US GO-SHIP is part of the international GO-SHIP network of sustained hydrographic sections, supporting physical oceanography, the carbon cycle, and marine biogeochemistry and ecosystems. The US program is sponsored by US CLIVAR and OCB. Funded by the National Science Foundation and NOAA.
The people collecting the data behind climate change are not “climate change scientists,” but technicians and engineers who are attracted to their jobs more for the lifestyle than for the glory of doing climate research.
This winter, Eric Quiroz spent six weeks aboard the research vessel R/V Roger Revelle collecting the data on which climate models are built. To put it bluntly, Quiroz fed vials of seawater into a nutrient analysis machine during twelve-hour shifts. “I wake up, run samples, and go to sleep,” he said.
Quiroz was contracted by the Oceanic Data Facility (ODF, a subsidiary of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography) to analyze the nutrient content of water samples on “I8S,” a cruise track in the south Indian Ocean resurveyed every ten years. Other technicians were hired by ODF to measure temperature, oxygen, carbon, and salt content. These parameters form a basic quintet of water properties that are tracked by the Climate Variability Repeat Hydrography program (CLIVAR), a long-term project that produces a public database of physical water properties. Using CLIVAR data, modelers and climate scientists have published seminal papers on climate projections, ocean acidification, and polar ice melt.
CLIVAR and ODF were conceived by some of the nation’s top oceanographers, but the bulk of the data is collected by a team of chemists, engineers, and technicians who find “climate research” to be a glorified description of their work. “[I] just run the machine and keep it running,” says Quiroz.
For a team that sails frequently with leading climate scientists, most of their knowledge about climate change comes from the popular press. Since taking the job last September, carbon technician Susan Alford has learned a lot about taking accurate measurements, but derives most of the context for work from college coursework and public interest articles. Chad Klinesteker, a salts analyzer for I8S, had a similar experience: “I’ve learned a lot about the equipment that we use just from working with the techs,” he said, “but not so much the science.”
Scientists are more than willing to discuss their work but it just doesn’t come up that often in conversation, and it’s irrelevant to doing the job well. According to Quiroz, collecting high-quality climate data requires an “attention to detail and the ability to troubleshoot systems,” more than a degree or an environmental conscience. A good technician has extraordinary patience and follows protocols well. A better technician adapts his or her technical skills to fit any task. Quiroz is a chemist with a degree in marine science, but in fifteen years of ship work he has picked up experience in winch operations and crane work. His predecessor was a watchmaker.
Because the demand for at-sea technicians fluctuates, ODF keeps only a small permanent staff at its base in San Diego. Many technicians are outsourced as needed: Jane Eert, an oxygen analyst on I8S, holds a regular job as a computer programmer. Klinesteker, a salts sampler, runs deck operations for the Coast Guard. These technicians consider working for ODF as a tangent to their permanent careers, but they keep returning for the “camaraderie” and the “slower pace of life.” They say it’s refreshing to focus on a singular task and on the people around you, away from phones, televisions, and other distractions of life on land.
Jim Swift, Chief Scientist for I8S, likens CLIVAR to “blue-collar oceanography.” “We’re at the assembly line level,” he says. “We’re putting together a dataset for other people to use.” And at the end of a day’s work, nobody wants to talk about climate change as they catch sunset from hammocks strung on deck, _ miles from the nearest shore and even further from a newspaper.Read More
The 2007 “I8S” and “I9N” cruises on R/V Roger Revelle were part of a systematic and global re-occupation of select WOCE/JGOFS hydrographic sections to quantify changes in storage and transport of heat, fresh water, carbon dioxide (CO2), and related parameters.
Scientific objectives for the cruises included providing data for model calibration and validation, carbon system studies, heat and freshwater storage and flux studies, deep and shallow water mass and ventilation studies, and calibration of autonomous sensors (such as Argo).
The surface-to-bottom station sampling included a host of carbon-related parameters, as well as temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, nutrients, velocity, chlorofluorocarbons, helium, tritium, trace metals and several types of biological samples.
