SARP 2011 – Ocean Safari

By Sherry Palacios

On July 6th at 6:00 am, the Oceans group departed Irvine for a two-day research trip. The first day was to be a four-hour research cruise to sample the kelp forests and oil seeps off of Santa Barbara and Isla Vista, CA aboard the dive boat Raptor. The second day included a morning talk by Kyle Cavanaugh at UC-Santa Barbara followed by sampling at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge near Montecito.

The three-hour drive to Santa Barbara began with eager chattiness and lots of questions from the students. Slowly, the early hour crept up and one-by-one each student succumbed to some awkward derivative of sleep. The last hour of the ride was silent except for my occasional giggle at the sight of ten unconscious students slumped over themselves like comatose contortionists. We eventually arrived at the Santa Barbara Harbor and waited for the boat and Professor Raphe Kudela. The students spent the time to unravel from their pretzel shapes and to tour the harbor. At least two students declared they were moving to Santa Barbara.

Students load the R/V Raptor. 

At 11:00 am we loaded the boat and were briefed by Captain Joe Cochran and Professor Kudela. We set out of the harbor for our first station and no more than a mile offshore we were met by a pod of Pacific White-sided Dolphins dashing through the bow-wake. The sun was shining, the seas were flat; this was going to be a good day.


We collected measurements in support of several research questions developed by the students, with guidance from Professor Kudela and me. These questions included:

  • How do kelp forests act as “heat islands” of the coastal ocean?
  • Can oil and methane emissions be detected and quantified using hyperspectral imagery?
  • Can ship wakes in imagery be used to estimate size, speed, and draught of a vessel?
  • Can an optical signature be developed to identify the toxic cyanobacterium Microcystis?
  • How does phytoplankton biomass vary in the Santa Barbara Channel between an El Nino year (2010) and an El Nino-neutral year (2011)?
  • Does day-to-day error exceed inter-annual error in estimates of kelp biomass from imagery? What implication does this have for interpretation?

Jimmy O’Shea, Sherry Palacios, and Runyon Woods collect lightreflectance measurements

To test these questions the students collected the following samples to use in addition to the imagery we collected from the DC-8 the prior week:

  • water temperature and salinity along a transect through the kelp
  • light reflectance from seawater, kelp, and from the salt-water marsh of the bird refuge (on July 7th)
  • chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) to measure light absorption
  • phytoplankton identification  

Kaitlin and Noah filter water samples to measure the light absorption by chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM)

Nick Atkins filters seawater to observe color from phytoplankton

Amelia Snow prepares to collect a plankton tow among the kelp fronds atIsla Vista, CA. 

At the first station, Arroyo Burro State Beach,Raphe and I discussed kelp forest ecology with the students. We demonstratedthe methods for each sample measurement and walked through the order ofoperations while collecting data. We also administered the SARP-Oceans rite ofpassage… The eating of the kelp. Almost all of the students tasted the bryozoanencrusted kelp. Most reporting that it was, “slimy, sweet, and tasted of thesea.” One student reported numbness of the tongue, but she revived soon after.

Jimmy samples the kelp

After Arroyo Burro, we motored over to our primary sample site—the Isla Vista kelp bed. This is a large, dense kelp bed just offshore of UC- Santa Barbara. We collected data along a transect: just offshore of the kelp bed, through the kelp bed, to the inside edge of the bed (near the surf zone) and then returned through the kelp offshore. All samples were collected, including some air samples for Don Blake’s group. The students took charge of the sample protocol and Raphe and were reduced to spectators. It was a lot of fun watching Zhanna take charge of the logistics; while Runyon and Michael collected water temperature and salinity; David, Julia, and Jimmy collected light reflectance spectra; Amelia, Kaitlin, and Noah collected phytoplankton and CDOM samples; and Nick carefully recorded the data. Zhanna ran a tight ship for the remainder of the stations that day. At the end of four hours, we motored back to Santa Barbara very pleased with the samples we collected. There was only one casualty of the day—the spectroradiometer stopped communicating at the second to last station. 

Oceans team celebrates the end of the cruise!

The following morning we visited UC- Santa Barbara for a talk and discussion with Kyle Cavanaugh. Kyle’s work on imaging kelp forests inspired the curriculum for the course. He gave a comprehensive overview of remote sensing research and helped some students further refine their research questions. We toured the campus after the talk. One more student declared he was moving to Santa Barbara.

