Between traveling to Alaska with Michelle and wrapping up spring term, this summer snuck up on me. A week after turning in my statistics final (yay!) I was on a plane headed to Boston. After a happy and relaxing weekend spent reuniting with friends on Cape Cod, I headed to Newport, RI (so many Newports!) to board the NOAA ship Henry Bigelow for an exciting stint chasing turtles by day and recording whales by night. Of course, the best-laid plans do not always work out and while all of the other typical delays seem to be under control (the boat works and the crew is healthy), the weird weather saga of southern New England continues and multi-state tornado warnings are keeping us alongside a little bit longer.

The NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow!

The first reason we are headed out on the Bigelow is to tag sea turtles. Chief scientist, Dr. Heather Haas, and her colleagues are interested in finding out how accurate visual surveys are in tracking numbers of sea turtles. To find out, we the science crew will work together to find as many sea turtles as we can and bring them aboard to get outfitted with satellite tags. Hopefully, the tags will give us information about how much time sea turtles spend at the surface (versus at below it) and that information can be used to better approximate population sizes. But that isn’t really why I am onboard.

I am here as a passive acoustics monitor, operating the Northeast Fisheries Science Center acoustic group’s towed array. Our towed array is a series of 6 mid-frequency and 2 high-frequency hydrophones wired together and suspended in an oil filled watertight tube that we drag behind the boat to listen to marine mammals in real-time. Becuase there are multiple components in the array we can use it to record and localize animals as we travel along a track line. If you want to know more about hydrophone arrays, Michelle Weirathmueller has an excellent write-up on her blog, The Waveform Diary. Check it out here: Hydrophone arrays, FTW!

Our array set-up ready for deployment. The array is coiled on the wooden spool and tow cable is on the net reel.

On this cruise, my friend Annamaria and I will be working with the array at night when it is too dark to search for turtles. We are hoping to record beaked and sperm whales. Since we did not leave the dock today, we were lucky to have a stable platform to get set-up. Becuase a lot of electronics are required for us to an acoustic signal from an animal onto our computer screen, we usually spend the first day at sea troubleshooting…

One of my first projects of the day was to figure out why one of the two hydrophones I was trying to listen to wasn’t working correctly. As usual, the solution is to re-think our wiring set-up. Here I am looking for the connector I need.
IMG_4434 2
I was having trouble finding the right part so I decided to take a break and eat some candy dinosaurs. On the left monitor, you can see that the top half of the screen is blank…not what I wanted to see. Luckily I was eventually able to find the part I needed to fix the problem.

Thankfully we worked out a lot of technological kinks today and hopefully the weather will clear up and we will be on our way to find the turtles and whales tomorrow morning!

Modeling my survival suit during safety drills this afternoon.

I feel like I experienced a miracle last week.

Possibly I am throwing around the word “miracle” because I’ve got Herb Brooks on my mind (thanks to my fellow grad student and FW intramural soccer coach Matt who is obsessed with that guy). Or perhaps that is actually what happened.

Let me set the stage. Will and Otis, our two Seagliders, were deployed off the coast of Newport, for what should have been a brief, straightforward test of their passive acoustic systems before they were shipped off to the Gulf of Mexico for a project there. Of course, that would not be as exciting of a story if it all went as planned.

I can’t remember how much I’ve talked about it before (I looked it up…try here and here), but basically, the way these gliders work is they go out and dive in the ocean, listen for marine mammals, and every time they surface they call in to a basestation, offload their location and some log files, and continue on their way. Well. Otis (SG608) did exactly that. It was his first flight with us and all went smoothly, from a piloting stand point. Will (SG607) on the other hand….well, he went rogue. And I don’t mean to the brewery.

Will stopped calling in after only 5 dives. Did I tell you this was my first “solo” piloting of the gliders? Yes, I was sort of freaking out.

But what happened the next few days is not important (I blacked it out so I can’t tell you because I don’t remember).

The point is….WE FOUND HIM!!!!!!!!!!

