Tag Archives: Sea to Space

Grit Factor and Teamwork

Posted on by .
Noah Walcutt, University of Rhode Island, inspects mangled sediment traps recovered from the first sampling site. Shark damage was later confirmed. Credit: University of Rhode Island/Melissa Omand

Noah Walcutt, University of Rhode Island, inspects mangled sediment traps recovered from the first sampling site. Shark damage was later confirmed. Credit: University of Rhode Island/Melissa Omand

by Stephanie Schollaert Uz, North Pacific Ocean

Shark attack. Rough weather. Intermittent technology. These are just a few of the challenges of shipboard research on the R/V Falkor. Yet the science continues with unbelievable tenacity on the 28-day Sea to Space Particle Investigation.

When Melissa Omand’s sediment traps, deployed to measure sinking particles, were returned from the sea bent and broken at the end of the first 4-day sampling site, she was briefly discouraged. She wondered whether her experiment to collect data with an iPhone was jeopardizing established collection methods. The iPhone housing is big and heavy and could have swung into the other three sediment-collecting tubes and smashed them.

Then one of the line handlers showed me a shard that got stuck in his finger—later revealed under the microscope of the resident taxonomist as part of a shark’s tooth and confirmed by shark experts ashore. Shark bite marks were also noticed on the more rugged, indefatigable wire walker. Several ship’s crew volunteered their time and talent to rebuild the sediment traps stronger and better. After that, the refurbished sediment traps survived deployment and collected stunning data at the next station.

Hemispheric view by Suomi-NPP VIIRS on Feb 9, 2017 in true color. Clouds and atmospheric particles are white; ocean is blue. The ship’s track is shown in the red line. Station M is our last sampling site. Credit: NASA/Norman Kuring

Hemispheric view by Suomi-NPP VIIRS on Feb 9, 2017 in true color. Clouds and atmospheric particles are white; ocean is blue. The ship’s track is shown in the red line. Station M is our last sampling site. Credit: NASA/Norman Kuring

As those on the U.S. West Coast are well aware, the past month has seen a constant procession of low pressure weather systems across the Pacific. One of the main goals of this cruise is to collect data that can later be used to tune ocean color satellite measurements. Rough weather at sea is more than an inconvenience: it makes it unsafe to use the light sensor we put in the water to compare to satellite measurements. Persistent clouds obscure satellite coverage of our area—making match-ups between in-water measurements and satellite data impossible anyway.

To avoid the bad weather and high seas we would have encountered on our original planned cruise track nearly straight north, the ship’s captain worked closely with the chief scientist to revise our plans and head east.

As we started work at our second site, however, we lost all internet. The ship’s IT coordinator found a broken satellite antenna that caused the internet not to work during certain ship headings. Again, the captain worked closely with the science party to modify the course track for on-site sampling that would also permit internet connectivity.

In spite of everyone’s best attempts to maximize our bandwidth, we still experienced repeated drop-outs during the NASA Earth Facebook live event we conducted from the ship on Feb 6. It felt like the movie Groundhog Day, with repeated re-introductions as we reconnected to the event again and again. Thankfully, we had help from NASA JPL colleagues ashore and an engaged audience who remained online and sent excellent questions and follow-up questions afterward.

Another challenge was finding and recovering the sediment traps from the second sampling site as it was issuing a weak and intermittent GPS signal between large waves. All hands on deck kept look-out during the wind and rain until its little orange top was spotted. The crew skillfully maneuvered the ship along-side and caught the instrument’s yellow handling line to lift it back aboard with a crane.

IMG_0673

In heavy seas, Philipp Günther, Falkor’s chief officer, retrieves sediment traps that were deployed around 150 meters deep to collect sinking ocean particles. Credit: NASA/Stephanie Schollaert Uz

Over and over again during this expedition, we experience challenges that are solved through teamwork between the science party and ship’s crew. The novel data being collected here would not be possible without this persistence and collaboration.

Participating in this field campaign to improve the quality of ocean color satellite measurements are five of us from NASA Goddard’s Ocean Color group, plus NASA- and NSF-funded scientists from other organizations. In addition to improving current satellite measurements, data collected here will assist in the development of algorithms for NASA’s first hyper spectral satellite, Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE), scheduled to launch in 2022.

R/V Falkor ship-time is generously provided by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, a philanthropic organization led by Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy Schmidt. For #Sea2Space cruise track and updates: https://schmidtocean.org/cruise/sea-space-particle-investigation/

Why Ocean Particles? Why NASA?

Posted on by .

by Stephanie Schollaert Uz / NORTHERN PACIFIC OCEAN /

Rolling with the waves on the research vessel Falkor, we’re searching for particles—primarily microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton, which play an important role in supporting life on Earth. Ocean phytoplankton come in many sizes, colors and types. This diversity determines their roles in the marine food web and our ability to distinguish them from Earth-observing satellites.

