Mealtime – Breakfast

Today I am going to walk you through a typical day of breakfast, lunch, and dinner onboard the R/V Thomas G. Thompson.

Breakfast starts at 7:15 am local time, and options usually include things like fruit salad, eggs, sausage, bacon, oatmeal, cereal, pancakes, and muffins. For someone like me who usually sticks to a light breakfast, this is pretty overwhelming. Today I went with pancakes, sausage, and a strip of bacon. I think it looks like the “part of a good breakfast” image from a cereal advertisement.

– Mike


Two Years of Growth

Current Position: 48 N, 147 W

Yesterday we recovered the buoy I helped to deploy back in October, 2012. On that trip, we discovered that, in addition to measuring waves, these buoys make a great home for gooseneck barnacles, and they were back in abundance this time around. The before-and-after photo below shows the impressive number of these slimy crustaceans clinging to the buoy, which contributed significantly to its weight. This growth, generally known as “bio-fouling,” is something that needs to be considered for any instrument or equipment spending time in the ocean.

All of which has got me thinking about my own growth since that last cruise. Not many people have the luxury of getting a second chance at an experiment, but I think it should be more of a priority.
Collectively, we have improved upon so much our methodology since 2012, both experimentally and analytically, that a lot of what was done before seems terribly crude. Personally, I have passed several personal milestones in that time (Masters degree, qualifying exams, conferences, papers, etc), but more important than that, I feel, is the development of my understanding and appreciation of the nuances of what we are researching.

In other news, since we have finished the mooring work at Station Papa, we are transitioning to the “storm chasing” phase of the mission. “Chasing” is a bit of misnomer, since the ship can only travel at 12 knots, and the storms out here tend to be large and slow. Still, we have been looking closely at the wind and wave forecasts, and trying to position ourselves in the path of what looks like the biggest waves. There’s nothing extreme on the horizon, but I’ll keep you updated in the coming days.

– Mike


Current Location: 50 N, 145 W

Happy New Year from Station Papa. My resolution for this year is to make a bunch of quality videos of whitecaps so that I can finish this PhD at some point. So far I am off to a great start! As a side note, I am a little bitter that with this cruise taking place over the new year, I will now have to start keeping track of “year” as a variable in all of my codes (the name of this post refers to the way the date gets represented in our files).

An unfortunate snafu while spooling line onto the winch last night resulted in an extra day spent on station today. Picture a rat’s nest made from a mile-long extension cord, and you wouldn’t be too far off. Fortunately for me, while all that was getting sorted out, I was able to take the day capturing some great video of the waves.

The video measurement strategy we are using now is called stereo video. The basic idea is this: when you take a picture of an object or a scene, you can’t really know the sizes or depths of anything in the photo. Your eye/brain combination is really good at using context clues to figure out that a photo is of, say, a 6 inch toy elephant and not the real thing, but those sorts of tasks are difficult to program into a computer. On the other hand, imagine taking two different pictures of the same scene, as though from left and right eyes. Now you can resolve the depth ambiguity, so long as you know the separation of the two cameras. You can test this for yourself: First, hold a finger out in front of your nose and take turns closing your left and right eye. Notice the way your finger “moves” relative to whatever is behind it in the background. Now hold your finger out an arms length from you, and repeat the eye switching. You should see that your finger moves less at the longer distance. That’s the basic idea behind stereo imaging — you figure out the depth of a picture by noting how much the objects in it “move” when glimpsed from a different angle. And of course there’s a lot of details and potential pitfalls that I am glossing over.

As you might imagine, the application of stereo video to waves is pretty powerful. If done correctly, a stereo camera system can fully reveal the three-dimensional structure of the wavy sea surface, at several frames per second. We are by no means the first person to make use of this method in studying waves, but we have some new ideas of what to do with these measurements that hopefully will prove fruitful. Seeing the data come in, I am very optimistic it will at least give us something to talk about.

– Mike

Arrival at Station Papa

Current Location: 50° N, 145° W (!)

We arrived at Station Papa in the early hours of this final day of 2014. Today was spent putting out the replacement wave buoy, which is more complicated than you might think. Many of the components of the mooring are heavy, particularly the 3000 lb anchor. Meanwhile, the buoy itself is somewhat fragile and definitely not cheap. It becomes a sort of puzzle to get everything off the ship without putting the instrument or any of the crew in danger. Hopefully the photos below give you an idea of the deployment operations.

