Friday, June 17, 2011

From Flour and Sugar and Eggs Comes Data

Though the ACO cruise is over, the work on land is ongoing. I have taken a brief interlude from ACO to practice my Matlab plotting skills but will be returning to the ACO project in the coming weeks. With most of the instruments at the observatory supplying us with data, it is now time to supply the public with this data.  A part of that supply line, I will become.

I will continue writing about the Aloha Cabled Observatory, but now in a less transient way. I will be writing for the website which will share the history and marvels of the project with anyone interested in reading.  There will be three branches of the ACO website intended to focus the content for three different readerships – scientists looking for data, teachers looking for classroom material and generally curious minds looking for educational tidbits from the bottom of the ocean.  The section for curious minds will be my department; explaining to them how the temperature sensors, camera and all that cable got down there will be my prerogative.

I’ll start with old material, from existing but unmaintained web pages, and develop a storyboard of possible page layouts – one page for each instrument, one page for the project’s history, one page explaining the oceanographic phenomena at Station Aloha.  There will hopefully be video and still pictures involved from Jason and from the ACO eyeball.  Once these ideas are approved, I’ll develop them into an actual website using my hard earned but minimal skills in web design software – Dreamweaver.  I’ve never developed a webpage from flour and sugar and eggs.  I’ve only ever started from Tollhouse prepackaged dough. I will be depending on my triumphs of the past in battles against menu bars in Dreamweaver to get me through the battles to come.  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Come Down From the Jungle Gym, It's Time to Deploy

 I will take the opportunity, now that I am not clogging the bandwidth of the ship’s Internet with my many kilobytes of photographs, to catch you up visually on the happenings of the KM from TAAM deployment, Act 1, to the final connection, the curtain’s closing.

A stew of scientists and sailors boiling on the quarterdeck ponder the deployment of the TAAM mooring as they wait for the weather to improve. 

The weather does not improve. The huddle disperses, leaving the anchor to take a shower in solitude.

 The next morning, as the sky is still waking up, we jump at the opportunity the mild weather provides and plop the anchor in the ocean.

The anchor is lowered on the black jacketed wire rope from the winch. Bruce unspools the neon green communications cable parallel to the black wire but under no tension.

At 10 to 50 m intervals, the winch is stopped so that Jefrey and Dave can attach instruments and cable spacers to the wire rope.

On either side of the attached thermistor are cable spacers to keep the green and black from becoming tangled. 

After the ten thermistors and lone flourometer comes the acoustic modem, into which the end of the neon green cable was plugged. 

A length of chain separates the acoustic modem from five strings of glass balls that must be kept on a short leash or they roll around rowdily. 

A ball and chain on deck transforms to a graceful string of waving yellow party balloons in the air. 

The last string of balloons holds a different configuration to accommodate the strobe light and beacon that will be used to locate the mooring when it is recovered in the future. 

Lastly, the acoustic releases grab the top of the string of balloons only to drop the whole mooring within 100 m of the seafloor a few hours later. Don’t worry, we told them to do so. 

The observatory soaks in the sun’s rays after waiting in the staging bay for 2 weeks. Better soak it up now, for in an hour you’ll be down below the reach of the sun.  

The ship’s muscle plays tug of war with the winch to put sufficient tension on the wire now that the mooring is no longer attached.

Matt and Bruce take their last opportunities to climb on the jungle gym.

The observatory takes a leap.

Medea prepares to follow. Matt now tries to climb under the jungle gym. While he’s there he attaches the observatory’s bridle to Medea. 

At the bottom of the ocean, Jason and the observatory meet and make connections. We spy on them in the control van.

The next day, the J-box comes up for a visit.

The J-box receives a brief spa treatment and some attention from Inspector Gadget.

Fun with the Inspector’s gadgets.

With the sun set and the moon risen over the A-frame, the J-box decides he’s overstayed his welcome and departs for the last time.

Matt, again, tries to climb under the jungle gym but Vic finds him and makes him come out. It’s time to deploy, Matt.

In the cockpit, we wait and see if all the equipment will play nice.

Makaha calls the cockpit. 

When the phone is hung up, the cockpit sees the first smile break in weeks.

Jason hops back on deck from his last swim at Station Aloha in the foreseeable future.

We take a group photo framed under the A-frame. 

But the captain is tardy, so we take another. 