With improved optical instrumentation, we hope to regularly monitor their unique spectral signatures, or colors, from space. The collection of high-quality measurements taken at sea is essential for achieving that goal. Among the international team of 14 scientists and an artist-at-sea aboard this ship, many are using new technology and methods for the first time.

Zrinka Ljubesic, University of Zagreb, is observing phytoplankton and swimming zooplankton in sea water samples through the microscope. Credit: Stephanie Schollaert Uz/NASA

Zrinka Ljubesic, University of Zagreb, is observing phytoplankton and swimming zooplankton in sea water samples through a microscope. Credit: Stephanie Schollaert Uz/NASA

We sailed out of Honolulu on Thursday, January 26, and will end the expedition, called the Sea to Space Particle Investigation, in Portland, Oregon, next month. Our first stop to test instruments and collect samples was near the Marine Optical Buoy (MOBY) off Lanai, which has been measuring ocean color to calibrate NASA satellite data for 20 years.

Cloud-free skies at MOBY meant that I could take indirect measurements of atmospheric particles using a hand-held sun photometer. Knowing what’s in the sky is important for correcting satellite measurements of ocean color. About 90 percent of the signal satellites receive comes from the atmosphere. These sky measurements may also provide clues about the presence of mineral aerosols that fertilize phytoplankton blooms when they fall out of the air.

Hawaiian Islands in green with chlorophyll concentrations contoured at 0.1 mg m-3 intervals from the Suomi-NPP VIIRS at 22:54 UTC on Jan 27, 2017. The ship’s track is shown in the red line. Credit: Norman Kuring/NASA

The Hawaiian Islands are shaded green, and chlorophyll concentrations are contoured at intervals of 0.1 milligrams per cubic meter from the Suomi-NPP VIIRS at 22:54 UTC on Jan 27, 2017. The ship’s track is shown in the red line. Credit: Norman Kuring/NASA

Participating in this field campaign to improve the quality of ocean color satellite measurements are five of us from NASA Goddard’s Ocean Color group, including chief scientist Ivona Cetinic, plus NASA-funded scientists from other organizations. In addition to improving current satellite measurements, data collected here will assist in the development of algorithms for NASA’s first hyper spectral satellite called Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem, or PACE, scheduled to launch in 2022.

Scientists in yellow hard hats: Colleen Durkin (left) of Moss Landing Marine Lab and Melissa Omand of the University of Rhode Island (URI) ready sediment traps assisted by R/V Falkor crew members. The aluminum block below one trap includes an iPhone camera programmed for time lapse image collection by Omand and Noah Walcutt, both of URI, for use in holographic research by Ben Knorlein, Brown University. Credit: Zrinka Ljubesic, University of Zagreb

Scientists in yellow hard hats: Colleen Durkin (left) of Moss Landing Marine Lab and Melissa Omand of the University of Rhode Island (URI) ready sediment traps assisted by R/V Falkor crew members. The aluminum block below one trap includes an iPhone camera programmed for time lapse image collection by Omand and Noah Walcutt, also of URI, for use in holographic research by Ben Knorlein, Brown University. Credit: Zrinka Ljubesic, University of Zagreb

The expedition also includes scientists funded by the National Science Foundation who are conducting basic research into the variability of sinking particles, sometimes called marine snow. Two different types of sediment traps are being deployed to capture sinking particles, such as fecal pellets, aggregates and shells from certain phytoplankton, that will be identified under the microscope in the lab and through DNA sequencing.

A video clip of the Wirewalker being deployed from the RV/Falkor. Credit: Stephanie Schollaert Uz/NASA

Meg Estapa of Skidmore College uses sediment traps mounted to a neutrally buoyant float that drifts around 150 meters deep near the base of the wind-mixed surface layer. Melissa Omand of the University of Rhode Island (URI) has sediment traps that also drift at a depth of 150 meters but is tethered to a surface buoy. A Wirewalker cycles up and down between them every 10 minutes measuring physical and biological indicators such as temperature, oxygen and phytoplankton fluorescence.

The traps go with the flow for four days as we sample the ocean down to 500 meters deep in a 20-square-kilometer box around them. The crew is extremely helpful and supportive of our research—even when it involves such duties as collecting water samples in the dead of night.

R/V Falkor ship time is generously provided by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, a philanthropic organization led by Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy Schmidt. Ironically, the main challenge is insufficient internet bandwidth. We’re all struggling to maintain minimal connection to the networked world. To distract us from our separation anxiety, however, is an incredible neverending menu of amazing food that one scientist compared to a wedding feast.

For #Sea2Space cruise track and updates: https://schmidtocean.org/cruise/sea-space-particle-investigation/

Ready to Go to Sea? Heck, Yes!