Both the I8S and I9N transects were last occupied during 1994-1995 by R/V Knorr as part of the WOCE Hydrographic Program.
A total of 28 Argo floats were deployed by the University of Washington (UW) over the course of the two cruises. Dr. Annie Wong deployed 14 on the I8S leg and Dr. Sabine Mecking deployed another 14 on the I9N leg. There are photos of floats being deployed from both cruises on this page.
The float with WMO# 4900479 was deployed amid Antarctic icebergs and albatross by the R/V Roger Revelle on 26 February 2007, near the West Ice Shelf in the South Indian sector of the Southern Ocean. The ship sailed as close to the austral summer ice edge as weather and ice conditions permitted and successfully completed an Antarctic shelf-slope-basin CTD transect before it left the sea ice zone for the deeper ocean. “Ice float” 4900479 was deployed in deep water (> 3000m). The ship’s caption and bridge staff are to be commended for their navigational expertise in bringing the ship to this remote and beautiful corner of the world.
Float 4900479 forms part of a group of UW floats deployed at high southern latitudes as part of the International Polar Year. The floats are APEX floats that have undergone extensive software modifications at UW. These ice floats are programmed to check for the presence of sea ice above and to store profile data internally when ice is detected.
An ice float determines that it is under sea ice by calculating the median water temperature at depths between 50m and 30m as it ascends through the mixed layer. If this median temperature is below 1.78°C, the float assumes that it is under sea ice. This assumption is based on the observation that the mixed layer under sea ice has a temperature roughly equal to the freezing point of sea water at zero pressure, which is about 1.8°C.
Usually an ice float will stop at a distance 5-7 m below the sea ice before sinking back to its parking depth (1000m). When ice is present, the float will not come to the sea surface for satellite transmission. Data are stored on board the float until the float determines (from the mixed layer temperature) that the sea surface is free of ice.
All UW ice floats use lithium batteries and can store up to 68 2000-m profiles, and all transmit data via the Iridium satellite system, which has a high bandwidth and thus a high transfer speed. Using Iridium is a must for ice floats because of the requirement to transfer many months of stored winter data.
Float 4900479 was last heard from in July 2007, in the middle of austral winter. The University of Washington scientists who deployed the float believe that it is presently submerged below winter sea ice and look forward to its resurfacing in the austral spring and the transmission of a large suite of winter profiles.Read More
The CTD/rosette is a device that enables scientists to explore some of the deepest parts of the ocean, without getting wet! The CTD/rosette is an instrument that consists of sampling bottles attached to a metal framework. On the framework there are instruments that measures temperature, salinity, and depth. Other instruments can be attached to the rosette as well.
On a research ship, the CTD/rosette is one of the most important scientific tools. On an average day, activities are centered on deploying the rosette. The research ship steams to a station, a specific location that has been selected to put the rosette in the water. The deployment of the rosette is like a well rehearsed, choreographed dance. The rosette is prepared in the hangar by the deck team and the instruments are checked. In the lab, the scientist on watch is monitoring deck activity and remotely turns on the CTD/rosette power and initializes the software. Now the deck choreography goes into high gear under the guidance of the deck leader, who carefully watches the machines and his crew to see that nothing falters.
Following the deck leader’s hand signals, the winch operator takes in a few feet of the CTD/rosette cable to lift the rosette off the platform and extend it over the water. He slowly pays out cable. The deck crew works together to lower the rosette into the water. The deck leader then signals the winch operator to let out cable so that the CTD/rosette slides into the ocean, just below the surface, so that his deck crew can slip off their tag lines, which keep the CTD/rosette from accidentally hitting the side of the ship as it is deployed. Then the deck leader has the winch operator lower the CTD/rosette to 10 meters.
Once the CTD/rosette is 10 meters underwater, the scientist in the lab then takes over, directing the winch to lower the CTD/rosette close to the bottom. This process involves coordination between the lab and winch operator, who are in constant contact via a special two-way hands-free phone. It can take from one to two hours to lower the CTD/rosette. On this cruise it will go as deep as 4700 meters at some stations. The descent can be slow due to the swell of the Southern Ocean, which affects how the ship, the cable, and the CTD/rosette interact. The scientist on watch in the lab monitors the descent, and with the help of the CTD/rosette’s on-board altimeter, the scientist can ensure that it doesn’t hit the bottom.
