Saturday, May 27, 2017

Postlude with a briefing to Princeton colleagues

This post is from 27 May 2017. 

I arrived to Newark early morning on 10 May.  I was able to reach my Princeton home prior to Francisco and Adi (my son and wife) heading off to school and work.  It was incredibly sweet to see them after such distance in space and time.  

I went to the May Faire at Francisco's school on 13 May. It was then that I realized just how surreal it felt to be on dry land.  Life on a ship in the Southern Ocean is so very different to life on land. I also found the absence of time to hang out with people to be rather odd. Everyone seemed to be in such a rush, or at least that is how I saw it. 

After a bit more than two weeks at home, I am presumably immersed again in Princeton life.  However,  elements of the cruise remain. When responding to the frequent query: "How do you feel about the cruise?",  my favorite answer, which came without much thought, is "I saw a piece of my soul out there".  The cruise exposed something within me that was seemingly dormant or forgotten.  It is as if my DNA slapped me in the face and insisted that I wake up.  Whether the slap succeeded is another question...

This is my final posting to the blog.  I sincerely thank all who encouraged me to continue posting throughout the cruise.  Your feedback offered fresh energy and ideas. It was truly a joy to share these experiences in words and photos.

A presentation to GFDL colleagues

Sonya and I were warmly welcomed back to GFDL on 11 May.  We were encouraged to share some of our experiences to the lab, particularly before the freshness washed away. So on 18 May we each gave a short presentation.  The following slides are an edited version of my presentation. Some slides show photos from previous blog posts, and some offer new words and images.

The lower right image is from a 10min video of a VMP launch.  Unfortunately, it is too large for this blog. 
See an animation of Boaty's 3rd mission by clicking here. Or see a montage of Boaty's deployment and recovery by clicking here.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Rough seas on our way home, and an engine room tour

This post is from Thursday, 4 May 2017 at 47S in the South Atlantic

The CTD cast numbered 120, taken to more than 5000 metres, was our final ocean measurement for the cruise. That happened on 1 May to the west of Coronation Island in the South Scotia Sea.  Before I knew it, we had left the Scotia Sea and crossed north of the southern tip of South America as we ''steamed'' north towards Montevideo, Uruguay. We disembark in ''Monte'' and go our separate ways.  Most will fly home.  But others will do some touring around South America. 

This post offers some experiences from our way north, as well as some personal reflections on this final leg of the cruise.  

Sequence of photos from Monkey Island above the navigation bridge.  The winds were roughly 50 knots and swells reaching eight metres (the next day we experienced 60 knot winds and 12 metre swell). It was quite a rush up there, to say the least, as the winds howled and the ship rocked and rolled.  Paul, Eleanor, Rob, and I were having a wild ride. This wave in particular reached spray all the way to us, as did many others. Note that as the water rushed onto the deck, it soon drained off the ship, since all of the lower decks had the water-tight doors shut.


Rough seas

Soon after we crossed the latitude of South America’s southern tip, it became clear that the mild weather experienced in recent weeks working in the Orkney Passage and Scotia Sea was in exchange for serious winds (upwards of 60 knots) and waves (upwards of 10 metre swells) on our way north.  There are a couple of storms in our region, sending us rather interesting weather and huge waves for our transit. Last night was perhaps the toughest night of the cruise for sleep, at least for me. And now, writing this blog, I am looking at a seabird glide with the ship as it negotiates the swells. It seems unfazed by the massive weather happening all around.    

Our steam north has been partly accompanied by westerly to northerly winds (i.e., winds from the west and north, blowing to the east and south).  This wind alignment generally accords to the alignment of the waves and swells, though not always. When waves hit the ship from the front, the ship pitches up and down from the front to the rear.  When waves hit the ship on the side, we roll left and right.  Both motions are tough to negotiate when standing.  But rolling can be tough even while seated.

