundwatch will pay you a visit.
An advantage of this research technique is that we didn’t need to be close to the whales, we just needed to move into an area where the whales had been. We would wait for the whales to come past us, throw our current drogue in the water to mark the water mass where the whales had been, and then began sampling. Sampling involved taking water samples, towing a net through the water to maximize the chance of concentrating trace DNA and recording sound in the vicinity of the animals.
Recordings are important as they help us to identify the particular killers whales that passed through the water mass because individual groups of killer whales produce very specific vocalizations (see Listening to Orcas). At the end of the day, we’d head back to FHL, filter the water samples and freeze the filtrate for further analysis. Dr. Baker and Debbie Steel are working hard on analyzing all of the water samples collected during this fieldwork. Stay tuned to see if killer whales have left their mark on the waters of Puget Sound……
Click here to hear an example of sounds we recorded from killer whales while in the field last week (may require headphones).
RAOS, or Real-Time Acoustic Observing System, is an exciting technology being used in a new project that has recently gotten off the ground in our Acoustics Group.
With RAOS, we can simultaneously record under ocean sounds in a data base and send near-real-time specific messages or small snippets of data to land. This is a big deal! The current goal is to deploy RAOS technology in the Juan de Fuca Strait (the water way between Washington State and Canada near the San Juan Islands) to report on the movement of Orcas in real time. With only short (approximately 15 minute) satellite delays, scientists could be alerted on land that orcas have been detected in the area, so that a ship could rush out for immediate further study. The data base that comes back to land later, can be analyzed for larger-scale patterns of movement and species detection.
Brad Hanson (NOAA) and Holger Klinck kicked it off, and Haru Matsumoto has been instrumental in overseeing all aspects of the current RAOS project, including cost, coordinating with our NOAA PMEL Seattle work associates, and overall project management.
Here is how Real-Time Acoustic Observing System technology works: an Ocean Bottom Hydrophone (OBH) (an under-ocean microphone system) is deployed at the bottom of the ocean.
A buoy floats above in the general vicinity of the OBH. The hydrophone records sounds under the ocean and retains the ongoing recording data, but when a certain pre-determined signal is detected during this recording, it sends a message to the buoy, which, in turn, sends that to scientists on land (with a short delay for satellite relay time). The buoy, in this case, is kind of like the middle-man between the actual recording and detecting going on in the OBH at the bottom of the ocean and the scientists in the lab on land.
Alex Turpin took the lead on software engineering for this latest use of RAOS. Haru, Alex, and Chris Jones from Embedded Ocean Systems (EOS) in Seattle, collaborated on the engineering. Chris developed the WISPR board (circuit board)
and programmed it, and Alex customized it for this particular project to detect orcas.
The exciting thing about the WISPR (Wideband Intelligent Sound Processor & Recorder) board, is that we can change the detection algorithm (that programming that is geared to detect a certain particular sound) on the fly from afar. Theoretically, you could leave the RAOS out and have it sending you real-time signals to land if it detects orcas, and then change your project and have it send real-time signals to land if it detects blue whales or earthquakes instead – all without having to retrieve the instruments (a costly endeavor) and haul them back to the lab for changing of the programming.
Any time you have a large project in mind that requires a new technology, you must test test test. First, Alex tested it in the lab. Then he tested it off a dock. And the latest test, which took place under about 60 meters of ocean off the Oregon coast, was the biggie.
Joe Haxel helped with the mooring in the latest round of testing, using his logistics and ocean engineering expertise. On Sept. 19th, the OBH was recovered after a 5 day test deployment. So far, the data looks clean. (Personal note: I found that using an automatic detector to try to capture orca calls on a data set (not associated with the current RAOS project) was a bit frustrating if your hydrophone is anywhere near a buoy with a chain. Chain jingle was remarkably similar to orca whistle, according to the detection parameters). Before the recovery of the equipment after the 5 day test off the Oregon Coast, our scientists sent out orca sounds from the recovery ship to see if the hydrophone would detect it as orca, and send that signal to land via the buoy. This was done at 4 different distances from the equipment by stopping the ship and lowering a speaker into the ocean to play orca sounds using a high-frequency pre-amplifier to make sure all parts of the orca signal were present. Results are currently being reviewed in the lab.
