Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Doing field work from the office desk

In the good old days, scientist had to climb mountains, traverse jungles and carry out hazardous ocean voyages in order to collect new data and gain new insight. These days you can sometimes do the field work from your office desk thanks to the amazing technology based on GPS positioning and two-way iridium satellite communication. Biologists can monitor wildlife using a webcam or track larger animals (such as polar bears and wolves) using GPS necklaces. 

Flight map of balloon campaign - click here for larger image.
Earlier this year I participated in a balloon campaign in Antarctica with colleagues from the U.S. and Finland (and without leaving home) using pretty much the same communication technology as is used in our SailBuoy (see the flight map). And now, we are gathering valuable data from the De Soto Canyon region while sipping coffee in front of our computer screens. Of course, this campaign would not be possible without all the effort and hard work of Nico Wienders, et al. at FSU and the crew on the RV Apalachee in getting our SailBuoy deployed on 15 March. But once the SailBuoy was on its mission, the field work has been rather comfortable. Fortunately, we sometimes still have to venture out into the elements and get our fingers cold and wet to collect data which can only be collected in situ. I have certainly had my share of frost bite. 

But I am very fascinated by the opportunities this new technology gives us. In theory, the SailBuoy can be equipped with a solar panel and a large battery and go for very long missions to remote and even dangerous regions with no human risk involved. The main challenge would be fouling on the sensors. The cost is extremely low compared to sending out a research vessel. A small Unmanned Seagoing Vehicle (USV), like the SailBuoy, will pose no danger to commercial shipping and yachts. Unfortunately, regulations are much more strict when it comes to flying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) because of potentially less peaceful applications. But we can still dream that one day the ocean and atmosphere can be monitored by a network of small devices providing real-time data to correct and improve our forecasts. 

Click here to see the SailBuoy's current location

Temperature along the SailBuoy track (deg C)
Salinity along the SailBuoy track (PSU)
Oxygen along the SailBuoy track (μM)
Back to our ongoing campaign with the Deep-C SailBuoy... we have decided to stay in the DeSoto region in the coming weeks to collect more data in the upwelling region. We assessed that it would be too risky to venture west towards the Mississippi plume because of the shipping traffic and oil platform density in that region. We would also have spent many valuable days in the transit. So she is now heading for the NOAA Pensacola buoy and will collect some time series in the vicinity of that meteorological buoy. Finally, we still have to settle on the pick-up location which will take place toward the end of May, perhaps close to the Pensacola Bay. 

 Posted by:

Dr. Lars Hole
Norwegian Meteorological
Institute (Met.no)


Monday, April 15, 2013

Real-time data in the classroom

Bridging science, math, and inquiry... and creating citizen scientists

(A special blog post geared toward teachers) The SailBuoy has been doggedly pursuing data in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico for a month now, and we are collecting valuable information that will help us to predict ocean current behavior. It is so fun to be able to closely track the SailBuoy’s whereabouts. It really brings the project alive! It is also a great opportunity for you to incorporate real-time data into your classroom curriculum. 

Using real time data with students incorporates math, science, and inquiry with the added bonus of allowing them to be an integral part of scientific discovery. 

SailBuoy journey
Deep-C SailBuoy journey, screenshot taken April 15, 2013
Every hour, the SailBuoy records bathymetry (depth), salinity (salt), oxygen concentration, water temperature, and conductivity (the amount of dissolved minerals). 

Real time data from the SailBuoy 4/15/2013
According to the SailBuoy project leader Dr. Lars R. Hole of Met.no, drifter and buoy data is typically analyzed by comparing collected data to known ocean models or satellite measurements. “However, this is new technology and I am sure new ideas will appear as we work with the data.” 

Maybe your class will come up with one of those new ideas! However if you don’t want to reinvent the wheel there are several options available to you.

Comparing and contrasting SailBuoy data as it travels can provide an opportunity to make connections and draw conclusions. For example comparing bathymetry and oxygen concentration or surface temperature and salinity. 

Interested in comparing SailBuoy data with existing measurements?
  • SECOORA -The Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing and archival data and utilizes both buoys and radar for data collection. 

  • Gulf of Mexico Data Atlas -An interactive map that allows you to layer different data sets. The picture at the right showcases average salinity in various parts of the Gulf of Mexico. 