My bed is oriented so that big rolls really make me move, sometimes prompting me to hold onto the mattress to keep me from falling out of bed. Indeed, at one point during the night, I nearly felt the bed release from underneath me, with air separating me from the mattress. I found myself becoming somewhat adept at anticipating a major pitch/roll event.  A few minutes of quiet are inevitably followed by a major “hold on” event.  A lifted ship will soon return down again, rocking and rolling as it settles into the waves.

Everything on my desk is inside the drawers.  The cabinet doors are jammed shut with a piece of paper, so the doors will not slide open one way only to a moment later slide in the other direction. My cabin door jostles as if someone is trying to open it.  While seated at my desk even now, with far fewer swells than last night, I sometimes need to hold onto the desk to avoid being thrown to the floor of sliding across the room. 

Swell as seen from outside of the UIC.  These swell reached upward of eight metres from crest to valley. Note the heavy winds ripping spray off the tops.
Since we completed science measurements on 1 May, we have been holding an hour of science talks before dinner.  I gave one on Tuesday, along with Jack.  Yesterday was Christian’s turn, and today was for Alberto and Eleanor.  These science talks have been an enjoyable opportunity to share our work and to field friendly, if not provocative, comments and suggestions.  But the logistics are nontrivial when the ship is undergoing major motions. In the science library where we meet, there is a large table with chairs.  During the talks, the speaker must remain seated in order to remain upright.  At one point, a few of us rolled off chairs, falling flat, only to rise again as if nothing much had happened.  It is amazing how a new norm can be defined among the chaos of a pitching and rolling ship. 

Another sequence from Monkey Island. This wave really got us wet.
For the family members reading this post, please note that these sorts of roiling seas may seem frightening.  Indeed, they would be from smaller boat.  But the JC Ross is incredibly stable.  Motion is inevitable as we move through the swells and waves. It can make movement around the ship difficult to negotiate.  But the motion is something to respect rather than to fear.  I admit this statement is easier said than practiced. Nonetheless, I have learned to trust the ship after going through these storms during the cruise.  


Engine room tour

Sandy, Alek, and Chris in the engine control room. It is really am impressive place, the heart of the ship's controls and functioning. (photo from Rob Templeton)
Yesterday, 3 May, two of the ship’s engineers (Chris and Steve) gave eight of us a tour of the engine room and other machinery on the ship. It was an impressive display of machinery, design, and hard work.  We got to see the propeller shaft; the incinerator; the many faces of the engines themselves; the control room, and places where “on the way” science instruments are stored.  I quickly learned why so many of the ship’s crew have dirty hands and work clothes, as the spaces are tight and there are many opportunities to rub against greasy metal machines.

As well as being impressed by the engineering marvels of this ship, I garnered a greater appreciation for the work done by the ship’s crew, so much of it unseen by the scientists.  These people do an amazing job of keeping us safe, comfortable, fed, and moving, while offering us the necessary tools to do science under incredibly difficult logistical situations.  

Jack standing next to the propeller shaft.  It is an amazingly quiet engine overall, due to some design features that promote the ship's use for biological oceanography where quiet is rather useful.  Also note that the propeller can turn as slow as one revolution per minute.  This rather slow speed is useful for doing the physical oceanography we conducted, where staying in one place or slowly moving forward or backward are rather important.  (photo from Rob Templeton)
The crew works for nearly four months at a time, supporting each of the different science teams that take the ship towards new locations for new tasks.  The previous science team was largely a French group, and they spent most of their time near the ice in the southern part of the Weddell Sea. Our science team then took over in March for eight weeks.  After reaching Montevideo, the crew will fly home, swapping chores with a new crew as the ship continues its missions into the Atlantic and the Arctic during the summer. It will then return to the south as the northern autumn arrives, pursuing yet more science in the Southern Ocean.

Sonya, Stephen, and Chris next to one of the engine room engines (I really do not know what we are looking at in detail, only that it is incredibly intricate and must be important!)  (photo from Rob Templeton)


The next few days

We should arrive to Montevideo late 7 May or early 8 May, weather and waves depending. We hope to reach calmer waters soon, especially by 6 May in time for an end of cruise barbecue planned for the back deck. Thoughts are now focused on ensuring all logistics for our transition to land-life are aligned.  Thoughts are also spent digesting the many experiences of these weeks at sea. 

