The anchors and me on the helideck of the IBRV Araon.

Lauren here, the lab’s new mooring technician. Originally from Redondo Beach, CA, I moved out to Newport from Portland this past September.  My background is in bioacoustics and more recently, fisheries, and I will be deploying, recovering, and building the hydrophones for the PMEL Acoustics Program.

Our syntactic foam floats received a blanket of snow as we arrived in Terra Nova Bay.

I feel very fortunate to say that my first expedition for the lab is also my first time to Antarctica. It is currently day 10 onboard the IBRV Araon and day 3 in the Ross Sea. The objective of this cruise is to use various land- and ship-based research methods to gain a thorough understanding of the Terra Nova Bay region. The PMEL Acoustics Program has been collaborating with the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) for several years on multiple projects in Antarctica. On this trip I will be replacing a hydrophone triad near the Drygalski Ice Tongue that has been replaced annually for the last three years as well as deploy a second triad in a new location further north. The data collected from these deployments will allow us to characterize the soundscape of the Terra Nova Bay polynya.

Although I landed in New Zealand January 17th, the planning for this trip began months before my arrival. In October we built and shipped the hydrophones along with 11,000 pounds of mooring equipment. I also went up to Seattle for training, booked six flights, packed for two months at sea, and did lots of paperwork. After more than 24 hours of travel, I landed in Christchurch and was pleasantly surprised to run into the KOPRI team at the baggage claim. It was great to finally meet the people I had been emailing with. I spent the next two days at the port in nearby Lyttelton confirming that all of the equipment had arrived and was in working condition.

One of the six hydrophones I will be deploying. The strongback being attached to the pressure housing here will hold the instrument in line with the mooring.

We departed the Lyttelton port at noon on January 20th. Our 8-day transit to the Southern Ocean had a few rough days but was an easy one according to the veterans. I set up my work area in the geology lab, which I am sharing with a team from UC Davis who will be deploying a glider, AUV, and ROV under the Nansen Ice Shelf. I secured my equipment, set up the GPS antenna, and attached the remaining strongbacks to the hydrophones. I have also been working with the chief scientist, chief bosun, and other mooring groups to strategize for safe and successful recoveries and deployments. Aside from science preparations, life onboard has been an easy and enjoyable adjustment. The Araon crew, KOPRI scientists, and foreign scientists are a wonderful group of people and it has been fascinating learning about their work. The food and quarters are great, the landscape is stunning, and there’s ping pong!  This past weekend we enjoyed a feast to celebrate the Korean New Year.

As we continued south, the nights changed from short to nonexistent. We were greeted by a snowstorm upon arrival at Jang Bogo station on the 26th. The initial plan of refueling the station was aborted as the Araon became surrounded by sea ice. Instead, crew and cargo were helicoptered back and forth and we started the research cruise today with the hope that the sea ice conditions will be favorable for bunkering when we return in three weeks. The first two days of the research will be spent multibeaming the seafloor near Jang Bogo, and if all goes as planned, our first hydrophone triad will be in the water a week from tomorrow. I hope to report back then of a successful deployment, pending internet.

Xianwei, Florian, and Fiona taking advantage of some sunshine while anchored at Jang Bogo station.

Last year our program embarked on an exciting new project to capture the soundscape from the deepest ocean abyss. At nearly 11 km, Challenger Deep is a unique hadal zone located in the southern portion of the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific. The remoteness of the area combined with pressures reaching 16,000 psi and temperatures near freezing, have maintained the mysterious nature of Challenger Deep. Earlier posts describing details from our expeditions outline some of the adventures and challenges we encountered along the way to a successful three week long, continuous underwater acoustic recording in the deepest point on Earth.

Top pair of floats going in.
Top pair of floats going in.

