Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Day 8

Noon Coordinates: 30°50'57.96"N, 159° 1'9.24"W

Monday 9/14/09 -The Experiment

We’ve been trying to hold a position since last night. That is, as best we can with a sea anchor. Since it’s too deep to have an anchor reach the bottom, we use a sea anchor. How a sea anchor works is it has a 10’ diameter circular opening at the front end but only a 2’ diameter circular opening on the back end. It works like an underwater parachute, slowing the boat down as it drags it through the water. So we’re moving but usually under one knot.

Since AMRF started, Captain Moore has wanted to try an experiment, but there’s never been enough time. We found a couple of days to try it. So last night, with a sea state of one, we tied nine buoys together with the huge freighter rope that we retrieved and made an island of plastic that was tethered to the ship. The idea was to see how long it took for marine life to take refuge under it and to also see what types of fish it would attract.

We woke to a sea state of three and by 1000, the sea state jumped to a six. Constant whitecaps frothed with 10’ swells that took our experiment and twisted into a bunch of knots. Before any of the buoys could be torn away by the force, we had to get them out. Not trivial. It took all of us - using the winch to lift it enough to untangle it while hanging over the railing looked much like riding a mechanical bull. Sometimes a knife was needed. Using a knife when the ship is riding up the side of one swell while being rock sideways by another and then slapped back down is a scary thought. I was happy to run the winch or carry the untethered buoys to the back of the ship. With the wind up at 25 knots and the waves crashing against Alguita, it was difficult to hear. It took unspoken cooperation of all of us - each watching the actions of the others so as to know when you could step in, reading each moment knowing that this was a serious situation and we all depended on each other. Here was a perfect example of how the ocean can change and present a situation that will require all hands on deck. And here, on the ocean, creates many opportunities to work for the common good.

Before the ocean decided to turn on us this morning, the Captain and Lindsey took the dingy out so Lindsey could get some pictures of Alguita as well as look for some big pieces of plastics to bring in since the ship was anchored. But because the sea state was much rougher than the day before, they weren’t finding much of anything. They did find some tangled up, photo-degraded rope, but it was down too deep for them to retrieve by hand. Here’s why, when the surface is rough, the plastics cannot float as easily on the surface making them impossible to see. This highlights another issue with determining just how much plastic is out here. What we have been trawling for and the items we have been collecting only express what we are finding on the surface when it is relatively calm.

After our buoy ordeal, the Captain thought it best to bring the dingy on deck. Here’s where Jeff, who Marcus and Ana call "Boat Monkey", lived up to his nickname. Remember the sea state is a six and the dingy is not only rockin’ and rollin’, but its getting slapped full of water every couple of waves. Without a second thought, Jeff jumped from the stern into the dingy. He fought to keep his balance as he bailed with one hand, pulled in oars that were on they’re way out, and ducked the line from the ship that came close to clothes-lining him a few times. As soon as he got most of the water out a huge swell came and nearly knocked him out as the rouge wave rolled in. He rode it through like a rodeo with the rope flying, his hands flailing as his ride bucked several feet in the air. Amazing balance and coordination! Shortly after the dingy rested on the stern, the Captain declared the remainder of the day a Rest Day

Several good questions from Brooksbank Elementarty School! Here are a few answers in response;

First, ORV Alguita is a mighty ship for her size. She is a 50’ Catamaran with a 25’ beam and a 70’ mast. I was curious about where the name came from too so I asked the captain and he explained. Alguita means little kelp plant. Before he did the research on plastic pollution, he had a personal interest in algae and kelp. He was involved with transplanting giant kelp beds that were nearly destroyed in Baja, California. Captain Moore feels algae and kelp play a very important role in our oceans so Little Kelp represents his feeling about its importance.

Second, regarding our hypothesis about how plastic concentrations will compare to those ten years ago-Great question! Based on the winter survey done in 2008 that revealed an increase, we are anticipating a higher concentration than our results from the research we preformed 10 years ago. Currently, we have found plastic in every trawl we have done over the past several months and in places beyond the International Date Line.

Paul Clarke, thank you so much for your question. You are correct in that it takes calm seas to see the plastics, not to mention we were doing a trawl at the time so we were going 3.2 knots. I put a picture in the blog yesterday to illustrate the size fragments we were seeing. After looking at the image, I’m confident you will see them if given the opportunity to go to sea again. We found the same fragments in the North Atlantic Gyre in July. We would retrieve them the same way. Because the Sargassum in the Atlantic acts as a trap for these particulates, we also pulled in the Sargassum. From personal experience, it’s a matter of training your eye to see it. Dr. Maureen Conte, an oceanographer for Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, has been on the water for 30 years and she said she never noticed the fragments before we did research on her Oceanic Flux Program cruise this summer.

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