Geology of the Ocean Floor

R/V Sally Ride is doing work out of her first foreign port – Manzanillo, Mexico. The ship arrived after a recent cruise and stayed for a well-deserved few days of rest and relaxation for the crew, as well as resupplying food, and fuel. A new science party came aboard, and the ship headed off again for a month-long trip that took it to its furthest point south (so far), almost all the way to the equator!

Below are some photos from the cruise.  Definitely check out the many blog posts from the science party for more. They have a great website with information about their science goals while aboard R/V Sally Ride. It also includes many posts about life and work aboard the ship, including their operations, samples of rock from the seafloor, visiting whales and birds, shrinking cups, getting to know the crew, and lots more. 


Mapping and Coring

Group photo of graduate students, scientists, and technicians aboard Sally Ride.
Photo thanks to restech Jeremiah Brower.

Many of the recent cruises on R/V Sally Ride have been student-led, thanks to the UC Ship Funds program. Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) graduate student James Holmes was awarded ship time in December. As Chief Scientist, he led a partnership of SIO and San Diego State University students, along with scientists from Utah State and the Museum of Natural History in LA.

Upon arrival at the project site near the northern Channel Islands, a Chirp survey was conducted. This involves a towed acoustic source that pings off the seafloor and returns data about the density of ocean bottom sediments to scientists onboard. There is a similar system mounted to the hull of the ship, you can read more about its functionality in this blog post. After the survey, the team deployed a vibracoring assembly to collect sediment samples. These will be matched to the acoustic data and then the age will be determined based on radioisotope analysis. Archeologists looking for evidence of early humans are involved in the project, as coastal settlements during the last ice age are underwater today.

A vibracore consists of a 4-inch diameter carbon steel pipe 10 feet long, with a base plate attached on one end and a motor on the other. It is deployed off the back deck so that the plate lands on the seafloor first (see header photo, from James Holmes). The motor then vibrates at around 3,000 vibrations per minute, sinking the tube through a hole in the base plate and into the sediment. 

SIO graduate students extract the plastic core liner from the vibracoring
pipe after a successful recovery. Photo by restech Jeremiah Brower.

After collecting cores at a dozen specific sites around the project area, James and the team returned to coordinates where a vibracoring assembly was lost during operations aboard R/V Sproul back in June 2017. It wasn’t a main cruise objective, but attempting to recover the assembly was part of the plan if there was time. As Chief Scientist James explains, “We imaged the assembly using sidescan sonar and multi-beam swath bathymetry and then recovered the entire assembly from 40 meters depth by dragging a very large grappling hook at the end of a few kilometers of cable on the ocean floor.”  

He is quick to admit that the chances of successfully finding and recovering the lost equipment had “barely a 5% chance of working.” After all, the motor presented a 1 meter by 1 meter target for the transducer to pinpoint. Co-Chief Scientist Dr. Jillian Maloney from SDSU confirms that the recovered equipment will be able to be used again. “The motor was still vacuum sealed and all the internal workings were just fine. It looked brand new, which is kind of remarkable…” she says.

All in all, it was a very successful trip that put R/V Sally Ride‘s experienced crew and technicians to the test. “The skill and cooperation of Captain Lawrence, and SIO ResTech Jeremiah gave a successful and satisfying conclusion to (the) operation,” reports the happy Chief Scientist.

Left: Closeup image of data used to discover vibracorer assembly. White dot is the vibracorer motor and float assemblies. Black dot to the right are acoustic shadows cast by the vibracorer on a backdrop of illuminated seafloor. Photo by James Holmes.
Right: Restech Jeremiah poses with the recovered vibracorer assembly, previously thought lost at the bottom of the ocean. The pipe was bent, but the motor is in good condition and will be used again. Photo thanks to restech Jeremiah Brower.

Studying the Thomas Fire From Sea

The attention garnered to the team of graduate students who sailed on R/V Sally Ride in December has been well above normal. That is what happens when a research project happens to time up with a natural environmental event. In this case, a long-planned cruise into the coastal waters of Santa Barbara, led by UCSB students, took place during the Thomas Fire, California’s largest in modern history.

Below are links to many of the articles that have been written about the cruise – before, during, and after. 

Header photo is an image from scientist Ellie Arrington from the ship’s small boat, used to collect surface samples of wildfire ash. 

The Santa Barbara Independent wrote about the benefit of using R/V Sally Ride in this study. 

The Orange County Register article includes information about how wildfires could change ocean environments.

Hakai Magazine article with early results from the cruise. 

News Deeply interviewed Co-Chief Scientist Kelsey Bisson about the cruise. 

