Tag Archives: noaa

Gray’s Reef new marine ops coordinator

NOAA Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary welcomes a new marine operations coordinator.

Clayton Louden is the sanctuary’s vessel captain and marine operations coordinator. Captain Louden will oversee vessel operations for the site, while captaining the sanctuary’s two small boats — R/V Sam Gray and R/V Joe Ferguson. Louden will be responsible for boat maintenance, vessel safety procedures, and utilizing all NOAA regulations and policies to ensure efficient and dependable boat handling.

Louden underwent United States Coast Guard training at Alaska’s Institute of Technology Maritime Center. He earned numerous licenses, including his U.S.C.G. Master 100-Ton Near Coastal License. He brings more than six years’ experience on multiple types of vessels, sailing waters from Seattle to Prudhoe Bay and many locations in between. Louden also participated in a 30-day offshore expedition from Key West to Maine and back as a delivery crew member and deckhand on the 86’ schooner Appledore.

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UGA Skidaway Institute gliders improve hurricane predictions

The models hurricane forecasters use to predict the paths of storms have become much more accurate in recent years, but not so much the models’ ability to accurately predict a storm’s intensity. Now, underwater gliders, operated by researchers at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, are part of a national effort to use marine robots to improve the accuracy of storm forecast models.

UGA Skidaway Institute research technician Ben Hefner launches a glider into the ocean. Photo courtesy MADLAWMEDIA

Two storms from the 2018 hurricane season provide examples of how quickly storm intensity can change. Hurricane Florence was predicted to be a Category 5 storm, but she weakened significantly before making landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm on September 14. On the other hand, a month later, Hurricane Michael grew from a Category 1 to a Category 5 storm in just two days and hit the Florida panhandle on October 10.

Hurricanes feed off of heat from warm ocean waters like that found in the Caribbean, and in the Gulf Stream and shallow waters off the southeast United States, known as the South Atlantic Bight. This can be a tremendous source of energy for developing storms. Heat is transferred between the ocean and atmosphere at the ocean’s surface, but it is important to understand the amount of subsurface heat as well.

“Places where warm waters near the surface lie over cooler water near bottom, winds and other factors can mix up the water, cooling the surface and limiting the heat available to the atmosphere,” UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Catherine Edwards said. “Satellite data provides a nice picture of where the surface ocean is warm, but the subsurface temperature field remains hidden.”

UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Catherine Edwards examines the tail assembly of a glider.

This is where autonomous underwater vehicles, also known as gliders, can collect valuable information. Gliders are torpedo-shaped crafts that can be packed with sensors and sent on underwater missions to collect oceanographic data. The gliders measure temperature and salinity, among other parameters, as they profile up and down in the water. Equipped with satellite phones, the gliders surface periodically to transmit their recorded data during missions that can last from weeks to months.

“This regular communication with the surface allows us to adapt the mission on the fly, and also process and share the data only minutes to hours after it has been measured,” Edwards said. “By using a network of data contributed by glider operators around the world, the U. S. Navy and other ocean modelers can incorporate these data into their predictions, injecting subsurface heat content information into the hurricane models from below.”

The 2018 hurricane season provided Edwards and her colleagues a fortuitous opportunity to demonstrate the value of glider data. Edwards deployed two gliders in advance of Hurricane Florence. One was launched off the North Carolina coast and the other further south, near the South Carolina-Georgia state line. The gliders discovered the models’ ocean temperature forecasts were significantly off target. Edwards points to charts comparing the predictions from ocean models run in the U.S. and Europe with the actual temperatures two days before Florence made landfall.

On the south side of the storm path, the models predicted that the ocean had a warm, slightly fresh layer overtopping cooler, saltier water below, but the glider revealed that the water column was well-mixed and, overall, warmer and fresher than predicted. On the north side of the storm, the models predicted warm, well-mixed water, but the glider detected a sharp temperature change below the surface, with a much cooler layer near-bottom. However, the most surprising part was just how stratified the water was.

“There is almost a 14-degree Celsius (approximately 25 degrees Fahrenheit) error that the glider corrects in the model,” she said. “The model and data agree near-surface, but the models that don’t use the glider data all miss the colder, saltier layer below. The model that incorporated glider data that day is the only one that captures that vertical pattern.”

Not only can gliders provide a unique view of the ocean, they fly on their own, reporting data regularly, before, during and after a hurricane, making them a powerful tool for understanding the effects of storms.

“The glider data is being used in real time,” Edwards said. “These real time observations can improve our hurricane forecasts right now, not just in a paper to be published a year from now.”

Edwards and collaborator Chad Lembke, at the University of South Florida, had a third glider deployed in August before Florence as part of a glider observatory she runs for the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA). While it was recovered about a little over a week before Florence made landfall, the glider helped define the edge of the Gulf Stream, which is an essential ocean feature that is very hard for models to get right.

“So it’s possible that the data from that glider already improved any tropical storm predictions that use ocean models and take that glider data into account, because the Gulf Stream is so important in our region,” Edwards said.

