Wow! Summer winded down quickly. It felt like a lot of time spent writing, some exciting and stressful glider piloting, and I wrapped it up with 2 weeks on the water in Southern California working on the SOCAL BRS project. (You can read a public summary of the project here).
I’ve talked about this project before, and this was my 4th summer on the R/V Truth. This leg ended up a bit frustrating in the fact that the animals were more difficult to find and work with than past years. We didn’t observe the distribution of whales we typically do, and we suspect this has something to do with the abnormally warm waters off Southern California this summer.
For example we barely saw any Risso’s dolphins, where typically there are tons around Santa Catalina Island. And the blue and fin whales typically found feeding right in the LA shipping channel weren’t where we expected them. Instead we found them quite a bit further offshore near Santa Barbara Island. AND we saw schools on schools on schools of yellowfin!! (I think……I may edit this in a day or two…anyway I’d never seen so many leaping fish!) EDIT: Yellowfin tun and maybe some small bonitos and maybe some bluefin.
For me the trip was still a great learning experience. I got to use some new tools and learn some new skills, including running the sound propagation software we use in setting up a CEE (Controlled Exposure Experiment), running the sound source that projects the sound playback, and deploying and recording from sonobuoys, little one-time use floating recorders designed to listen for subs, but also work for whales.
Lately I’ve been doing some “field work” although that is not nearly as glamorous as my labmates Michelle and Samara are doing right now. I am piloting a glider in the Gulf of Mexico for a monitoring project around the area of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This is an awesome project because it is using three types of passive acoustic monitoring systems: gliders, autonomous surface vehicles (that look AWESOME) and bottom moored hydrophones. However, me piloting means staying in Oregon with a strong internet connection and doing all of that from my laptop, so I don’t have any cool pictures, or fun field stories. This deployment has been going very smoothly, compared to the test flight, knock on wood.
Anyway, Sara Heimlich, of the OSU/CIMRS Bioacoustics Lab, has been maintaining a great project website and I encourage you all to check that out for more detailed info…and cool field photos.
Possibly I am throwing around the word “miracle” because I’ve got Herb Brooks on my mind (thanks to my fellow grad student and FW intramural soccer coach Matt who is obsessed with that guy). Or perhaps that is actually what happened.
Let me set the stage. Will and Otis, our two Seagliders, were deployed off the coast of Newport, for what should have been a brief, straightforward test of their passive acoustic systems before they were shipped off to the Gulf of Mexico for a project there. Of course, that would not be as exciting of a story if it all went as planned.
I can’t remember how much I’ve talked about it before (I looked it up…try here and here), but basically, the way these gliders work is they go out and dive in the ocean, listen for marine mammals, and every time they surface they call in to a basestation, offload their location and some log files, and continue on their way. Well. Otis (SG608) did exactly that. It was his first flight with us and all went smoothly, from a piloting stand point. Will (SG607) on the other hand….well, he went rogue. And I don’t mean to the brewery.
Will stopped calling in after only 5 dives. Did I tell you this was my first “solo” piloting of the gliders? Yes, I was sort of freaking out.
But what happened the next few days is not important (I blacked it out so I can’t tell you because I don’t remember).
The point is….WE FOUND HIM!!!!!!!!!!
So (1) the miracle part: Let me explain the chances of finding Will. Best case scenario we were searching in about a 1 km radius of a point we THOUGHT the glider would be diving to. Worst case, it was floating at the surface and had drifted who-knows how many miles offshore. But lets complicate things. Glider at the surface, great, easier to spot. Glider continuously diving = glider down for 1 hour 40 mins, at the surface for 20 mins. So lets say we ARE in the right place. Well then it has to be the right time, and you better spot the thing during that 20 mins and get the boat over there before it goes back down for an hour and 40 mins and pops up somewhere else in that 1 km radius. Lets add in some wind waves (We are 35 nm offshore here) and some fog. And this is the image you are looking for:
(2) the waiting part. Will was missing for 4 and a half days. That doesn’t seem like that long. But when everytime your phone beeps that you get a text message and your heart jumps thinking maybe its the glider, that is a long 108 hours. But that is a lot of what we had to do. This was exacerbated for me because I had to stay on land during the search trips. I had to be at my computer in case we heard from the glider and I could give updates on GPS locations or timing. This was a new experience for me. I’m not real good at sitting still and waiting.
(3) the teamwork part. To me, the greatest outcome of the whole thing. There is NO way we could have found Will without all hands on deck, without awesome grad students and scientists who went out to look (Laurie, Niki, Erin, Theresa, Curtis, Alex, Haru, Matt, Dave), Anatoli and Steve for answering my piloting questions, a chartered fishing boat (ok…we paid them, Sara thanks for coordinating), TWO trips out, the people at iridium for putting up with my incessant phone calls, the dolphins that swam by the boat and provided moral support, Sharon and Holger for telling me not to freak out…I could go on. (and I’m SO SORRY if I am forgetting someone)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although I won’t be formally joining the lab until January, my informal transition has already begun. Luckily for me, my tenure at as graduate student started off with a fieldwork cruise! In September I joined the crew of the Bell M. Shimada to assist with the deployment of one of ORCAAlab’s Ocean Noise Reference Station (NRS) moorings. The focus of my graduate research will be to analyze recordings from the NRS project, so it was exciting to have the opportunity to help out with a deployment.
The Ocean Noise Reference Stations will be deployed in NOAA Marine Sanctuaries and some other US marine areas of interest. We hope that the recordings from these moorings will allow us to compare ocean soundscapes and monitor long-term changes in a new way. Currently, many different types of autonomous recording units (ARU) exist and are used by passive acoustics research groups. While this is excellent for documenting ocean noise in isolated areas, different recording technology and mooring design make it difficult to compare soundscapes. The NRS project recorders are all calibrated to the exact same specifications so we may accurately compare ambient ocean noise around the US and in NOAA sanctuary waters.
On this trip we were to deploy NRS station 3, off the coast of Washington State. We set sail out of Newport on a wet and windy day. This was my first journey in the Pacific ocean, and the weather certainly lived up to my expectations! Avoiding the offshore storms, we started our trip by traveling north along the coast of Oregon. Cheif scientist Jay Peterson recruited a science crew of faculty, students, and volunteers and we were all assigned watches and jobs for our week on the Shimada. Between all of us we would process water samples (via CTD), jig for squid, dip-net for jellyfish, retrieve a NOAA DART (Deep-ocean Assesment and Reporting of Tsunamis) monitoring buoy, and deploy a Noise Reference Station. Suffice to say, we had a busy week at sea!
I was also able to help out with some of the other projects. Here I am helping to catch jellyfish for Samantha Zeman’s project.
It was great to have the opportunity to visit Newport before starting at OSU this winter, and I hope I get a chance to help with another deployment soon!