The KM heads home – its job complete – but the observatory, the AMM, the camera, the J-box and the TAAM remain – their job just beginning. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Baskets Hanging From the Beaks of Cranes

At 0700 I woke to shipping containers and cranes passing by the window. After breakfast, the ship was tied up to the pier at Snug Harbor. Equipment had been eagerly waiting in the staging bay since the night before to be unloaded. Within fifteen minutes of the ship’s halt, cranes were swinging back and forth.

I donned my hard hat and skipped down the gangway to land – land that is firm and does not tilt in unexpected ways. I was so wrapped up in my hardhat activities that I didn’t notice the atrophy of my sea legs into regular old land legs. I spend the morning on the dock with Jefrey, on the back of the flatbed truck waiting for metal baskets of equipment to come swinging off the stern to land.
The boxes were full of the computers that had covered a whole wall of the lab, left over zip ties that didn’t get the chance to secure anything, rolls of electrical tape, whip cream canisters of compressed air for cleaning electronics, pens, pencils and plenty of scrap paper for early watch doodling, wrenches, screwdrivers, titanium hardware, the drill for making loud noises and tightening screws with enthusiasm, iridium cables coaxed into coils and Velcro-ed tightly to eliminate escape, the cameras for daily documentation, the deceivingly light boxes which once held instruments that are now at on the seafloor, the lines to hold the boxes in place in the event of a particularly deep roll to starboard, the WHOTS instruments and battery packs all prepped for the cruise ahead.  These things will all have to find a new home and a new life.

The flatbed truck had seemed twice as big as the benches under which we stored all of this equipment. Despite Jefrey’s spatial consolidation, the capacity of the flatbed rapidly decreased until there was barely enough room for me to sit on the edge to wait for the next load to come over. Just when it seemed like everything that could have possibly fit in the lab had been passed over, the crane’s neck lifted and at the end of its beak hung another basket full of goodies. Like Mary Poppins, Jefrey managed to rearrange things to make room for 3 more computers, ‘mini Makaha’ – two boxes filled with wires and cables meant to simulate those of Makaha, – a lamp, a rocking chair and a flying umbrella. The crane delivered one more basket, which even Mary Poppins would have refused, so its contents will wait at Snug for another day.

Towering over the forest green crane that brought us our baskets – even towering over the KM – was a yellow and black crane that dealt with the heavy machinery worth many M&M’s. Without trying to imply that Jason is overweight, he does require a bit more attention in hoisting.  To protect his backside from swinging into the ship or the doghouse or the flatbed, sailors stood by with tag lines directing his backside to safety. The control van, which is actually two separate vans connected together, was next. The vans were hoisted off one by one so as it swung you could see through the open side into the seats Deb and I used to occupy like a view into a dollhouse.  

Later, Jefrey, Bruce and I took the truck back to the University where every box found its place on top of a bench or on top of one another.  Some people stayed on the ship to tidy and mop the areas we had inhabited over the last 18 days. We reconvened in the evening, at the generosity of Roger, at a restaurant on the water where Pufferfish lamps and strings of colored lights hung from the ceiling to celebrate land, sea and the last shots fired in the troubleshooting battle at the bottom of the ocean in favor of the good guys– and real time data from 5 km below the surface. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Warning to the Whales: We Are Now Listening

And watching from the camera tripod. We now know the temperature of the water from which your blubber insulates you, and its dissolved oxygen concentration too.  We know how the currents will softly push you – in fact we know the whole profile of 100’s of meters of current starting at the bottom and working up.  In a few years, we’ll know the temperature profile of the bottom 200 m too – and watch out because the thermistors are already sensing.  As of about noon today, the Aloha Cabled Observatory is officially observing.  So when you pass through here next winter and spring, consider yourselves warned that we will be eavesdropping on you in real time.

My 0400 watch started slowly. The first half an hour was spent finishing snapping photos of the all the parts in their respective places– the AMM, the TAAM, the eyeball, the J-box, the cable termination and the observatory.  These photos will then be collaged together to make a mosaic of the equipment at the seafloor. The rest of the watch was filled with waiting – waiting for 0700 when the land dwellers could enter Makaha Cable Station and tell us if the final configuration of the J-box was worth the last couple yo-yo trips up and down.  Overnight, the J-box had been set in place and connected to the cable termination and the observatory as planned.

0800 came and there was still no news from Makaha.  A phone rang now and again but apparently nothing of importance to relay to the rest of the van.  Off watch, I waited in the lab watching Channel Jason unwavering from its zoom on the J-box connector configuration. 