Posted on by .

by Stephanie Schollaert Uz / GREENBELT, MARYLAND /

On January 20, as our nation’s capitol kicks into full inauguration frenzy, I’ll be catching a flight in the pre-dawn hours and heading west to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I have never been more excited to head out to sea! Guilt about leaving my family for a month-long research cruise aside, I have been studying the ocean from a chair for too long and jumped at the chance to participate in this expedition.

Carlie Wiener of the Schmidt Ocean Institute with a Lego model of the research vessel Falkor, the platform for the ‘Sea to Space Particle Investigation’. Credit: Stephanie Schollaert Uz

Carlie Wiener of the Schmidt Ocean Institute with a Lego model of the research vessel Falkor, the platform for the Sea to Space Particle Investigation. Credit: Stephanie Schollaert Uz

I spent the early part of my career at sea plying the North and South Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea: first as a Naval meteorology and oceanography officer and then as an oceanography researcher. More recently, my research has involved the nearly continuous view that satellites afford. Satellites are great because they view the entire ocean, nearly every day! But they only see the surface of the ocean, and sometimes we need to know what’s happening underneath, in the interior of the ocean, or how small-scale dynamics in the ocean are related to the surface signatures that we can detect from satellites. That is why NASA needs measurements collected at sea, and I’m looking forward to getting a close look at all the new in situ instruments in action.

The main goals of this expedition are to observe and characterize ocean phytoplankton (kinds, size, function) and sinking carbon. Measurements we collect about particles in the ocean and atmosphere will be used to tune, or ‘ground-truth,’ ocean color satellite observations. There is a lot of diversity among microscopic phytoplankton, and NASA is designing a satellite to distinguish major kinds. Data from this cruise will contribute toward that effort.

FlowCam microscopic images of diatoms (left), dinoflagellates (center & right). Credit: Harry Nelson/Fluid Imaging Technologies, Inc.

FlowCam microscopic images of diatoms (left), and dinoflagellates (center & right). Credit: Harry Nelson/Fluid Imaging Technologies, Inc.

How have I been preparing for this field campaign? Personally, I began preparing months ago by re-reading “The Never-ending Story” by Michael Ende with my ten-year-old, as the ship is named for the luckdragon Falkor. I visited my dentist and doctor to avoid any distraction in the middle of the ocean by a minor illness, such as a toothache, or a major emergency that could cost the expedition precious days at sea. More recently I have been collecting proper gear for the weather and conditions we expect between the tropics and North Pacific: water-proof overalls and jacket, steel-toed boots. Friends who’ve been to sea more recently also advised packing other details I’d forgotten, like shower shoes. With all the wintertime weather we could get, I’m packing motion-sickness medicine in case of high seas.

My sea bag - no space to store suitcases at sea – packed for the tropics and the foul weather anticipated in the North Pacific. Credit: Stephanie Schollaert Uz/NASA

My sea bag – no space to store suitcases at sea – packed for the tropics and the foul weather anticipated in the North Pacific. Credit: Stephanie Schollaert Uz/NASA

Professional preparations also started months ago. My scientific contribution to the campaign will include monitoring physical variables (temperatures, currents, sea-surface heights) that indicate dynamical processes bringing nutrients from the depths toward the surface ocean to fertilize phytoplankton blooms. I’ve been talking to colleagues at NASA Goddard, JPL and NOAA who provide continuous near-real-time satellite and computer model information for this region that we can access during the cruise.

When we have cloud-free skies, I will take measurements of atmospheric particles using a hand-held sun photometer loaned to me by the Maritime Aerosol Network group at NASA Goddard. Knowing what’s in the sky is important for correcting satellite measurements of the ocean’s surface – about 90% of the signal satellites receive comes from the atmosphere. These sky measurements may also provide clues about the presence of mineral aerosols that fertilize phytoplankton blooms when they fall out of the air.

Current sea-surface temperatures with the approximate track of the R/V Falkor from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest. Credit: PO.DAAC/NASA

Current sea-surface temperatures with the approximate track of the R/V Falkor from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest. Credit: PO.DAAC/NASA

I’m also helping the field campaign with science communication through my role as communications coordinator for the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) Project – NASA’s first hyperspectral ocean color satellite. In conjunction with our hosts at the Schmidt Ocean Institute, we’re planning news stories, blogs and events on social media such as a Facebook Live event on @NASAEarth, February 6, at 2pm EST. Data collected during this field campaign and several others (e.g. CORAL, NAAMES, KORUS-OC) will be used to improve products derived from satellite measurements.

How am I feeling? Ready for this adventure and extremely grateful to the Schmidt Ocean Institute for sponsoring this research, to the scientists who wrote the proposal that was selected for this expedition, especially Ivona Cetinic, the chief scientist, who invited me to participate, and to my family for enabling me to take this month-long trip. Mostly though, I’m grateful to live in a society that values scientific inquiry and exploration. The more we know about Earth and the dynamic processes that support life, the better we can predict and prepare.