Notes from the Field

Are We There Yet?

September 12th, 2012 by Maria-Jose Viñas

By Eric Lindstrom

If you all are waiting to see some action at sea, I am sorry it is taking a bit to unfold. It takes about a week from Woods Hole to reach our study site at 25N, 38W. It’s good for us to have the time to check and re-check the instruments, get people trained in various procedures and ready to stand watch for 24/7 operations, and get to know our work mates. However, everyone that has prepared for more than a year for the expedition finds this week a long one. We want to be getting gear in the water and a flood of data passing through our computers. We want to be up all night, busy with deployments, water sampling, and scientific analysis. Everyday on the research site will be brimming with new data and constant planning for the next event.

All eyes in CTD operations.

The chief scientist has his hands full keeping the entire show operating smoothly. We have mooring, Argo float, and drifter deployments, glider operation, underway profiling, station profiling, autonomous profilers, and more meteorological sensors than can be easily counted. Everything needs to be working, providing good data, calibrated, checked and re-checked, and while many things can happen simultaneously, nothing should interfere with anything else.

Meteorological tower on the bow of the R/V Knorr.

Preparing a slocum glider.

The order of business is, very roughly, to get the sensors we want in the water (to supplement what the research vessel can do), off the ship and doing their job. The moorings and Argo floats take a lot of space and only serve us when deployed, so we will spend much of the first days on site getting these in the water. While we move from one site to another deploying equipment, we will also be mapping the ocean with instruments we lower from the ship on station or tow behind the boat while underway. During just about every moment, we try to gather data from the upper 1300 feet (400 meters), to characterize the salinity field and ocean circulation.

Once we have all our assets in the water, we can focus on using them in conjunction with the ship to characterize the ocean environment on time scales from minutes to weeks and from inches to a hundred miles. Over about three weeks we will do our best to map and understand how salinity varies at this spot in the ocean and why it does what it does. When the ship leaves, we leave many of these instruments in the water, to continue our work for the next 12 months. Expeditions in six months and 12 months from now will maintain and eventually recover many of the instruments we deploy in the coming week.  We think of it as deploying a sensor web in the ocean.

This kind of intense study is the basic work that helps us understand and interpret the weekly global maps of salinity we get from Aquarius. There are more esoteric and nerdy scientific questions that get answered along the way (making it very satisfying to all the scientists involved), but everyone is highly motivated by the opportunity Aquarius offers to study the global salinity field. SPURS is realizing that opportunity.

Of ship meals and science

September 10th, 2012 by Maria-Jose Viñas

By Eric Lindstrom

Saturday’s lunch menu at Chez Knorr.

Saturday, 8 September 2012 — Given the talk around the Knorr’s dinner table, you would have to say that oceanographic expeditions run on their stomachs. Key to surviving weeks away from home and family is good food and good moods. The food on the Knorr is excellent, so we are likely to have happier people and better results. Most people will come back a few pounds heavier. There is a gym on the ship but it can be dangerous to be on a treadmill or lifting weights in rolling seas…so, more than likely most will lose the weight battle to the dining experience!

Bobby, preparing for lunch.

Everyone has a mug.

Today was the day we passed in front of the predicted track of Hurricane Leslie. We felt a bit of the swell coming from the storm, but otherwise we had fine conditions. In the early afternoon, we slowed for a few minutes to deploy the first Argo float of the voyage. Deploying the floats is pretty easy since they have all been powered up and are ready to go right out of the box. We just have to slow the ship and lower the instrument over the stern and gently into the water.

We plan to deploy two Argo floats in front of the predicted hurricane track. They will measure temperature and salinity profiles before, during, and after storm passage. In addition the profiling instruments “listen” to ocean acoustics and can make an estimate of wind speed and rain rate based on the noise of those actions on the sea surface (pretty cool!) So, we especially wanted to see how the acoustic sensors deal with a big signal like a hurricane. Steve Riser at University of Washington is the Principal Investigator for the Argo floats in SPURS.

First Argo float deployment.

The float disappears over the stern.

I also received my first official science training of the voyage. We have a small device called an underway CTD  for measuring a profile of conductivity, temperature, and depth of seawater. Two people will work together to deploy and recover this instrument on an hourly basis throughout most of the experiment. The device is tethered to a small winch and boom (like a fishing rod and reel) at the stern of the vessel and dropped in the water to make measurements from the surface to 400 meters (about 1312 feet) depth while the ship is steaming at 10 knots. It finishes a profile in 100 seconds and is then reeled back aboard. It is kind of like hauling in a fish with an electrically-powered rod and reel. It takes 20 minutes to haul in the beast and then another few minutes to download the data from its internal memory to a laptop computer. We plan to deploy this instrument every hour once we begin normal operations in the SPURS region next Friday.

The latest wind and wave information from Hurricanes Leslie and Michael suggest that our path to the SPURS site is just about perfect for seeing the minimum impact from the storms. The seas are still lumpy, but Knorr looks to be slipping through the gap between the storms. Fingers crossed!