Rachel Dane, May 3, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rachel Dane
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
April 29 – May 10, 2005

Mission: Oceanographic Survey
Geographical Area: Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos
Date: May 3, 2005

Plan of the Day
0300: 0.5S CTD
1200: Equatorial mooring repair followed by a deep CTD and an ARGO
1845: 0.5N CTD
2345: 1N CTD

Weather Data
Latitude: 0 degrees N
Longitude: 94 degrees W
Visibility: 12 nautical miles
Wind Direction: 150 degrees
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Sea wave height: < 1 foot
Swell wave height: 2-3 feet
Sea water temperature: 26.5 degrees C
Barometric pressure: 1013.0
Cloud cover: 2/8 cumulus, cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

Today is my first full day on the KA’IMIMOANA (KA).  After sleepily answering my 3:30 AM wake-up call and quickly grabbing a hot cup of caffeine, I met Shawn and Jay on deck to begin the first CTD cast of this second leg of the KA’s journey along the equator. CTD is an acronym for “Conductivity, Temperature, Depth”; it is essentially an analysis of the salinity and chlorophyll levels of a site specific water sample. The casts are performed at each 1 degree change in latitude along the entire TAO array.  The CTD “package” consists of 15 cylinders, each about 1.25m high, attached to a sensing apparatus. Based on commands from the deck, this sensing apparatus will open and close the cylinders and provide real-time data of water conductivity, temperature, density and salinity. For the purposes of this morning’s sample, the package was lowered to a final depth of 1000m for sample collection.  Final depths vary with each cast.  Once the cask is deployed, data analysis of the water sample is displayed graphically on a nearby computer—this morning I was able to view a graphical representation of the thermocline for the first time!

Before lunch, I shadow Doc during her weekly safety inspection.  What a great opportunity for me to see the inner workings of this impressive vessel!  After lunch, the announcement that we have arrived at the site of our first buoy repair comes echoing over the loudspeakers, and it’s buoy time!

The equator! For me, it’s no longer simply a line around the globe.  Not only does the equator represent the dividing line between the northern and southern hemispheres of the earth, but this is also the region where Pacific ocean currents are being extensively studied by NOAA in order for us to better understand the relationship between the oceans and climate.  Essentially, the TAO buoy array acts as a 6000 mile antennae that scientists use to monitor ocean trends.

Donning hard hat and life jacket, I ran to the third deck clutching my zip locked camera and climbed into one of the orange work rafts attached to the KA’s port side.  We (Dave, Brian, Chris, Matt and I) were gently lowered into the water by attentive crew members, and off we motored to our waiting buoy, about 75m away.  Unfortunately, this buoy had been damaged by a fishing vessel so Dave and Brian had some repairs to make.  Fish prefer to swim in the vicinity of buoys because schools feed on the growth that accumulates on the underside, and it is quite common for large fishing vessels to tie up to TAO buoys; oftentimes damage occurs in the process.  After the repairs were complete, I was enthusiastically invited to jump onto the mooring buoy, and it was the absolute highlight of my day! Since fish like to hang out by the buoys sea birds do too; this was immediately obvious to me once I had hopped onto the platform and was clinging to the rungs of the tower.

The entire apparatus was covered from top to bottom with dried guano, and within minutes of climbing and perching on the tower, so was I!  Kind of gross; however, this did not prevent me from reveling in the experience of being on the equator and bobbing like a cork, completely and utterly surrounded by water.  It felt as though I had stepped into a completely foreign liquid universe.  Other than our work boat, the only object in the panoramic view was the KA’IMIMOANA headed towards the horizon. I believe that I could have very happily floated on that buoy for the rest of the day, reveling in the vastness.

Once back in the orange raft, our expert coxswain Chris kicked it into turbo gear and off we sped on a high speed chase, in hot pursuit of our ocean home.  Although the KA remained in sight for the entire operation today and although I longed for more time bobbing in the serene, blue stillness of the equatorial Pacific, there was a feeling of extreme comfort in riding to port side of the mighty Ocean Seeker.  Looking up, we saw 10 of our crew members peering anxiously over the rails on all decks, ready to work together to bring us home safely.

Personal Log

On a daily basis, I continue to be amazed by this ship.  So many aspects of life aboard the KA’IMIMOANA are extremely refreshing: that it is a floating home that operates so efficiently through the patience, teamwork and cooperation of all hands, that a hallway passing almost always evolves into a friendly conversation, and that crew members are consistently willing to share their knowledge and experience with me and excitedly teach new information.

Despite my best intentions and despite a 4.5 mile run on the treadmill, I was not able to squeeze in a rest this afternoon. Now it’s 10:30pm and I’m feeling exhausted, but too overwhelmed to sleep.  This evening I studied the Southern Cross and surrounding constellations with Don. Although I live at the Grand Canyon and regularly study extremely impressive night skies, the stars here rival what I’ve become accustomed to at home.  Thanks to Jimbo’s call I watched over 100 squid swarming on our starboard side, and kudos to Tony–his expert fishing skills have ensured that we will all enjoy fresh calamari tomorrow night!  Matt was the first person to introduce me to an actual example of bioluminescence tonight, visible in the ship’s wake; thank you, Matt, it was so incredibly cool! I definitely plan on taking him up on his offer for me to borrow the “Blue Planet” series to learn more about deep ocean luminescence.  So, brimming with curiosity and excitement, I look forward to the gentle rocking of the ship once I tumble into my bunk later this evening.

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