Thursday, January 24, 2008

The calm before the storm

Our noon position: Latitude 21 39.297 N, Longitude 160 32.787 W.

Day three. Heading North, and beginning to notice plastic debris on the rise. Upon sunrise, we spotted a small, rocky island in the distance, named Kaula, off Kauai to which we headed seeking wind protection for our first sampling of the day. We reached the Island by late morning – a stark, barren yet beautiful half caldera lunarscape protruding sharply from the sea. The only signs of visible life were a dense cloud of Noddy Terns hovering atop the crest, along with an incongruous group of old rockets, which appeared ready to launch, possibly a vestige from the cold war.

Here Marcus, Herb, Jeff, and Joel examine our first sample for plastic content.

Our first three trawls, to the naked eye, yielded scattered pieces of plastic, a few visible nurdles, and a host of colorful organisms - numerous Vellelidea “blue buttons”, copepods, salps, Portuguese Man O War, and other miniscule creatures. We won’t know for certain how much plastic these samples contain until we bring them back to our lab.

Taking advantage of relatively calm seas before some predicted squalls, we set out 2 final night trawls, and noticed a marked increase in plastic particles. And we're still hundreds of miles from the convergence zone…..

Crossing the Pacific – In February?

As promised yesterday, a bit more background on the research goals guiding this mission. And answers to a question repeated by several concerned friends and family:

· "Why did you choose the middle of winter to cross the North Central Pacific?"

The primary goal is to test the hypothesis that marine debris concentrations will be highest in the winter, when the current-driven surface convergence zone is formed. This concept was put forward in a recently published paper, Marine Debris Collects Within the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone. Question: What is a convergence zone? Why would these change during different seasons?

Finding and removing marine debris, especially discarded fishing nets, is an extremely costly process. So coming up with ways to better predict where these debris concentrations might occur is of great interest to marine research and conservation organizations.

DELI – the Debris Estimated Likelihood Index – was designed for this purpose. Using chlorophyll concentrations and sea surface temperatures – two factors among others that correlate to debris concentrations, DELI is expected to locate debris concentrations in our vast, seemingly infinite ocean.

As these studies were conducted by aerial surveys, sampling in the winter would have been extremely difficult if not impossible. Winter storms disperse surface debris into the water column, while whitecaps and confused seas obscure vision from above. So although debris concentrations are likely highest in the winter months, no one has yet been able to verify this. Until, possibly now…..

Though trash is mainly what we’re looking for, wildlife sightings are always a welcome addition. Today we spotted two humpback whales – a mother and her calf, two Laysan Albatross, a red-footed booby, (shown here) and countless invertebrates in our samples.

Our last sample for the day collected at 9 pm, we raised our Genoa jib, and are cruising steadily through the night, heading for two more islands in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument to collect samples before we reach our main research area.

We should reach Nihoa Island tomorrow morning, and Nekker Island the following – anecdotes and photos to follow.

Aloha from the ORV Alguita Crew, thank you for your support…and if you have any good banana recipes, send them our way - we have a raft of bananas all set to ripen simultaneously!


T-BIRDS said...

Aloha! My name is Manessa like Vanessa!I am really excited to be apart of this very important nature caring adventure. I am in the 8th grade and i am in the science club.I really would like to learn more about this.I think that this is sooooo kool that at least some people(good people)acually care about the environment.I am soooooo,so,so,so excited I cant even remember how many times I've said this. I'm going to be very commited to helping and participating in this event.I'm willing to answer any questions you have to ask me, and ask you any questions i feel i have to ask.I am looking forward to your messages in the future. C'ya later!!!

t-birds said...

My name is Savasja.I am a member of the Edwards Middle School Science Club. This is very,very,very interesting to me, to hear about you and your crew. It is great to know that you and your crew not only care about your environment but everybody's environment. That is so cool! I am going to keep a check on this site about all the cool things that you all are doing. Not only me but all of the science members including my teacher are very interested in this voyage!!!!

P.S. Stay safe!!!!!!