Possibly I am throwing around the word “miracle” because I’ve got Herb Brooks on my mind (thanks to my fellow grad student and FW intramural soccer coach Matt who is obsessed with that guy). Or perhaps that is actually what happened.
Let me set the stage. Will and Otis, our two Seagliders, were deployed off the coast of Newport, for what should have been a brief, straightforward test of their passive acoustic systems before they were shipped off to the Gulf of Mexico for a project there. Of course, that would not be as exciting of a story if it all went as planned.
I can’t remember how much I’ve talked about it before (I looked it up…try here and here), but basically, the way these gliders work is they go out and dive in the ocean, listen for marine mammals, and every time they surface they call in to a basestation, offload their location and some log files, and continue on their way. Well. Otis (SG608) did exactly that. It was his first flight with us and all went smoothly, from a piloting stand point. Will (SG607) on the other hand….well, he went rogue. And I don’t mean to the brewery.
Will stopped calling in after only 5 dives. Did I tell you this was my first “solo” piloting of the gliders? Yes, I was sort of freaking out.
But what happened the next few days is not important (I blacked it out so I can’t tell you because I don’t remember).
The point is….WE FOUND HIM!!!!!!!!!!
So (1) the miracle part: Let me explain the chances of finding Will. Best case scenario we were searching in about a 1 km radius of a point we THOUGHT the glider would be diving to. Worst case, it was floating at the surface and had drifted who-knows how many miles offshore. But lets complicate things. Glider at the surface, great, easier to spot. Glider continuously diving = glider down for 1 hour 40 mins, at the surface for 20 mins. So lets say we ARE in the right place. Well then it has to be the right time, and you better spot the thing during that 20 mins and get the boat over there before it goes back down for an hour and 40 mins and pops up somewhere else in that 1 km radius. Lets add in some wind waves (We are 35 nm offshore here) and some fog. And this is the image you are looking for:
(2) the waiting part. Will was missing for 4 and a half days. That doesn’t seem like that long. But when everytime your phone beeps that you get a text message and your heart jumps thinking maybe its the glider, that is a long 108 hours. But that is a lot of what we had to do. This was exacerbated for me because I had to stay on land during the search trips. I had to be at my computer in case we heard from the glider and I could give updates on GPS locations or timing. This was a new experience for me. I’m not real good at sitting still and waiting.
(3) the teamwork part. To me, the greatest outcome of the whole thing. There is NO way we could have found Will without all hands on deck, without awesome grad students and scientists who went out to look (Laurie, Niki, Erin, Theresa, Curtis, Alex, Haru, Matt, Dave), Anatoli and Steve for answering my piloting questions, a chartered fishing boat (ok…we paid them, Sara thanks for coordinating), TWO trips out, the people at iridium for putting up with my incessant phone calls, the dolphins that swam by the boat and provided moral support, Sharon and Holger for telling me not to freak out…I could go on. (and I’m SO SORRY if I am forgetting someone)
Well, I took last month off from blogging because I didn’t have much exciting to share. Then my turn came up again this month and again I realized I don’t have much to share. So I decided to go with it and just ramble for a bit. I have been working on wrapping up my master’s thesis and so I’ve been very busy writing, and reading, and writing, and editing, and making Holger read stuff, and writing. But the end is near, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, all those other catch phrases about finishing something!
I spent the Christmas holiday with my family but headed back to Oregon soon after to get back to work. I’ve been fortunate enough to be hanging out on the coast while doing all this hectic finishing up, and it has been surprisingly nice weather. I have been spending a lot of time staring at this screen, but at least the sun has been out my window!! And it makes taking breaks to walk the dog all that much easier.
In the midst of the summer and early fall when I was traveling a bunch and doing field work, I remember thinking how nice the term would be to be in one place for a while and get some analysis/other work done. What I didn’t realize was how unexciting my life would be for blog posts….
I guess excitement depends on your interests, though, because for me there have been SOME exciting moments standing in front of my computer. I’ve spent the last month putting my master’s on hold, instead analyzing acoustic data collected from one of our gliders that was deployed back in March, and then deploying and analyzing another glider all within the month of October. Want to see what I found? Good. I was going to put in the images anyway.