Work is now under way in our Acoustics group for further collaboration with Chris of EOS in Seattle to refine the WISPR board programming in a way that allows it to send a small snippet of a spectrogram to land when the detection of the orca is registered at the OBH. In this way, scientists back in the lab could verify that the signal sent to them was, indeed, an orca and not a false detection (for instance, just a buoy chain), by viewing the actual signal’s spectrogram and/or listening to it with programs here in the office.
Once the latest collaboration is done on the WISPR board and RAOS system, and after testing this in the lab, the next step in the project will be deployment in the Juan de Fuca Strait. Good luck to all involved – Go, Team! We’ll keep you posted…
This post comes to us from Dr. Bob Dziak, Acoustics Program Director:
So, why should people care what’s at the bottom of the ocean? Because humans are, by nature, explorers; we want to know what’s behind the next turn in the road – what new adventure awaits. Given that we know more about the surface of the moon than what lies beneath the vast ocean, it’s not only in our best interests to explore the ocean floor, it’s in our DNA!
The images posted here today give us a glimpse of what is at the bottom of the ice cold ocean: its volcanic fire! What you see is the latest compilation of bathymetric (i.e. topography of the seafloor) data of a chain of seamounts that is located 300 miles west of the Oregon coast and 1 mile under water.
This bathymetric data was collected over a 20 year period by several research ships. A transducer on the hull of the ship sends out an acoustic ping into the water below. The sound wave travels through the water, reflects off the seafloor, and travels back to the ship. Since we know the speed of sound in water, by precisely measuring the time it takes for the sound wave to travel to the bottom and back to the ship, we can calculate how deep the seafloor is. Then, by having the ship go back and forth, spanning a large area of the ocean (a process we call “mowing the lawn”), we can build comprehensive maps of the seafloor.
The images show the unique shapes of two extinct volcanoes (Cobb and Brown Bear) and one still actively erupting volcano (Axial). The seamounts are the youngest part of a chain of seamounts formed when the overriding Pacific plate passed over a large mantle hotspot plume called the Cobb hotspot. This is exactly how the Hawaiian Islands, the youngest seamounts in the Explorer Seamount chain, were formed.
Each seamount in the Cobb chain shown here have volcanic cones, craters and big lava flows that give the mounts their unique shapes. Axial Seamount is the youngest (500K years), and got its name because it straddles the axis of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, a place where the Pacific and Juan de Fuca plates move away from each other and the magmatic upper mantle is really close to the seafloor. Axial has erupted 3 times since 1998, the most recent occurring just last April 2015: PMEL Axial Seamount Expedition.
Cobb is the oldest Seamount (3.3 million years) and has a very distinct flat top, which was created by wave action and erosion when Cobb was above sea level. Recent studies show human migration from Siberia to the Americas occurred in one big migration 23,00 years ago. Cobb was an island during this migration, and I’ve always wanted to go explore the summit of Cobb to see if we could find evidence humans landed there long ago!
The seamounts also show an odd feature. According to classic plate tectonic theory, the depth of the seafloor should increase as you move farther away from the source ridge. But Cobb is much shallower than Axial. How can that be? We surmise that Cobb is much shallower than the other seamounts because it formed at a time when eruptions were much more voluminous, with a much higher supply of magma from the mantle magma hotspot plume. Axial is also deeper because it’s younger and hasn’t had a chance to build up yet; when Axial erupts, the magma/lava tends to get spread out along the faults of the Juan de Fuca Ridge.