There is significant public interest in this work. Bringing back information from a place only a handful of people or instrumentation have ever been ignites feelings of exploration and curiosity in many. Using sound clips from some of our data that was released to the public earlier this year, a composer, Costas Dafnis, from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was inspired by the underwater acoustics of Challenger Deep to create Mariana. Click to notes below to listen to the science inspired art and live performance of Mariana and the program note below describing this piece in Costas’ own words;



In March 2016 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released audio captured by a specially designed hydrophone that had been lowered very slowly to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, an area called Challenger Deep. The recordings revealed a surprising amount of noise both from the ocean floor and carried underwater from miles away.


Mariana uses Max to process the original NOAA audio, freeze a series of tiny grains of sound (approximately .01 of a second) and apply a shaped envelope to it. This is looped and repeated quickly to make it resemble one continuous drone. The granularity forces the ear to isolate just a few pitches at different hierarchies, but because of the nature of organic sound the complexity of these drones can be phenomenal.


The singer gives voice to Tennyson’s 1830 poem of despondent isolation and hopeless abandonment by carefully listening to the drones, determining a fundamental, overtones, and timbre and following a score written intervallically relative to characteristics of the surrounding sound world. An experiment in both responsive and intentionally non-responsive interplay between human and generated sound, each performance will be vastly different as it is practically impossible to recreate a drone exactly after it is passed and singers may perceive the same drone with slightly different sonic hierarchy.


Costas also sent along a rough score (click the link below) of the piece that was performed at the workshop in San Francisco in May 2016.


A beautiful example of  the synergy that exists between art and science.

Thank you Costas for sharing your art and inspiration.

I have been fascinated by the ocean for as long as I can remember. I grew up determined to work in Marine Science. I received my bachelor’s in Marine Science from Coastal Carolina University. I lived off the coast of South Carolina and it was my first real coastal experience having been raised in Ohio. After I graduated, I started my career in Alaska as a fisheries observer. My first at-sea experience was on an ex-cargo ship that was converted into a mothership. It was massive with a length around 680ft. I don’t think one ever forgets their first vessel. For a year and a half, I worked in the Bering Sea on various vessels collecting fisheries data for the National Marine Fisheries Service.


With my offshore experience in Alaska, I was awarded a temporary contract with the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), the successor of the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP). I had read about DSDP in my college text books, and I felt like I was working with scientific elites. The expedition for this IODP leg was in the Caribbean Sea. They drilled thousands of meters into volcanic rock pulling up cores of the lithosphere that would reveal millions of years of history.

Enjoying my experiences in warmer climates, my work shifted to seismic survey ships for the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico. Seismic ships towed six miles of hydrophone cables while air guns exploded on varied second intervals. The ships traveled in transects for months (mowing the lawn they’d say) collecting information from beneath the sea floor. The sonic blasts from the air guns can be fatal to marine life. I monitored operations for protected marine species. When a protected animal entered the exclusion zone, it was my responsibility to shut down production.

My experience in seismic survey readied me for a major contract working on the Shell Prospect as a protected species observer in the Chukchi Sea. I sailed on a small supply vessel from Dutch Harbor, Alaska over a thousand miles to the Arctic Ocean. Straddling the International Date Line, I could see Siberia from the ship. One night during transit in Kotzebue Sound, I saw a beam of green waterfalls across the night sky. It was my first time seeing the Aurora Borealis.

In over 500 sea days of experience, I have found there is a camaraderie earned from working at sea. Solid friendships were made with people I spent only a few weeks or one contract with. My network of contacts and friends are from all over the world: many languages fill my Facebook newsfeed.

I was granted a position with the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) in their Acoustics program. I recently relocated from Columbus, Ohio for this incredible opportunity. I will be working at the lab here in Newport, OR and at sea for deployments switching out hydrophones around the world: I am ecstatic! As much as I’ve seen and done, I still feel humbled seeing ships come into port.

Some of my sights from sailing:


How 20 teachers turned ordinary water bottles into spry mini seagliders.

This post comes to us from Sara Heimlich.

From this….to this….bottle to glider in one day!

