During the summers, I have two homes. A regular-old, suburban apartment in Maryland and…a boat!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
I also got to make some new friends.
If you are interested in reading more about NOAA’s tidal current surveys, check out this web story from the National Ocean Service.