Hello again from onboard the IBRV Araon. It has been a successful research cruise and we are now on our way back to Christchurch. Here is a recap of the past few weeks of operations in the Ross Sea.

An iceberg surrounded by sea ice at dusk.
The IBRV Araon as seen from the work boat during glider operations.
The face of the Nansen Ice Shelf with work boat in the foreground.

After a few days of multibeam transects near Jang Bogo Station, it was time to move on to glider operations. On the morning of January 30th I was ecstatic to receive an invitation of a seat on the work boat to assist with glider work. Damien (UTAS), Cassie (UNH), Nathan (Blue Ocean Monitoring), and I headed out on the water for a few hours to deploy their Slocum Glider (named “Storm Petrel”) while Alex (UCDavis) and Danielle (UDel) sent it commands from the Araon. They worked out a few kinks on these test dives to prepare it for a successful week-long deployment later in the cruise.

I spent the next few days getting ready for my first deployments at the new northern site, which happened on February 5th. As we transited to the triad site the final preparations included craning the floats and anchors to the back deck, winding the mooring line onto the winch, and going over the deployment procedure one last time. For all of my deployments and recoveries I had a lot of great help on the deck from the Araon crew, the KOPRI scientists, and the other mooring techs onboard from NIWA and LDEO.

The research cruise participants.
The anchor and acoustic release (yellow cylinder) ready to go into the water as we steam to the drop site.

The main components of our moorings from top to bottom are a syntactic foam float, a hydrophone, about 400 meters of polyester and nylon line, an acoustic release, and a railroad wheel anchor. To start deployment, we first lift the float into the water, followed by the hydrophone, and then as the ship moves at a few knots the line is paid out straight behind the ship. Once we arrive at the deployment location, the acoustic release and anchor are lifted over the water and dropped. After the anchor drop the operation is complete and we begin the short transit to the next site. The three deployments take about 3-4 hours, after which I begin the second and last step: triangulation.

The locations of the two hydrophone triads with the Drygalski Ice Tongue in the bottom left corner. The northern triad is a new site this year; the southern triad is on its second year.



We are building the two triads (50km apart) of three hydrophones each (2km apart) to allow us to estimate the locations of the sounds of interest, which in this dataset are icequakes, iceberg tremors, and other natural sounds in the polynya. To be able to do this accurately, we need to know the precise location of each hydrophone once the mooring has settled on the seafloor. Triangulation is performed by communicating with the acoustic release from a transducer that I place in the water over the side of the ship. The transducer sends and receives acoustic signals to and from the release and by measuring the time it takes for these signals to travel it can then calculate the distance to the release using the sound velocity. I use the transducer to range to the release at 4-5 points around the drop location and use a program called MCal to then determine the final coordinates and depth of the mooring. The triangulation process takes another 4-5 hours. These hydrophones will start recording in a few days and will be recovered on next year’s cruise.

The next few days were filled with more mooring deployments. On the 6th Chris and Carson of LDEO deployed a mooring with 15 instruments that will record a time series of the outflow of the Nansen as well as the O2 and CO2 content caused by sea ice formation in the polynya. On the 8th Fiona of NIWA recovered and deployed moorings near the northern edge of the Drygalski ice tongue that measure the local buoyant currents. Then on the 9th it was time for more hydrophones. In December 2015, Sharon Nieukirk of the Acoustics Program sailed onboard the Araon down from Australia and deployed the triad near the Drygalski. In the year of data collected on these instruments, the highlights we expect are the sounds associated with the calving, or break off, of 10km and 20km long icebergs from the Nansen Ice Shelf. We will be sure to post what we find once we analyze the data! As we approached the 2015 triad, things were not looking so good. In every direction we were surrounded by thick sea ice, which isn’t a problem for the ship but makes mooring work very difficult. On top of that it was snowing heavily. But luckily, a dark line appeared on the horizon and we found the moorings to be situated right on the edge of the sea ice. The skies cleared as well and it became a beautiful day for deck work.

The sea ice conditions as we neared the hydrophone mooring location on February 9th.