After the tour, the students were confronted with the reality of field sampling… the spectroradiometer was communicating again, but now it needed an external power supply in order to sample the bird refuge. We needed those samples for David and Julia so they could work on an optical signature for Microcystis—a toxic cyanobacterium implicated in human and animal deaths. Faced with the technical challenge, the students huddled together and decided on a plan. We dispatched to the local hardware store and two competing teams raced into the store, grabbed carts, and ran down the aisles to collect supplies. The teams eventually joined forces and found the equipment, we checked out and tested the equipment… success!

Oceans team samples the Home Depot parking lot

Off to the Andree Clark Bird refuge we drove to collect reflectance spectra and CDOM samples.

Oceans team prepares to sample the Andree Clark Bird Refuge

Finally, our field trip drew to a close and we returned to Irvine to process the samples and use them to help answer the students’ research questions.

All in all.. a great trip!

SARP 2011 – Land Group Field Excursion

By Shawn Kefauver, SARP mentor

Right after the engineering test flight, the Land Team took off for Lost Hills, CA for their field campaign so that they could be ready to go on the ground during the first science overflight.  On the menu was collecting field calibration data for their imagery and also all the extra auxiliary data sets necessary for calculating evapotranspiration of almond and pistachio orchards.  We started off heading directly to our research field house in Kern County just off of I-5 at the Belridge site of Paramount Farms, our partner farm which supplies the field house and a number of almond and pistachio orchards for experiments.  

The land group in the field!

First Dr. Mike Whiting, an assistant research scientist from the CSTARS (Center for Spatial Technologies and Remote Sensing) lab at UC Davis gave a brief introduction of the field crews and study areas of the project.  I then led a short tour of the orchards outside and gave a brief demo on the field protocols for measuring leaf area index using hemispherical lens photography.  

Then we checked into our hotel and enjoyed a nice sit down dinner at the local Mexican grocery and restaurant.  At 6:30 am the next morning, Dr. Susan Ustin met with the team for breakfast and we began our field day right with a good meal. To start the day, we needed to clean off our 30 sq meters of field calibration tarps from the dusty winds the night before.  

Cleaning the field calibration tarps

At 9:30 AM the team split up and half headed out for leaf sampling.  The other half helped with the leaf scanning and thermal calibration data collection at the time of the first overflight.  

Watching the DC-8 fly overhead

At solar noon I headed with my VNIR (Visible and Near Infrared) calibration team to collect spectral reflectance data for empirical line and BRDF (Bidirectional reflectance distribution function) corrections using our portable full range spectroradiometer.  

SARPians use the portable spectroradiometer

In the afternoon the teams switched and in the evening we had a few field data processing demos.  We all went out to take some air samples for the Air Team, and then the LAI (Leaf Area Index) specialization team headed out for an extra hour of hemispherical lens photography to help the CSTARS team catch up on some sunset data collection.  By then we were all ready to go to sleep early after a long day to rest up for an early 4:30 AM departure the next day in order to make the SARP tour of the Dryden Flight Research Center.  

Final SARP 2011 Science Flights!

On June 30, SARP students, mentors, faculty, and staff flew on the DC-8 for the last two science flights of the summer.  Everyone in all three of the research groups had the opportunity to fly on both the morning and afternoon flights (although some decided to pass on the morning flight due to the expected turbulence).

After taking off from Palmdale at 10:30AM, we flew north to the almond orchards and vineyards to acquire MASTER data from 13,000 ft.  We then descended to ~1000 ft and collected air samples over Harris Ranch (a feed lot near I-5 with over 100,000 cattle).  During the Harris Ranch over-flight, the Whole Air team practiced the sampling strategy that they planned to use for the LAX missed approach during the afternoon flight.  Everyone in the Whole Air group had a specific role to play in order to facilitate the rapid collection and recording of the air samples.  The practice sampling run went extremely well.  SARP participants cheered and clapped loudly as we flew away from Harris Ranch.  The pilots later commented that the cheers and excitement they heard from SARP were some of the best they had ever heard from scientists on the DC-8 as a result of collecting data!

Flight track for the June 30, 2011 SARP science flight # 1

Just after 1PM, we flew back to Palmdale, landed, and ate our lunches on the plane on the ground (there wasn’t enough time to get off the plane between the two flights).  At 2:30PM, we took off again for the afternoon flight and flew back to the same almond orchards and vineyards to acquire MASTER data at a different time of day.  Our pilots then contacted LAX to get us into the pattern for our missed approach.  At the preflight briefing, the Whole Air team had explained that they wanted to fly over as much of LA as possible at as low of an altitude as possible.  Typically, when commercial airplanes fly into LAX, air traffic controllers assign them a slow, steady descent to minimize turbulence.  In our case, we wanted to fly low enough over the city (below ~5000 ft) to collect air samples to measure pollution.  The sampling culminated with the missed approach (we flew only ~100 feet over the LAX runway!) 

