Wednesday, July 03, 2013

By Hanna Muegge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter two days at sea and traveling more than 2900 miles, the seven-member team from Palau, including Governor Thomas Patris, his son Brandon, Petra Patris, Hercules Emilio, Frano Eusevio, Max Imbir, and Hanna Muegge (intern working for OneReef Micronesia and the Helen Reef Program), reached Helen Reef Island. The mission for this team from Hatohobei State and the Helen Reef Resource Management Program is to deliver new supplies to the conservation officers on Helen Reef and Tobi Islands, to set up a weather station on Helen Reef Island, as well as to help the team of oceanographers from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and UC San Diego Oceanography Program install water temperature monitoring devices around the islands.

The vessel used for this trip is the R/V Roger Revelle (AGOR 24), the second of three AGOR research vessels built by the U.S. Navy. The Roger Revelle is a large research ship equipped with sophisticated scientific equipment. Among them are several work stations, a 25 ft rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB), a Bioanalytical Lab with precision temperature control, a HiSeasNet communications system using SeaTel C-band shipboard hardware and 192 kbps to 512 kbps of leased bandwidth on an IntelSat satellite (Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography), an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler, Expendable bathythermograph, Gravimeter, Hydrographic Doppler Sonar, Magnetometer, Motion Reference Units, Sub-Bottom Profilers, Underway Data System (Meterological / Sea Surface), Multibeam sonar (device that maps the ocean floor), a library, fitness rooms, lounge area, and several Wi-Fi computer stations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe R/V Roger Revelle was given the name of Roger Revelle, one of the 20th century’s most eminent men of science. Revelle (ᵻ 1909-1991) was a researcher, professor, wartime naval officer, and director of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, among other things on a very long list of accomplishments and titles. Today, the R/V Roger Revelle proudly carries his name and continues to carry out scientific voyages contributing to further exploration in the field of oceanography. The title of the ship is held by the U.S. Navy and it operates under charter agreement with the Office of Naval Research. It was constructed in early 1993 and was launched two years later in 1995.

On board the ship is a group from the University of California San Diego who is carrying out a bathymetric survey of the ocean floor around selected islands in the South Pacific. Shaun Johnston, chief scientist of the group explained that every 6 kilometers, which is equivalent to every half an hour, the monitoring probes collect temperature and salinity data. After further investigating about details to their project, I found that this is the second phase of an ongoing project. The overarching title of the research project is “Island-trapped waves, internal waves, and island circulation”. Since ocean prediction near islands is a scientific challenge due to the variability from local and remote forces, better predictions near islands is crucial for socioeconomic, operational, and scientific reasons. During the first year, the chosen research group will conduct a spatial survey using a towed vehicle (SeaSoar) to obtain information of the geostrophic flow within 200km of the islands. Then, during the second year a process cruise will focus on internal wave and island-trapped wave (ITW) generation. The current researchers are conducting the 2nd year phase of the project.

The team with representatives of Hatohobei State, OneReef Micronesia and the Helen Reef Program successfully completed their mission, which was to bring supplies to the current and incoming conservation officers on Helen Reef Island, to assist in the set-up of the weather station and water monitoring devices on and around the island, and to deliver supplies to Tobi Island. The weather station was donated by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and supported funding comes from the Coral Reef Research Foundation and Patrick Colins. We placed the weather station close to the conservation officers’ house in the middle of the Helen Reef Island to collect information from the island such as wind speed, temperature, and humidity. The data collected is useful to the people of Hatohobei State since it is sent directly to the monitoring labs at the University of California in San Diego and from there the information is made readily accessible online.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADue to the lack of accurate seafloor mapping in the South Pacific, it is very dangerous for large and small ships to navigate these waters, as evident by the many shipwrecks across the ocean in Palau and around the Southwest Islands. The captain of the R/V Roger Revelle, Tom Desjardines, 2nd Mate Melissa Turner, and 3rd Mate Matt Serio are among the key people to safely maneuver the vessel across its many voyages. It’s been a very interesting and knowledge enriching trip for our team, and luckily it has not come to an end yet. One of the other ongoing scientific studies is about mapping the seafloor (taking bathymetric measurements). Matt Serio, 3rd Mate on board the Roger Revelle spoke to me about how the bathymetric survey will be useful for future navigation in the area. As there are no main shipping routes here in this region, most of the charts the bridge relies on have not been updated since 1918. I was able to look at the charts for Tobi, Helen Reef Island, Sonsorol and Merir and all of them are based on depths from a Japanese sketch survey from 1918. The bathymetric survey the ship is doing on our voyage will help ensure safer navigation across Palauan and Southwest waters. Until our arrival back in Koror, we still have time to learn more about the scientific studies being conducted and the equipment used on board.

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