08. Cruise Letter #7

Dong-Ha Min’s cruise letters from P18 CLIVAR/CO2 Repeat Hydrography expedition in the Pacific Ocean (2007/2008)

Letter #7

Sailing Day 15 (12/28/2007)

1 deg N, 110 deg W

Santa came to us on Christmas Eve. He showed up with a big sack of gifts and spent some time with us at the mess deck before he disappeared. The Santa somehow managed to get in to the ship through the giant engine chimney stack of the ship without getting stained with black soot and smoke. Maybe the black boots he was wearing were the only trace… Anyhow, he gave nicely packed gifts to all the crew members, and then gave a candy cane to each scientist…. Santa was not fair to us!

In spirit of Christmas, we had a fire and boat drill on the Christmas Eve. Usually we go to our muster stations when fire or abandon ship alarm goes off. Each person received a bunk card with all muster station information. At this time, they threw a curve ball. They asked us to go to the ‘alternate’ muster locations… How nice. We had to go back to our staterooms to find where we’re suppose to go. And I had to round up some stranded scientific party who were still wondering in the primary muster stations without clue…

Except for several brief periods, we have experienced cloudy, windy, and chilly weather with occasional night squalls. It is hard to believe we are just a degree off from the equator. People wear long sleeve jackets and pants at night… almost embarrassing. Is this really near the equator?

The science programs are in full speed yet with continuous troubleshooting events. We have completed 40 stations and 3 buoy services. We will arrive in the equator tomorrow night. We will be particularly busy at the equator as various science programs being conducted at the same time, besides the infamous equator line crossing ceremony (ritual) at some point. I will report about this in the later letter.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) maintains arrays of ocean buoys along the equatorial latitudes in the Pacific Ocean. This is to better detect and predict the ocean-atmosphere interactions such as El Nino and La Nina. We are inspecting, repairing, and deploying buoys along 110W parallel as a part of our program during this cruise. If you watched the movie, “The Day After Tomorrow”, you may remember the ocean buoys in Labrador Sea in the North Atlantic reported incredible drop of ocean temperature when the Arctic freezing started to spread… Similar equipment are here. The donut shape buoy with many sensors and satellite communication equipment floats on the surface with a long thick nylon rope below it, stretching all the way to the ocean bottom with an anchor at the end. We use a stack of old train wheels for anchor. They sure do the job in sinking things to the bottom. Right above the anchor, we connect an acoustic release equipment. This responds to the surface transponder so it detaches the rope from the anchor when we need to recover the buoy. The entire wire and floats come to surface, and we can recover the buoy to the ship. A special plastic covered rope is used near the surface to protect the line from shark’s bites and snatching from fishing nets/lines. The last buoy we recovered from 2 degree N was heavily damaged from vandalism by fishing vessels which probably rigged the ships onto the buoy for fishing (or even tried to yank it over as a souvenir). This is sad.

The buoy site is usually good for fishing, as there is a hard structure where small algae and fish can grow and hide, and hence bigger fishes. We saw hundreds of beautiful Mahi Mahi at the 2N buoy site. Some people enjoyed fishing on fantail while others were working on buoy operation. They caught several big Mahi and few Tuna. Mahi Mahi usually swims slowly near the surface, but when they chase their preys, they zoom in like a torpedo. I saw a number of their sprint to hunt flying fish at the surface with their blue dorsal fin out of water…

The ocean is flowing like a river near the equator. The speed of surface current is about 2 knots. It is compatible with a rapid tidal current through the channel in the coastal area. Trade wind really pushes the water to the west here. Trade winds on both sides of the equator causes divergence of the surface water, and this brings up nutrient-rich and colder deep water to the shallower depths in this area, which then boosts up ocean productivity.

We have had few more problems with our winch and rosette operation during the last few days. At one time, the winch cable got twisted on its way up near the surface, which is unusual and very dangerous. We tentatively concluded that a new design of the small rosette package with a protruding structure outside the main frame might have caused this problem. When we lower this few thousand pound package to the bottom of the ocean, the metal wire stretches out by the weights of the package and cable itself. So the package would spin on its way down due to the torque… It is ok to make the spins as long as they make a similar number of counter-rotations on its way up releasing the torque accumulated on the cable. If this is not balanced, however, the accumulated torque would be released as soon as this heavy package is out of the water and hangs freely in the air. This monster would start to spin like a top and to swing… so the cable can get twisted. In the worst cases, the package may smash onto the ship or the cable can be cut. We were lucky to recover it safely, and were able to address this problem.

On one station, we noticed that our electronic sensors went wild and got very noisy signals… baffled, we inspected our sensors after we recovered the package from the water. There were disgusting slimy sea snot covered over the package and it seemed some of them got sucked into the instrument pump… You may imagine that shredded and decomposing slimy fish parts slowly falling down in the water… Despite is gross look, this is a very important part of global carbon cycle. We just don’t want to touch it with our hands… it stinks.

During the last few days, people brought out tons of chocolates for Christmas. I still feel the sweetness on my throat… At least 5 or 6 iTunes shared libraries are constantly offered on our computer by the people via network, so we are not in want of supply of good music. My iTunes shared library name is “M the co-chief”. A game called “murder game” is in progress among many people during the last few days. Participants would pull out a card randomly from a deck of playing cards and keep it secret to others. One who gets a red spade queen is a “killer”. The killer can “kill” others when someone with other card is alone. There are some off limit areas where the “murder” cannot happen such as individual staterooms, bathroom, or lab where one person works… People try to avoid being alone these last few days… The “killer’s” identity is kept secret till the end of the game. The following is a part of the conversation with other young folks during breakfast yesterday:

– person A: Dong-Ha, are you participating in this game?

– me: Nah….. I don’t want to get murdered

– person A: Oh darn… you are the first one I would have killed!

– person B: No, he has so unsuspicious looking. He could have been a good killer

– me: Oh… thank you very much, guys

Isn’t that a pleasant breakfast conversation or what!

Whiskey Tango Echo Charlie out…

Dong-Ha Min

on NOAA ship Ronald H. Brown in the cobalt blue Pacific Ocean