This re-post from July, comes to us from Michelle Fournet, Graduate Research Assistant, who also blogs for Animal Acoustics:
Research of this scale cannot be conducted in a vacuum. I am not capable of running a theodolite, a total station, a hydrophone, a data computer, and an iPad simultaneously, no matter how good a scientist I may be. To this end field biology is by necessity collaborative. Bringing a team into the field is unbelievably rewarding (and challenging), but the nature of studying charismatic megafauna in a place like Alaska means that expectations must be managed.
My master’s advisor Dr. Andy Szabo of the Alaska Whale Foundation, who imparted on me many words of wisdom as we’d sit waiting for the weather to break so that data could be collected, once told me that the science that was the least exciting to collect was the most valuable to have. I’d remind myself of this as I’d strain to locate a whale from my lighthouse perch that was in fact foraging four miles away, or as I sat with my soggy headphones in a 3-meter skiff in the pouring rain waiting for a whale to call. I’d remind myself that the beauty of using these methods (land based observations and passive acoustic monitoring) was that I was in no way changing the behavior of the whales.
These are the sorts of stories I told the Acoustic Spyglass field team prior to disembarkation into the field. We learned how to spot blows, because we may be too far away to identify the backs of the whales, we learned how to use a theodolite to finely measure location and behavior from miles away, without ever interacting with the animal. I like to think that I ingrained in my team a sense of humility when thinking about the reality of these whales existing not for us, but despite us. We were prepared to watch, and listen, quietly from a distance.
But the whales came to us.
In the nine summers that I’ve been coming to Alaska to work with whales I’ve never been as close to a humpback whale as I’ve been, repeatedly, here in Glacier Bay while standing on shore. We are woken up to the explosive breath of humpback whales foraging outside of our tents, we rinse our dishes under the mist of humpback whale exhalations, sitting on the beach writing this blog post I’m not more than fifty yards away from a pair of humpback whales cruising through the intertidal zone. In fact, one blew so loudly a moment ago, that it startled Kate as she made her way across the rocks to begin a survey.
It’s four A.M. and someone is shaking my tent; David tells me that I have to get out of bed there are three whales in our intertidal zone, and one just beyond breaching. It’s ten P.M. and Luke and Kate and I are a puddled mess on the floor of Kate’s tent, moments away from being fast asleep, when David yells from the beach. There’s a whale lunge feeding right off of the shore, and then another; so close that you could count their baleen. Yesterday we cancelled our surveys for fog, again. Sitting disappointed on the beach we watch four whales scattered between the peninsula where we conduct our surveys and the point directly south of us, all of them within 50 yards of the beach – and then one breaches. Years on the water in Alaska and the closest I’ve ever been to a breaching whale was standing ankle deep in the intertidal zone. We have animals so close to the shore with such frequency that Tom coined the term “Drive By”, and the whales do in fact drive by multiple times each day.
I never expected this. I expected tiny teakettle spouts across the ocean (and we have no shortage of that), but I never expected to grow so accustomed to whales on our beach that I’d assume we would see at least one up close everyday. It is a great gift to stand on this shore in awe of these creatures, and content myself with that same knowledge that got me through my master’s degree, that this interaction (which appears to be a one-sided one… whether the whales even know we’re here is unlikely) is not harming these animals or changing their behavior, yet they are still close enough that I can see their muscles flex under
their own locomotion.
It is an even greater gift to be able to share this experience with my team, who came to Alaska never having seen a humpback whale. There is a saying about Alaska that I used to quote everyday when I worked on the boats in Juneau, it’s a version of a John Muir quote about coming to Alaska, that goes “for the purpose of sightseeing, if you are old please come. But if you’re young, stay away. For the beauty and the grandeur of a place so huge could ruin you, and it never bodes well in life to see the finest first.”
Hatfield Marine Science Center Celebrates 50 years – Come Celebrate this Friday!