So (1) the miracle part: Let me explain the chances of finding Will. Best case scenario we were searching in about a 1 km radius of a point we THOUGHT the glider would be diving to. Worst case, it was floating at the surface and had drifted who-knows how many miles offshore. But lets complicate things. Glider at the surface, great, easier to spot. Glider continuously diving = glider down for 1 hour 40 mins, at the surface for 20 mins. So lets say we ARE in the right place. Well then it has to be the right time, and you better spot the thing during that 20 mins and get the boat over there before it goes back down for an hour and 40 mins and pops up somewhere else in that 1 km radius. Lets add in some wind waves (We are 35 nm offshore here) and some fog. And this is the image you are looking for:

surface example


(2) the waiting part. Will was missing for 4 and a half days. That doesn’t seem like that long. But when everytime your phone beeps that you get a text message and your heart jumps thinking maybe its the glider, that is a long 108 hours. But that is a lot of what we had to do. This was exacerbated for me because I had to stay on land during the search trips. I had to be at my computer in case we heard from the glider and I could give updates on GPS locations or timing. This was a new experience for me. I’m not real good at sitting still and waiting.


(3) the teamwork part. To me, the greatest outcome of the whole thing. There is NO way we could have found Will without all hands on deck, without awesome grad students and scientists who went out to look (Laurie, Niki, Erin, Theresa, Curtis, Alex, Haru, Matt, Dave), Anatoli and Steve for answering my piloting questions, a chartered fishing boat (ok…we paid them, Sara thanks for coordinating), TWO trips out, the people at iridium for putting up with my incessant phone calls,  the dolphins that swam by the boat and provided moral support, Sharon and Holger for telling me not to freak out…I could go on. (and I’m SO SORRY if I am forgetting someone)


Today’s blog serves two purposes: (1) inform readers what’s going on in my research world and (2) an educational piece sharing some of my trials and tribulations with ArcGIS this week.

Right now we are preparing to deploy a glider up in the Gulf of Alaska, near Homer, in the US Navy’s Gulf of Alaska Temporary Maritime Activities Area. The glider’s acoustic system samples at 194 kHz allowing us to listen for vocalizations up to 97 kHz, which covers almost all cetacean species in the area, except porpoises which vocalize at really high frequencies (>150 kHz, we recorded them with a different glider though!).

I won’t be actually going out to deploy it or piloting this glider – we are collaborating with some folks from the University of Washington – but I am responsible for putting together the glider’s track and coming up with track points that are 5 km apart so we can set our ideal path for the glider. Why am I responsible for this, you ask? Well because I took an introductory GIS (Geographic Information System) course so….this becomes my job.

For those of you that have worked with GIS, you understand there is a STEEP learning curve. It may be one of the least intuitive programs on the planet. But, it is incredibly powerful for not only making maps but for spatial analyses too, so I am super happy to have learned even a tiny bit about it and get to learn more every week.

Well I’ve made these maps before for Guam and Hawaii, so Gulf of Alaska, easy peasy! I’m finally starting to remember how to make the track from the initial way points, then turning the track into 5 km spaced points. But, news flash! The earth is round. And measuring things at higher latitudes gets weird/complicated/annoying/inaccurate/etc.

So this week (really the last two days) I taught myself about projections in ArcGIS. Projections are basically trying to show our round, 3D Earth in 2D. At the equator this isn’t so bad, but up (and down) by the poles things can become really distorted.

Take this image of the US for example. Depending on what projection you use, it looks slightly different! And those differences are more pronounced the further north you get. So by the time you get to Alaska…well, you’ve got to do something about it.

Fortunately, lots of people have made hundreds of projections for different areas and different spatial scales that reduce distortion, either in area, distance, angles, etc.

So then all I had to do was find the one I needed (this took much research and trial and error), then redo all my mapping/measuring/GPS coordinate extracting steps on a correctly projected map. You know, once you make sure all parts of your map are in the same projection, that the data frame has the right projection, and that you saved it every 5 seconds in case it crashed. Once I got past the frustration, I ended up pretty proud of myself, and now I learned my lesson for next time: only work in areas near the equator.

Want to know what projection I used? Of course you do. The lovely Alaska Albers Equal Area Conic! Sorry I can’t share a picture of the pretty map…I’m not sure I should show you where our glider will be I don’t want anyone going up to Alaska and stealing it.




