3-D Printer "printing" a piece of plastic
3-D Printer “printing” a piece of plastic

The following information was made available by Matt Fowler (check our People Page):

The Acoustics Program, a joint NOAA/OSU cooperative research group is now printing their own hydrophone pieces. A grant from CIMRS, thanks to Dr. Michael Banks, director of OSU’s Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies (CIMRS) provided the department with the Ultimaker 2, a 3-D printer.

The Acoustics Group is now manufacturing internal components for 20 new hydrophones currently under construction at HMSC. The 3-D printer takes a drawing from a CAD program and prints the drawing using melted plastic. As the print head moves in the X and Y dimensions, the print platform slowly lowers allowing the printing of one .2mm layer at a time.

Use of this technology allows engineers to quickly and inexpensively fabricate prototypes to test and incorporate new components for the various instrument platforms currently being developed. With this technology, an engineer’s designs are only constrained by the materials the printer can use, and their imagination.

3-D Printer Product
3-D Printer Product
3-D Printer Finished Product In Use (blue plastic frame holding electronics)
3-D Printer Finished Product In Use (blue plastic frame holding electronics)

Here’s a short update from our recent trip back to Guam last week. We just returned to town (Newport, OR) yesterday, so I’m still pretty bushed, but I wanted to share a few images. (Click on them for a higher resolution full image)

26 hours of travel from Newport, Oregon to the hotel in Guam, waking up to this in the morning before heading down to the ship. Not too bad?

view of Magic Island from the hotel in Agana Bay
View of Magic Island from the hotel in Agana Bay
Sequoia - the Black Pearl of the Pacific
USCGC Sequoia – Black Pearl of the Pacific

We went back out to Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench to recover the full ocean depth hydrophone (FODH) mooring we put out in January of this year. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sequoia also known as the “Black Pearl of the Pacific” was there to greet us at the dock having just missed tropical storm Bavi. We had to do some creative travel including flight delays and re-scheduling in order to avoid the bad weather and 20 ft seas impacting the area just days before. Part of the deal working in the tropical Pacific. As you can see in these images, it was worth it. The weather couldn’t have been any better for the recovery work.

FODH mooring at the surface after coming up from ~11 km at Challenger Deep
FODH mooring at the surface after coming up from ~11 km at Challenger Deep
pulling the FODH mooring on deck in one shot with Sequoia's crane
Pulling the FODH mooring on deck in one shot with Sequoia’s crane

The recovery operations were successful, aside from a few agonizing moments establishing communications with the acoustic release down near 11 km below the sea surface. The Sequoia is an outstanding work platform with an exceptional Captain and crew and we are really lucky to have formed such a great partnership with them. Check back in the near future for more info on this and other program projects.

Sara’s Blog

Whenever people find out that I am a whale and dolphin biologist (now specializing in the acoustic behaviors of cetaceans) I immediately see their eyes light up with desire and curiosity. I know that they are imagining me in some exotic location, driving a Zodiac with my trusty companions on the high seas (always calm and tropically sunny) surrounded by schools of happy-go-lucky dolphins and breaching whales, listening to their chatter through headphones connected to a hydrophone dangling over the edge of the boat. While that has been true for some of my 35 years in ‘the biz’, I always feel badly when I tell them that much of what I have been doing for the last 14 years is stare at visual representations of acoustic data (spectrograms) scrolling across a computer screen, while sitting at a desk. It isn’t as glamorous as it seems and my days of traveling to (distant) locations for work, are now pretty much limited to the occasional meeting. These are often just one-day affairs which require a full day of travel on either side of the meeting day. My most recent trip from the shores of mid-coastal Oregon was to Houston, TX in February for the annual meeting of projects funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI).

B.P. Oil Spill Area
B.P. Oil Spill Area

GoMRI was born shortly after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, when BP committed up to $500 million over ten years to fund research on the impact of the spill on the environment and public health in the Gulf of Mexico. The goal of GoMRI is to “improve society’s ability to understand, respond to, and mitigate the impacts from oil spills”. To date, GoMRI has funded over 500 expeditions, 300 meetings and workshops, 1800 scientific presentations, 400 peer-reviewed articles and 200 outreach activities. New research consortia are funded on a regular basis.

