NAAMES-III Expedition: September 5, 2017

September 9th, 2017 by Kristina Mojica

A Light Puzzle

Today we were able to finish our first official station of NAAMES 3! Our group, the UCSB Optics team, saw a whirlwind of activity as we deployed half a dozen different instruments to begin to characterize all the different ways that light interacts with the ocean. You could call us the most superficial of teams, where we only care what things look like, but we do really care about what things look like!

Our goal is to model how light behaves in response to all the different biological, chemical, and physical things that all the other teams here at NAAMES are measuring so that we can move these models to ocean-monitoring satellites so they can tell us what might be happening in the global ocean. In a nutshell, we do math with colors!

The underwater light field is like a giant puzzle, with all the pieces coming together in a unique way. You can actually begin to measure one set of pieces, the apparent optics, with your eyes. This is what the ocean apparently looks like based on all the things in it and how it is lit up by the sun. If you have ever gone scuba diving or looked at underwater photos, you’ve probably noticed how blue everything looks. Where did all the red go? Based on optical properties, different colors of light disappear at different rates as you go deeper. We can model how quickly certain colors disappear relative to others to get an idea of things like how much plankton or dirt or dissolved materials are actually in the water!

On the other side, we have the inherent optical properties, those that are inherently there no matter how bright or dark it is outside. People sometimes wonder why I’m out at 3AM and 11PM making casts in the middle of the night for optics, and it’s because we’re still getting great data! The instruments that measure the inherent properties are literally the flashiest ones we have. Our IOP (Inherent Optical Property) Package is basically a disco ball of lights. One instrument on the package works by flashing a very specific color of light out at the water and then recording what “bounces” back at the sensor. Another fires a laser and records how much that laser bends based on the size of the microscopic particles in the water. Yes, we fire bendy lasers. I love optics.

All in all, each instrument gives us a different piece of the puzzle. Once we get enough pieces of the underwater light field, we’ll be able to more effectively look at the oceans from satellites and get a sense of what’s happening globally in the ocean at a moment’s notice. We’ll shine some light on Earth’s final frontier.

Written by James Allen


One Response to “NAAMES-III Expedition: September 5, 2017”

  1. Janey Dustin says:

    Didn’t know anything about inherent optical properties. Thanks, very interesting.

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Notes from the Field