Help celebrate “…one of the most important and unique marine science facilities in the country…” as they celebrate 50 years since they first opened their doors. ****************** Click Here for more information ****************************
This post comes to us from Matt Fowler, Research Assistant and Marine Technician:
With the assistance of the U. S. Coast Guard, we deployed the Full Ocean Depth Hydrophone (FODH) at Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench. Challenger Deep has the greatest ocean depths known to exist on Earth. As the technician responsible for this deployment, I had a unique perspective as I observed the launch and descent of the FODH.
We had great weather during the two day cruise, just behind one typhoon and ahead of a second one. Perfect timing gave us a great weather window with a cool, calm 10-15 kt breeze and a gentle 3m swell for our otherwise sweltering 100 degree, 100% humidity deck operations. Overall, everything went well and the hydrophone was successfully deployed. The drop site, ~ 1 km NE of where we wanted it to land on the seafloor was chosen based on the little information we had regarding the deep-sea currents at Challenger Deep.
After the anchor was dropped, and our instrument began the long descent to the bottom, I was alone, tracking, as it slowly sank into oblivion. With my trusted acoustic ranging deck-unit at my side, I was constantly obtaining updated depth information every 20 seconds during the nearly 9 hour journey to the seafloor 6 miles below.
Somewhere about 8000m I realized the hydrophone was close to 25,000ft and still had a long way to go. As I continued to observe the descent, I flashed on the movie, “The Abyss” and the scene with Brinkman on his way to the bottom and his friends tracking his descent… I kept waiting for Big Geek to implode…
As the ‘phone passed 9000m, I realized it was approaching 30,000ft depth, and still going! I was far more interested in the 20 second updates with each new depth presented 3 times a minute, when I realized the hydrophone was deeper than the 8848m, Mount Everest is tall… AND STILL GOING! Hopefully, 2000m deeper!
After an 8hour, 40 minute descent, the hydrophone ended up on the bottom, about 600m N of our target. We won’t know the exact depth until we obtain the depth recorder with the mooring later this year, but based on the best bathymetry available, we may be deeper than 10800m or 35325ft. More than 6.5 miles deep! If all goes as planned this will be the deepest moored hydrophone data ever obtained.
After recovering the FODH on a subsequent cruise, we will find out soon if we were up to the “Challenge” of Challenger Deep.
Am I allowed to write an Opinion Piece on a Science Blog? Well, here goes (if you don’t hear from me, it’s quite possible the Science-Blog-Police nabbed me. Please send bail $). Scientists are heroes. I can say this because I’m not one, really. I do work for scientists, though, and am interested in what they study and what kinds of conclusions they come up with.
Think about it – where would we be without science and the work that scientists do every day? Medicine, vaccines, healthy diets (<–though I have a beef to pick with those studies, pun intended), computer technology, emergency disaster preparedness, water and air quality, global warming (yes, it’s a thing), crop management, saving the whales (literally), saving our planet (literally)… all of these important areas of influence are affected by scientific discoveries.
Basic science, that may not seem so practically relevant or poignant today, adds to our body of knowledge and helps us understand how our universe works. Another scientist down the line can use that basic, seemingly not-so-impactful study to come up with another one that may really blow something open!
Sometimes it feels like there is a backlash against science and a new big wave of science-skepticism. Of course, there are always some bad apples in any field; for instance, Andrew Wakefield, who wrote a study based on 12 children that linked the M.M.R. shot with the onset of autism in 1998. His findings were widely rejected, the British Medical Journal called his research “fraudulent”, his paper was retracted by the journal that published it, and he was stripped of his license. What was his motivation? I have read he was being paid by a law firm to find the link between MMR and autism so that they could win big money in a case.
Unfortunately, the comment Wakefield made during a press conference upon publication of his paper, where he announced his belief that the MMR vaccine may cause autism, stuck. And that’s a big reason why today we have major outbreaks of things like measles, which was formerly thought of as eradicated.