Facebook Live video from San Diego’s Union Tribune about the cruise’s mission. 

A Popular Science article about how the effects of the wildfire would be studied.

An article from Scripps Institution of Oceanography about the cruise’s objectives. 

UC Santa Barbara put out a press release on Eurekalert. 

A previous blog post with more details about the cruise.

Student Cruise Visits the Central Coast

On a recent research cruise aboard R/V Sally Ride, Scripps Institution of Oceanography graduate student Angel Ruacho acted as Chief Scientist. He, along with a team of other students, graduate and undergraduate alike, headed out to collect water and sediment samples along the coast of Southern California. For many of the scientists, it was their first time living and working at sea. 

Angel deploys GO-FLO bottles from the back deck. The multi-corer (large frame) is deployed last since it kicks up
particles on the seafloor when it lands.

Cruises like this are made possible through the UC Ship Funds program, which awards ship time to a few groups each year after a peer-reviewed proposal process. The dates Angel was given for his cruise overlapped with the Ocean Sciences conference in Portland, Oregon, where he was due to give a poster. He managed to do both, even though planning a cruise and making a poster are each time consuming jobs. “It was quite the adventure prepping for a cruise and conference at the same time,” he said after the successful completion of both projects.

Nine stations along the coast of Central California were visited, including just off Cambria, Morro Bay, and Vandenberg Air Force Base. The goal was to evaluate the different sites for iron content in the benthic boundary layer (BBL), which is where the water ends and sediment begins on the seafloor. Angel explains the purpose was to “…determine the type of sediments there and if certain locations have a BBL with more particles and thus higher iron. This will help in determining if one of these locations could be a source of iron to the southern CA bight.”

Students process a core sample. Both the sediment
and the captured water will be analyzed.

Angel and the team study such low levels of iron that background levels would interfere, including if they used the usual CTD setup or underway seawater pipes. Instead, they used GO-Flo bottles to collect water samples, which don’t open until they’re below potentially-contaminated surface waters.

As Angel puts it, the “main attraction of the cruise” was the trace metal team, who set up a “bubble” in the ship’s wet lab. This consists of plastic sheeting taped together, enclosing a work space, with positive pressure in order to keep out ambient particles. Check out this post from last year for more on bubbles. They also used the regular ship’s CTD and the multi-corer, which collects sediment samples. More on how that works from this previous post

Many people spotted R/V Sally Ride working offshore along the central coast, sharing pictures on social media. It was a successful cruise, and even returned to port a few hours ahead of schedule, having completed all the science objectives. 

Many thanks to Angel Ruacho, Kayleen Fulton, Sara Rivera, and Matthew Pendergraft for pictures.



An Opportunistic Mission

R/V Sally Ride heads out this weekend with a full science party made up mostly of graduate students from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Chief Scientist Nick Huynh and Co-Chief Kelsey Bisson have been planning the cruise for over a year. The main purpose is to study plankton movements in the Santa Barbara Channel on a constant 24-hour per day basis. However, the science plans were amended last minute to accommodate sampling and experiments that will measure the effects of the wildfire in the coastal areas near Santa Barbara. This unprecedented opportunity will help us understand how wildfires that blow ash into the ocean change the ecosystem. 

An illustrator, videographer, and musician are also members of the science party. Follow along on the ship’s social media channels, and check back here for another blog post after the cruise returns to San Diego. 


The cruise website is here.

Many articles have been written about this cruise, links to those in this post.

Artwork by onboard artist Celia Jacobs.

Notes from the Field

The current project on R/V Sally Ride has made SIO’s photo of the week! I’m currently assigned to a different research vessel in the Southern Atlantic Ocean working and writing for the SOCCOM project, so it’s hard to keep in touch with the goings on of the ship. Apologies for the lack of regular posts. There are ongoing posts and pictures from the ships and planes involved here.

Based on a report from UNOLS master technician Drew Cole, who is working as a restech, 42 moorings were deployed from Sally Ride in a matter of days. Now underway are surveys using the ship’s sonars and a few additional ones that the science party has mounted in various ways. This includes an ADCP on a pole and a profiling instrument on a heavy-duty fishing reel that measures turbulence, among other properties. 

Scientists ready for a night-time deployment from the ship’s stern.

A report from Chief Scientist John Colosi: 

“The R/V Sally Ride is well into week 2 of our observations of the dynamics of the inner continental shelf just south of Pismo Beach. We have been dividing our time between two distinct inner shelf environments. One location, Oceano Beach, is a straight sandy-bottom coastline, and the other location, Point Sal, is a complex rocky headland with outcrops, promontories, and a large pocket beach. These location choices help our groups to dis-entangle the important dynamical processes associated with beach inner shelf interactions such as rip currents and surface waves, internal waves which are like surface waves except they exist within the ocean water column, wind driven circulation such as upwelling and down welling, ocean eddies which represent the “weather’’ of the ocean, and topographic effects.