Changes in marine mammal distribution and abundance, caused by environmental stresses or human activities, can have a major impact on the function of the entire deepwater ecosystem. One of the research projects being conducted by staff at the PMEL acoustics group is looking at exactly this topic in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM).   LADC-GEMM (Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center-Gulf Ecological Monitoring and Modeling) is a multidisciplinary and multi-institutional effort, using expertise from marine acoustics, biology, physics, engineering, mathematics, and computational predictive modeling, with the aim of understanding of how the regional marine mammal population in the northern GoM  has been affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill.

The research and science behind projects like LADC-GEMM can often seem high-brow, inaccessible, and even confusing.   So, one of the ways the LADC-GEMM project aims to demystify ocean science is by using the popularity of robotic ocean gliders – like our charismatic “Otis” and “Clyde”- to engage teachers and students in exploring many of the essential skills and principles of the kind of work that is becoming more commonplace in the marine sector.

Alex Turpin, Staff Scientist and Selene Fergosi, PhD. student help a teacher with the electronic parts for his model glider.
Alex Turpin, Staff Scientist and Selene Fergosi, PhD. student help a teacher with the electronic parts for his model glider.

“What are underwater gliders and how are they used by scientists to study the ocean and its inhabitants?” is a simple question that opens up many avenues for exploration.  But the most fun and accessible is actually building a working model of a seaglider.   Recently, 20 elementary through high school, in and out-of-school educators from around the state of Oregon came to the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon to spend a Saturday doing just that.  During the SeaGlide Educator Workshop, they also heard directly from David K. Mellinger, Haru Matumoto, Sharon Nieukirk, Sara Heimlich, Alex Turpin and Selene Fergosi about how gliders are being used in their research.  The workshop, organized with the help of Tracy Crews at HMSC’S Oreon Coast STEM Hub, also provided a presentation by Toledo, Oregon high school students.  These juniors and seniors had already spent a school term building their own simple models and analyzing real data collected by gliders used in field work conducted for the Oceans Observatories Initiative (OOI), provided by Jon Fram of Oregon State University’s College of Earth ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS).  This gave the Seaglide workshop participants the opportunity to see how curricula can be developed around this engaging STEM activity, either in a classroom or for after-school programs.

Educators putting the finishing touches on the body of their model gliders.
Educators putting the finishing touches on the body of their model gliders.

The seagliders built during the workshop used designs and instructions developed by Michael Britt-Crane at  SeaGlide was originally designed for high school students. It moves by changing its buoyancy, taking in or expelling water. This change in buoyancy causes the glider to rise and sink in the water. As the glider travels up and down, its wings generate lift, which propels the glider forward. SeaGlide can’t run for months at a time like real gliders, but it can collect temperature and pressure data as it ‘flies’ through the water.

Educators test 'fly' their model gliders
Educators test ‘fly’ their model gliders

For the workshop participants, the hands-on experience of building their own Seaglider with the help of mentors (several were local members of the high school robotics club) proved to be the most valuable part of the day.  The majority walked away from the workshop feeling confident in facilitating this STEM learning experience, and being able to teach students about the science, technology, engineering and math aspects.  Some plan to incorporate gliders in curriculum as part of a course in the school system, some in an after school club or activity, and a few as a summer program.

SeaGlide workshops are being organized by PMEL staff working with LADC-GEMM consortium members for 2016 and 2017, in  Mississippi and other “Gulf States”.

Workshop Instructors. Back row: staff scientists David K. Mellinger, Selene Fergosi, Alex Turpin. Front row: staff scientists Sharon Nieukirk, Sara Heimlich and STEM program staff Tracey Crews. Haru Matsumoto is missing from this photo.
Workshop Instructors. Back row: staff scientists David K. Mellinger, Selene Fergosi, Alex Turpin. Front row: staff scientists Sharon Nieukirk, Sara Heimlich and STEM program staff Tracey Crews. Haru Matsumoto is missing from this photo.