Typically, peer review, which is where 2 or more external reviewers (hopefully with expertise in the subject they are reviewing) assess the quality of the study, its methodology, and whether or not the research results are credible, before a paper is published, helps us avoid situations like the MMR-Autism debacle. I have read that 4 of the 6 reviewers of Wakefield’s study rejected it, and that it was the editor of the journal who decided to publish it because he was interested in the sensationalism. It ends up, the media loves a story that will scare the poop out of a vulnerable population (new parents) more than all of those studies that refuted Wakefield’s. Science (in this case, a scientific journal), somehow let this one through to publication, but Science soon corrected its mistake with many studies that could NOT reproduce the results. That wasn’t as big of a media splash.
Personally, I get irritated with Science regarding what’s considered healthy and what isn’t. One day eggs are out, the next day they seem to be a super food. One day butter is the devil, the next it’s OK. One day sun exposure is super risky, and the next day we need more of it (in the PNW). I’ve heard this before: “Why bother noting these studies when it seems like soon enough Science will “change its mind”?”
The best explanation I’ve heard about science is this: science is a learning and a building on our body of knowledge – it is an ongoing activity of investigation about our universe and how it works. When science “changes its mind”, it isn’t usually saying it was 100% wrong, but that it wasn’t 100% right. Scientific study adds to our knowledge base and updates it. Science can usually correct its mistakes (results must be able to be repeated and must stand up to peer review) and grow from there.
One thing to watch out for in the media and on the internet: is that splashy science-driven article based on something published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal? If not, it could very well be flawed, incomplete, or just plain bogus.
How can we, as a society, even begin to discuss making decisions together if we don’t first have the facts? Though scientific studies may not give us enough information to feel we have 100% of the facts, the peer review before publishing in a scientific journal, the scientific method based on empirical (observable) or measurable evidence, and the use of carefully controlled and replicated experiments that gather data are the best ways we have right now of rounding up information that helps us learn about our oceans, our animal friends, plants, insects, our bodies, our world, and the universe. The more we learn, the more likely we are to get together and agree on the best way forward with the information we have at hand. That’s the idea, anyway.
There’s a time and place for “going with your gut” and intuition. But when it comes to making decisions we need a majority to agree upon, I’m sticking with the scientists. Let’s work with the best information that we’ve got – provided by our world heroes; no, not the X-Men, Scientists.
FREE~ Oregon Coast girls who are going into 7th or 8th grade and are interested in STEM related careers will have the unique opportunity to spend two days working with researchers at Hatfield Marine Science Center in the labs and in the field. In addition, they will spend the night at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, in the Shark Tunnel! They will get behind the scenes tours with women in Aquarium careers. Campers must provide own transportation to and from HMSC in Newport, bring sleeping bags and change of clothing. All meals provided. The camp begins at 9:00am on Monday August 17th and ends at 4:00pm on Tuesday August 18th.
This post comes to us from our Summer Intern, Ross Meyer:
My name is Ross Meyer and I am an intern conducting research with NOAA- PMEL/ OSU-CIMRS Acoustics Program in Newport, OR in conjunction with Oregon State University’s National Science Foundation REU (Research Experience for Undergrads) program at Hatfield Marine Science Center. The focus of this program is to immerse students into a very educational and rewarding summer research project while also giving them access to many professional scientists to mentor them along the way. For this 10-week internship, I will be working with Joe Haxel, Bob Dziak and Anna Semple. I will be processing data collected from an NSF sponsored array of autonomous hydrophones for submarine earthquake epicenters along the Romanche Fracture Zone in the equatorial Atlantic as part of an earthquake foreshock study. Following processing and analysis of the Romanche FZ earthquake epicenters, I will compare my results to a similar study conducted on East Pacific Rise transform faults to determine if the earthquake predictability is consistent between both fracture zones.
I grew up in the small town of Sweet, ID but now live in Moscow, ID where I am working on my BS in Geology at the University of Idaho. When I’m not working or studying, I enjoy spending time outdoors with my family and friends. I am an avid hunter and fisherman, and also love to ride my motorcycle and explore new places.