Good but uncertain news began to trickle in. First Chris, passing through the lab, told me that they got a good signal. “What kind of a signal?” He couldn’t tell me for sure so I kept my hopes at bay. It could have been the same good power signal we’ve always had.

Next Roger came in telling me, “We have ears.” Thinking that one would need eyes, not ears, to receive an optical signal, I was confused. He clarified: ears meant hydrophones; the hydrophones were on and sending data to Makaha. “We’re listening right now.” The hydrophones are on the J-box, which means that the J-box’s signal is getting through. This is half the good news that we have been on edges of our seats staring longingly at Channel Jason in hopes of seeing. The second half of the good news is on the other side of the J-box: the observatory, the AMM and the camera. We would have to wait another couple of hours through testing to know that these components work as well.  By turning off Jason’s Times Square array of lights, we could see the LED light on the observatory shine on command from Makaha. The AMM, through which the camera communication is routed, was misbehaving so its connector had to be switched to the observatory.  By 1400, an email containing the first pictures taken by Joseph on land through the eyeball had circulated around the ship. Though the low light produced a fairly low quality photo compared to what the camera is capable of, this black and white photograph was like an ultrasound – proof of what’s to come.

At 1600, my watch came around as it typically does – except this time would be the last. All the connections had been made; the observatory was already getting to know the ocean all on its own. What was left was another test of the camera – this time to take photos of Jason – and some steward-ly housekeeping.  Jason lifted off and did a victory lap of the area being sure to show his good side to the camera. He picked up the ADP protective trashcans, which that pesky gravity tried to pull off the Jason’s basket several times before Jason, refusing to litter, pinned in down with his fist.  His last task of retrieving the bridle proved as pesky as the trashcans but Scott worked some magic in the mud with both manipulator arms at once and secured it around the trashcans.  As Jason came back to the surface, I missed a half an hour of my last water column to grab an elegant last meal of stuffed lobster tail and rosemary marinated filet mignon followed by Baked Alaska. The delight in the galley was a perfect parallel to the delight buzzing around the ship at the success of the day.

When Jason arrived back on deck after dinner, all hands gathered for a group photograph under the A-frame. There is packing to be done and finalizing work. But above the hands coiling cables hopefully not be seen for quite some time, above the shoulders carry out boxes of tools to be unloaded from the ship tomorrow, turning from the necks that have been hunched over computer screens and wires for the last two weeks are faces whose grins are forcing aside the tired and perhaps peeved frowns from before.  I sat on the 0-2 deck as the twilight turned dark and we motored away from Station Aloha.  It’s odd to think that the contents of the quarterdeck are sitting in the dark, in the mud at the bottom of the ocean. It’s odd to think that those hunks of titanium, o-rings, battery packs, thin strands of glass and wire are clicking away.  It’s odd to know that they are talking to other hunks of metal and wires at Makaha and Manoa. But all of this oddity sums to the miraculous reality of a location being observed without the observer.  As the ship’s company heads to their bunks one by one, and hopefully those on land follow suit, the observatory won’t notice the difference that night makes. It tirelessly will continue sensing and sending data to land for the next three to four years. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Brief Visit From the J-Box

Sunday morning before my 0400 Jason watch, I took my hot cocoa up to the bridge to see the stars.  Up there, I’d heard, you sit above the reach of the bright deck lights so nothing gets between you and the stars. It was true. Between the twinkling and many up there, you could even see a faint smudge of the Milky Way.  In addition to the light from the stars came fleeting but thick strokes of lighting. A squall dead ahead was shouting grey and electric warnings. Luckily, we were static on station so though headed straight for it, we got no closer.   Even 100 km away, you could see a faint orange glow off the starboard bow on the horizon originating from Oahu.

At 0400, I arrived in the van and was greeted for a second time by an unexpected display of water column. For a second time, while I was sleeping, Jason had been recovered and redeployed.  This time it was to prepare Medea with the bridle to bring the J-box back to the surface. Overnight, Jason’s fiber optic bellybutton had been plugged into the cable termination to test the signal. The results from that test were somewhat encouraging – Makaha received a signal back but at a lower intensity than desired. With the time remaining on the cruise, the plan was to recover the J-box and reconfigure it one last time, changing the attenuation as well to decrease the signal loss.