One of my roles in a newly-formed GoMRI consortium of 4 universities (OSU, University of Louisiana, University of Southern Mississippi, University of New Orleans) and 3 tech companies (Seiche Measurements, C&C Technologies, Proteus Technologies) is to oversee outreach activities; if I’m lucky, I might also work on some of the acoustic data our OSU team collects while ‘flying’ underwater gliders as they quietly transverse an area very close to the Deep Water Horizon spill site, making scheduled recordings of the sound scape.

This consortium is known as LADC-GEMM, which stands for Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center-Gulf Ecological Monitoring and Modeling. GEMM is the latest offshoot of LADC, which was initiated in 2001 to conduct acoustic surveys in the Gulf of Mexico. What we now want to know is: have whale and dolphin populations changed after the Deep water Horizon oil spill tragedy?


Beaked whales, dolphins and endangered sperm whales make the Gulf of Mexico their home and are significant because of their sensitivity to environmental change; globally, marine mammals often serve as ‘ecosystem sentinels’ and this also stands true for the Gulf of Mexico. Having conducted acoustic surveys in the Gulf of Mexico for over a decade, LADC is the only group that has baseline data indicating large numbers of deep-diving cetaceans were living near the Deepwater Horizon site. In 2007, LADC conducted a two-week survey in that area. In 2010, after the spill, LADC was funded by NSF, and given ship time by Greenpeace to conduct further surveys. So, now, 5 years later, LADC-GEMM is undertaking the next logical step in cetacean research near the spill site.

Let me share with you what the GoMRI website says about LADC-GEMM:

“This study will provide relationships among short- and long-term marine mammal population variations with environmental factors such as natural and human-induced disasters, weather conditions, seasonal migration, industrial operational noise, and food supply. It pairs acoustical, oceanographic, and visual data collection with mathematical predictive modeling and integrated data analyses to understand patterns in species distribution, pollutants, and human activities…Monitoring marine mammal sounds is important because they do everything acoustically, using “clicks” to communicate with each other and explore their environment…Using integrated passive acoustic monitoring, the team will record the unique sounds that the whales and dolphins make…the collected acoustic data also will contain a wealth of information about the ocean environment the whales inhabit. Their computer programs will decode this information and pair changes in marine mammal populations with environmental factors.”

During the acoustic surveys, about 200,000 readings per second will be collected. This enormous amount of data will be used to distinguish the identity and number of young adults, females and calves. From that, future population models will be developed to anticipate increases and decreases in the population that may help resource managers and responders to be better prepared for future environmental stressors and perhaps mitigate their effects. This has worldwide application for any country doing offshore oil drilling.

The GEMM project is using some very interesting-some might say avant-garde- technology for collecting acoustic data. You should really go to the GoMRI webpage for LADC-GEMM to read more about it. Our OSU research team has been recording cetaceans using a wide variety of instrumentation, from hydrophones that stay in one place for up to two years, to automated underwater gliders that can be ‘flown’ anywhere in the world from a lab at OSU. We also have stupendous software and expertise on the analysis end. It is our glider expertise that makes us uniquely qualified for the LADC-GEMM project.

Acoustic Data Collection Devices
Acoustic Data Collection Devices

As for the outreach part? Stay tuned! We will incorporate LADC-GEMM activities and findings into NOAA kiosks at science education centers, give presentations in schools and museums, participate in “science pubs” and “science cafes” and hold student competitions to build and operate small autonomous gliders that are similar to the modern technologies used in underwater acoustic research.

As for my travels for the meeting in Houston? It involved an overnight stay the night before, getting up before dawn the next day, a flight to LA with a 5 hour layover in a terminal hub, a long packed-like-sardines plane ride into Houston and a surprising long shuttle ride into the city: 24 hours of travel time, total. Then a full day of meetings, followed by a morning of meetings, then another long shuttle ride to the Houston airport, another long trip in a stuffed plane, a 6 hour layover in LA and a 3 hour car drive home: another 24 hour trip.  I did not see any of the wonders in Houston.