Edwards works with colleagues from other institutions through SECOORA. Together they are making plans for the 2019 hurricane season. Funded by a $220,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they plan to pre-position a number of gliders in strategic locations to be ready for deployment in advance of incoming storms.

“Gliders are like the weather balloons of the ocean,” Edwards said. “Imagine how powerful a regular network of these kinds of glider observations could be for understanding the ocean and weather, and how they interact.”

Gray’s Reef’s Michelle Riley wins national award

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) has awarded Michelle Riley the Sea to Shining Sea: Excellence in Interpretation and Education Award for her project “Georgia Public Broadcasting Live Exploration of Gray’s Reef.”

Michelle Riley

According to a statement from ONMS, “Michelle and the Live Exploration of Gray’s Reef through Georgia Public Broadcasting are recognized for the creation of a livestream, virtual dive event featuring Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary that engaged more than 45,000 viewers from 44 states as well as internationally.”

The program was streamed live from the UGA Aquarium on May 10, 2017. During the event viewers were introduced to Gray’s Reef NMS through video, heard from scientists and had the chance to submit questions to be answered live. This program directly introduced tens of thousands of mostly elementary and middle school students to the wonders of Gray’s Reef and the challenges it faces.

GPB host Ashley Mengwasser, GRNMS Superintendent Sarah Fangman and UGA research scientist Scott Noakes, Ph.D. discuss Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary during the livestream. Photo M. Riley/GRNMS

This is the fifth year that ONMS has recognized outstanding achievement in the fields of interpretation and environmental education. This annual award is given to employees, contractors and volunteers for their demonstrated success in advancing ocean and climate literacy, and conservation through national marine sanctuaries, as well as for their innovation and creative solutions in successfully enhancing the public’s understanding of the National Marine Sanctuary System and the resources it protects.

Michelle received the award at the National Association for Interpretation’s annual conference in Spokane, Wash. in November. It was presented in conjunction with several other agency awards including the U.S. Forest Service’s “Gifford Pinchot Award” and the National Park Service’s “Freeman Tilden Award.”

“It is fitting for sanctuaries to be at the forefront of interpretation and education alongside some of the country’s best interpreters,” said John Armor, Director of Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

Underwater robot competition offers impressive display of technical and design skills

by Michelle Riley

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary

Sixteen student teams from middle, junior and high schools competed in the 2016 Gray’s Reef Southeast Regional MATE ROV Competition at the Chatham County Aquatic Center on April 30. After a full day of competition, seven-time regional champion Carrollton High School won the right to advance to the international round, held in June at the NASA Johnson Space Center Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston.

Carrollton High School, located west of Atlanta, has fielded strong teams that have placed as high as ninth in the global competition. Its team InnovOcean holds high hopes of taking home the top prize this year and will compete against students from various locations including Canada, Russia, Hong Kong and Scotland.

Beginning in 2004, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary partnered with the Marine Advanced Technology Education, or MATE, Center to offer underwater robotics as a vehicle to teach science, technology, engineering and math.

Two Atlanta area schools competing. Photo credit: Brian Greer

Two Atlanta area schools competing. Photo credit: Brian Greer

The ROV competition requires students to build tethered underwater robots — called remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs — from scratch, and then challenges them to perform tasks simulating real-world operations conducted by exploration organizations like NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries, NASA and other marine agencies worldwide. Teams are able to choose from four different classes of competition defined by skill level, instead of age, which further illustrates real-world circumstances. Only two classes — the Explorer and Ranger levels — are eligible to compete at the international competition.

In order to win, teams must not only build and successfully pilot an underwater robot, they have to create a company to market and sell their ROV. Students prepare posters, product spec sheets, safety procedures, design abstracts, business cards and presentations to working professionals who serve as contest judges.

Led by Jody Patterson, events coordinator at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, staff and sanctuary volunteers organize the regional competition and create simulated workplace scenarios for the ROV pilots. This year’s regionals focused on “innerspace” ROV tasks, including recovering equipment, conducting forensic fingerprinting of oil spills, analyzing deep water studies of corals and capping wellheads of oil rigs.

The sanctuary’s Team Ocean volunteer divers worked all day with NOAA divers to continually set up the underwater task components. Other volunteers served as judges and safety inspectors.

“It is a privilege to host the Southeast Regional ROV competition each year,” said Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Sarah Fangman. “To properly protect marine life and special areas like Gray’s Reef, we need tools to help us explore and understand the mysteries of the ocean. These students — future engineers and scientists — will create the next generation of instruments used at NOAA, NASA and the maritime industries.”

Gray’s Reef NMS organizes FareWhale Festival

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary will present the second annual FareWhale Festival on Saturday, March 21, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Tybee Island Pier and Pavilion.

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“We want people to come out and celebrate the end of the calving season for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale as they leave our coastal waters and make their way north off the coast of New England near Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary,” said Gray’s Reef’s Abbigail Murphy.