A couple weeks ago I volunteered to be Danielle’s field assistant for the evening. All of the acoustics fieldwork I have helped with in the past has been on a boat, so I was happy to put aside my dead-week studying to learn a little bit about acoustics research on land. It also didn’t hurt that Danielle is well versed in field assistant bribery (Burgerville! Cookies!)

We headed out of town just after five pm, driving north past Albany to the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge. Danielle has a number of pond sites she visits on a rotating basis, Ankeny contains one.


We arrived at the pond in daylight and got right to work counting egg masses in the first study area. Since the egg masses are tricky to spot, it’s easier to work during the day. Together we walked in straight lines across the (shallow) pond for half an hour counting all of the egg masses we could see. Since the egg masses are so tiny, Danielle and I both had to hunch over to see into the pond, sometimes using our hands to confirm a sighting.

I hope someone buys Danielle a massage after her field season is over.
I hope someone buys Danielle a massage after her field season is over.

After we finished our survey effort, we shared some snacks and hung out until nighttime when the frogs started chorusing. When it was fully dark, we put on our waders and headed to a second pond to try and catch some adult frogs. I wasn’t very good at it (the frogs are so tiny and speedy) but Danelle caught a bunch and I helped her weigh and measure them. Finally it was time to record the chorusing!


Earlier in the day I asked Danielle if recording the frogs was a peaceful experience, similar to how I feel when I hear a whale on my hydrophone recordings. She hesitantly told me that sometimes it is…but often the frogs are are too loud for any sort of relaxation. It’s hard to believe that such a loud noise can come out of an animal that is hardly bigger than a quarter, but she was not kidding…


Next time in sharing our research…Danielle goes to sea!

“Danielle,” I hear you asking, “I’ve been missing my weekly dose of the coolest bioacoustics news! What happened? Where is my fun link of the week??”

Well, bioacoustics friends, field season is what happened.

My frogs are calling and so I must follow them. They seem to have started early this year, probably due to our relatively warm weather. So I have been out placing equipment, maintaining said equipment, and recording frogs for the past two weeks now. The data is rolling in, and while I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, so far the new field protocol has been successful.

So what does my typical day look like? Well, first let’s talk about how it’s not a “day” anymore, it’s a night. My fieldwork starts at dusk with a 30 minute visual survey, looking for frogs and egg masses. If we find any, we (my field assistants and I) weigh them and measure them. After the visual survey, we wait until 8pm rolls around and then take a directional microphone into the pond to record individual frogs. This goes along until 10pm or three frogs get recorded, whichever comes first. It’s often cold, wet, and a little tedious, but it’s always so exciting to be standing in the middle of a pond full of chorusing frogs.

But let me tell you, I am tired.

Fieldwork is great. I love having the opportunity to do it. But they never tell you how to balance fieldwork with classes and having a life outside of science and presenting at conferences and all the other things being a graduate student entails.

Even so, even with all of this on my plate, it makes me feel alive and full of enthusiasm for the science I do when I have a good day. And the good days are plentiful.

So, you want your fun link of the week? How about lots of pictures of adorable frogs, instead?

Little Pacific Chorus Frog male

Gravid Pacific Chorus Frog female

A long-toed salamander, for good measure

And if you really want to experience what frog fieldwork sounds like, go listen to this video.


The ice has grown thinner, the ship has grown boisterous with passengers, and with the exception of a few errant edits to cruise reports our scientific mission is complete. But the journey is not over; I still have a few days in New Zealand to tell you about, and a 30 hour transit home. Plus… we celebrated Christmas on the ship!

When I first started this trip I spelled out the cast of characters on the ship (my beloved Kiwi pilots, my Italian roommate Ombretta and her ocean acidification project). Well, the curtain has risen and fallen a few times on the passengers of the R/V Araon and it’s time for a new update. After our research cruise the R/V Araon returned to Terra Nova Bay to retrieve the scientists and crew that had overwintered there (that’s right, a year at Jang Bogo station). We also picked up a handful of KOPRI geoscientists who had spent the Austral spring at the base (and found a stunning meteorite!) to transit them back to Christchurch as well. The meteorite, which I feel privileged to have seen with my own eyes, is said to be the largest ever found by a Korean scientist and one of the largest in the world. It’s retrieval is exciting news in the geoscience world – history in the making.