To begin recovery, the ship is positioned so that

Detaching the hydrophone as a mooring is recovered. Photo by Carson Witte (LDEO).

the mooring is about 500 meters from its starboard beam. I lower the transducer over the side and establish communication with the acoustic release, followed by sending a command that triggers the release to disconnect itself from the anchor. The float appears on the surface momentarily and when it’s close enough the deck crew throws a grappling hook to connect the winch line to the float. The mooring is recovered onto the ship in the same order as it was deployed, which takes about an hour per mooring. After successfully recovering the three hydrophones I took a quick nap but made sure to set my alarm as to not miss the late night snack: churros! The late night snack menu was adopted for the research cruise and was enjoyed by all.

The deck crew has thrown a grappling hook to retrieve the float to begin a mooring recovery.
A group of emperor penguins on the south side of the Drygalski.

We next began our trek south to the Ross Ice Shelf in hopes of recovering a 2-year-old KOPRI OBS (ocean bottom seismometer).  The views, along with the cold, were breathtaking. After an unsuccessful search for the OBS, we made our way back north, but this time to the south side of the Drygalski. Here, the sea ice was the thickest we came across the whole trip and it was impressive to see (and hear, and feel) the Araon’s icebreaking capabilities. At the southern base of the Drygalski, another NIWA mooring was deployed and a few CTD casts located supercooled water, which is deep water that is colder than the surface freezing point and indicates melt water. During one of the CTD casts we also came across a group of curious emperor penguins that put on a great show for us.

The Ross Ice Shelf- the largest ice shelf of Antarctica.
Breaking sea ice south of the Drygalski Ice Tongue.
One of the last hydrophones being lowered into the water with the moonrise in the distance.

As we made our way back through the sea ice and rounded the Drygalski, we were greeted at my mooring site again by open water as well as a beautiful sunset. Although “night” ops are quite cold to work through, we were treated with being able to see the moonrise and sunset simultaneously on opposite horizons. We also discovered the Araon deck’s hand warmer! The deployment of this triad went smoothly as well, and it will be valuable to have another year’s worth of data recorded at this site.

On the 14th we returned to the Nansen Ice Shelf for the final days of the research cruise. The Gavia AUV was sent on its last few dives and the next day we were bid farewell by the Nansen with 60-knot katabatic winds. On the 16th, a Thursday, we had our final night of Korean BBQ, which threw me off as I had been gauging which day of the week it was by Korean BBQ Saturdays! That night we arrived at Jang Bogo, where we spent two days bunkering and helicoptering people and cargo. It was great to welcome back the people we had dropped off last month to do land-based operations, as well as see new faces who had been stationed at Jang Bogo for the austral summer. We then made one more stop in Robertson Bay to recover some NIWA moorings and take in our last views of Antarctica before a week of ocean. We are now officially on our way home, and what an adventure it’s been. The departure is bittersweet, especially for us first-timers, but I am feeling extremely grateful to have been sent to this wild, beautiful continent. This past week was filled with stormy seas, cruise reports, packing, and the last few servings of Araon kimchi. I am looking forward to meeting the hydrophones back in Newport and finding out what they have recorded this past year in Terra Nova Bay. Stay tuned!

Katabatic winds blowing at 60 knots off the Nansen Ice Shelf. Sea ice begins to form on the ocean surface in lines parallel to wind flow.

A few weeks ago it was time to recover and re-deploy an Ocean Noise Reference Station (NRS 03) hydrophone mooring located in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the Washington coast. The mooring had been out for a year and needed an instrument refresh for another multi-year long deployment. Fortunately, the NOAA research vessel Bell Shimada, home ported next door at the Marine Operations Center – Pacific, here in Newport would be transiting down the Pacific Northwest coast from some work in southeast Alaska and could accommodate our request for the mooring turnaround work at NRS 03. This was really nice

NOAA ship Bell Shimada at port in Newport, OR.
NOAA ship Bell Shimada at port in Newport, OR.

since I was able to load the ship in Newport before they departed for Alaska and wouldn’t have to travel or ship a bunch of luggage, tools, etc., including a 3400 lb. trawl resistant concrete anchor!

