NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012
Mission: Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat: Ground truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from Newport, RI
Date: Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Longitude: -69.5506 °
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 19.30° C
Wind Speed: 20.74 knots 5 on the Beaufort wind scale
Relative Humidity: 88.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1,020.80 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 21.39° C
Science and Technology Log
High winds, moderately rough seas, and difficulties with the ship’s positioning system all contributed to the delay of the first scheduled launch of TowCam on our midnight shift. Even though the necessary decision meant a loss of precious underwater time, it is better to delay than risk losing expensive equipment.
When the seas calmed down we were able to launch TowCam, but first we had to go through the pre-launch checklist. I helped Lizet as she prepared TowCam.
The batteries are under very high pressure when TowCam goes to the ocean floor so we have to push out the air before each trip. I help by tightening the battery caps. Every time I am on deck I must put safety first. I always wear a hard hat and the life vest.
When everything has been checked and double checked, the operator gives the signal, and the deck crew of the Bigelow use the winch and tag lines to launch TowCam on its next mission.
Look at the picture carefully. The deck crew always wear their safety equipment too! They hook themselves to the ship by their belts, and they wear safety vests and hardhats. The deck crew on Bigelow also make sure everyone follows the safety rules.
As soon at TowCam is in the water, everyone wants to view the images sent by the camera, but the TowCam operator must keep an eye on the monitors.
TowCam operators watch eight different computer monitors to control TowCam’s movements. With the help of mathematic modelers and previously collected data about the structure of the ocean floor, the scientists choose locations where they think they will find corals. These locations are called “stations.”
The ship must make very small movements to get the camera in the correct place on station. The operator will say something like, “Lab to Bridge- move 10 m to the North please.”… Then they watch the camera and the monitors to see if TowCam moves to the correct position. Sometimes TowCam floats right past the spot scientists want to see, and then the operators have to try to get it back into position to take the pictures. Not every station has the corals the scientists hope to find. But even knowing where corals are not is important information. After several hours of picture taking, we move on the next station.
Even in calm seas controlling TowCam is a challenging process. Remember, TowCam hovers over the ocean floor attached to the ship by a wire. Fully loaded it weighs over 800 pounds in the air. Since the ship moves TowCam by pulling it, it is not easy to follow the scientists’ plan.
However, when the perfect coral images appear on the screen, no one thinks about how hard they were to find. We all crowd around the monitors and watch in amazement. The scientists try to figure out types of corals in the picture, and then they wait for the next picture to see if there are even more! We have found corals at lots of stations!
Think about a time you tried to pull something tied to the back of a rope. Was it easy to steer? Did it get stuck?
We have talked a bit about how scientists find and try to study corals using the underwater camera and other sensors on TowCam. On other missions scientists sometimes use remote control underwater vehicles ROVs. Unlike TowCam which is dragged behind the ship, these vehicles are more versatile because they are driven and controlled remotely using a joy stick similar to the ones you use for computer games. Sometimes scientists even go to the ocean floor and drive themselves around using submersibles. One thing is certain, you have to get under the water to study corals.
Scientists go to all this trouble because corals are important to our Earth’s oceans. They are very old, and they provide habitat for other animals.
As you grow, it will be your job to find ways to study and protect corals and all other living things in the oceans.
Who knows how corals could help us in the future!