In addition to our Korean colleagues, however, we picked up Scottish volcanologist John Smellie (if you aren’t immediately impressed with a volcanologist in Antarctica let me remind you that this man studies volcanic eruptions underneath the ice), and a motley crew of nine geologists, biologists, and zoologists and one fine soldier from Italy’s Mario Zucchelli Station,. Remember how I said the ship had become boisterous? You can imagine why.

My Italian friends and colleagues and I on the bow of the R/V Araon, departing Terra Nova Bay en route for New Zealand.
My Italian friends, colleagues and I on the bow of the R/V Araon, departing Terra Nova Bay en route for New Zealand.

Thanks to the graciousness of documentary filmmaker/marine zoologists Roberto Palozzi I resumed my Italian lessons (grazie mille, Roberto). Thanks to the sheer charisma of Nicoletta Ademolla I now have a sincere dream to study the vocal behavior of Adelie penguins (not forgetting of course the Weddell Seals). And thanks to my friend Arnold Rakaj I will forever look out for eels in shallow freshwater streams (although he is a marine ecologist by training, studying plankton… not eels). I won’t go into the specialties and details of all of the PNRA team, but suffice it to say that I was extremely impressed with the breadth and range of their work… I’d even go so far as to say envious. A comprehensive seal reproduction study which includes live captures and the weighing of seal pups? Yes, I would like to be included, of course. Oh you need a bioacoustician? I just happen to be one. I just need a few more weeks to improve my Italian.

Weddell Seal Mom and Pup.  My new favorite animal.  (Photo credit Nicoletta).
Weddell Seal Mom and Pup. My new favorite animal. (Photo credit Nicoletta).

I’ve mentioned in the past that every scientific mission is accompanied by a personal one. When I traveled to Glacier Bay this past summer one of my primary goals was to build a relationship with the landscape and the community. I did not have the same expectation of my time in Antarctica. I admit I’d cast the landscape as a barren bedfellow, and anticipated my time on the ship to be filled with solitude. I can happily admit that I was wrong. Relationships are forged in unlikely places, professionally and personally. While I thoroughly anticipated feeling scientifically awakened and inspired by the scenery, I’m pleased to report that it was in the conversations with the passengers on board the ship that I truly began to build collaborations.

But enough on the value of science and relationships… I want to tell you about Christmas.

Amico Mio, Roberto. Cuciniamo la spaghetti di Natale. (My Friend Roberto and I cooking Christmas spaghetti).

Christmas in Korea is celebrated largely on Christmas Eve — which was amenable to our schedule given that we were slated to arrive in Lyttelton, NZ on Christmas morning. Christmas Eve we were treated to an early Korean Christmas dinner, complete with wine and roasted nuts for a bit of flair. Our five o’clock meal, however, was complimented by a midnight meal. The chef onboard the R/V Araon graciously agreed to turn over his kitchen (and his pantry) for the evening so that we might make Christmas Spaghetti. Let by Chef Roberto (though admittedly I may have tried to mutiny once or twice) we cooked three dishes, complimented by Italian cheese and salami courtesy of Mario Zucchelli Station. The evening was completed once Santa Claus himself (Kiwi Engineer Chris) made an appearance, passing out candies, and asking us all what we wanted for Christmas.

It was glorious, and festive, and fitting for our last night on the ship.

I realize that unlike previous posts that this entry lacks much sincere scientific merit. However, one of the things that was emphasized on the ship, and throughout my training as an ecologist, is the importance of balancing work and life. Nowhere does this seem more critical than transiting to and from the bottom of the world, where the lines are blurred. Following Christmas we docked in Lyttelton Harbor near Christchurch, New Zealand marking the end of my journey through the Southern Ocean. Bittersweet.

Don’t fret though, fearless readers, There’s one more post before I end this story, because New Zealand was glorious.