Visitors can experience the trials and tribulations these whales encounter in the right whale obstacle course; learn more about whales from experts and educators in the field; and enjoy live music and artwork from local artists. Other activities will include a guided beach walk on the shores of Tybee and a beach cleanup held from 10 a.m.-12 p.m.

More information is available at:
http://graysreef.noaa.gov
Contact: abbigail.murphy@noaa.gov

 

UGA Skidaway Institute scientists map Wassaw Sound

A research team from the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography has completed the first high-resolution, bathymetric (bottom-depth) survey of Wassaw Sound in Chatham County.

Led by UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Clark Alexander, the team produced a detailed picture of the bottom of Wassaw Sound, the Wilmington River and other connected waterways. The yearlong project was developed in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

This shows a wide view of the Wassaw Sound survey map. Shallow areas are shown in orange and yellow, deeper areas in green and blue.

This shows a wide view of the Wassaw Sound survey map. Shallow areas are shown in orange and yellow, deeper areas in green and blue.

The survey provides detailed information about the depth and character of the sound’s bottom. This information will be useful to boaters, but boating safety was not the primary aim of the project. The primary objective was to map bottom habitats for fisheries managers. DNR conducts fish surveys in Georgia sounds, but, according to Alexander, they have limited knowledge of what the bottom is like. “One of the products we developed is an extrapolated bottom character map,” Alexander said. “This describes what the bottom grain size is like throughout the sound. Is it coarse, or shelly or muddy? This is very important in terms of what kind of habitat there is for marine life.”

A second goal was to provide detailed bathymetric data to incorporate into computer models that predict storm surge flooding caused by hurricanes and other major storms. Agencies like the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration use mathematical models to predict anticipated storm inundation and flooding for specific coastal areas. A key factor in an accurate modeling exercise is the bathymetry of the coastal waters.

“You need to know how the water will pile up, how it will be diverted and how it will be affected by the bottom morphology,” Alexander said. “Since we have a gently dipping coastal plain, storm inundation can reach far inland. It is important to get it as right as we can so the models will provide us with a better estimate of where storm inundation and flooding will occur.”

Funded by an $80,000 Coastal Incentive Grant from DNR, Alexander and his research team, consisting of Mike Robinson and Claudia Venherm, used a cutting-edge interferometric side-scan sonar system to collect bathymetry data. The sonar transmitter/receiver was attached to a pole and lowered into the water from Skidaway Institute’s 28-foot Research Vessel Jack Blanton. Unlike a conventional fishfinder, which uses a single pinger to measure depth under a boat, the Edgetech 4600 sonar array uses fan-shaped sonar beams to both determine water depth and bottom reflectivity, which identifies sediment type, rocky outcroppings and bedforms, in a swath across the boat’s direction of travel.

The actual process of surveying the sound involved long hours of slowly driving the boat back and forth on long parallel tracks. On each leg, the sonar produced a long, narrow strip indicating the depth and character of the sound bottom. Using high-resolution Global Positioning System data that pinpointed the boat’s exact location, the system assembled the digital strips of data into a complete picture of the survey area.

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography research coordinator Claudia Venherm logs survey activity on board the R/V Jack Blanton.

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography research coordinator Claudia Venherm logs survey activity on board the R/V Jack Blanton.

All the other sounds on the Georgia coast were mapped in 1933, but for some reason data from that time period for Wassaw Sound was unavailable. When the team began this project, they believed they were conducting the first survey of the sound. However, just as the researchers were finishing the project, NOAA released data from a 1994 single-beam survey that had been conducted in advance of the 1996 Olympic yachting races that were held in and near Wassaw Sound.

“This worked out very well for our project, because we are able to compare the differences between the two surveys conducted 20 years apart,” Alexander said. “We see areas that have accumulated sediment by more than 2 meters, and we also see areas that have eroded more than 2 meters since 1994. Channels have shifted and bars have grown or been destroyed.”

Because of advances in technology, the current survey is significantly richer in detail than the one conducted in 1994. “We can zoom down to a square 25 centimeters (less than a foot) on a side and know the bottom depth,” Alexander said.

The survey produced a number of findings that were surprising. The intersection of Turner Creek and the Wilmington River is a deep, busy waterway. Although most of the area is deep, the survey revealed several pinnacles sticking up 20 feet off the bottom. “They are round and somewhat flat, almost like underwater mesas,” Alexander said.

The researchers determined that the deepest place mapped in the study area was a very steep-sided hole, 23 meters deep, in the Half Moon River where it is joined by a smaller tidal creek. They also found several sunken barges and other vessels.

The survey data set is available to the public on the Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal at http://gchp.skio.usg.edu/. Alexander warns that while boaters should find the survey interesting, the information is intended for habitat research and storm surge modeling, not for navigation. “Because the bottom of Wassaw Sound is always shifting and changing, as our survey showed, don’t rely on the data for safe navigation,” he cautioned.

Alexander has already received a grant for an additional survey, this time of Ossabaw Sound, the next sound south of Wassaw Sound. He expects work to begin on that survey in early 2015.