This cruise has been an eye opener for me intellectually, exposing my science to new ways of thinking and doing. I have been like a kid in a candy store.  This cruise has also impacted me personally.  Work and life at sea are challenging, with longing for family and home an ever-present sense.

My exposure to unfiltered and raw natural forces was exhilarating, humbling, astonishing, and transformative.  I have been in wilderness before. But not on a ship for eight weeks in the most remote and unforgiving ocean on the planet. This experience has taught me lessons about nature and self that will live on. 

''Gratitude'' sums up my feelings now.  Gratitude that my body, mind, and spirit supported this trip, and gratitude for my family supporting me as well.  Gratitude for Alberto gifting me with a spot on this cruise as a ''floater'' scientist. And gratitude at experiencing, at least for some moments, the Southern Ocean in a manner that goes well beyond words, photos, or mental constructs. The steam towards Montevideo is the end of one long journey, but the beginning of others to come. 

Another photo of the seas seen the past three days during the northward steam in the South Atlantic. 

Stephen Griffies, in a photo from Coronation Island a day prior to leaving the Southern Ocean. The seas were much calmer there than on the way north to Montevideo!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Section K and Coronation Island

Coronation Island and clouds on the morning of 29 April 2017. Many of the wave-like clouds arise from leewaves, also known as mountain waves.

Section K measurements

Saturday, 29 April 2017 from the Scotia Sea, on the north side of the Orkney Passage. 

The air hovers around -10C with 10-20 knot winds. Sun sprinkles through overcast skies. Coronation Island shields us from open ocean swell.  Sei, minke, and gray whales poke around the ship, feeding, investigating, and cruising.

We have been near Coronation Island for the past three days. We completed a CTD section (Section K for “Kurt”) yesterday, then an overnight tow-yo completed this morning covering much of the same region. Today, we recovered Kurt’s mooring deployed on 22 March (see post then).
Kurt doing some good-luck yoga prior to recovering his mooring on 29 April 2017. Or, perhaps he is just trying to warm up in the cold air?
After recovering Kurt’s mooring, we started a deep (5400 metres) VMP/CTD station at the northern end of the section. We hope that this station will provide a bound to this very rich section, perhaps offering somewhat quiet data station as a benchmark to compare with the other more dynamically active stations. 

Grant, Andy, Paul, and Steve removing one of the mooring instruments.
After this station, we will move a bit west to tow-yo along two new sections, offered to us by the grace of fair weather and seas. These sections were chosen due to their rather steep bottom topography, thus favoring strong bottom currents and fluid instabilities of interest during this cruise.  We thus hope these tow-yos will continue to reveal elements of the rich dynamical features seen through much of our Orkney Passage cruise. The tow-yos are scheduled for completion Monday morning, 01May. That task will then conclude our roughly seven weeks of science measurements.

We are excited about the measurements.  Indeed, there are various ideas floated concerning how to dynamically interpret what we are seeing. Alas, a compelling science story will likely take months if not years. 

A bird's eye view of the mooring recovery on 29 April.

Atmospheric fluid dynamics around Coronation Island

The mountains, sea, and sky around Coronation Island express elements of fluid dynamics that would touch many a scientist’s heart and head. In one direction, cloud formations manifest leewaves emanating downstream (the ''lee'' side) from the mountains. These waves arise from atmospheric winds passing over the island’s mountains. Mountains lift stratified air through the earth’s gravity field. As the lifted air moves downstream from the mountains, gravity creates a rebound effect that sends waves down then up again.  The trail of waves is visualized by clouds that form when the rising air moves into colder air aloft, in which case water vapor condenses into ice crystals thus forming a cloud. Some clouds appear as dragons with razor sharp claws that scratch at the sky. Others form the wings of a planetary bird holding up the heavens.Still others appear as lens-like flying saucers emanating from the mountain.

On another horizon, overturning clouds break like water waves on the beach.  They reveal roiling Kelvin-Helmholtz billows that arise from stratified shear instability.  I can imagine the cat’s eye features that signal efficient stirring and mixing of air parcels in the fluid layers far above these distant mountains. 