Your (former) Antarctic Correspondent,




I’m happy to report (I’ll be it a bit late) that the OBH (Ocean Bottom Hydrophone… for those of you just joining us) has been safely recovered! It is now snugly packed on board the R/V Araon and prepared for transport back to NOAA. Our first attempt to contact our instrument was a success (we sang to it, it sang back… how I love acoustics); however, the glorious sunshine that graced us during our recovery was unfortunately accompanied by 45-knot winds. The ship, which is large and generally stable, pitched in the wind. Our instrument is robust, but not unbreakable, and requires hoisting onto the deck via an onboard winch once it appears at the oceans surface. This translates to a lot of potential swinging – particularly in choppy seas. As usual the crew of the R/V Araon did not disappoint. They recommended a delay, and the recovery was postponed.

Brett and his "beard-cap".  Who says scientists don't have a sense of humor?
Brett and his “beard-cap”. Who says scientists don’t have a sense of humor?

What was not postponed, however, was our end of research cruise celebration. Despite the delay our research team was treated to a feast! Korean wine, sashimi and tempura, even chocolate cakes were served. We ate until we could not eat any more, and made merry in the mess hall until our sides split from laughing (ok, there may have been some dancing in the lounge as well, a cap with a beard knit into it, and Christmas carols). It was a glorious way to celebrate the ‘almost end of cruise’.

While the following day’s 8 AM recovery seemed early given the night’s festivities, the entire operation went off without incident. Our instrument appeared as predicted after the release command was sent, and the crew deftly maneuvered her onboard (despite another pick up in the wind). For me, the moment was one of blissful relief. This was my first large-scale recovery (of what I hope will be many). This trip was a gift and an opportunity, to successfully accomplish my mission was glorious. Further, the anticipation for seeing the instrument when she appeared from ~1000 m depth had been building for months. When it was finally placed on board I completely forgot about the lack of sleep. It was amazing. I was struck by how little bio-fouling took place (although admittedly the instrument was well beyond the photic zone), other than a thin film and what appeared to be a handful of deep water limpets.

Hydrophone recovery attempt #1- notice the white caps in the background?
Hydrophone recovery attempt #1- notice the white caps in the background?

By comparison, the OBS (Ocean Bottom Seismometer) recovery was significantly more dramatic.  Two OBS’s were deployed last year, both locations are currently covered in ice.  To recover our instruments the R/V Araon’s ice breaking capabilities were put into full use.  The ship was used to break, and then clear, a hole in the ice directly above where the OBS was deployed.  Nature abhors a vacuum, so as soon as the ice was cleared (which took hours) it would quickly drift back into position.  Despite this, the ship’s captain managed to clear an opening in the ice about the size of a small lake.  this required copious amounts of circular ice breaking, the ship track lines were dizzying.  The operation, however, was brilliantly executed.  The OBS was released directly into the center of the clearing (much to our relief).

Overall we successfully recovered one OBS, one OBH, deployed ~20 CTD casts (more if you consider that at times we deployed two separate instruments), and we successfully deployed to 500 m oceanographic mooring. Most of this was done in close proximity to the Drygalski Ice Tongue, which lived up in full to its reputation.

The Drygalski Ice Tongue, just prior to the OBS recovery


While our team was able to ride the euphoria of a successful mission for some time, I must admit the days following the end of the cruise were hard. Brett, the Kiwi scientist from NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmosphere) joined us on the Araon for the duration of the cruise, but would not sail back with us. Similarly to our Italian colleagues Brett left via helicopter and disappeared across the ice. It strikes me as somewhat ironic that in a landscape that exists at such a large scale, that relationships here are formed so quickly. It’s a silly metaphor but I suppose this is not altogether unlike the ice  itself, which freezes quickly (pancake ice anyone?), but has the potential to stay intact for many years. In any case we returned to the mouth of Terra Nova bay and bid a rushed goodbye to our dear friend. I hope he makes it home in time for Christmas.

Our research team (minus photographer Brett) enjoying Korean barbeque.
Our research team (minus photographer Brett) enjoying Korean barbeque.