There is also no shortage of lesson plans and teacher resources floating around the web to help you implement the use of real-time data in your classroom. Here are some of the best: 
  • NOAA Adopt-A-Drifter Program is a great program, and NOAA provides several lesson plans and resources that set the stage for diving deeper into ocean currents and data analysis. 
  • The BRIDGE is an exhaustive educational resource and there is an extensive section on real time data related activities. If you haven’t been to this site before you will be amazed! The Dead Zone: A Marine Horror Story, is a particularly relevant lesson and even includes detailed instructions for graphing data. 
  • CeNCOOS (Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System) may deal with a different coast, but this site has a great lesson plan related to using real-time data to plan and execute an appropriate response to an oil spill.
  • Hatfield Marine Science Center at Oregon State University has compiled a comprehensive list of web resources for using real-time data. If it’s not here it’s probably not worth using! 
Drifter, floats, and buoys have a long and storied history as a mechanism of data collection in the ocean.  Teacher Stan Cutler wrote a great synopsis of this history at the end of his research experience last summer. Stan participated in a Deep-C internship last summer.  Check it out! 

Got some more ideas on how the SailBuoy data can be used in the classroom? Let us know so we can share them!

Posted by:
Amelia Vaughan,
Ocean Science Educator


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

At the head of De Soto Canyon

The SailBuoy is now approaching the waypoint at the head of the De Soto Canyon. This past week, she finally made very good ground after a long period struggling against strong and facing winds. 

Now comes the moment to decide what the plan is for the coming weeks, and several options are being considered. 

The first is to go southeast to map the location of the Mississippi River plume. The plume can significantly impact the location of a surface oil spill, as researched and explained by Deep-C colleague Dr. Villy Kourafalou at  Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami (Did the Mississippi River plume influence the surface spreading of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill patch?). However this would involve navigation in an area with very high ship traffic and where oil platform are numerous (see below). 

Oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.  Illustration by Nico Wienders
Another option is to remain in the less frequented eastern side of the Canyon to conduct more sampling and get more evidence of upwelling conditions. We work closely with the numeral modelers in order to produce the most suitable data set that can assist them in validating predictions. In-situ data (acquired in the place where it occurs) are pretty sparse for the De Soto Canyon area. Modelers need to compare their real-time model outputs with actual data to ensure there is no drift or difference between the fields they produce and, for instance, the data collected by the SailBuoy. This can easily be done using the Deep-C Atlas Map Viewer by superimposing different layers. And a third option for us is to command the buoy to stay at a fixed location in order to study the variations with time of the recorded oceanographic parameters.  

Regardless of which option we choose (and I will let you know in my next blog post), the buoy has now been in the water for almost a month, and this alone can be considered a success!

The SailBuoy can be equipped with a wide range of sensors. Of course, the more sensors,  the greater the cost of operating the buoy.  Electric consumption also increases with the number of captors/measurements and satellite transmissions (the SailBuoy can be equipped with solar panels, but the current mission is relying on batteries to power the sensors) 

For this mission, we installed highly accurate sensors that measure temperature, salinity, and oxygen concentration. Water temperature and salinity are tied to interactions with the atmosphere (heating, cooling, precipitation, evaporation) and have an effect on the density of water: warmer water is lighter, saltier water is heavier. The existence of these density differences is one of the mechanisms that contribute to movement in the ocean. Other forcing mechanisms include, for instance, the wind, the tides, earthquakes, and tsunamis. The sensor we are using on the SailBuoy to measure temperature and salinity is the new G-CTD, developed by the Neil Brown company. 

Sea Surface Temperature (ºC) in the North Atlantic
as seen via a 1/36 º numerical simulation
and showing the warm Gulf Stream.
Illustration by Nico Wienders
It's important to note that temperature and salinity can also be “advected" (which means transported by currents or eddies) in the ocean. Consider, for instance, the warm Gulf Stream. 

Oxygen concentration is also influenced by interaction with the atmosphere, as well as by biological consumption and chemical reactions.  In some ways, oxygen concentration can inform about the “age" of a water mass. However, oxygen concentration has no influence on the water density. 

Posted by:

Dr. Nico Wienders
Florida State University