Even though my research doesn’t make use of this particular buoy data, I am proud to be part of the operation to maintain our presence at Station Papa. Long-term and open ocean wave measurements of this sort are very rare, but in high demand. Consider just how much of our vast oceans is not nearby to any coastline, yet there are hundreds of well-maintained wave buoys in coastal areas. That all makes sense from a practical perspective — coasts are where the people are — but scientifically it leaves much to be desired. That’s where our buoy comes in. The data is all available to the public, even to you (if I could access the internet I would put the link here). And for wave forecasters, climate modelers, researchers using satellites, basically anyone looking for measurements of waves to compare with, our data is a truly valuable resource.

Tomorrow we pick up the two-year-old buoy, likely covered in barnacles, and drop another moored instrument as a favor to some collaborators at NOAA. There’s no alcohol allowed on the ship, but a milk-and-cookie toast would be more fitting anyway given the amount we’re all getting fed here (more on that another time). Until then, so long 2014, hello 2015!

– Mike

On The Move

Current Location: 49° 35′ N, 139° 17′ W

We have been in transit to Station Papa since Saturday afternoon, and are projecting our arrival on site for early tomorrow morning. Transit days can be rather boring, but this down time has given me the chance to look over some of the video from Saturday. I am excited that even in these early stages of analysis, the data quality looks fantastic.

The science crew spend most our work time in the main lab. Below is a photo of the lab area. Note the obligatory ping pong table in the foreground. I do sometimes find it difficult to work when I could just play ping pong instead. And yes, it does add a new challenge to the game that the boat is constantly rolling with the waves.

The next picture shows my workspace. I like to think that one’s importance can be seen in the number of screens at his or her desk. The general topic of my PhD is on measuring waves with ship-based video. Therefore my role on this cruise is as the camera guy. During data collection, I am hovering around these displays as the video frames come in, checking that the cameras are operating and tweaking the settings as needed. In the meantime, I have been trying to get a jump on processing the video. Uncompressed video is notoriously costly in terms of storage — we are anticipating producing nearly 4 terrabytes (4000 gigs!) of video during this cruise. Which reminds, me I better get back to that. More to come.

– Mike

Powerful Waves

Current Location: 48° 46′ N, 128° 46′ W

From what I can tell, almost all PhD students experience times when one’s own research appears so small and limited that it is mistaken for being inconsequential. I myself have had this feeling on many occasions. Now is not one of those times.

What I tend to forget, sitting at my desk, reading journal papers in all their excruciating academic prose, is just how incredibly consequential waves become when you are actually on a ship. Anything that has the power to toss a thousand-ton floating building around like a bath toy deserves to be studied, probably by wiser minds than my own.

When you are at sea, you can’t help but contemplate the waves. They can make you miserable, such that you find yourself dreading each stomach-wrenching drop from crest to trough. Or they can keep you up at night, crashing against the ship’s hull with such force that everything onboard shudders violently, including your body.

Spending time on a ship without noticing the waves would be like spending time in Seattle without noticing the rain. You cannot ignore them. Anyway, here’s one picture from a successful day of data collection. I swear I will describe what we’re doing out here in more detail at some point.

– Mike

Test, test…

Current Location: 48° 38′ N, 126°, 59′ W

Having spent most of yesterday and all of last night traveling “full steam ahead” at roughly 12 knots, we have already exited Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca and have made it to the Pacific Ocean, completely out of sight of all land.

I had forgotten just how slow the internet is on the ship. Satellite data services are expensive, unless you are just passively receiving data (as in satellite television, radio, or GPS). Therefore, internet bandwidth is extremely limited on the ship, and email is much less costly than using a web browser.

Fortunately, wordpress (the platform for this blog), allows me to post to the blog via email, so I am currently putting this feature to test. Unfortunately, even email can be slow if it contains attachments like photos or videos, so I will have to be stingy with those until we get on dry land. But for now, here is one photo from our departure, showing our farewell party at the Ballard locks.

Thanks to everyone who came to see us off!

– Mike