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Notes from the Field

NAAMES-IV Expedition: March 22, 2018

March 26th, 2018 by Kristina Mojica

Rookies at sea

Laura and I come from different geographical backgrounds. I grew up in the hot Mediterranean climate and Laura experienced the rainy climate of northern France. For our next adventure, we were both called to sea for the same purpose: Science. We are not talking about your average kind of research, but what we believe is the most exciting kind: studying ocean-atmosphere coupling onboard of a fully equipped oceanography research vessel: The R/V Atlantis. For us, this is reminiscent of the famous sea explorer and scientist, Jean Jacques Cousteau. To celebrate the end of our gruesome PhDs, we are going to spend the next twenty-five days in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (aka, in the middle of nowhere) with land nowhere in sight. What a thrilling start of our scientific careers!

As we are writing this blog, our ship is steadily heading at twelves knots over calm and rough waters to reach the northern Atlantic Ocean. It is there that a beautiful annual phytoplankton bloom is starting. In a restricted environment, one would think that this adventure could be overwhelming and overcrowded. But veterans’ tips, everybody’s involvement and their welcoming attitude led to a smooth transition from land to sea. It is also impressive to watch all members follow their daily patterns which look like a beautifully orchestrated dance amid chaotic waves and winds.

As newbies to the sea, we discovered that the periodic rocking of the ship leads to a state of comatose, distracting us from our true purpose; to report hourly that all instruments are working. Luckily, great company (and a few role playing games), (amazing) food, and strong coffee kept us, so far, “sane”.

During the transit there is a little time for some fun role playing games. Her murder on the R/V Atlantis: (top) Georges hangs while Laura casually reads “Generation Kill”. (bottom) a few moments later, Laura faces the same fate.

The atmosphere-ocean boundary looks infinite from our vantage point and one might mistake it for simple. Yet the biology that lays beneath the water could affect the physical and chemical properties of tiny particles, created by the breaking of waves, that are lofted into the atmosphere. These particles are too small to be seen by the naked eye but play an important (yet uncertain) role on our climate; aerosols are the seeds on which clouds form. It’s not every day that an expedition of such magnitude happens, but when it did, we were not afraid to get wet.

Written by Georges Saliba and Laura-Helena Rivellini

Forecasting Snow is a Difficult Task in Pyeongchang

February 21st, 2018 by Ivan Arias

Gangneung and Daewallyeong, the cities where the Winter Olympics are taking place, have a unique characteristic for precipitation. The cold and dry front from Siberia converges with the moist air of the Korean East Sea to produce stratiform clouds that occasionally precipitate over the PyeongChang province. This condition where the precipitation comes from the east is difficult for forecasters to predict. When the clouds are formed from the west due to low pressure, prediction is difficult because the ground-based radar’s sensing is limited due to the complex orography. Thus, no matter whether snow comes from east or west, it is always hard for meteorologists to forecast weather it in this area. Nevertheless, snow clouds in the region have a particular characteristic, they normally form around 2 kilometers over the sea level.

On February 13th, the D3R Radar from NASA which is located near PyeongChang captured a low elevation snow formation coming from the west which can be seen in the following images.

On the left is D3R RHI Reflectivity image at Ku frequency band, and on the right is D3R PPI Reflectivity image at Ku frequency band.


Compound Weather Radar Map of Korea by KMA.

However, no other operational radars from Korea were able to see the snow coming because of the complex relief where outdoor Olympic venues are located. The image below, taken from the KMA website, shows no snow around the PyeongChang region.

The D3R images allowed KMA staff to predict unexpected snow three hours before it started. Television screen captures taken on this day from the NBC Olympics broadcast (below) show snowfall during the cross country classic spring competition.

Photos of NBC live streaming the Winter Olympic Games.

In New Mexico, Land of Volcanoes

January 11th, 2018 by Jake Bleacher

On June 5, 2017, a convoy of vans and SUVs drove west from El Paso, Texas, and crossed into New Mexico, headed to a location about 20 miles southwest of Las Cruces. Leaving the pavement behind, we bumped along single-file on dirt roads, marking our way with a trail of GPS “breadcrumbs” and stopping occasionally to let the lagging vehicles catch up. Our destination: a geologist’s wonderland called the Potrillo volcanic field.

New Mexico is home to an impressive number and variety of volcanoes, spread over the state from top to bottom. Among them is the Potrillo volcanic field, a now-dormant region in the New Mexico portion of the Chihuahuan Desert. My team spent 10 days in June 2017 at Potrillo, visiting ancient craters and gently sloping shield volcanoes.

The Potrillo volcanic field. The volcanoes here are monogenetic, which means that when they were active, each one probably had a single eruption. These days, the Potrillo volcanoes are dormant. NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen.

Our team chose Potrillo because it combines the maar craters formed by explosive volcanism with the shield volcanoes formed by effusive volcanism. This makes it a perfect analog site for testing the kinds of instruments that future explorers might use to investigate volcanic areas on the Moon, Mars and other rocky planets or moons. We brought an array of instruments to map the topography of this terrain and to investigate the mineral composition and chemistry of the volcanic features here.

One of our destinations in the Potrillo volcanic field was the crater called Kilbourne Hole, shown in this fly-over footage taken by our unmanned aerial vehicle.  Music in this short video was provided by Killer Tracks. NASA/GSFC/UTEP.

I’m Jake Bleacher from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and I led this trip. The group included planetary geologists from NASA Goddard; Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York; the University of Texas, El Paso; Johnson Space Center in Houston; and other institutions. This team is part of RIS4E, short for Remote, In Situ, and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration, a five-year project led by Timothy Glotch of Stony Brook University. RIS4E is funded by NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, or SSERVI, which promotes collaboration linking science to human exploration.