From the March deployment, the excitement came in the form of TONS of beaked whales. Like so many. Like all the time. Including the super weird looking Stejneger’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon stejnegeri). I can tell the species by what frequency the click is at, how much time there is between clicks (inter click interval, aka ICI fyi), and the duration of the click. They are all unique features for this species of beaked whale, which I know thanks to other people confirming that by combining visual and acoustic data like was done by theses lovely folks at Scripps.
The March deployment also brought excitement through porpoise recordings! Did I mention that glider was the first of its kind to record ultra high frequencies? We used a 394 kHz sampling rate, which means we could detect vocalizations up to 196 kHz, which is where porpoise and a few other odontocetes (toothed whales) vocalize. Most equipment doesn’t sample that high (memory gets filled too fast) so this was pretty neat-o. I’m a big fan of looking for these ultra high frequency encounters because they are so obvious in the upper part of the LTSA, far above the background noise.
And like I mentioned, I did go out in the field one day. We deployed one of our new gliders for a few days just outside of Newport in early October, and I went out on the recovery. I took this one super exciting picture of these gulls on the back of the ship. You’re welcome.
Oscar Wilde said that “Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”
Sorry Oscar, despite my deep respect and admiration to you I will have to object this one.
Talking about the weather is lame; I seriously thought before. But I have changed my mind, since I moved to the Oregon Coast. Talking about the weather is lame at the cases that the weather is consistent, predictable and largely warm and sunny. This is not the case at the Pacific Northwest.
I often find myself complaining about the weather (this is my version of talking about it) since I moved here, and now it’s time to better look into it. Without my usual pout when I curse the rain, or my frown when it’s sunny but really windy. I am not grumpy in reality; I am just a bicycle commuter. That means that I don’t have the choice of a well heated, or at least a dry seat at bike-unfriendly times. I am always exposed to the weather and it affects me every single day. I have been repeatedly soaked by the North Pacific rain and blown away by the Northerly winds (we name the winds from the direction that they come from) over and over again. Immediately when I arrived here I was warned about the horizontal rain that I had never heard of before and no umbrella could keep it off me. The wind is ruthless at the North Pacific.
The truth is that everyone is affected by the weather and has his/her own relationship with it depending on where they come from, what they are used too and how their internal thermostat is tuned, and also on their personality. If you come from Greece, the Oregon Coast will appear cold, whereas if you come from northern France (clear reference to one of my housemates) it will feel like home. If you are outgoing and social the warm sunny weather suits you and defines you. If you are more of an introvert the rain and the low temperatures will provide the right conditions for you to stay home and enjoy solitude.
Research shows that the weather and particularly the sun affect our mood. I clearly see more smiley faces in a sunny day, mine included. Studies indicate a link between low pressure and suicide. On rainy days people report lower satisfaction with their lives. Now imagine how challenging it can be to be a graduate student in a tiny town on the Oregon Coast…!
Overall, I think that the amount of energy that we receive from the huge flaming star on the sky defines who we are, and seems to be a driver of peoples cultures. I am certain that you also have noticed generic cultural differences among people that come from southern and northern regions in a global or even in a national scale. I might be judged for stereotyping but there is some truth to that.
There are 3 major factors why the weather is important for biologists-acousticians:
1. It is linked to food and everyone cares about food
The animals care about the weather! Their distribution is defined by the climate together with other parameters. The sperm whales for example, being truly cosmopolitan, are encountered in the most parts of the world’s seas from the equator to the edge of the polar ice. However they have their temperature preferences. The females like it warm and don’t go to temperatures lower than 15°C. While the groups of females and young males are thought to remain in lower latitudes year round, the macho adult males have wider physiological demands and are encountered in polar areas.
The sperm whales display a remarkable sexual dimorphism with the males being ~1.5 times longer than the females. The larger the size of the animal the more favorable is the surface-to-volume ratio. Even though they have a large surface area that they lose heat from, this area is small in relation to their heat-producing body mass. Thus the males can migrate to high latitudes, especially during summer months, to productive feeding grounds where they karaoke with my hydrophone located at the Gulf of Alaska.
