The climbfish have now evolved to cover my life in the US - including very exiting life in downtown Baltimore (aka the wire) and ocean research expeditions with NOAA. I don't promise frequent updates but I will try and cover the most and least exiting times here. Enjoy!
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Friday, September 30, 2011

Arriving Rhode Island

Newport in sight! 

My time on the big blue has come to an end. We just arrived in a beautiful fall day to Rhode Island, Newport, yesterday after two weeks of exploring and transiting up long the US east coast. This is Okeanos home port which she has been waiting 2 years to arrive to (long story apparently) so everyone was really exited to get here. Myself I was mainly tired as I had to extend my night shift to cover another day, although the excitement snuck up on me too eventually.

Crew of Okeanos Explorer fresh off the ship

Looking back we were lucky to escape the Atlantic in the middle of the hurricane season with just a few rocky days. The work onboard have followed a well organized daily routine that have also provided time to get to know the ships crew better (aka daily Call of duty tournaments), fishing off the stern and watching important movies such as "life aquatic", highly recommended if you have not seen it.

We had a US coast guard sail ship visiting outside the Maryland coast
For the mapping part I have got to know beautiful Baltimore Canyon - in the "lower" part town as well as a quite impressive transect along the US coast. We never found that sub, neither did we find any more major ship wrecks then the one in Florida straight. guess it takes lots of time and some luck to locate historical ship wrecks in deep water.
My watch stander mate Ash during a rare moment of daylight

Our chef enjoying the cooler weather up on deck
Newport seafood will have lots to live up to, and the view...

Despite my continuos effort of utilizing all the collected data I didn't catch a single fish, though the time spend on deck have been well rewarded with daylight, pilot wales and dolphin sightings. The last night before we hit port we had a pod of dolphins riding the bow with bioluminescence making the charismatic mega fauna glow in the dark.

I dont normally fancy photos of the sun, but there is something irresistible about sunrises....
After packing up today Meme, Adam and I went to Rhode Island University and got a tour of the Inner Space Centre  that is the main hub for communication, live feeds and data transfer from Okeanos Explorer. This enables scientist from all over the world to take part live during the operations on Okeanos, pretty cool. What was even more cool was that we called up EV Nautilus (check out http://www.nautiluslive.org/), that is currently doing ROV operations on a mud vulcano outside Spain feeding National Geographic with images, and had a crystal clear live HD video call with them via satellite link from the production and control room at Rhode Island. Weird that it works, and so cool (did I say it was it was cool?).

Just moved in to "the cave" in Newport. Already feels like home. 
Now two days of sightseeing in Rhode Island before heading back to Baltimore on Saturday evening. I just arrived at my hostel in Newport, still jet lagged from turning my hours around. I like what I have seen so far, sailboats, lots of pubs and surfing beaches around the corner to explore tomorrow. I am the only gust here right now and the house lady put me straight in what she referd to as "the cave". Time to shave. Good night.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chasing the rainbow on our way north

My fish friends are back!
We headed back into the Mexican Gulf again with a new mission and a new science crew. We are transiting the ship from Pascagoula to Rhode Island, where we will arrive on the 28th of September. During that transect we have some specific target areas where we will do more detailed surveys.
Our current position outside North Carolinas coast
We now have Frank, a marine archeologist from OER onboard. He have helped planning the route to include some interesting wreck sites. Apparently quite a few ships were sunken outside the US East coast during the second world war. We have already found one big wreck, and we are currently doing a small survey outside North Carolinas coast where a battle took place and 4-5 ship were sunk. One of them is supposedly a german submarine which sank a few cargo ships before it was bombed.
Marine archeologist Frank looking for treasure at sunset a few hours ago
We stopped the ship a few hours so that 5 Crew members could go diving on the marine reserve Dry Tortuges off Key West for training. I was happy for them but it was hard not to be a little jealous...
In addition to the wrecks, the seafloor along the way have been really interesting, in the Florida straight we saw big sinkholes and pinnacles that according to previous studies are filled with lots of life and deep water corals, I have also seen some massive schools with fish in the water column in Hemingways favorite fishing water outside Key West which have spurred my imagination...
Fishing for tuna in the rich waters off the North Carolina shelf this evening,
while killing time with the guitar - who says guys cant multitask :)
 My shift is from 0000 to 0800, I am still jet lagged but its been going quite well with the new routine. I sleep in the morning until late afternoon, wake up to eat dinner, then try and get an hour or two of daylight before the vampires comes out. The nice part of it is that its quite a social time to be awake, aka I have spend plenty of time playing xbox with the crew, which is the main event of the day here aside of work. 
Okeanos Explorer (xbox) battle field.