I haven’t posted in a while, so lets touch base on the last three months of my grad school life. Michelle mentioned that many in our lab attended the Biennial Meeting for the Society for Marine Mammalogy. I too was there, and it was crazy, but awesome. I gave a talk on my master’s work and was the most nervous I have ever been to give a talk…biggest audience, TWO screens, up on a podium. EEK. I think it went ok though. And the best part of all was that my dad snuck in to watch. And more importantly he refrained from asking a question and embarrassing me.

Getting grilled cheese sandwiches and a PBR with my dad after my talk.

But that wasn’t even the point of this blog. I just had to brag about my dad coming to my talk because how many grad students get to say that??

You all know I work on gliders (and here, and here, and here) by now, right? (note to self – write a blog post on HOW exactly gliders work).

Well, I do. And two parts of my PhD are to compare gliders to QUEphone floats, and to work out density estimation from a glider. To do this, we need to fly gliders and floats at the same time, and we need to fly them in a place where we have known locations of animals (which we get from other hydrophones using localization…I’m sure Michelle will talk about this some day soon). Then we can figure out how far away each instrument can hear the animal, and then we do a bunch of stats, and voila! All the world’s problems are solved.

So to get the known locations of animals, we are doing two sets of field work – one using a permanent hydrophone array of bottom-mounted hydrophones called SCORE, owned and operated by the U.S. Navy, and one this summer…more later. These hydrophones were originally setup up, and are still used, for Naval training purposes, but guess what, they also hear whales. Now the M3R program of the Navy Marine Species Monitoring program can use these recordings for studying marine mammals on the training ranges. Anyway, for us to get to use it, we had to do it in the very brief window between Christmas and New Years.

The cool logo on our ship

Deployment – Dec 20. Right after the marine mammal conference, I went home to my parents house for a day, then flew down to San Diego, Haru, Alex, and I went out on the deployment, and things went mostly as expected. We were only able to deploy one glider because one had an antenna issue, but we also got two floats out. Yay!

Alex readying the gear on deployment day. San Diego sunshine abounds.

Flight time – All good UNTIL Dec 30 – when we started to have communication issues with the glider…that we COULD NOT RESOLVE. The glider was trying to call the base station, we could see the lights on the modem lighting up, but it could not connect. Come to find out, as phone lines are being updated, sometimes this happens, and there was NOTHING WE COULD DO ABOUT IT. But the glider is still flying we know that, that’s good.

Recovery – Scheduled for Jan 4. Alex and I were slated to fly down from Portland to San Diego, head out early in the morning on the 4th (it takes us about 7 hours by boat to get to where the stuff was), and try to find the glider, that will surface for about 15 mins, every 5 hours, in 12 foot seas, within 2 km of a particular point.

So already, I’m NOT feeling super optimistic about it. Oh and then the offshore weather forecast is bad. Real bad. Like we might get down there, head out of the bay, and have to turn around. I was thinking if we pushed it back we might have a better chance of fixing the communication problem and find a better weather window, but remember, we are working on a typically ACTIVE Navy Range, we have to get our gear out of there before they start training again. So lets go forward as planned.

Wake up Sunday morning, Alex is going to drive from Newport to Corvallis in our rental car, so we can drive to the airport for our midday flight. Guess what. It snowed. Our rental car wouldn’t make it over the coast range. SO. We reschedule our flight for later. Alex gets a ride over the hill from Haru, who has a truck. We take my Subaru to the airport. WORST DRIVE EVER. Corvallis snow melted, Portland was in a full on ice storm. Cars sliding off the road everywhere, somehow we make it (Thank you Remy Lebeau…my car). Oh but wait, halfway there, I get a text message that our flight has been cancelled. Alaska automatically re-routes me: Portland to LA, LA to Seattle, Seattle to San Diego..midday on the 4th. REMEMBER we need to get our stuff on the 4th. The weather forecast has gotten worse for later in the week…Monday is our only chance. Oh and bonus, Alex got rerouted as well…for Tuesday the 5th, at 7pm, direct flight Portland to San Diego. SUPER GREAT!