This dive was slightly more challenging than others for the Jason pilots, engineers and navigators because Medea’s compass was misbehaving. This meant that Medea, who usually can be put on autopilot, must be watched and tended to constantly. The only way to determine bearing on Medea was to align itself with Jason’s heading from the cameras. The Jason team completed the task without hitch and the J-box was back up after lunch.

The J-box was put through the same spa treatment as a few nights before, except this time with more rapidity. Rinsed and toweled down, the titanium casing in which the fiber optic system resides was opened and its innards exposed. Cables and attenuators were examined through microscopes and gadgets measuring loss in dB.  Inspector Gadget made an entrance wearing a newer and dorkier form of investigation – a headband with high magnification glasses that fold down. Once the right set of attenuators was selected and the correct pin reconfiguration was triple checked it was time to prepare the o-rings to seal the casing back up. As with other instruments of Jefrey’s, he took great care in wiping down the o-ring seats and the o-rings themselves with Kimwipes, then a little grease. As there is really only room for one head to be hunched over the open casing, we all stood around Jefrey as he meticulously inspected for hairs and dust – surely making his job easier. With happy o-rings, they closed the casing up and retrieved the vacuum pump. In order to make sure that all the humid air is evacuated from around the sensitive equipment, they suck out all the air and refill the chamber with helium, an inert gas, three times.

After dinner, the J-box was anxious to jump back in. We all said our last goodbyes and took our last pictures. True to our deployment style, the sun set in the background and the quarter moon had risen above the A-frame making for great documentation. With a little more than a day left, this would likely be the last dive of the cruise and hopefully the one in which the puzzle pieces lay flat to see the whole picture.

When Lord Kelvin Was Napping

I woke up to find more water column. I was under the impression that at 0400 I would awake to watch the connectors being plugged in and the puzzle pieces being put together.  Jason had descended the evening prior and would have had plenty of bottom time by then.  Apparently, though, as I was sleeping a puzzle pieces – a piece of twine – got sucked into one of Jason’s thrusters and he had to be brought up, patched up, and redeployed. I arrived on the scene just in time to soak in a couple hours of the water column as he descended and a little bit of “Jason on bottom.”

The rest of the day was slow.  The back deck is so lonely now that all the equipment is at the bottom of the ocean.   They were all having an exclusive get together down there to which only those who can withstand 5000 decibars of pressure are invited. Jason was the guest of honor, Medea came as a member of the press, and the rest of us got to watch the celebrities live on Channel Jason.  We watched cables being un-bungeed from the AMM and strung across the mud to the observatory. The same for the camera tripod and the TAAM mooring.

While we sat and observed Jason go to work, the conversation drifted to physics in the ocean.  Roger pointed out to me the places in which Newtonian physics plays clear and important roles in the dynamics of the ocean and atmosphere. Though oceanography is fairly new to me, Newtonian mechanics make things clearer to me in all settings. You can see it in propagation of El Nino effects across the Pacific in the form of Kelvin waves. You can see it in white caps and waves forming at the ocean’s surface due to the wind’s drag– manifesting the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability – and how that affects the development of hurricanes. You can see it in the rotation of the earth resulting in the Coriolis Effect. I addition to learning about Roger’s work and how simple physics concepts fit into complicated questions like ‘how does the ocean affect the atmosphere?’ I learned that Lord Kelvin, as Roger put it, is ubiquitous. From the 0 K air-conditioned control van, to Kelvin waves to Kelvin-Helmhotz instability, Lord Kelvin pops up everywhere on this ship.

In the afternoon, when my personal physics lecture was over and Lord Kelvin was napping, I popped into the Jason van for my 1600 to 2000 Jason watch.  When I took over the event logger, Jason was returning to my lounge chair to begin unraveling the second neon green cable and stringing it out to the observatory.  Before we did so, we decided to scan the mooring up and down because opportunities to examine moorings while they’re in the water are few.  At about 5 m up, the cameras zoomed in on the inductive modem to find that the cable intended to connect it to the rest of the observatory had come unplugged.  Unfortunately this connector is not one that can be reconnected under water.  This means that the data from the thermistor array will not be available in real time to Makaha. Luckily, though, the instruments are already programmed to collect data autonomously, which can be collected in a few years when the mooring is recovered.

After watch, with no recliner from which to observe the stars, I ‘re-racked’ in preparation for 0400 to arrive again. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Perhaps a Game of Tug of War Is All the Cable Needs

I woke up in a remarkably still bunk. I came out to the staging bay to find it bustling with hard hats and life vests. Behind them was a noticeable dearth of white caps and sinusoidal forms. Overnight, the squall had apparently found somebody else to harass and left us to deploy the TAAM in relative stability. Everyone had leapt at the opportunity of calmness and I was already late though I arrived at the party ten minutes early. Someone had pressed play on the scene from yesterday and we were off.