Evening jam session on deck with Dr. Mike.
Florida Disney land not far away. 
Miami about to fall off the earth. 
Only one week to go before we arrive in Rhode Island. Hopefully I will find that submarine tonight (but if I do find it I cannot tell you unless I kill you).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

House of the rising sun

Arriving Pascagoula, September 10th.
After 20 days at sea we eventually arrived to port in Pascagoula. My sense of time is not behaving on board (some say it never does...), 20 days pass in the blink of an eye when you look back but feels like an ocean of time when you are in the middle of it. The last few days were quite hectic as we were wrapping up the work and prepared for reality on shore. The scientists from UNH did magic with the data visualizing the gas seeps that we had found, and I think there will be valuable discussions and conclusions to be made of how the results can be used to further investigate the Gulf of Mexico and beyond in the future.
Were are we?! Very confusing as there were no sauna to be seen anywhere
Although I was still coming down from the experiences from the cruise, and saying goodbye to all new friends made, I only really had one thing in mind as we hit port- Anna arriving at New Orleans. Time was of virtue as Annas never ending mountain at work at Johns Hopkins only allowed her to come for 2 days. Fortunately we had Bill Shed and his wife Gail taking care of us, showing us around and letting us stay in their beautiful home and neighborhood, making the most of our short time together.
Celebrating Anna with Bills colorful friends at the Seafood festival down town New Orleans. My "brunch" consisted of alligator sausage (still not sure if it counts as seafood...), crab cake, oysters, crawfish pie, grilled shrimp and a mango mix. 
We have just leaved port a few hours ago and have started our next cruise, EX1106. Looking back I can humbly sum up my experience of New Orleans as a friendly, funky and beautiful city with fantastic (sea)food and locals that are professionals at enjoying themselves and others. I let the pictures below, and the little movie clip recorded last night when Gail was dragging me out to an old bar in her neighborhood to dance up the very last of my nonexistent energy reserve, tell the rest of the story.

Live music with Rebirth Brass Band at Maple Leafs Bar, September 14th.

Getting close to a 3m (10 feet) alligator at Jean Lafitte National Park, 20 minutes by car outside New Orleans. The wetlands outside the city have been hit hard by development and the oil mining in its midst, but they are still theming with life and most plants and species in there where new to me. Next time(?) it would be nice to go for a paddle.

Wetland undergrowth with enough water for lurking predators to hide
The mighty Mississippi, an old steamer and a proud owner of a salty captains hat.
The ancient city street car gave us an "interesting" night ride home with continuos blackouts, sparks flying and exploding from a little green box above the driver, and the steering looked challenging to say the least.
Kell, Coleen, Mike and Bill watching Gail feed the rays at the New Orleans Aquarium were Gail volunteers once a week. Among other things there was a nice amazon exhibit and also a big tank with sharks and all the fish from the Caribbean that I didn't catch in Key West.
This picture doesn't give the architecture in New Orleans any justice, but shows a cross with numbers that was put onto to every house as the military was counting dead and wounded from the Hurricane Katrina disaster, a memory that seemed still very vibrant for people we met. It's hard to imagine that many streets we walked was covered with up to 6 meters of water. Most areas we visited had recovered well although signs from the disaster are still visible all over town.
Another great seafood place that Bill and Gail took me to, this oyster bar was covered with signed pictures from celebrity from all over the world that had eaten here. Delicious! Though the best food we had was the home cooked seafood at Bills and Gails house serving local crabs and grilled fresh gulf prawns.
I think I have filled my cup of good food, parties and music for some time to come. I feel quite happy to get into the ship routine, hopefully involving more then sporadic exercise in the boats gym, and it will be good to get to know the new people on board and our mission (leaving a cliffhanger here...)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ocean Exploring - what are we really doing?

The storm is finally moving away, success! We have spend the last few days on the Florida escarpment for some additional mapping in order to avoid the worst of the weather, and after some rough days at sea we just arrived back to the area around Deepwater horizon to continue our mapping mission. Fortunately I have not been seasick, but the wave action gets you pretty tired so we are all glad that the sun is shining and that the ship is rolling gently with the swell.

Celebrating good weather on our back porch!

Here is a little something for you who wonder what we are actually doing out here. It gets a bit technical at times so I put a short wordlist in the end if you get lost...

The Okeanos Explorer is equipped with an array of sensors, sonars and ROV units (its really quite awesome if your into nerdy ocean tech stuff). The main objective of this expedition is to learn more about how to map and detect gas seeps in the Gulf of Mexico using a state of the art multibeam sonar EM302(1), a splitbeam sonar EK60(2) and a Knudsen sub bottom profiler (3).
Live image from our multibeam sonar EM302 showing naturally occurring gas seeps from the
seafloor at Biloxi Dome, an area close to the Deepwater Horizon site.  The colorful window at the top shows a model of the seafloor and the location of the ship. The lower (grey) image is a slice of water column data -in this image showing two gas seeps and the deep scattering layer (7).  Image credit NOAA/OER.

Live image from the EK60 showing 1000 m high gas plumes at Biloxi Dome in the Gulf of Mexico. The image represents 1 hour of data from left to right starting at sunset. At this time tiny phytoplankton (6) eating creatures, fish and possibly sea monsters  move up from the ocean depths, as deep as 1000 m, to feed. This daily migration by the deep scattering layer (7) is how I know that it is evening in my little computer world inside the science control room (kind of sad i know...).  If you look at the top 500 meter of the image this is what you see.  Image credit NOAA/OER.  