And it begins...

But don’t worry, I’ve got a plan. We fly to LA, just to LA, we rent a car there, we drive the two hours to San Diego, its all good. Granted, the LA flight is from 8-10, so we would get down to San Diego by about 1 am, but we would make it to the boat for our scheduled departure at 4. So ok…lets do it.

So we call Alaska, and we wait on hold, while driving through ice, for like 45 minutes. Finally we get through to this very nice woman, who fixes everything (oh and we have to run all our travel through our accounting people too, on a Sunday night, so there are lots of calls being made). Alex and I, both on the flight to LA. Great.

We get to Portland, we park, we check in for our flights, we go to Enterprise to switch our car reservation to LA. We wait. Guess what…LA flight is delayed. Yup. Ok, we board, only an hour late. Then we sit. On the tarmac, while the de-ice the plane. Yup. I’m a west coast girl, born and raised….this is all so weird to me!!!!!!

So we make it to LA. Midnight. We sit. On the runway. For an hour. Because our gate had an oil leak. YUP. ok…we get off. its 1:00. Remember, we are supposed to be at the base at 3:30, to meet our escort to the boat at 4. It takes 2 hours to drive from LA to San Diego. So we’ve got 2.5 hours. WE MIGHT MAKE IT!!!

The enterprise shuttle is late. Its supposed to come every 10 mins, its too far to walk (45 mins, we mapped it). It comes…1:30. We get to Enterprise. WE SPRINT OFF THE BUS to beat everyone else on it (it was very crowded because we weren’t the only travelers with issues).

The rental car shuttle arrived! This is what you look like after traveling for 12 hours and you've still got 3 to go. The guy in the back is my favorite...

We get our car. its 1:45. We start driving. Thankfully I used to live in Southern California so at least I know where we are going. Plus Alex helps me navigate. We text the boat crew…we will be a little late. Forget checking in to our hotel, we are going straight to the base. YAY WE MAKE IT TO THE BASE AT 3:45!! Did I mention its raining now, and again the glider isn’t really communicating so we will be finding a needle in a hay-stack of waves. But we actually made it to San Diego.

Then we sleep. The AMAZING crew had our beds all made :)

—took a break from writing this blog post to get free cake—

Ok, so we sleep, for a while, till like 7 or 8, then my phone starts beeping. The crew says we are getting close. We discuss where exactly we are heading. We are super far offshore BUT we have this super cool satellite phone wi-fi hub thing that can forward sat phone texts and calls to my regular phone wherever I am on the boat (WHAAAATTT). Haru is giving me up dated info on the floats. AND. WHAT. MIRACLE. THE GLIDER CALLED IN. Oh side note, it is super rough and I’m looking at computer screens at this point and repeating over and over in my head “dont throw up dont throw up dont throw up”.

So now we’ve got a glider location, but we are a couple miles away and we don’t know how long it will stay at the surface. I go to lay down for a few minutes while we move towards it. The captain comes into the server room where are temporary bunks are. “Uh….I think I see it…”

I jump up. Run outside. There it is, sitting in a kelp patty. Just sitting there. I suddenly do not feel sick. I hug the boat captain (I can’t help it).

Then the fun begins, because its so rough and we are on a pretty big ship we deploy a little RHIB (all black, Navy style) off the back of the boat and go out to pick it up.

I'm literally cradling the glider in my lap so the antenna doesn't get broken in our bouncy ride back to the ship.

All is calm (NOT), all is bright. This photo does not do justice to the "washing-machine" of seas.

The rest is somewhat less memorable. The floats were easy to find, the sun came out and I lay on the back deck soaking it up, the crew made dinner, we drove in, got to the hotel at 8 am the next morning, had a mimosa, slept, packed everything the next day, and flew home.


