Boat Life: What I Do as an Oceanographer

During the summers, I have two homes. A regular-old, suburban apartment in Maryland and…a boat!

The Harmony I, where I lived for 5 weeks this summer

The Harmony I, where I lived for 5 weeks this summer

My "room" in the wheelhouse. There was a curtain that I could draw for some privacy.

My “room” in the wheelhouse. There was a curtain that I could draw for some privacy.

 

For those of you that don’t know, I am currently an Oceanographer for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, better known as NOAA. The team that I work with is in charge of planning and implementing tidal currents surveys throughout US bays, estuaries, and coasts which play an incredibly important role in ensuring safe marine navigation for both commercial and recreational mariners throughout our waterways. So, how does it work?

From September to April, I sit in my office e-mailing, planning, calling, meeting…all that boring office-type stuff in order to get ready for the survey come April. Then comes the fun part. This past April, I shipped out to Seattle to deploy the first set of instruments in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Seattle is sunny sometimes

Seattle is sunny sometimes

Fortunately, I had a little time to explore

Fortunately, I had a little time to explore

 

The instruments that we deploy are called Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCPs). We use a few different mooring types to either place the sensor at the bottom of the ocean or suspend it slightly above the bottom. The sensors point up towards the surface and emit a beam of  sound which reflects off of particles in the water and back to the instrument. With this data, the instrument can calculate the current speed and direction.

Some of the different kinds of mounts we use stacked up on deck waiting to be deployed

Some of the different kinds of mounts we use stacked up on deck waiting to be deployed

 

In addition to measuring the currents, I also got the opportunity to partner with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Washington State Department of Ecology, and University of Washington in order to measure salinity, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and noise at select sites throughout Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. All of the data will be used to better understand how water circulates throughout the Sound.

Instruments piled into the wet lab where I program them before they are deployed

Instruments piled into the wet lab where I program them before they are deployed

Checking out the Fathometer in order to find our target deployment depth

Checking out the Fathometer in order to find our target deployment depth

 

Deploying the instruments is a lot of fun, but also a TON of work. My main duties as project lead include programming the instruments, taking extensive notes as to which sensor it is, where it is being placed, and how it is configured, and taking detailed pictures of each instrument before they go in the water. Right before the instrument goes into the water, we double, and sometimes triple, check all of our numbers.

Deploying a deep water mooring

Deploying a deep water mooring

Note taking is one of my main duties

Note taking is one of my main duties

Deploying an ES2

Deploying an ES2

 

Deploying the instruments is only half the battle though. In June, I headed back to Seattle to recover the instruments. In order to get the instruments back, we send an acoustic signal out under water which triggers a release to….release. The buoy floats to the surface and we go and pick it up with the crane.

Recovering a trawl-resistant bottom mount

Recovering a trawl-resistant bottom mount

 

Then, we clean and disassemble the mount, take the data off of the instrument, check to make sure it is all good, and upload all of the data to the NOAA server back in Maryland. Sounds easy, but sometimes the sensors take hours to pop up out of the water because they are jammed with floating debris or algae.

Flo was filled with debris!

Flo was filled with debris!

Some growth on a SUBS after recovery

Some growth on a SUBS after recovery

 

Being on the water for weeks at a time has its ups and downs. The weather is unpredictable, fresh produce is scarce, and taking a long walk never sounded so appealing. On the upside, the views from the water are unbeatable, the sunsets are unreal, and it sure beats sitting at a desk.

Neah Bay, Washington

Neah Bay, Washington

Sunset in Kingston, Washington

Sunset in Kingston, Washington

Mount Rainier looming in the background

Mount Rainier looming in the background

 

I also got to make some new friends.

Sea lion friend

Sea lion friend

My first whale sighting!

My first whale sighting!

One of many Sea Stars

One of many Sea Stars

 

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The tiniest star friend

The tiniest star friend

Urchins

Urchins

Squid! We helped him find his way back to the water

Squid! We helped him find his way back to the water

 

If you are interested in reading more about NOAA’s tidal current surveys, check out this web story from the National Ocean Service.

2 Comments
  1. WOW…So interesting! Your paternal Grandparents are smiling down at you. They must be so proud of you. I’ve taken the liberty to tell you the latter be-
    cause I’m the only one left, out of the four of us. I
    truly miss my husband, Joey, Eddie and Josie. Please, dear Tina, compliment your parents for me.
    Great job! You go Tina Pico!

    • Thanks, Edna. I do think of them all the time and miss them dearly. I think they would be happy to hear about the path I have taken so far.

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