Archive for the ‘Australian Adventures’ Category

Glider flying and scuba diving!

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

When dealing with the oceans, especially scientifically, there is one rule: always expect the unexpected. The ocean is largely under-sampled and poorly understood, especially considering its size, vastness, complexity, and dynamic nature. After all, oceanography is still a very new science. Oceanography really only became prevalent within the past century or so. There is more information known about the surface of the moon than that of our own ocean. This is particularly surprising considering that we live on the OCEAN PLANET - the ocean covers over 70% of the Earth's surface (it should really be called "Ocean", rather than "Earth"!). Even more so, it's particularly surprising because the ocean is the primary driver of Earth's weather patterns and climate. The ocean and atmosphere interact 24/7, and the ocean is a massive thermal reservoir. This is the reason that hurricanes gain extraordinary strength over warm ocean waters yet die out quickly once over land. Not only does the ocean affect the atmosphere and its weather patterns, but what we humans do on land affects the ocean as well, even from what we can't physically see with the naked eye (ex: carbon budgets, etc.).

Anyway, we digress...getting back to expecting the unexpected with the ocean. This of course applies to gliders, which are extremely subject to oceanic currents. Our initial plan was to fly SG514 and SG520 along predetermined patterns throughout Perth Canyon, which is relatively a very small area, ocean-wise. However, the ocean, of course, had different plans. Generally the Leeuwin Current flows southward and the Leeuwin Undercurrent flows northward a bit stronger than the Leeuwin Current. But of course, there was a large eddy right over Perth Canyon which made the Leeuwin Current flow northward along with the Leeuwin Undercurrent, causing a large net water movement northward. The current was too strong for the gliders to be able to fly against, so we've had to put a hold on our predetermined flight patterns and make some new flight plans to the to use the currents to the gliders' advantage. The result is that we have flown SG520 around the eddy and to the south of Perth Canyon while we flew SG514 to the north of Perth Canyon. Once we get all the data back, it will actually be really cool to analyze because we will be able to see how the eddy over the Perth Canyon affects the flows of the Leeuwin Current and Leeuwin Undercurrent north and south of the Perth Canyon! We will be able to detect this by locating varying temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen signatures sampled by the science sensors on the glider in the water column layers.


This past week has been a lot of computer work to pilot the gliders, though we've had some work in the glider lab as well! We've been troubleshooting a compass problem on the Slocum gliders. Whenever the compass reports a bad reading, generally when the glider is at an extreme pitch, roll, or is experiencing fluctuations in magnetic fields, the glider takes the compass out of active service, and therefore the glider aborts its dive segment, comes to the surface, and calls in via satellite to report that something is wrong. This happens because gliders fly via heading towards a directed heading or waypoint (GPS point), so if it can't use the compass, it can't fly effectively. We've made some headway on solving the problem, but have also discovered that a large portion of the problem may be on the manufacturer's side (not the manufacturer of Slocum gliders, the manufacturer of the compass that Slocum gliders use). We're also awaiting some new battery packs to arrive so we can refurbish U209 to send her out off of Perth again to study the Leeuwin Current to get more data for our project!


Last week, Dennis took us scuba diving! We did a shore dive in Fremantle, a few kilometers south of the University of Western Australia, called Robb's Jetty. As you very well may have guessed, it was formerly a jetty before it was dismantled. Now all of the pilings and other debris form some great underwater structure for marine life, making it an awesome dive! We saw an octopus, cuttlefish, stingrays, nudibranchs, and a variety of fish! It was an awesome dive, but extremely cold!!! The water was 59 degrees F, which is not nearly as cold as we are used to diving in back in New Jersey, but we only had our spring-time wetsuits with us (3/2 mm thickness) and no gloves or hood, so it was very cold being underwater for 45 minutes (the water depth was only about 21 feet max)! Definitely worth it though, the dive was so cool! Here's picture of a cuttlefish we saw, check out the amazing camouflage! They not only ave the ability to change the COLOR of their skin, but the TEXTURE of their skin as well!!! I (Dave) have some HD video footage from our dive as well I took with my GoPro HD Hero camera, and will get a video together at some point as well!



Dennis also took us to a National Park that had a Koala enclosure! All the Koalas we sleeping, some very high in the trees, but luckily one of them woke up to stretch for a moment so we got a decent picture of him semi-awake!





We also took a day-trip to Rottnest Island, "Rotto" for short. Rottnest Island is about 10 miles or so off the coast of Perth. Rotto used to be part of the reef system when sea level used to be higher, but now it is exposed and has become a beautiful island. We woke up early and took the first ferry out at 7:30 AM, and let us tell you was WELL worth getting up early! We went out to one of the beaches called Salmon Bay, a rather large beach expanse, and we were the ONLY people on that beach for 2 full hours! The weather was BEAUTIFUL, barely any wind, and calm seas with some nice clean waves breaking farther out over the shallow reef. Amazing. Picturesque Australia.


We went snorkeling for almost an hour in Salmon Bay, and it was incredible! The limestone-reef structure was SO cool, there were so many little caves and crevices which were homes to SOOO many fish and other marine life! We saw TONS and tons of fish, as well as another octopus! The water depth probably only averaged about 8 feet or so, though it fluctuated, but it was even cooler than some [scuba] dives we've done!


After we snorkeled Salmon Bay, we explored around the island a bit, had lunch on another beach totally by ourselves, and then headed to a beach area called Green Island for some more snorkeling. Green Island is a fairly large limestone rock exposed above the surface...and it's called "Green Island" because it has green plants that grow on top of it. The snorkeling here was awesome, too! I (Dave) have a LOT of HD video footage from my GoPro from snorkeling at Rotto which I'll make into a video at some point as well!