The end.

This turned out a lot longer than I anticipated, and perhaps the stress and anxiety and then happiness did not come through this…but writing about it brought back some heart racing…so trust me…it was stressful. But it all worked out. Yippee!! Now I can’t wait to look at these data and actually do something with it.

Plus..serious shout out to Alex, best glider tech/pilot/friend I could have out there.

We’re back! After a few months off, it’s time to share some Acoustics Program news…

Waves breaking off the north jetty tip of the Yaquina Bay bar.
Waves breaking off the north jetty tip of the Yaquina Bay bar.

I’ll start with a little story from a recent trip offshore last week to recover a hydrophone mooring we deployed near the end of the month of June this last summer. We deployed a new shallow water hydrophone mooring around 7 miles southwest of the jetty tips off Yaquina Bay here in Newport, Oregon in 200 ft of water.  Not one of our typical data collection efforts from a remote area of the world’s oceans, but rather, a look at local underwater sounds right here in our own backyard. The data will be used to provide

baseline soundscape characterization and ambient noise levels for permit and licensing authorization of a U.S. Department of Energy sponsored wave energy converter testing facility (NNMREC – SETS) off Newport, OR (click here for previous blog post and more info). The mooring was placed in an area designated by local fisherman (Fisherman Interested in Natural Energy – FINE) having the least impact on fishing activities, but meeting the criteria needed for a shore cabled wave energy testing facility. Despite this designation, the area is still heavily used by the commercial and sport fishing communities seeing high levels of seasonal commercial crabbing activity in particular. So, I really wanted to get the mooring recovered before the Oregon commercial crabbing season opened in January of this year. With that in mind, the OSU coastal research vessel we typically use for this and other local work offshore has been out of commission for months. On top of that, we had one of the most “stormy” December’s on record with high waves and winds lasting throughout most of the month. During one stretch, the significant wave heights at the Stonewall Bank Buoy stayed up around 7-8 m and higher for more than a week!

Recovering the hydrophone mooring during sunrise off Newport.
Recovering the hydrophone mooring during sunrise off Newport.

I was scrambling to find a vessel and crew for the recovery, when a friend put me in touch with the F/V Enterprise whose Captain and crew were busy commercial crabbing but said they’d be happy to take me out in between trips.  A weather window opened up and we slid out the jaws of the Yaquina at 0630 just as the sun was starting to shed light over the coast range. The Captain put the hammer down and we made quick time out to the mooring station at 17 knots! I was amazed and starting to get nervous by the amount of crab gear in the water on the way out and around the area where the mooring was deployed back in June. One of the great things about our hydrophone mooring is that there is no buoy or surface float to indicate its position. Ships working or traveling through the area have no idea anything is below them. For recovery of the equipment, we are reliant on an acoustic release that when triggered from an acoustic cue at the surface, releases a submerged float bringing the mooring to the surface.

Welcome aboard!
Welcome aboard!

We reached the station, immediately established communication from the surface with the acoustic release and had the entire mooring aboard the Enterprise within 20 minutes. Success! The mooring came back in good condition, back at the lab, the initial quality check of the data was good and the F/V Enterprise has become a great new resource for us for this type local

offshore work. Talking with the crew and watching the sunrise from the water reminded me of how awesome the work we do really is. The day to day office and computer work are a necessary and often exciting part of the bigger picture, but for me, the time  on the water and field experiences really bring home the value and privilege it is to get to follow my interests in studying the ocean and earth for a living.