Some other-worldly post-card images from Coronation Island. The top left shows some mountain waves reaching up from the island. The top right reveals more mountain waves reminiscent of flying saucers.  The lower panel shows signs of shear instability, with subsequent pictures (not shown) revealing the unstable waves in the dark clouds moving to the left. Each of these clouds have more technical names. These sorts of cloud views would make nearly anyone want to know more about cloud phenomenology and dynamics. 
Mountain waves (aka topographic leewaves) and Kelvin-Helmholtz billows are fluid dynamical features that also take place within the ocean.  Indeed, some of the measurements may be signals of these processes, or to other related fluid processes.  Whereas atmospheric scientists can readily view the objects of their study, deep sea oceanographers must rely in instruments sent thousands of metres into the abyss.  Interpreting these measurements requires a strong grounding in geophysical fluid mechanics. It also requires an internal visualization and imagination to nurture ideas and understanding. Some ideas are off the mark, but others hit the target, which in turn can lead to further insights and explorations.  

More images from Coronation Island.  The mountain view on the top left was our nearest neighbor, and it sits in the middle of the more panaramic view at the bottom.  The middle left shows Coronation Island as a backdrop to two or three whales cruising by the ship.  The top right is a far distant portion of the island.  I darkened the image by removing most of the light, thus revealing the white caps on a dark sea, the mountains, and the layered clouds.  This portion of the island was often shrouded in mist and fog.  Contemplating its far shores occupied a great deal of my dream time on top of Monkey Island.

Personal reflections on Coronation Island

During the past three days, the morning sun revealed distinct facets of this spectacular primordial place known as Coronation Island. Clouds shroud glacier covered mountains that spill into the sea. Light reveals for a moment the underlying geology, only to be covered minutes later by a thick cloud blown by winds swirling over rocky ridges and glacial crevasses.  Atmospheric molecules scatter short light waves, thus exposing the longer waves that offer stellar sunrises over the island and sea.

Coronation Island juts out of the sea without the hint of a shoreline. Views of the shoreline are hindered by a mirage. The mirage arises from the relatively warm 0C ocean that is cooled by the -10C windy air above.  The heat sucked out of the ocean sends radiant plumes into the atmosphere, just like hot air rising above the desert.  The mirage transforms a rocky shoreline into a vertical cliff.  It is as if this island does not wish to host any people. Instead, it prefers to be seen from afar.

The clouds and mountains seem as if from another planet.  Or perhaps this extra-terrestrial impression is just my mind unaccustomed to extreme juxtapositions of mountain, atmosphere, and ocean.  Indeed, this strangely beautiful and ancient place is foreign to my normal experience. It nonetheless has been deeply compelling and penetrating to my soul.  Sacred and mystical capture the sense that Coronation Island gives as I stare and wander and dream at its distance.

The island is just a few miles away, with a palpable presence as if I am standing on its shore. I float on a ship above its crustal roots living deep beneath the ocean where whales, penguins, and krill move through their flow field. Photos are taken, and more yet again.  Alas, to capture the presence of this place on a digital image is an elusive quest. Its deeper reality is best felt in the bones and heart.

During this cruise, I have stood for hours on the Monkey Island atop the ship’s navigation bridge. I have felt the incessant winds and been mesmerized by never-ending waves.  I have explored multitudes of skyscapes.  I have become tuned to water spouts exhaled from cruising whales and the fleeting glimpses of penguins flying through the waters. Yet perhaps more than any other vista on this trip, Coronation Island has me fixated and astonished. It has me magnetized as the sun rises over the island. Its dynamic vistas are stunning. They bring tears of amazement and gratitude.  Toes and fingers are near frost bite as I am blown open. I must return to the UIC as the next CTD is prepared.  Well, perhaps I will return to work after just a few more moments on Monkey Island. 

There were many colours to be seen. Yet for a number of photos, I found that black and white nicely focused my eye on the many shapes and textures revealed by the sea, land, and sky.