On an early Sunday morning I flew up to Ketchikan to spend the next day or two waiting to board the ship as they finished their mission. Let me just say Ketchikan is wet. Having lived on the Oregon coast for over a decade I thought I knew about rain. From the time I landed in the airport until we crossed back in to U.S. waters heading south 4 days later, it rained. No breaks. Just rain. A few locals told me they see around 200 inches of rain a year. That is a lot of water, and why SE Alaska is a phenomenally green and beautiful landscape. At the same time, it gave me a new appreciation for dryer climates back home in Newport, OR.


The lush green shores of Ketchikan, AK where I walked the same small 15 acre island 5 times a day.
The lush green shores of Ketchikan, AK where I walked the same small 15 acre island 5 times a day.

After the science crew from the previous mission disembarked, I boarded the Shimada from a small transfer vessel in the dark hours of the morning and the ship began heading south. That evening, as the skies began to clear, we came across a large group of humpback whales in Hecate Strait just to the east of Graham Island. By a large group, I mean more whales than I could imagine in one spot. They were everywhere, all sizes, with numbers in the hundreds. I went up to the ship’s bridge and they had slowed the Shimada down to ~ 1.5 kts and were trying to skirt the eastern edge of the whales. We opened the doors and could hear them whooping and whistling just below the surface as they fluked and lazily dove and milled around. It was awesome.

A humpback whale skull in the boatyard behind our lab after being dug up off the beach south of Newport (courtesy of Jim Rice, MMI).
A humpback whale skull in the boatyard behind our lab that was removed off the beach south of Newport a week after I returned from this trip (skull courtesy of Jim Rice, MMI).

A few days later we reached the NRS 03 mooring site around sunrise. After establishing communication with the acoustic release, I “popped” the mooring and we waited for the floats to rise to the surface. This was a little different than our standard deep water moorings with extra glass floats fixed along the line down near the acoustic release due to the heavier anchor. Slightly after the big yellow syntactic foam 40 inch float reached the surface, the series of glass balls in yellow “hard hats” popped up nearby. Here’s where it gets interesting. The instrumentation and line are in a big belly loop strung between the 40″ float and the glass balls.

The 40" top float and lower glass floats before recovery.
The 40″ top float and lower glass floats before recovery.

Careful not to get between those two and severe the line or catch it up in the props. Normally on a buoy recovery, we throw grapple hooks or try to clip in to the large floating loop at the top of the mooring on the 40″ float in order to attach it to the ship’s working line and lift it on board. But on this trip we were going to do something a little different. The ship’s Chief Bosun (Bruce) has a special approach called the “Bruce Noose” where he uses the ship’s crane to create a loop that can be dropped over the buoy and then cinched up and attached to the lifting line. This technique has several advantages: 1) not throwing metal hooks at your gear; 2) don’t have to be right up on the buoy where the weather can push the buoy against the ship’s hull and damage things; 3) once cinched, you have a nice grip on the mooring and can tow it or move it around slightly before recovery.

The "Bruce Noose" in action.
The “Bruce Noose” in action.

After using the “Bruce Noose” successfully, we recovered the NRS 03 hydrophone and mooring, swapped out all of the hardware (shackles, chain, etc.), replaced the hydrophone, new zincs and link for the acoustic release and redeployed the mooring at the same site. It will stay out, monitoring ocean noise levels and recording all types of cool sounds for the next 2 years before it is recovered in 2017. Needless to say, the “Bruce Noose” was a great new technique to learn for buoy recoveries and something I’ll put to use on  future missions. Thanks Bruce and the Captain and crew of the Bell Shimada!

Sharon Nieukirk, Senior Research Assistant
Sharon Nieukirk

This post comes to us from Sharon Nieukirk, Senior Research Assistant:

Killer Whale

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.

Neve Baker and Scott Baker
Neve Baker & Scott Baker

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.

Soundwatch boat and crew
Soundwatch boat and crew

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.