As for the rest of our team? We’ll spend Christmas on the ship. We should be back in Lyttelton, New Zealand by December 27th, and will disembark shortly therafter. For now, we have a new group of Korean scientists on the ship. They have been at Jang Bogo for various durations, some only a week, others as much as a year! Additionally, we have a new group of Italian scientists from Mario Zuchelli Station who are in transit home. I’d thought my Italian lessons were over… I suppose we’ll have to see.


More on Christmas and the northbound transit soon!


Your Antarctic Correspondent,



**Disclaimer — This post was written a few days ago… but due to lack of internet I wasn’t able to post it. Stay tuned for notes on how Christmas turned out, and what our return to New Zealand looked like**





After a nine day sail the R/V Araon arrived in Jang Bogo Research Station! As a first time visitor to Antarctica the view not only took my breath away, but dumbfounded me. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and admittedly I haven’t found the words yet to describe it- the sheer scale of the landscape leaves me at a complete loss.  Luckily ORCAA sent me with a camera, which should speak a little more clearly than I can these days.

Ross Sea Ice two days sail from the continent

After a short stop in Terra Nova Bay on Saturday to bid our Italian colleagues goodbye the Araon spent ~48 hours breaking through 1-2m thick ice (the noise was deafening and impressive). The ship, as I’ve mentioned before, is state of the art and extremely efficient at it’s job- breaking ice.  The frozen sea stretches in front of us dauntingly, but the ship is not phased as she bows over the ice which creaks and breaks under the weight of the ship, blazing our path toward the continent.

After quite some time on the ship I think both passengers and crew were eager to step onto the ice and  set foot on the continent of Antarctica.  Admittedly, the only thing which seemed to satiate the passengers onboard the ship were the frequent sightings of Adelie penguins, and a very long encounter with an emperor penguin that curiously watched as we stopped to rearrange our cargo deck.

An Emperor Penguin curiously watches the R/V Araon, making its way across the ice over a half an hour to approach for a closer look
An Emperor Penguin curiously watches the R/V Araon, making its way across the ice over a half an hour to approach for a closer look

While I can’t underplay the thrill of watching penguins from the ship, it did not compare to the excitement of reaching the continent itself.

The Jang Bogo research station is one of the most impressive facilities I’ve ever seen.  It is outfitted to comfortably hold multiple research teams investigating a range of environmental features including space weather, geophysics and seismology, geology, and oceanography.  It is also outfitted with an indoor greenhouse where salad greens are grown for consumption throughout the year, a state of the art gym (with climbing wall), an espresso bar, multiple lounges and conference rooms, wet and dry lab space, and considerable charm.

The team currently in residence at Jang Bogo are extremely gracious, and generously toured me through the facility within moments of stepping foot inside the door.  The facility, which officially opened its doors last February, is nearing completion, and various research projects are currently underway. Many of the researchers currently at the base will accompany us on the return journey to Christchurch, NZ.

For now, the crew has been working round the clock (the never setting sun allows for very high productivity- human and primary) to unload supplies, scientific cargo, and fuel for the base.  Tomorrow our helicopter pilots will begin flying missions as various ice dynamic studies progress, and in two days time we will set sail for our oceanographic cruise.

More to come.

Your Antarctic Correspondent,



Michelle Fournet aboard the R/V Araon en route to the Jang Bogo Antarctic Research Station
Michelle Fournet aboard the R/V Araon en route to the Jang Bogo Antarctic Research Station



I promise that I won’t write about Noise Reference Station deployments every time I post here, but getting a couple of these moorings into the water has been a significant part of my fall.

Typically the NRS moorings are designed to suspend acoustic recording equipment in the water column, held in place by a large steel anchor and extra strong marine cables. However, for this specific deployment we needed a different approach. This station, NRS09, is located in Stellwagen Bank, a marine sanctuary off the coast of Boston, MA and north of Cape Cod. Because of the geography and weather of the North Atlantic, the design of this mooring had to be substantial enough to resist the rough storms known to come through Stellwagen Bank.

Ready for shipment to Woods Hole, MA from Newport, OR.
Ready for shipment to Woods Hole, MA from Newport, OR.

