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All Ashore That’s Going Ashore…

August 16, 2012

By Eric Hanneman

Here it is, the close of the first day on the boat. Already it seems like the time is going too fast. One reason is that there is so much to learn. The NOAA ship Nancy Foster is 187 feet long, and she is carrying her maximum compliment of crew, and gear. There are 37 people aboard, which includes the 22 people from NOAA needed to run the boat 24 hours a day,  and the 15 members of the scientific crew. Besides the Co-Chief Scientists, Dr. Steve Ross and Dr. Sandra Brooke, there are teams from the US Geological Survey, and the ROV crew from the University of Connecticut. Also on this international expedition and sharing a cabin with me are three other guys, two of whom are from the Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and the other from Texas A&M University. There is another scientist from the United Kingdom (Bangor University), and the rest of us are from the United States.

The goals of the mission are many, and a very aggressive agenda was established, with the full knowledge that unforeseen circumstances will certainly arise that will cause the schedule to change. It pays to be flexible! There is so much gear on the aft part of the main deck that it is hard to walk around in some places. Some of that gear was difficult to load and secure, so we were delayed leaving by about 4 hours. This means that we will get to our first station, over Norfolk Canyon, around 4am on Friday.

Aft Main Deck

The aft main deck of the Nancy Foster is loaded with scientific gear. Photo by Steve Ross.

It will be there that the first instruments will be lowered to the sea floor. Each about the size of small cars, these landers, known as BOBO and ALBEX, are part of the expedition’s experiment to measure the amount of terrestrial runoff and organic sediment that reach the bottom. BOBO stands for Benthic Boundary Layer Observatory, and ALBEX for Autonomous Lander for Biological Experiments. These landers have been configured for their current job, which is to gather sediment in 12 small bottles for a year, a month at a time. Each month a carousel will spin slightly and position a new bottle under the collector. These measurements are important for understanding the biological productivity of the canyons and how nutrients flow up and down the canyons. The landers will also take readings of conductivity, salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, temperature, pressure, current, and turbidity for a year. Then next year another crew will come back and retrieve the landers by signaling them to drop their ballast weight, which will cause them to pop to the surface.

On the deck are two other landers for the Baltimore canyon, and two smaller mooring landers (one for each canyon), a Box Core machine for bringing up samples of sediment, two CTDs for measuring conductivity, salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen and depth, and the ROV. I will be writing more about this equipment and the science behind it in the days to come.

My first night sleeping on a boat was last night, and it was no problem being tied up at the dock, with only the buzzing wings of mosquitoes to create a breeze. Now however, the Nancy Foster is rocking back and forth, and my berth in the lower deck near the bow also comes with the sound effects of water splashing against the hull. The adventure continues….

2 Comments leave one →
  1. lizbaird permalink
    August 16, 2012 12:27 pm

    Glad to hear that you all are steaming towards your site. When you get there at 4 am will you try to deploy any gear? or will you wait until morning and start with an ROV dive?

    • ehhanneman permalink
      August 16, 2012 6:40 pm

      We will be deploying some gear. The whole thing depends upon conditions, but the CDT will likely go down. Then we may launch the first of the 3 landers going into the canyon. There is some hope for an ROV dive, but it is unlikely.

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