Collecting water samples in hopes of retrieving killer whale DNA
Current drogue deployed to mark body of water through which killer whales moved. Team would stay and sample the water every 30 minutes while killer whales moved on.
Sharon Nieukirk bundled up on the boat
Sharon Nieukirk bundled up on the boat

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).

Killer Whale near San Juan Island
Killer Whale near San Juan Island


Posted by Anna

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.

Dr. Matsumoto
Haru Matsumoto

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.

OBH recovered off the Oregon Coast after a 5 day test deployment for RAOS Juan de Fuca Strait project.
OBH recovered off the Oregon Coast after a 5 day test deployment for RAOS Juan de Fuca Strait project.

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.

RAOS buoy off the Oregon Coast for a 5 day test before Juan de Fuca Srait deployment.
RAOS buoy off the Oregon Coast for a 5 day test before Juan de Fuca Srait deployment.


Alex Turpin
Alex Turpin

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)

WISPR board by EOS
WISPR board by EOS

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.

Alex Turpin & Joe Haxel recovering the OBH for the RAOS test off the Oregon coast.
Alex Turpin & Joe Haxel recovering the OBH for the RAOS test off the Oregon coast.
Alex Turpin helps recover the RAOS buoy after a 5 day test off the Oregon Coast.
Alex Turpin helps recover the RAOS buoy after a 5 day test off the Oregon Coast.
Dr. Joe Haxel, Assistant Professor
Joe Haxel

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.

Sounds were sent out by computer from the ship before recovery of RAOS technology to determine if detections and recordings would be picked up by the test deployment.
Sounds were sent out by computer from the ship before recovery of RAOS technology to determine if detections and recordings would be picked up by the test deployment.

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…

Joe Haxel stands ready to help bring in the RAOS buoy after a 5 day test off the Oregon Coast.
Joe Haxel stands ready to help bring in the RAOS buoy after a 5 day test off the Oregon Coast.
Acoustic Spyglass Field Team 2016
Michelle Fournet / Graduate Research Assistant
Michelle Fournet

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.

The view of the sunset from our beach as we end a long day of surveying.
While we are here to study the whales in the ocean, it is often the contrast between land and sea that holds our attention. The view from Strawberry Island at sunset.

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.

The dorsal fin of a humpback whale as it was foraging in the intertidal zone surrounding our Strawberry Island field camp
Me just before midnight unbelieving of just how close to shore these two whales were foraging (photo: D. Culp)

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.

Tom surprised by a nearby humpback as he rinses dinner dishes in the intertidal. (Photo: D.Culp)
Humpback whales in Glacier Bay regularly forage in the intertidal zone. Anecdotally we’re finding increased ‘near-coastal’ whales during peak high and peak low tides. Senior thesis project anyone?

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.

Kate and I on the shores of Strawberry Island with one of Glacier Bay's 'regular' humpback whales.
Kate and I on the shores of Strawberry Island with one of Glacier Bay’s ‘regular’ humpback whales.

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.”

I fear my team may be ruined.

Luke and yet another of our coastal whales.  Life in Glacier Bay is spectacular.
Luke and yet another of our coastal whales. Life in Glacier Bay is spectacular.

Matt Fowler, Research Assistant / Marine TechnicianThis 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.

Top pair of floats going in.
Top pair of floats going in.
Full Ocean Depth Hydrophone and RBR
Full Ocean Depth Hydrophone and RBR














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…

Deck unit reporting a depth of 8181m.
Deck unit reporting a depth of 8181m.
Deck unit showing a depth of 9460m and still going...
Deck unit showing a depth of 9460m and still going…

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!



Challenger Deep Screen Shot July 2015
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.



Michelle Fournet / Graduate Research Assistant
Michelle Fournet

This post comes to us from Michelle Fournet, Graduate Research Assistant:

Friends, Loved Ones, and Acoustic Aficionados of all Walks of Life,

It’s almost time to go. If you’ve been following the slurry of photographs over the past two weeks you’ve now seen evidence that four autonomous underwater hydrophone packages were successfully deployed to the bottom of the ocean in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. These hydrophones are similar in many ways to the packages that I recovered in the Ross Sea. This project, however, has a few major differences; first the OBS that I was sent to recover in Antarctica was many hundreds (thousands) of feet below the surface of the ocean. The four hydrophones we deployed last week sit in a ‘shallow’ 240 ft (71 m). While we will recover these instruments with the use of acoustic releases (see my earlier post on singing to the ocean floor in this blog), in the event of some sort of catastrophic instrument failure (there was a fairly large earthquake in the region last year), our hydrophones are shallow enough to grapple for our instruments, or to send an ROV for assistance.