Here, I’m pictured in the black leather cowboy hat I’ve worn on all field excursions for more than 15 years. NASA/GSFC


The Goddard Instrument Field Team, as a part of the RIS4E Project, explores Kilbourne Hole, a maar crater in the Potrillo volcanic field in New Mexico.NASA/GSFC

Helping me document the trip for NASA were Elizabeth Zubritsky, who worked with me on these blog entries, and two members of Goddard’s video team, David Ladd (producer) and Rob Andreoli (videographer).

The Commute to Work

October 19th, 2017 by Eric Lindstrom

Going to sea slows one down from the hectic sprint of modern city life and car travel.  We travel slowly (~12 mph) over the vast Pacific Ocean. It is a five-day journey to get to our “office” in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ).  The “work day” will change from 8 hours per day to 24 hours per day. There are no weekdays and weekends, only workdays and off-hours. As your blogger, I look into all the projects aboard ship and fill my day with writing, photographing action, and fact-finding for my reporting. I aim to provide a new blog four days-per-week (Tuesday-Friday). If needed I serve on a shift where extra hands are required.

A highlight of our departure from San Diego was being greeted by a large pod of small toothed-whales (porpoise/dolphin family). They seemed as curious of the ship as we were curious of them. We had slowed the ship as we passed the Coronado Island group (off northern Baja, Mexico) to deploy a 42-foot boom off the starboard bow. This is the support structure for Julian Schanze’s “salinity snake” that provides a “clean” intake of surface water outside the wake of the ship.  I imagine the whales had never seen such an operation before!

The 42-foot boom for the salinity snake.

The first two days at sea have been calm and sunny. This has been great for the newbies to get their sea legs. As far as I know no one has suffered severe sea sickness.

In the midst of our five-day commute we stop or slow down for training on occasion. Everyone needs to learn or refresh their knowledge on how instruments are deployed from the ship and safely recovered. This is the time to make sure all gear and personnel are ready for action. I will tell you more about the instruments and projects over the next month. Shipboard life is best when everyone is busy and every project is assisted to full success. During these initial days at sea there is much “cross-training,” you come to sea for one project, but you immediately train to assist on other projects.

Training class at the underway CTD winch.

As we move slowly south to the tropics we also have some small assignments to accomplish on behalf of the oceanographic community.  We will deploy some Argo floats along the 125W meridian. These temperature and salinity profiling devices join a global array of nearly 4000 floats that monitor the upper 2000m of the ocean.

We know our 24/7 work begins when we reach 11N, 125W and begin the process of recovering the NOAA mooring that has been there for the last 13 months.  There are three moorings in the SPURS-2 array and all will be recovered on this voyage. Generally, these moorings become teeming islands of life in the open ocean environment, attracting their own ecosystem of fish.  So, fishing gear will also be at the ready and we can expect tuna and mahi-mahi for dinner the day of a mooring recovery.

Finally, it looks like there will be some Halloween celebration aboard R/V Revelle.  The Captain has brought pumpkins for a carving contest. I hear that some people have costumes at the ready. I am sure some unique nautical and oceanographic twists can be brought to Halloween. We shall see. Never underestimate the imagination of people confined to a ship for five weeks!

Pumpkins at the ready for the Halloween pumpkin carving contest.

NAAMES-III Expedition: September 21, 2017

September 23rd, 2017 by Kristina Mojica

Muffin O’Clock

Through Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, it was discovered that time is not a static measurement, rather it is relative to the observer. Somewhat similarly, time becomes both integral and meaningless while on a boat, completely relative to the scientist’s schedule. Time is integral to the individual with their stopwatch waiting for the precise second in which they can stop their experiment. On the other hand, we have been on a ship for 22 days where weekends are only a fleeting memory and days of the week hold no meaning. How can one keep track of the day?

A fresh tray of blueberry muffins serve on board the R/V Atlantis

Food. While some view meal times solely as a source of nourishment, meals provide one of the only consistent ways we can keep track of our day on the ship. For example, at approximately 6:00 am every day, the cooks will place a freshly baked pastry of some kind in the galley. This is deemed muffin o’clock and you will often hear excited whispers and guesses around 5:30 a.m. on what could they be cooking up next. Biscotti, muffins, coffee cake, and scones are just a few of the impressive things the cooks on the Atlantis, Mark and Carl, have served at muffin o’clock. This is followed by breakfast at 7:30, lunch at 11:30, cheese o’clock at 3:00, and dinner + dessert at 5:30. For clarification, cheese o’clock is when cheeses, crackers, and sometimes smoked fish are placed in the galley where scientists and crew can feast together.

Food alone can not keep a ship full of sleep deprived scientists being productive. One of the most cherished traditions on the ship, in my humble opinion, is Coffee Club. I can not trade mark this, for there are a variety of coffee clubs on the ship that meet in a variety of locations and at various times. Science, politics, and religion are all fair game at these times of replenishment and all are welcome. When you see an individual with incredibly dark bags under their eyes but a little pep in their step, you can trust they just finished with coffee club and are about to be productive.

Living and working on a ship for 25 days straight is an incredible, rewarding, and often strange experience. Thankfully, the amazing scientists, crew, and cooks work together to create a fantastic environment so that exciting discoveries can be made in the air and sea.

P.S. If I didn’t make it clear enough, special thanks to Mark, Carl, and Tanzy for the amazing meals and clean-up!

Written by Savannah Lewis