Within their calls I am sure that whales talk about the weather too because highly productive spots are identified, like upwelling areas and other cool places where plenty of food is available and the animals tend to aggregate. Though, the precise process that links the environmental factors in the open ocean with the distribution and abundance of large predators is difficult to be determined and is a major goal of my research. Investigating the oceanographic parameters that affect the movements of sperm whale populations is a particularly complicated matter since they feed on deep sea creatures (bathypelagic squid) and the linkages of physical forcing (wind, temperature) with primary productivity and aggregations of prey and predators are temporally and spatially variable.
2. The sound in the ocean likes it hot
The propagation of sound in the oceans is largely affected by oceanographic variables (which are related to the weather) such as temperature, pressure and salinity. The speed that the sound travels underwater varies from area to area, season to season and different time in the day. Generally the sound speed increases when all the above variables increase. Since these variables change with the depth, the sound speed profile also changes with depth in the water column.
High sound velocity on the sea surface where the water gets warmed up by the sunlight decreases down to the depth where the water temperature becomes constant (~1000m) and then it starts increasing again when the pressure increase is dominant. At the transition point where the sound velocity reaches a minimum (~1000m) it is formed a sound channel where sound waves get trapped and propagate really far away. This is named as the SOFAR (SOund Fixing And Ranging) Channel and some species of whales find it to be very useful to communicate with their friends, partners, parents, cousins and aunts that are immigrants to faraway seas.
I use skype.
Do remember this SOFAR chitchat when you decide to deploy your instrument to record whale voices and you cannot decide on the depth 😉
And to turn the talk-about-the-weather into a hot topic, consider what happens when climate change is introduced and the small talk becomes a conversation where personal ethics, political and social opinions are involved. More like loud talk now! Now that I said loud, did you wonder what is the effect of climate change to the sound propagation and consequently the whales’ communication, and you were afraid to ask?
Ocean acidification, the decrease of the pH in the seas, is a notorious climate change impact. This increase of the ocean acidity changes how sound travels underwater: the lower the pH (more acidic), the ocean absorbs less sound and the higher is the sound speed. And now you are thinking: “Voila, the whales can be heard even further now!”. However, the reality is less comforting (as usually). At the frequencies that the whales vocalize we make a whole lot of noise with shipping and naval activity, seismic exploration and other significant anthropogenic sound sources that interfere with the whales’ skype and consequent communication issues. Yep, ocean acidification makes the sound pollution in the seas into a magnified problem.
3. People love listening to the rain
Since the weather affects the ocean soundscape, then it can also be measured by the sound it makes! Rain and wind generate sound at the sea by producing bubbles during splashing at the ocean surface. These physical processes create different distribution of bubble sizes that have a different footprint on the soundscape. This way the sound from breaking waves (caused by the wind) can be distinguished from the rainfall sound and we are able to monitor the ocean surface conditions from below the surface. Huzzah, here is the solution to trying to measure wind speed and precipitation in difficult locations where the measured vicious weather elements can actually destroy the instruments that we use to measure them. The instrument that I use, the Passive Aquatic Listener (aka PAL) was originally designed by Dr. Jeffrey Nystuen to detect and measure rainfall and wind speed at sea. Lucky me, it works great with recording marine mammals too!
Weather and bubbles talk. This is so scientific.
By this point of this post I have been unnecessarily negative with the Oregon Coast weather which to be frank is what makes this corner of the world into a magical place. The northerly winds in the summer are the reason for the upwelling to take place and all the whales and other astounding marine life to move up this way for food. Seeing the whales from the beach or even just the balcony of your house is certainly worth suffering some cold winds. The world we live in is alive because of the winds. The wind is the breath and the heartbeat of the Earth. The rain on the other hand gives life to thriving and fairytale-like old-growth forests with splendidly diverse and abundant wildlife, fills the rivers and the lakes. Did I mention how outdoorsy I have become?
A question to you: do you also see an irony in the name “Pacific” or I am being grumpy again?