We also use a CTD (4) with a flourometer to map salinity, temperature, oxygen and fluorescence (5). The CTD is attached to a huge winch with 9000 meter cable for deep water measurements, thats a lot of wire (enough for a vasalopp)!

CTD measurements in perfect weather just before the storm rolled in.
NOAA Corps Officer Glen Rice about to deploy a lethal XBT cast! In order to measure the speed of sound in the water profile we make daily measurements of sound velocity.
During the initial response of the oil spill, the area was throughout mapped using an EK60, so one of the questions for this trip was if we can use the data from the EM302 to faster map a larger area and with more detail compared with the EK60 in order to better understand the naturally occuring background levels of gas and oil leaking out into the Gulf.

Standing on the deck looking over the sea I have unsuccessfully tried to imagine that the EM302 sonar is mapping up to 3 km of the seafloor on both sides of the ship (6 km swath) which is about 90 % of what I see from my point of view on the boat (my approximation...), and that the seafloor is 2-3 km below me. its really quite amazing that it works. 

 Using all these instruments we have found numerous gas seep sites and have also been able to correlate many of the gas seeps with EM302 bottom backscatter (8) images from the seafloor. These images seem to be showing calcium carbonate hard ground around a majority of the seeps. The calcium carbonate are formed by bacteria feeding on the gas comming up through the sediments. The bacteria and the substrate they form feed and provide habitat for a whole eco-systems teaming with colorful life down in the dark deep water around some of these seep sites. During this trip we will not do any ROV(9) work, but there are plenty of images from other expeditions showing really cool stuff down there (I am assuming that if you have reached this far in my text there is some sort of bio/science nerd in you).

Photo from an earlier ROV survey in the Mexican Gulf showing flourishing life near a deep water gas seep.
Photo by Ian Mac Donald, Image credits NOAA/OER and BOEMER  
Enough of school for today, and also time for me to stop writing on this essay... It is only 4 days left until we reach Pascagoula on saturday morning, time fly too fast. Although I am really looking forward to spending a couple of days with Anna in New Orleans. Now sleep, tomorrow more seeps!

Some links you might find interesting
Okeanos Explorer ship tracker and live data viewer (you can see the data we collect in near real time!): http://www.ncddc.noaa.gov/website/google_maps/OkeanosExplorer/mapsOkeanos.htm
Okeanos Explorer, the ships webpage: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/oe/

Wordlist (Warning, you might end up with more questions then you came here with)
1. EM302 - a deep water multibeam echosounder with 288 physical sound beams capable of detailed mapping of a wide swath of the seafloor and water column.
2. EK60 - Similar to a single beam echosounder, but with 4 receivers in order to determine precise targets strengths and position in the sound beam - often used by fisheries and scientists to identify and map schools of fish.
3.  Sub bottom profiler - Low frequency sonar penetrating the seafloor in order to get profiles of sediment layers and rock.
4. Phytoplankton - The little green guys at the bottom of the food chain living of sunlight and nutrients. 
5. CTD - device measuring salinity temperature and depth.
6. Flourometer - device measuring fluorescence which can be correlated to the concentration of phytoplankton in the water, but it was also used during the oil spill to indicate the presence of oil in the deep water.
7.  Deep scattering layer - A layer made up by various zoo plankton and fish that due to their swim bladders used for their daily migration to the yummy surface waters, is clearly visible on echosounder images, 
8. Backscatter - Shows the strength (amplitude) of the returning sound from each target. Strong bottom backscatter indicate a hard seafloor that reflect sound well, weak backscatter indicating a softer seafloor substrate. 
9. ROV - Remotely operated vehicle, often equipped with a video camera and a variety of tools.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hurrican season

Apparently the 1st of September is in the middle of the hurricane season. But after days of calm sunny weather I was settling in for a comfortable ride thinking that this time I will not be caught in a storm, and that my presence doesn't by default meaning we will get in trouble.  
Latest weather update 7.15 AM. We just moved from the middle of the white stuff to the edge of the blue.
Since yesterday a depression has been forming around us and wind and rain has been hitting us pretty hard, its not a tropical storm yet but it likely will be very soon. The bumpy ride affects our sonar data and people have been seasick. I took the excuse to stay in bed most of the day yesterday before my shift to make sure I wouldn't feel ill, and it actually worked. I think I have slowly been getting used to the seas during the calm first part of this cruise. To avoid the worst weather we have now moved east to work on the Florida escarpment, closer to Key West, while waiting for the storm to past. This might take some time as the depression is fore casted to hang around for a couple of days and grow in strength. Don't worry, she is a big boat with a solid crew and we will be fine.

Link to track us: www.sailwx.info/shiptrack/shipposition.phtml?call=WTDH