My official title in this operation was “Instrument Stager.” This means that I helped Cammy prepare the instruments to hand to Jefrey and Dave, the assemblers.  My box of instrument parts and I stood off to the starboard side of the A-frame trying to maintain the balance between close enough to hand something to Dave but far enough away to not trip Dave or get too close to heavy moving objects and wires under tension.

The first to go swimming was the anchor, followed shortly by the acoustic release and the inductive modem. These parts hung over the stern from the end of the jacketed wire rope, which was unspooling from the winch.  Simultaneously, a neon green communications cable that runs parallel to the black wire but carries no load was unspooling. Once the anchor hung ten meters below deck, the first yellow duct tape marker appeared on the black wire. This was the first of ten instrument markers that Dave, Jefrey, Nicholas and I attached to the wire two weeks earlier at snug harbor.  When the marker reached waist height, the winch was stopped.  Cammy handed Jefrey the thermistor and I handed Dave the clamps. Dave and Jefrey stood at the very edge of the back deck bolting the clamp to instrument thus sandwiching the jacketed wire rope. A cable spacer was then attached on either side of the instrument to keep the black and the neon green cables together but untangled.  The wire was then lowered another 10 m to the next instrument marker and the pattern continues through 30 m, 50 m, 100 m, all the way up to 200 m where the thermistor array ends. Then came the acoustic modem, followed shortly by 5 lengths of chain hosting three glass balls each. These fifteen glass balls in yellow casing are the source of buoyancy for the mooring as well as a thing of beauty hanging from the A-frame. Unwieldy on deck and quite heavy, once they are suspended in the air they waver and spin like plump yellow weather vanes against a blue sky.  In order to attach them, the weight of the anchor had to be transferred to A-frame momentarily while the glass balls’ chain was shackled and hoisted up to carry the load.  The cherry on top of the mooring was the second acoustic release that was to be triggered once the mooring was within 100 m of the seafloor.  With the cherry shackled in, the whole mooring was lowered through the water column over 4.7 km, giving us a brief repose in which to eat. The instruments indeed ended up center stage, so I feel my title earned.

At 1100, the anchor was approaching the bottom so it was time to prepare the deck box that transmits the acoustic signal to the releases. We waited for the green light after setting the hydrophones to the right frequency and uncoiling some particularly stubborn cables – at this point I am specially trained in taming cables so not even a knotted hydrophone cable can make me blink. The ship navigated the mooring to the correct position and the winch adjusted to the right depth then it was time to release.  Lowering the hydrophones overboard, we sent a loud zing through the water hoping to feel the decreased tension on the wire in response to the release. The wire remained tense. A second and third zing went travelling down. An enthusiast fourth and fifth were tried and somewhere between the sixth and seventh the release finally got the picture and let go. The anchor went barreling down to the seafloor taking with it the thermistor array to the chagrin of the yellow balloons.

The wire, now with just the release on the end, took another couple hours to come back up.  Once it got within 100 m of the surface the tension on the wire was not sufficient to wrap back on the winch properly. The solution to this problem involved no fiber optic cables or batter packs, no modems or thermistors, no computer code in Matlab or Dreamweaver, but simple, Newtonian physics. Most of the muscle on the ship grabbed a pair of gloves and pulled as hard as they could on the wire as it pulled back. A string of ten people on the quarterdeck playing tug of war with the winch provided tension enough to spool on the wire. The ten people rotated through until almost everyone on the ship had rusty brown streaks on their hands. I maintain that I could not take part because I couldn’t find any gloves. Feel free to believe me.

Before the TAAM mooring deployment was even finished, the observatory deployment began. The observatory was wheeled out to center stage where it underwent some last minute lashings and documentation. All the handles that Jason was going to have to pull to release the bungees and remove the ADCPs’ hard hats were inspected by the Jason team.  Just in time for pizza dinner, Jason, Medea and the observatory jumped in. They headed through the water column with the last piece of the puzzle in hand. Most of the puzzle is already laid out on the seafloor – the AMM, the camera, the J-box, and the TAAM mooring – and we’re all hoping that that one edge piece that’s always hiding under the corner of the rug decides to appear on the table top tomorrow.