 “The experimental effort would not be possible without an extremely capable and collegial group of scientists from SIO, NPS, OSU, and UW. With over 170 moorings measuring temperature, ocean currents and mixing, 3 large vessels (R/V Sally Ride, Oceanus, and Sproul), 4 small boats R/V Kalipi, Sally Anne, Sounder and Sand Crab), 2 airplanes from SIO and UW, and coastal radar supplied by SIO and OSU, there is a dizzying amount of equipment involved in this work.

 “Some highlights of the work so far include wonderful observations of energetic bore-like and short pulse internal waves with beautiful turbulent wakes and associated biological activity, headland wakes and eddies and their associated complex re-circulation patters, strong upwelling and eddy activity due to a major wind event, and observations of vorticity (circular water motions) from 5 vessel synchronized surveys along the 10-50m isobaths.

“Our delightful experience of the inner shelf is that every day is different and the various dynamical processes at work, tides, wind, waves, turbulence, and topographic effects, evolve as a complex, but understandable pattern that has been a joy to observe.’’

San Diego Union Tribune article about the research. 

Blog posts and pictures from the scientists onboard are also here.

Sally Ride, Team Player

R/V Sally Ride is finishing up mooring operations for Chief Scientist Dr. Bill Hodgkiss and will soon be headed back to port. It’s another quick turnaround, the ship heads out next week to an area just off the coast of Southern California between Point Conception and Avila Beach. An ONR (Office of Naval Research) funded project, scientists will be aboard from Scripps, Oregon State University (OSU), University of Washington (UW), and the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey. And it won’t just be Sally Ride at work. OSU’s research vessels Oceanus and Kapili will also be in the area, as well as SIO’s Sproul. Small vessels and even aircraft will be part of the joint effort as well.

This intensive observing effort is part of a multi-year effort to to better understand the “inner shelf”, the part of the coastal ocean offshore of the surf zone but onshore of the shelf break (where the ocean depth plummets to hundreds and thousands of feet).  This area is governed by unique but complex physical processes, including wind-driven circulation, upwelling, breaking waves, wakes and instabilities, and internal waves (that ride on density interfaces below the surface). The map on the left shows the study area, with various symbols representing sites for wave observations, sonar surveys, drifter and mooring deployments, wave gliders, quadpods, bottom landers, ship’s radar, and even drone flights with an infrared camera. More on how all these technologies work together to tell a story coming in future posts.

The scientists will collect every feasible bit of data they can. Combination of all of these observations will help them both understand the basic processes, and use that understanding to improve forecast models of the coastal ocean.

A variety of aerial images of the work site add data on properties of wind, waves,
and currents. Photo credit to Gordon Farquharson (UW).

For her part, Sally Ride will deploy twenty-two moorings during the course of the cruise. These are done during daylight hours to make the operations safer and easier. Overnight and then for an intensive period after the mooring deployments, the ship will conduct ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiling), density, and turbulence surveys to study these complex phenomena. You may remember another internal wave project performed aboard R/V Sally Ride, check out this post to learn more.  

Stay tuned! Co-Chief Scientists Dr. John Colosi (NPS) and Dr. Jennifer MacKinnon (SIO) will be blogging on this page, as well as Sproul’s Chief Scientist André Palóczy (SIO). There are also blog posts here. And for all the details you could possibly want, check out the publicly available experiment plan.

The Study of Sound

Technicians Gabriela and Jeremy deploy a surface buoy. Below the surface is a
thermistor string, along with floats and weights to keep it vertical in the water column.

Dr. Bill Hodgkiss is back aboard R/V Sally Ride, along with engineers and technicians from his group at SIO’s Marine Physical Laboratory (MPL). As with their cruise last year, which was the ship’s first official science verification cruise, they have brought along multiple instruments used to study acoustics off the coast of Southern California. On that cruise, the moorings were anchored to the seafloor using old train wheels. This expedition, however, focuses on drifting moorings that are not anchored. Instead they are connected to surface buoys with GPS for keeping track of its position, as well as lights and a beacon to aid in recovery.

The sound source is deployed and towed behind the ship for a few hours
each day.

In order to calibrate the acoustic instruments deployed, a sound source is towed behind the ship. The known noise level and distance from the recording devices puts every other noise recorded into perspective. CTD casts are also performed on a regular basis in order to provide a sound speed profile (more on the importance of that in this post). An echosounder survey was also conducted in order to determine the properties of the seafloor (see more about the Chirp system here). 

