Preparation and Planning
Preparations for any research mission literally start years in advance, beginning with a request for ship time from NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aircraft Operations. We have been fortunate to have secured ship time on the NOAA ship Nancy Foster since 2004, which has given NCCOS an opportunity to gather a very productive, long term dataset throughout unexplored ocean regions of the U.S. Caribbean. In addition to ship time, without the funding support we receive annually from our key partner in this research, NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP), this effort would not be possible. These two pieces of the story are critical before we can begin the process of detailed mission planning.
A Chief Scientist for any mission must be proactive well in advance of a mission to ensure that the right equipment is available on the vessel to answer the needed scientific and management questions. During the course of the last 9 years of missions, NCCOS has been able to assist in fitting the Nancy Foster with some high technology tools in order to allow our researchers to collect the types of data needed during our sea missions.
NCCOS Nancy Foster mapping missions’ research projects have greatly benefited from the installation of state-of-the art mid-water multibeam sonar (0-1000m), split beam fish acoustic sonar, and a high resolution shallow water multibeam sonar (0-300m) technology. The NOAA ship Nancy Foster is perfectly suited for meeting NCCOS’ mapping mission goals in terms of versatility and costs. Its versatility allows me to conduct a multi-part mission with many complimentary streams of different data types being collected simultaneously. With the critical funding support of OCRM’s CRCP, NCCOS is proud to to partner with the the Nancy Foster’s officers, crew, and other NOAA staff on these missions who make these missions logistically possible.
Maximizing Our Time at Sea
To make sure we are maximizing our time at sea, there are different research projects running 24 hours a day/7 days a week for weeks we are on the vessel. . But we also ensure effectiveness of the research and data by using the most effective methods for data collect using questions and concerns from natural resource managers as a guide for our research design and execution. Very early on NCCOS’ CCMA embraced the concept of Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping (IOCM), the motto of “map once…use many times.” With ship time being costly and sometimes difficult to secure, we want to make sure the data we collect can serve a variety of different needs, such as hydrographic charting, ocean planning, inundation modeling, habitat mapping, marine debris identification, and so on. Therein, we reduce the redundancy of several different groups collecting data over the same region if we can collect it all in one visit.
What is Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping (IOCM)?
IOCM efforts require coordination and communication within NOAA and across other federal, local and regional agencies. I enjoy bringing diverse groups together to collectively solve a need or answer a common resource question.
Partnering with Resource Managers to Identify Needs and Answer Questions
Ultimately, NCCOS and CRCP’ goal in these missions is to answer key resource question and meet the research needs of the natural resource managers and scientists in the US Caribbean.
We work very closely with these individuals to ensure we are focusing on the highest priority locations and providing products that can help address locale and regional management questions.
Positive Outcomes and Benefits for Future Ocean Mapping
While it is discouraging that the condition of coral reef ecosystems and the associated biological fish communities in the U.S. Caribbean continues to deteriorate, two positive outcomes of these missions is that NCCOS’ ability to detect and monitor change is continuing to improve, allowing for joint research and development partnerships with industry and resource partners as well as the deployment of more robust tools and capabilities for monitoring our oceans resources in the US Caribbean. Those two outcomes allow NOAA and other scientists doing this type of work to better map and monitor, with greater efficiency, accuracy, and spatial resolution, resources in the US Caribbean and across the US oceans. The work during these last 9 years has moved the bar a little higher with NCCOS’ refined, new and improved techniques for ocean exploration, taking the data we have gathered to create integrated coastal mapping products that used by resource managers for making real decisions about these living resources.
Smart People Doing Research More Efficiently
I am fortunate to work with smart and innovative scientists who continue to advance the capabilities of remote sensing technologies. While we don’t develop our own sensors, we do test and utilize the latest technologies to their fullest. At times, we are able to have access to the latest technologies at the research and development level and area able to keep costs down by working with industry partners to field test prototypes, using our research as a means for calibrating and testing the effectiveness of those technologies in real-time scenarios. These new systems provide potential reward in the ability to provide better data than previously possible. There’s a caveat, though, when you work with leading edge technology. These novel systems can also be frustrating when they require constant troubleshooting of data, processing, and system integration. But the result leads to conducting better observations, enables better science, and drives the necessity of continually improving technology. We actively pursue those technologies and try to embrace their use as quickly as possible.
A Chief Scientist needs to be a forward thinker, looking outward to gauge the capabilities of tomorrow. The use of autonomous platforms such as those being used by the Department of Defense for intelligence gathering is the future we hope to see realized. Unmanned airborne drones, surface vehicles, and underwater vehicles we hope will provide cost effective, durable, and adaptable platforms of choice for civilian use. While we do make limited use of autonomous vehicles presently, it is not too farfetched to presuppose that these will become the routine vehicles of choice in the near-distant future. Conceivably, our need for large oceanographic ships will diminish as portable systems that can be air-shipped wherever we need to work become available.
One of the great rewarding experiences of my job is bringing talented scientists together on these missions. Hiring bright, innovative people rewards itself many times over. You learn quickly that working with other conscientious and dependable people is what makes a project succeed. During the last 9 years, many scientists at NCCOS and across NOAA have been given the opportunity to learn how to do remote sensing in the field, while helping resources managers in the region answer critical questions and needs. I learn something new from them every day. We invite visiting scientists to join us and do extensive outreach events with schools, management leaders, and political representatives. By sharing the work we do with others, we hope to remind people of the important of science, good coastal stewardship, and the condition of the marine community. Through encouragement and exposure, I hope that we are building the future leaders and advocates of the marine environment.
We hope you enjoy the ocean discoveries of Puerto Rico we have shared on the blog, including details of life at sea. Every day is a new adventure exploring depths and sites yet unseen.
To see the the Nancy Foster throughout the 2012 mapping mission, visit the NOAA ship tracker site and click on “Enter NOAA’s Ship Tracker link, then scroll down to “NF – Nancy Foster” in the box on the upper right of the screen to see where she is at any given time!
Be sure to visit this blog often for field updates, pictures and videos posted by members of the science team.