Saturday, April 28, 2007

Land Ho!!!!

After 9 days and two thousand nautical miles (2,300 miles) the call went out at 2:00 this afternoon. Wake Atoll, a tiny dot of land in the middle of the Pacific had peaked over the horizon. With a maximum elevation of 20, hers wasn't the most formidable coastline, but as our first sight of land, it was a welcome sight. The water is still the clearest blue and we now have visitors - birds, primarily boobies and petrels, keeping us company.

We had our final pre-dive emergency drill this afternoon which simulated a dive accident in which a diver was transported from a small boat back to the HI'IALAKAI and then into the re-compression chamber. All went smoothly and I can report that our patient made a full and complete recovery.

Tomorrow will be our first day of operations and we are all excited. Gear is ready, tanks are filled and checked, and the boats are ready. We will spend the next four days surveying around the island and in the lagoon. Our past experience here suggests it will be amazing. Clouds of fish of all different species, many of which we do not find in great numbers anywhere else in the Pacific. If the water off the side of the ship is any indication, visibility will be incredible and, oh, did I mention, the water temperature is 81 DEGREES!!! I have been waiting to dive without a wet-suit again for the last 2 years. SInce the last time we were in the Marianas.

Well, I haven't been sleeping too well for the past couple of nights, so I think I am going to wrap this up and hit the rack. We have an early morning tomorrow Up at 6. Pre-dive meeting at 7:30. Launch the boats by 8:00. It should be a great day.

Podcast: An Interview with the Captain

Yesterday I decided it might be fun to put together a Podcast or two to let everyone meet some of the people from our expedition. In this first interview from HI0701 we have LCDR Jon Swallow, Commanding Officer of the NOAA Ship HI'IALAKAI. In this episode captain Swallow talks about the NOAA Corps, being a commanding officer and how he came to be where he is today. I hope you will enjoy the interview as much as I did.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Dragons, Captains and Ice Cream

This evening we had a meeting from Captain C. Creature, gatekeeper to the Domain of the Golden Dragon. Meeting at the bow just before sunset we were initiated into the Silent Occult Mysteries of the Far East (over cake, ice cream and karaoke of course). Yes, for those who have not yet sailed on the HI'IALAKAI she is a Hawaiian ship and, therefore, must have a karaoke bar. Only smoothies served here, tough. This was the first voyage to the far east not just for most of the crew and scientists, but for the ship herself. An extra special occasion.

As the sun set Capt. Creature invited us into his domain with the reading of a proclamation to all sea serpents, crabs, mutineers, pirates of the yellow seas and other derelicts of far eastern seas stating that we had been found worthy and were entitled to all Rights and Privileges accorded such personages (we haven't found out exactly what those are quite yet.

The history of this particular ceremony, though not as noteworthy as that for crossing the equator dates back to at least the mid-eghteen hundreds when transpacific voyages were much less common then they are today. At that time, any transpacific crossing was likely from the United States to the Orient, the Domain of the Golden Dragon.

Of course, having now crossed both the date line and two different time zones we now have no idea either what time or what day it is, so bear with us.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Domain of the Golden Dragon

AHI in the cradleWe crossed the international date line a few minutes ago and entered the Domain of the Golden Dragon. Not quite as epic as the equator cross ceremonies of the Samoa Cruise, we have no doubt there is something planned for this evening. Possibly prior to our nighttime abandon ship drill? We've been having quite a few drills recently which helps to keep our skills up and pass the time as we cross these vast stretches of ocean. This morning we went over our SCUBA gear in preparation for Wake operations followed by a fire drill and then open water survival training.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ping Pong and the Golden Dragon

Ping Pong
Tomorrow we cross the international date line and enter the realm of the Golden Dragon. As we approach the ping pong championships are getting fierce. We've had to separate Frank and Jason several times already.

We had our first planning meeting this evening to go over operations for Wake. It looks like we will have fours days in which to complete our work and, weather permitting, we should be able to get the job done. The Oceanography team will be one of the first to deploy and will be conducting CTD casts all around the island and in the lagoon to shed light on the oceanographic conditions around the island. CTDs collect data on temperature and salinity at different depths and can give us an idea of where areas of up-welling may occur. Up-wellings can be important for the ecosystem as nutrient rich deep ocean water is brought to the surface where the nutrients help feed the rest of the food chain. The Oceanography team will also deploy an Ecological Acoustic Recorder to record the underwater sounds in the lagoon which is home to the rare Bumphead parrotfish. We hope that by recording the sounds made by this species that we can use long term recorders to get a better idea of their distribution.