Courtney has joined our team and will be processing acoustic data, managing our social media, and other assignments around the lab. She is working in Rm 114 next to Brian K. most afternoons. Stop by and say hi!
From Courtney:
 photo (8)I have worked many jobs in Newport, Oregon, from bartending to jewelry sales to working in the judicial system, but none of them had me thinking that someday I would work at Hatfield Marine Science Center. As a local for many years, I have had the opportunity to get to know some of the scientists who work here, and have had many visits to the museum with my six year old. I have always wanted to work in the brown buildings I see as I cross the bridge, and by a stroke of luck, here I am. This incredible opportunity has many wonderful aspects to it, including environmental awareness, the chance to network with some incredible people, the sense of pride that comes from telling my son I work here, and, honestly, a little peace and quiet.
I have a very inquisitive son named Lochlan. Together he and I like to explore the world around us by going on hikes, fossil hunting at the beach, and visits to the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Hatfield Marine Science Center. We have a great time learning about our Earth, and to be able to explore it in this new way is very exciting, and something he and I can both be proud of.
While there are many wonderful things about this new job, my favorite part might very well be the chance to plunge deep under the sea and slow down for a moment. While the data I will be going through may represent some pretty tumultuous stuff going on down there, up here it is an opportunity to quiet down, turn on some classical music, and tap into the calm that I just know is in there. I look forward to sitting at my desk each day to escape life’s highway and take a more scenic route through the waters for a while.

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.

Osunsami and Sarah Purdy at the RIGB's L'Oreal Young Scientist Centre
Osunsami and Sarah Purdy at the RIGB’s L’Oreal Young Scientist Centre

The modern world is hungry for energy. While demands continue to rise, a move toward less reliance on fossil fuels in the direction of sustainable and renewable energy resources will have a lasting effect on world populations. Diversity in energy resource development, particularly in the renewable sector, has the potential to spread financial and environmental risks and impacts across a broad range of the largest consumer nations. With that said, it will take a variety of different renewable energy technologies to help accommodate increasing world energy demands. Solar, hydroelectric, and wind driven turbine technologies have a substantial head start on marine hydrokinetic energy conversion devices.

George DeSoto surfing an outside reef off Lincoln City, Oregon ©Tyler_Roemer

Shift back to the Oregon coast…

Energy resource models have shown the Oregon coast to be one of the potentially richest wave energy resource areas for the continental U.S. Those of us living here or who spend time near or on the ocean can strongly attest to that. It is rarely calm. In light of a nascent wave energy conversion (WEC) device industry, the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC) was established with support from the U.S. Department of Energy to provide standardized WEC testing facilities offshore of Newport, Oregon. There are something like ~130 different types of WEC devices out there, while tidal turbines have converged to around 20-30 different devices benefitting from wind turbine testing and technologies. Different WEC’s are bound to perform better in different types of conditions and water depths, but without live testing of scaled devices too many questions are left unanswered at a great financial and potentially environmental cost.


WET-NZ wave energy device test at NNMRECs North Energy Test Site.
WET-NZ wave energy device test at NNMRECs North Energy Test Site.

This is where we come in. Since 2009 our group has partnered with NNMREC to provide passive acoustic monitoring and support of the testing facilities off Newport. Since WEC construction and operation may potentially generate mechanical noise, we are measuring changes in ambient noise levels before, during and after NNMREC project activities. The concern being that increased noise levels may have adverse effects on acoustically sensitive transient and/or resident marine mammals and fish in the area. Another objective of this work is to provide the developers with an acoustic signature of their device which can then be used for model input to forecast acoustic conditions surrounding the commercial scale build out of an array of their device. We are still in the phase of acoustic site characterization, the “before”, collecting passive acoustic recordings at the testing facilities.


Lifting the mooring anchor off the deck to deploy the acoustic mooring at SETS
Lifting the mooring anchor off the deck to deploy the acoustic mooring at SETS

Last week we deployed an acoustic mooring at the South Energy Test Site (SETS) that is scheduled for recovery in October. The hydrophone will collect data on a duty cycle, recording 10 minutes of every hour until recovery. As a NNMREC partner we hope to provide valuable information that can assist in the permitting and licensure process as well as move the wave energy conversion industry forward toward a commercially viable marine renewable energy resource.