So you see, the work we sometimes do isn’t that Discovery Channel glamour stuff. It isn’t all sea time and great adventures upon the briney deep. The glamour of what I do is in the results of the tedium, in the big picture that results from projects like GEMM. But, I have to admit that I did have adventures in the LA airport: after 2 hours of reading papers and notes, I took an exciting shuttle ride to the terminal to kill time- on the runway, stopping at 4-way stops for enormous jets that had just landed or taxiing in line to take off.

And I did find some dolphins…


Back in January of this year, Bob Dziak, Bill Hanshumaker and I were out in the field for the deployment of a new mooring, the FODH (Full Ocean Depth Hydrophone). The FODH is a newly designed system for collecting acoustic recordings in the deepest depths of the oceans. NOAA’s Ocean Exploration Program (oceanexplorer.noaa.gov) funded this project nearly a year ago and in January of this year, after months of planning and coordination, we were finally able to deploy the gear in an effort to reach the deepest place in the world’s oceans,  Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench southwest of Guam . The engineers at NOAA-PMEL worked for several months designing, building and testing the specialized mooring for a slow, controlled descent to the seafloor, allowing the equipment to equilibrate slowly to the extremely high pressures and avoid being crushed at nearly 11 km depth. Our chief acoustics engineer, Haru Matsumoto, designed a specialized titanium pressure housing and sound acquisition system unique for this deep ocean application and technician Alex Turpin assembled and tested the instrumentation.

FODH mooring on deck of USCGS Sequoia
FODH mooring on deck of USCGS Sequoia (R. Dziak)
Map showing the location of Challenger Deep in the western Pacific Ocean


Back to January of this year…, we flew to Guam to join the U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender Sequoia and sail out 200 miles to Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench to deploy the FODH on its first science mission. It was exciting with some initial heavy weather (running into a typhoon!), but we eventually had a successful deployment and got the gear to the seafloor. The Coast Guard coverage of the deployment mission can be found here USCGChallengerDeep .

heavy seas and winds on the way to Challenger Deep
Heavy seas and strong winds on the way out to Challenger Deep (R. Dziak)
12,000 m rated glass floats being deployed off the ship (R. Dziak)
12,000 m rated glass floats being deployed off the ship (R. Dziak)

I’m going to keep this post brief. I just wanted to give some preliminary background on the project with a few pictures; there will be a lot more detailed information (including video footage) of our deployment and recovery expeditions to follow. We are heading back out to Challenger Deep next week, so stay tuned for updates. Also, for more information and some cool history and images of this unique spot on earth check out James Cameron’s website (deepseachallenge.com).

I haven’t been out to sea on an expedition for our Acoustics group in a while, but I just wanted to point out an excellent and detailed account of a recent recovery of one of our group’s Ocean Bottom Hydrophones (OBHs) from the Ross Sea near the Drygalski Ice Tongue that Michelle Fournet writes about in her own blog. Part I of her series on the recovery can be found here:

Michelle’s Blog

For those new to Acoustics, an Ocean Bottom Hydrophone (OBH) is basically an under-water microphone that sits at the bottom of the ocean and records sounds for us to review later after we go back to retrieve the OBH and bring the data back to the office (this is where I usually come in – analyzing the data, and I’ll be writing more about that later). Michelle’s blog series of her expedition does a great job of describing some of the more adventurous aspects of being involved in the field of science (we are not all sitting in labs and offices), and I found it to be fun to read. She also has some beautiful pictures. I’ve attached some here just to whet your appetite. Be sure to check out her blog and check back here for descriptions of our upcoming expeditions! Better yet, subscribe to our blog to get email notifications when we post something new.

Antarctica penguins michelle fournet 1MichelleFournetAntarctica OBS pick up michelle fournetAntarctica ice michelle fournet 1