Here it comes, a welcome wind: the wind of change. I am moving to the valley!
Last Thursday marked our labs first successful DMON (Digital Acoustic Monitor) deployment of the spring! The DMON is a passive acoustic instrument that is capable of recording and processing audio in real-time. Friday, May 16th, a single DMON was deployed off the coast of central Oregon to target the acoustic signatures and monitor the occurrence of several high frequency odontocetes (specifically porpoise and dolphin), for frequencies up to 150Khz. Although abundant in the coastal environment of the central Oregon coast, because of their skittish nature, little is known on the behavior of harbor porpoise. Passive acoustic monitoring is an ideal method for collecting information on their presence and vocalization behavior with little habitat disturbance. In light of the planned development for wave energy converter (WEC) testing at the south energy test site (SETS) as part of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center’s (NMREC) grid connected full scale facility off South Beach, OR, this project is focused on gathering baseline data on high frequency odontocetes using the area. With this information we plan to assess the impact of WEC testing activities as the SETS facility is brought on line.
Pretty Cool Stuff! Fortunately, I will be deploying and analyzing data all summer alongside with Joe Haxel, who is a Research Associate for the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies at Oregon State University and the NOAA /Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Acoustics Program.
While a full-depth analysis of last week’s data hasn’t yet been accomplished, I was able to take a quick peek and MAN IT LOOKS GOOD! Both harbor porpoise and killer whale vocalizations were identified – sound bites and spectrograms will be coming soon!
Finally, All of this wouldn’t be accomplished without our friendly Newport neighbors, Marine Discovery Tours, who offer narrated ocean and bay cruises with naturalist guides and have the finest accommodations for viewing whales and other sea life.
Memory storage capacity on the high frequency DMON mooring is limited by the high sample rate (~480 Khz) and we therefore record on a 10% duty cycle which simply means “deploy, leave for 7 days, recover, charge, and redeploy” schedule.
Without the help of Marine Discovery Tours, we would not be able to deploy and recover so frequently! So if you plan on taking a trip or a visit to the Oregon Coast, you might want check out what trips are available to see our beloved Oregon marine life, and you never know, if you’re lucky you might just book the trip with all the DMON action and see it first hand!
I’ll be back with a full update on what the ORCAA lab has discovered from our DMONS in August! In the meantime, make sure you follow ORCAALab on Twitter for updates!
It’s springtime here on the Oregon Coast. The white-crowned sparrows are singing at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, the seagulls are growing audacious at the sight of beach picnics and barbecues, and on top of our normal research load here at the ORCAA lab (bowhead whales, how I love thee singing on my computer screen), the field season is upon us in full force!
Part of my job over the last year has been to coordinate a marine mammal observation effort here in Oregon’s near coastal ocean. We’ve been very fortunate to partner with a number of labs and projects — including Sarah Henkel’s Bethic Ecology Lab, Jay Peterson’s Zooplankton Ecology Project, and Rob Suryan’s Seabird Oceanography Lab — who’ve invited us to share their sea time and tag along on cruises recording marine mammals. We’ve had some inspiring cruises (bow riding dall’s porpoise, a possible pilot whale sighting!) and a few rocky days (my stomach hasn’t forgiven the Elakha yet), and we’re not through yet. Now that the summer season is around the corner it’s time to recruit additional observers, and get our lead observers (Amanda and Niki) up to snuff on their safety certifications.
If you’ve ever been a part of a marine research cruise, you may be familiar with the rigor of safety training. We take safety very seriously; as marine scientists we have a keen awareness of both the awe and danger associated with the open (or even near coastal) ocean. All of that severity, however, doesn’t stop us from having a little fun. As you can see by today’s photos of Amanda and Niki (a.k.a. Gumby #1 and Gumby #2). I didn’t go through safety training myself today, but that didn’t stop my from doing a little spying.
More to come soon on how projects unfold here at the ORCAA lab.
Amanda after a cool dip in the big ocean (ok… maybe it was the harbor)
The lovely ladies of the ORCAA lab (Amanda & Niki)
If Amanda falls overboard, this is what you should look for.