Next to deploy will be the REA team. Their task will be to hit several sites set up the last time we were here in 2005 to collect data on fish, coral, invertebrate and algae populations. Using a variety of different methods, the REA team will collect data used to determine the health of these populations and how their numbers and distributions are changing over time.

Next there is the Tow team. The Tow team will conduct long-range surveys around the entirety of the island collecting data on large fish populations and the overall seafloor community. The Towboard surveys which can be up to 2 km in length allow us to observe the larger and more rare reef fishes including sharks and jacks. This survey method is the one I am most involved with and is the one that gives us the best picture of the island as a single unit.

Finally there is the mapping team. In combination with the ship, the mapping team and the AHI (the survey launch) will collect bathymetric (depth) data which will be used to make a very high resolution map of the seafloor around Wake. This picture of the seafloor is critical as it is the physical nature of the bottom that plays a large roll in structuring the fish, coral, invertebrate and algae populations that live upon it.

We've certainly got our work cut out for us.

Now back to ping pong ...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Mongolian Bar-B-Q

What a feast! Chief certainly knows how to feed us well. Tonight was Mongolian Bar-B-Q night. We had a hint this afternoon when we saw mountains of shrimp being peeled just after lunch. That's always a good sign.

As we came into the mess at 5:00 (as early as we're allowed) we were greeted with a sumptuous salad bar and mountains of fresh raw red peppers, green peppers, yellow peppers, onions, spinach, beef, chicken, shrimp, scallops and mahi mahi for the grill. This is a meal cooked to order and fit for a king. Pile everything you want into a bowl and hand it to the chief, 5 minutes later ... your very own dish. Pile it on top of fresh steamed rice and you can't ask for a happier group of sailors. Frank and Jason seem pretty stoked :-)

Going through data

The weather has kicked up a little bit today and while we still have clear skies the wind has strengthened and the chairs are sliding back and forth in the dry lab. The wind is supposed to drop back down again tomorrow which will be nice. Sliding back and forth makes typing a little challenging.

We have spent today going over data from the previous years' surveys to prepare for the upcoming mission. The map here shows the distribution of fish biomass around Wake Atoll from our previous surveys. The purple along the northern and western shores represents concentrations of grey reef sharks while the blue in the southwest represents several large schools of big-eye jacks. It will be interesting to see how our observations this year compare to the first round of data collected in 2005.

Well, it's about time for dinner out here. It looks like Mongolian B-B-Q tonight. The chief steward certainly knows how to keep us happy!

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Having congregated in one of our rooms after an amazing dinner of turkey, roast beef, steamed asparagus, mashed potatoes, salad, croissants and cheese cake ... several of us noticed the ship had stopped. Hmm, this is not normal, but no one seemed to be alarmed so we went to investigate. I quickly made my way to the bow where a small group had gathered. What were they doing? It seems that after miles and miles of empty ocean, we had come across something new...

It appears to be the float assembly from a large oceanographic instrument array. Each of these twelve yellow plastic shells contains a single tempered glass ball nearly a foot in diameter and designed to withstand the tremendous pressures at the bottom of the ocean ... nearly 14,000 pounds per square inch. Each glass ball is made of two hemispheres and is perfectly round. The smallest imperfection could cause it to implode, creating a shock wave that could shatter the others.

After several minutes of observation we decided not to pick them up as it looked like something was still attached. We didn't want to risk getting the ship's propellers tangled and whatever was attached might easily take up the entire back of our ship. Generally these float assemblies are used as part of large oceanographic arrays to study temperature, currents, seismic events, or any number of other oceanographic parameters. Typically there is a large anchor on the sea-floor to which a release mechanism is attached. Above the release is the instrument package and above that is the float assembly. When oceanographers are done taking measurements they can trigger the release and the floats bring the instrument to the surface. It takes a long time for them to come up from the bottom of the ocean and it looks like these may have gotten lost on their way up.

Hard at Work

As we continue across the Pacific, the work continues. The weather has held so far and we have been treated to calm seas and clear skies. The moonlight on the water last night was one of the most beautiful sights I can remember. Out this far there is little light pollution other than that small bit given off my our own ship. I can't wait until the moon starts setting earlier to see what the stars will be like.

On board, we are keeping ourselves busy getting computers and equipment ready for our fours days at Wake Atoll. We have seven more days of transit and we are already itching to get in the water. There are only so many books to read and movies to watch before you need to get out and do something...