During the ascent, the scientist in the lab will have the winch stop at pre-selected depths so that the bottles can be “tripped,” or closed, by computer command from the lab. On the particular CTD/rosette being used aboard this ship, there are 36 bottles. The CTD/rosette ascends at a maximum rate of 60 meters per minute, so it may take several hours to reach the surface. Once it reaches the surface, the choreographed deck crew operation runs in reverse, only this time with water samplers standing by to greet the arrival of the CTD/rosette.
Once the CTD/rosette is back on deck and secure back inside the hangar, the students, scientists, and technicians waiting to take water samples good- naturedly jostle each other for their turn to extract samples. The aptly named sample cop is in charge of keeping track of whose turn it is to sample, and ensuring that the samplers follow a specific sampling order. Water samples for dissolved gases can be affected by time and exposure to air, so it is important that the water samplers for these go before team members sampling less time- or exposure-sensitive properties, such as salinity (dissolved salts). The sampling area has a friendly atmosphere, although the scientists take sampling very seriously.
Although it is entertaining to watch the skilled choreography on deck, it is important to remember that it serves a key purpose. Cruises such as this one enable scientists to acquire much-needed data. The coordination of the deck team, the winch operator, and the scientists is an important step in getting this valuable data. The most amazing part is, the deployment of the CTD/rosette is only one part of the astonishing amount of teamwork required to gather data in the remote corners of the ocean.Read More
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Learn More About R/V Roger RevelleRead More
We are homeward bound!
At 05:25 local time on Tuesday, 19 April 2011, the rosette from station 140, the easternmost station we planned, and the last one on CLIVAR S04P, was brought into the Baltic Room. This completed the over-the-side work for our cruise, though it took a day to analyze the samples that we backlogged as we crossed the eastern boundary of our study area. We arrived at the eastern end a little earlier than expected due to an unprecedented (for this cruise) eight day string of days with light winds, plus our equipment worked nearly flawlessly.
So what did we do next? We went on an oceanographic treasure hunt! Believe it or not, five days earlier a satellite had reported to its base station that a400 meter long biophysical mooring for Dr. Richard Limeburner (Woods Hole), deployed in 450 meters of water more than ten years ago by Jim Ryder (the mooring tech on our cruise), but lost in 2001 when it failed to rise to the surface when triggered to do so, had all of a sudden come to the surface and contacted the satellite. (Good batteries!) The location was only about 8 hours away. So after our final station we motored over to its last reported location and - voila! - there it was! Jim, the RPSC marine techs, and our students and other helpers then set to work, recovering the entire string of instruments, covered with ten years of marine growth. Everything was cleaned and will be returned to Dr. Limeburner. What a wild coincidence!
We are now on our way to Punta Arenas, Chile, which is our end port for this long cruise. We’re getting a bit of a weather blast today - after all, this is Drake Passage, infamous for its heavy weather - yet we are actually ahead of schedule and are arriving a little early. We still will not be able to begin our unloading until Monday, due to Easter.
Tonight we will hold a little variety show on the ship, featuring skits and music from our “polliwogs” (those for whom this was their first Antarctic crossing) plus some of the “red noses”. There will be a traditional induction for the polliwogs tomorrow morning.
And that’s just about that for this cruise. It’s been a long haul - 64 days at sea without a port stop is a new record for most if not all of us. But we achieved our scientific objectives (except for the iced-up southern end of P18 and mooring recoveries there), and enjoyed a safe and productive time at sea. We are very grateful to our shipmates from Edison Chouest Offshore, who operate the Nathaniel B. Palmer and support us and our science so well, thankful for our support from our seven colleagues from Raytheon Polar Services Corporation, and deeply appreciative of our support for this venture from the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
We did it!
All is well on the Nathaniel B. Palmer.
Jim and AlexRead More