Tag Archives: research

Video games for grad students

Meet the Pan and Tilt.

The Pan and Tilt is a crucial part of our shipboard camera system.  It corrects for most of the ship’s pitching and rolling motion, keeping the camera trained at the same angle at the ocean surface.  This allows us to relate pixel coordinates to real-world coordinates, so we can measure the length of the whitecaps (along the crest, perpendicular to their motion) and the speed of the crest (in the direction of motion).  These are the necessary measurements for our remote breaking calculations.

The Pan and Tilt is driven from a Playstation controller while watching the output from a computer screen, so it kind of feels like an expensive video game system. This is where anyone who has ever played video games with me is saying, “maybe someone else should be in charge of the Pan and Tilt…”  Props to Alex for the Pan and Tilt wiring (not quite finished):

The Pan and Tilt carries two fixed-focus cameras (black with green tape near front of housing), one with wide field of view to capture large breaking events and one with narrow field of view to resolve the small whitecaps.  In addition, it carries a sonic anemometer (a wind-measuring instrument) with GPS unit (not shown).  This gives additional information about our camera orientation, as well as wind information.  It also contains a heater and fan to prevent condensation and fogging.  The shipboard camera, wind, and GPS data will be key to my eventual dissertation, so this Pan and Tilt system is near and dear to my heart, but it is just one of the many instruments we’ll be using on this cruise.  Stay tuned for more!

– Mike


APL’s Situation Room

We had a conference call with the New Horizon folks today.  Look familiar?

To give you an idea of how compressed and crazy our new schedule is, we had a similar meeting with the crew of the R/V Thompson in March.  Like I said, we’re improvising a little.  One main topic of conversation is where our camera system will be placed on the new ship.  More on that in a later post.  Two weeks to departure, there’s work to do!

The cast of characters

This experiment is a huge effort, with plenty of work to go around.  I’ll just give an introduction to some of the recurring names that you’ll be hearing a lot about.  There will be more to come as we meet with the crew and technicians onboard the R/V New Horizon.

Credit to Heather Dillon Photography.

Jim Thomson: My advisor, and lead scientist on the ship.  At home talking science with professor and students or talking shop with the techs.  Jim came to UW Applied Physics Lab in 2006 after completing a Ph.D. at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  He has a joint appointment with the Civil and Environmental Engineering department.

Credit to Heather Dillon Photography.






Joe Talbert: Field engineer.  Joe and Alex (see below) basically keep the lab up and running.  They designed and built most of what we will deploy on this trip.  Joe joined the lab in 2009 after working for Outward Bound.








Alex De Klerk: Field engineer.  In addition to their usefulness around the lab, Joe and Alex provide much needed expertise and manpower during the experiments.  Alex worked part time at the lab starting in 2007 while attending UW for materials science and engineering, and joined full-time after graduating in 2010.

So where is Station Papa?  Right here. 50° north latitude and 145° west longitude (depth 4220 meters). That’s right, it’s just the intersection of a major latitude and longitude line. You have to admit that’s pretty cool.  Did I use this post just to practice adding pictures to the blog?  Maybe.

About this cruise…

So here’s the deal:

For the past year I’ve been doing research on deep-water waves at UW.  Specifically, I use digital video of the sea surface to track and measure breaking waves.  When waves break, they transfer some of the energy of the waves to the water below the surface.  Breaking waves also trap (or “entrain”) air, and create foam.  If you’ve ever noticed “whitecaps” on the ocean, you’ve seen this effect.  For the same reason that whitecaps are visible to your eye, they can be recognized by a computer.  My work this past year has been to improve a method introduced by my advisor, Jim Thomson, to track breaking waves and relate the amount of breaking to the energy lost from the waves due to breaking.  Don’t worry, there will be more posts later where I attempt to clarify all that.  For now, let’s get to the fun stuff.

So all this work I’ve been doing for a year?  That data was given to me.  It came from a week or so spent in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (the body of water that connects the Pacific Ocean with the Puget Sound near Seattle) in February of 2011, before I had even arrived at UW.  While it’s been fun looking at waves from my computer screen and everything, it’s not really the same as being on the ship.  That’s where this next cruise comes in.  We want to expand the methods I vaguely outlined above to the “open ocean,” out beyond the influence of land.  So, we are journeying to Ocean Station Papa, one of the oldest oceanic time series sites.  We will be in the North Pacific for three weeks (September 26 – October 15) this Fall hoping to find as many big waves as we can.  Don’t worry, I’ll pack the Dramamine.  Because this is my first time on a ship for more than a few hours, and because this cruise will be the source of most of the data for my dissertation, I am very excited (and a little nervous) for September 26th to arrive.  I’ll fill you in on more of the details of the trip over the next few weeks,

There’s one more thing I haven’t mentioned yet.  See, we were actually scheduled to do all of this later in the Fall, from late October through early November.  That was before our ship, the R/V Thomas G. Thompson (“the Tommy”), started having engine problems.  Turns out, the ship’s z-drive is badly damaged, and needs a new steering pipe (whatever that means), leaving her out of commission until December.  This is bad news.  Luckily, we managed to secure time on a new ship, the R/V New Horizon.  What’s the problem?  In moving our cruise earlier by about a month, our lab has been scrambling to meet the time deadline.  There’s a lot that goes into planning one of these cruises, and being told your departure date is in three weeks instead of a month later, well let’s just say we’ve been using the word “triage” often.  Right now, it looks like everything can get done in time, there just might be a little more improvising.  And I’ll be here to document all the little crises and dilemmas.

So thanks for reading!  Hopefully I’ll do the trip justice.  And three or four (or six) years from now, when I’m sitting in front a computer and banging my head on the desk, I’ll be able to look back at this blog and remember the time getting a Ph.D. was new and exciting.  More posts soon!

– Mike