This science party has been aboard a few times, and always puts Sally Ride through her paces, using ship’s equipment such as the crane and A-frame, as well as the CTD and many other shipboard science systems. Not to mention the bridge crew who navigate the ship with the necessary precision and help look out for floats upon recovery. Thankfully, the Hodgkiss group also come prepared and have a lot of experienced hands, so it’s time well spent.



Shipyard Upgrades In Action

R/V Sally Ride has successfully completed two science cruises since leaving the shipyard last month. The first involved visiting a research site in the Gulf of Alaska in order to switch out long-term moorings. That cruise off-loaded in Newport, Oregon and the ship then headed to San Diego. Multiple Scripps technicians were onboard for the transit south in order to tie up loose ends (in some cases literally) and get the ship ready for the demands of a CalCOFI cruise. The seasonal trip fills the ship’s staterooms and labs with scientists and uses pretty much every capability – from underway sampling to deployments to sonars. And on this cruise, Dr. Uwe Send’s group also loaded up a buoy and other instruments as part of an opportunistic mooring deployment. So it was a very full ship!

The new main lab setup. For pictures of the lab before the shipyard changes,
check out this post

You may remember that the CalCOFI group was also aboard Sally Ride for their fall trip last November. So they were able to compare the ship as it was then, after just a few science verification cruises, and now, after the shipyard period. What made the most difference to them was the reconfigurable lab spaces. Gone are the rows of narrow tabletops with cabinets above and below, replaced with custom-made easy to move nesting tables of varying sizes and heights. They come with the extra perk of storage space underneath and it’s a necessity at sea that everything be easily secured. The tables bolt into the floor, the lab has holes every two feet in a grid pattern, and gear can be screwed into the tabletop or strapped to the frame. “The new tables are great!” says CalCOFI Chief Scientist Jen Wolgast, adding that it made it much easier for the various groups aboard to have the work areas that they needed while sharing limited space. “It’s nice to be able to get to all sides of the tables, it lets people move around easier,” said LTER scientist Shonna. I’m glad to hear that the new lab setup is working well, and can’t wait to see how each science party customizes it.

The forward area of the wet lab, now with a watertight door leading
out onto the deck near the CTD sampling area. Note CalCOFI’s famous
espresso setup – they know how to live.

The wet lab also got an update. As outlined in a previous post, the name was a bit too literal at first. Sister ship R/V Neil Armstrong was first out of the yard, and reported water making its way into the wet lab through the rolling door connecting it to the starboard working deck. Now, that door has been converted to a solid wall and instead there’s a watertight door that leads from the forward part of the wet lab out onto deck. Chief Scientist Jen Wolgast reports, “We used the door from the wet lab to help with landing the CTD, it’s in the perfect spot to assist with getting the rosette right where we need it in order to sample all the way around.”  

The forward 01 deck also got reinforced so that containers can be housed there, both for storage and additional lab space. This was quite an undertaking in the shipyard, and there are dramatic photos of the transformation in a previous post. A second ladder (stairway, see header photo) was added from the forward focsle deck, so that there’s still easy access no matter where the containers are placed. No science group has needed that extra functionality yet, but you can be sure that once they do, you’ll see pictures of it here. 


A Quick Turnaround

Last week R/V Sally Ride returned to San Diego after months away. But that doesn’t mean that the ship or her crew got much of a break. Within 72 hours, they were underway again. The summer CalCOFI research cruise will spend 17 days at sea, occupying 75 science stations to collect data as part of its historic data set. 

The marine mammal acoustic team readies their array, while restechs
and technicians from Uwe Send’s lab bring a mooring buoy aboard.

First up, there was lots of gear to unload from the shipyard period. The ship’s crane alternated moving this off onto the dock, and bringing on gear from the many groups that participate in a CalCOFI cruise. It is a full ship, with the labs and staterooms full of scientists. The back deck is more crowded than usual, home to mooring instruments from Uwe Send’s group that will be deployed once all the usual station work is complete. This is a project of opportunity that is part of a NOAA-funded array making observations in the CalCOFI region

The crew also had a few projects to complete, so everybody pitched in to get the ship ready. 

You may remember that Sally Ride hosted the fall CalCOFI cruise last November. To learn more about the science taking place onboard in the next few weeks, check out these posts from that time.

Science Focus: Hydrography

Science Focus: Fisheries

Science Focus: Marine Mammal Observations

Science Focus: Long Term Ecological Research

Science Focus: Plankton sensor

Project of Opportunity: Quantifying Carbon Export