I wasn’t responsible for engineering a structure that would protect our hydrophone for a year underwater, but we did have to figure out how we would get the 750 lbs and 39 sq. ft. structure off the shipping truck and into the ocean. Usually, the acoustic recorders we use to data collection are small, ~80 lbs Cornell Bioacoustics Research Program MARUs, and much more manageable for shipment and deployment…the giant NRS09 structure presented a new challenge and we planned every detail very carefully.

To my relief, NRS09 just barely fit on the back deck of the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary boat, the RV Auk. But our problem solving was not still not complete, we also had to figure out how to lower the structure to the ocean floor. Although our deployment site was fairly shallow, only about 65 meters, a normal quick release was not going to work this time. What if we could not get the catch to open? Instead, Dave Slocum (the Facilities and Vessel Operations Coordinator at the Sanctuary office) wired an electronic release that would open at the touch of a button.

We waited for a weather window and headed out to the far East side of Stellwagen. It was a very nice day on the water, we even saw a couple of humpback and fin whales on our way to the site. But of course, the best part is that the deployment went off without a hitch.

Eric Matzen and I give NRS09 a push off the RV Auk for deployment in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
Eric Matzen and I give NRS09 a push off the RV Auk for deployment in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Luckily, we don’t need to worry about getting it back to Newport for a year…




*Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving! Since this is a holiday weekend, I’m getting festive with a blog-post bonus link. Check out this cool (and a little weird) acoustics project. Is it art or science? Both? You decide.*

For the first time in the last 13 hours the electronic plane icon that has been flying across the digital screen in front of seat 41C on this United Airlines international jumbo jet is traveling above land. We are flying over a small island chain to the northeast of Australia as I type this; the capital of Port Vila is marked with a white dot. Prior to this the plane on this screen flew over nothing but vast Pacific Ocean. We land in a few hours in Sydney. It’s my first trip to Australia, and a short one at about 2-hours before I catch a flight to Christchurch, NZ where the R/V Araon will be docked.

Getting to Antarctica takes a long time.

Three flights totaling ~20 hours of flying time across four airports and three countries, and that’s just to get to New Zealand. From there I’ll board the KOPRI ship the R/V Araon for a ~9 day sail to the Ross Sea. In a world where I can transit continents in a day, that it takes over a week to reach Antarctica is both satisfying and daunting. It really is that far away, but it’s Antarctica… shouldn’t it take a long time to get there?

I don’t have a lot to report yet. The days leading up to the trip ended with a flurry of activity. Equipment had to be shipped, driven, and then flown around the world. An early evening training session with PMEL’s Matt Fowler got me up to speed on what’s expected of me, what I’ll actually be doing on the ship, and why the expedition is happening at all.

The cruise is multi-purpose; resupplying the Korean Antarctic Base – Jang Bogo Station – is one of the expedition tasks. As is collecting valuable data on conditions near the Dragovski Ice Tongue, and recovering various instruments deployed last year to study seismic activity in the region. But my role is to recover an Ocean Bottom Hydrophone, or OBH for short, from approximately ~1000m (3300 ft) beneath the cold ocean waves for the Pacific Marine Ecology Lab (PMEL). PMEL and KOPRI are working together to improve our knowledge of ice dynamics in the Southern Ocean.

The seemingly impossible recovery task is accomplished by chirping. We’ll be using something called an acoustic release. What that means is I have a piece of equipment on the deck of the ship with an acoustic element that gets slung overboard to ‘chirp’ into the water. The right chirp, at the right frequency, and the right timing, will wake up an element built into the hydrophone on the ocean bottom. If it hears the right signal, it chirps back a predictable reply. It’s all very charming to hear, and slightly more technical than I’m describing but as Matt said when he was training me on it “it’s technician proof”. Once contact is made with the hydrophone, and I confirm that the signal it’s responding is in fact our own, I can send a release command that will theoretically release the hydrophone from it’s bottom mooring allowing it to float to the surface of the water (should take 5-20 minutes, Matt tells me).

It all sounds fairly straightforward and I’m assured that the technology is sound. Will it work? I don’t know yet, it should. But it’s going to take me another 9 days to get to the Ross Sea, so you’ll have to standby while I get off of this plane, onto another one, then into a taxi, and onto a ship, then sail south south south. This may take a while.


-Your Antarctic Correspondent-