Flight track for the June 30, 2011 SARP science flight # 2

Elevation profile for the second science flight.  During the LAX missed approach we were only ~100 feet above the runway

Esther collects air samples with the Whole Air Sampler

The sampling strategy that the Whole Air group practiced in the morning flight went perfectly during the missed approach.  The team was thrilled with the number of air samples they collected near LAX!

After the LAX missed approach, we flew out to the Santa Barbara Channel to image kelp beds with MASTER.  We flew back up to 13,000 ft and flew four lines along the coast.  As Dr. Fuelberg predicted, the weather was perfect with no clouds below us at all.

Kelp beds in the Santa Barbara Channel

After all of the data was collected, we headed back toward Palmdale, elated with our successful flights!  Before landing, however, we had a special treat in store for us!  Before the flights, Dan had asked our pilot if it would be possible for us to experience zero gravity in the DC-8.  The pilot said that it wasn’t possible, but that he would be able to do 0.5 G’s followed by 2 G’s.  After we finished collecting data, we strapped ourselves into our seats and the pilot let us all experience 0.5 G’s (Mars gravity).  For a few seconds, we all felt our arms and legs become lighter and were laughing and cheering.  However, all good things come with a price!  We then had to endure 2 G’s as we leveled out (not a pleasant experience!)

After experiencing 0.5 and 2 G’s!

After the landing and our post-flight briefing, we helped unload the plane and headed back to the hotel.  We are so grateful to all the DC-8 pilots and crew who made this incredible experience possible for us over the past week!  Tomorrow we drive back to Irvine where we will be located until the end of SARP.  After relaxing and resting up over the 4th of July weekend, SARP participants will spend the rest of the summer analyzing the data they collected during the past week!

SARP 2011 – First science flights and tours

On Tuesday, the Air and Ocean groups flew onboard the DC-8 for the first two SARP science flights.  The Land group was on the ground in an orchard in the Central Valley as the DC-8 flew overhead collecting MASTER data to measure crop evapotranspiration.  The flyover was at 13,000 ft — so those on the DC-8 couldn’t make out anyone on the ground, but those on the ground definitely saw the DC-8!  After the MASTER data was collected, the DC-8 descended to only ~1500 ft altitude and collected air samples over a number of dairies, feet lots, and ponds in the Central Valley.  Flying so low made it extremely bumpy and a few people felt sick.  

June 28 SARP flight track from the morning flight

During the afternoon flight, we flew a planned missed approach over LAX to collect air samples from water treatment plants near the airport.  We then flew to the Santa Barbara Channel to collect MASTER data over kelp beds.  It was a bit cloudy but we managed to get in some lines near the coast.

June 28 SARP flight track from the afternoon flight

Wednesday started bright and early (4:30AM) for the Land group who had to drive back from Lost Hills to meet the rest of the group at Edwards Air Force Base. 

SARP outside of Edwards Air Force Base

We all drove to the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) inside Edwards AFB where we were treated to an incredible tour.   We were able to go inside the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (a 747 that carries the Space Shuttle back to Florida when it lands at Edwards).  The inside of the 747 is almost completely empty to cut down on its weight so it can carry the Space Shuttle on its back.  

SARP inside the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

Julie inside the cockpit of the 747 Shuttle Carrier

We also saw and learned more about the Global Hawks (unmanned aerial vehicles used for airborne science).

SARP participants learn about the Global Hawk

After the tour, many SARPians visited the Dryden gift shop and purchased NASA apparel for themselves and their friends and families.

In the afternoon, we all headed back to Palmdale for a flight and weather brief for tomorrow’s flights and a tour of SOFIA (the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy).  SOFIA is a telescope inside a 747 that shares its hangar with the DC-8.  Dr. Eric Becklin, SOFIA chief science advisor, gave a talk about SOFIA’s capabilities.   We all got to go inside the passenger cabin of SOFIA where the astronomers sit during flights.  A few SARPians were also treated to a special peek inside the cavity that houses the actual telescope.  In order to go inside, they had to put on masks, hairnets, lab coats, and booties.   We are so grateful to Stefan Teufel for allowing us to have this rare opportunity!

Getting ready to go inside the SOFIA telescope cavity

After a long day, tired SARPians returned to the hotel to rest before the final two flights on Thursday.