Samara and I preparing acoustic releases.  The releases (for the record) are named Kate, Kate II, Kate III, and Kate Jr. We discovered quite by accident that all acoustic releases are female.
Samara and I preparing acoustic releases. The releases (for the record) are named Kate, Kate II, Kate III, and Kate Jr. We discovered quite by accident that all acoustic releases are female.

Also, there are four of them. Four hydrophones are needed to acoustically triangulate sound, and thus localize vocalizing animals underwater. Pair this with a summer’s worth of shore based visual observations (with a digiscoping photo ID component) and we’re getting closer to telling the story of how these animals are truly using sound, and what their acoustic habitat looks like on a daily basis. While my trip to Antarctica was filled with rich observations of wildlife, my role was not that of a behavioral ecologist, but as a technician. With the Acoustic Spyglass Project I am back in my element, listening and watching.

I was lucky enough to be joined by two friends and colleagues for the deployment trip, my labmate Samara Haver and Syracuse University’s Leanna Matthews. Leanna is the PhD student investigating the harbor seal side of things in Glacier Bay, Samara is a plain old good time, and also has experience deploying AUH’s. The three of us made an excellent team that was completed with the addition of National Park Service whale biologist Chris Gabriele. Admittedly, I didn’t realize until midway through the trip that we had an all female research team. It wasn’t until after the deployment — where Chris ran our support vessel (and acted as a human GPS), where I deferred to Samara as deck boss, Leanna as expert record keeper and lifter of heavy things, and I may have single handedly lowered each 600 pound hydrophone to the ocean floor (ok, the cleats and the 500 foot of line helped too) — it wasn’t until after all of that when we invited the captain and deckhand to be part of our long term deployment team, that I realized what a powerful group of ladies in science we were. It was very satisfying, both to be that demographic and to have been confident and comfortable enough with our team to have not noticed.

It was a spectacular trip. I encourage you to scroll through my instagram feed to see a few of the photos that might not have made it onto the blog. Or look right to see what real women in science look like.

Before I sign off, there are a few things I want to say. I leave for Alaska June 10th! I will be a little hard to contact after that. I will be updating this blog over the course of the summer as frequently as possible- but posts will be few and far between. Our little home away from home on Strawberry Island has neither cell service nor internet (though we’ve managed to secure some electricity!). Every two weeks we leave the island to resupply, shower (much needed), and do our laundry (critical). In between grocery stores and bubble baths I’ll try and make my way to the Gustavus public library to get a few things posted. I’ll also be sure to direct photos to the blog as well so that even if I’m not able to narrate you through our adventures that at least you can glimpse what we’re up to.

My goal is also to have my students tell their side of the story, using this site as a platform. My perspective is by nature limited to my viewpoints. I moved to Alaska in April 2007, and my relationship with this land will clearly be different from those of my students, who have neither been here nor seen humpback whales. My imagination is vast, but I don’t think I could even begin to describe what their experiences will be like (cold, wet, buggy, unbelievably beautiful, overwhelmingly quiet). I’m hoping they’ll have the courage to tell you themselves.

So stay tuned, please spread the word to your friends and families about the Acoustic Spyglass Project, and share the blog widely. In return I promise tender stories, embarrassing moments, time lapse photography, and meaningful science — all the while peppered with those most graceful of animals that we are so fond of and whom I hope never notice that I’m watching them.

More to come.


Deploying hydrophones is hard work. Photo Credit: Leanna Mattews (sadly not pictured... since she took all the pictures).
Deploying hydrophones is hard work. Photo Credit: Leanna Mattews (sadly not pictured… since she took all the pictures).

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.

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