ARMADA logo ARMADA Project -- Research and Mentoring Experiences for Teachers National Science Foundation logo


Journals 2008/2009

Steve Howard
Meadowdale Middle School, Lynnwood, Washington

"Seafloor Mapping in support of the Law of the Sea
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy
August 12, 2008 - September 5, 2008
Journal Index:
August 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18
           19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24 - 25
           26 - 27 - 28 - 30 - 31
September 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

August 15, 2008
My First Watch

This morning I woke up a bit before midnight, splashed some water on my face, and stumbled bleary-eyed down to the science lab where some of the lead scientists and a bank of high-powered computers were waiting for me. There are five of us on our watch, and always a lead scientist is nearby if anything unusual or problematic crops up. After an orientation, which my brain wasn't quite able to keep up with, we took our seats and began the watch. "Watch" is a good word for it too, because that is essentially what I do: watch the computer monitors and push a few buttons now and then when we come across sudden rises or drops in the seafloor profile or chunks of sea ice (we haven't hit ice yet, however) which can interfere with the echo-sounding system. The system produces a running record of data reports, and as long as they are coded green I can breathe easy. It also produces a visual image of the seafloor topography in brilliant color and remarkable detail, which is fascinating to watch unfold before your eyes. It all sounds deceptively simple, until you consider the time and expertise it took to develop these complex technological systems. In another area of the lab, other scientists are processing the incoming data and backing the record up on various hard drives. I enjoy listening to the experts around me interpret what they are seeing, and I'm learning about some new geological terms such as "scarp," "pockmark," and "scour" (I know they sound like skin afflictions, but they are really cool!) Today's project is running a "patch" test, which allows the team to calibrate the multibeam echo-sounder system and make sure that everything is running smoothly. This is important because it costs many tens of thousands of dollars per day to "rent" this vessel, so you can't afford to collect worthless data. By 5 or 6 am I was struggling a bit to stay awake, but some coffee, snacks, and an occasional chilly walk out on deck kept me alert. After my watch I had some chow and hit the sack for some much needed sleep. The rest of the day was spent working through photos I've taken and talking with other scientists about their work, but to be honest I haven't fully emerged from my drowsy state. With constant daylight, a rolling and pitching floor, and science team members coming and going at all hours with their projects, I can see it's going to take some time before I get the hang of this!

The science lab is where the echo-sounder data comes in.
Grad student Daniela Goncalves hard at work processing the seafloor mapping data

Kelley Brumley, Geology graduate student, University of Fairbanks, Alaska. Two years into her Master's Degree, Kelley is a geological "historian" who is interested in reconstructing the tectonic plate movements that formed the Arctic Ocean some 130 million years ago. The sea floor structures uncovered by the multibeam echo-sounder are very important for Kelley since she uses the ridges, basins, and other formations to bring back together through time the tectonic puzzle pieces that created the region. Kelley is hoping for an opportunity to send down a dredge and scoop up some rock material from the Arctic sea floor and examine the rock types she finds as evidence that volcanism due to rifting may have occurred in the Chukchi cap area. It's a challenge finding the right location to dredge, however, and there is a good chance that they may not be able to retrieve the dredge once they send it overboard. I hope they do, because it would be great to see some rocks pulled up from the bottom of the Arctic. Kelley also has a background as an artist, and feels that this helps her visualize the formations she sees and connect them together. Kelley sees a "wonderful correlation between science and art. To make a good scientist you need to be a creative and curious person." I appreciate having Kelley on my watch and know I will continue to learn much from her.

Researcher Kelley Brumley in the science lab