We also saw quokkas, which are native animals to Rottnest Island (actually where Rotto gets its name from)! Quokkas are kind of like miniature kangaroos, they're really cool! And as long as you move very slowly and calmly, they come right up to you! Here's a photo we took of one of the many quokkas (they're actually nocturnal, but can be found during the day sometimes too!):



We have about two weeks left here in Perth (time has gone by so fast!!!), and then we head to Cairns for a week to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef! So much to do still before we leave!...although we will be flying the gliders for about 4 more months from NJ and then processing and analyzing the data. Late next week, one of our friends will be coming to Australia to visit us and we'll most likely be going to stay in a bungalow on Rottnest Island for a few days!


Here's some pictures from Rottnest Island! Thanks for reading along everyone!


-Dave & Shannon 🙂









Science cruise and kangaroos!

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

So it took a little longer than we expected to find time to post a new blog, but here’s a long blog to make up for it, with lots of pictures, too! After a looong day last week, the 2 Seagliders we're using for our research were successfully deployed in the Indian Ocean off of Western Australia!

Before we took the gliders out for deployment, we had to calibrate their compasses so they can navigate through the oceans, which is not a particularly difficult task, but a time-consuming and laborious task. The compass-cal’s went well. After that, we pressure tested the gliders in a hydrostatic pressure chamber to test their waterproof seal viability. We use hydrostatic testing (pressurized water) rather them testing with compressed air for 2 reasons: (1) It’s a more realistic scenario since the gliders will be in water during their operation, and (2) hydrostatic is MUCH safer. Water doesn’t compress very much…it already has a lot of molecules packed into a small space. On the contrary, air does compress…A LOT. The molecules in air are few and far between, spread over a large space, so they compress a lot until they’re tightly packed. Therefore, once the hydrostatic chamber is filled with water, it only takes an additional cup or 2 of water compressed into the chamber to make a big difference in the ambient water pressure. About a cup or 2 of added compressed water results in a pressure of about 300 meters of water depth (almost 1000 feet). However, it would take A LOT, and we mean A LOT of air to compress to equal that same pressure. Therefore, if a hydrostatic chamber was to fail, the potential energy it holds is not very great. Once it lost about a cup of water, it would be back to a sea-level pressure…it doesn’t really hold an explosive potential energy. However, air pressure testing holds massive amounts of potential energy. If an air pressure chamber were to fail, a HUGE volume of air that is compressed into the chamber would want to rush out and expand to the natural area it would take up in a split second. In other words: HUGE EXPLOSION. Of course these chambers are well monitored and checked for safety, but anything can happen at any time. So since we have the choice, we choose hydrostatic testing. So anyway, all of the gliders we tested passed the hydrostatic pressure test to 300 meters water depth. The gliders will dive to 1000 meters (about 3280 feet) in the ocean, but a successful pressure test to 300 meters generally indicates a proper seal on the glider.

So once the gliders passed the pressure testing, we were onto the ocean deployments! Time for an ocean story…the best kind!

We left the dock a little after 6:00 AM, and it took about 2 hours to steam out over 30 nautical miles off the coast to Perth Canyon– in rough waters no less. As the saying goes: “Red skies and night, sailors’ delight. Red skies in the morning, sailors’ take warning”. We'll leave it to you to guess what color the skies were that morning, and they weren’t orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, white, or black. Enough of a hint?? Luckily, somehow we avoided all of the rain…though we watched it around us in all directions all day long! It wasn’t exactly “Deadliest Catch” conditions, but we weren’t on a boat nearly those sizes either! There was about a 6-foot swell and wind chop from about every direction you can imagine…not exactly ideal conditions, but about as good as they get at this time of year that far out at sea. I (Shannon) was hanging over the side of the boat many times “feeding the fish” (aka throwing up from seasickness), and, though I (Dave) didn’t throw up, I (Dave) wasn’t feeling too great at times either.

If you’ve never been seasick, well…you’re lucky. It’s really something that’s very difficult to understand the effects of unless you’ve actually experienced it before. But it’s powerful enough to bring the biggest, burliest man to his knees in an instant. Not fun. They do make seasickness medicine, but some people (such as me [Shannon]) say they prefer not to take it, because they still get seasick but they just can’t throw up when they take the seasickness medicine. So they prefer to not take medicine because, once they throw up, they feel better! At least for a couple minutes.

If you do get seasick, you’re supposed to stare at the horizon, which is supposed to give your brain a better perception of which way is up and what is level while the fluid in your ears moves around like a mini-ocean in a hurricane (the fluid in your ears gives you your sense of balance and 3-dimensional direction). The WORST thing you can do when you’re seasick is to engage in dexterously-intensive tasks, such as focusing on typing, looking at text on a computer screen or tightening a screw. Well guess what we get to do! Focus on typing, look at text on a computer screen and tighten screws! What are the chances…?!

However, great oceanographers work through the perilous conditions at sea! And that’s just what we did. All in the name of (ocean) science! We actually deployed three gliders: SG514 and SG520 for our research, and SG516 for testing. SG516 ended up being ballasted too light and wasn’t able to dive, so we brought her back onboard to re-ballast her back in the lab to test her at another time. Luckily, SG514 and SG520, with some flight dynamics adjustments, are flying great! We've been working with Ben every day on piloting, as he has tons of experience piloting Seagliders. While the basic mechanics of how to adjust gliders remains the same between different models, they each have their own "computer language" and way they operate, so knowing how to pilot Slocum gliders definitely helps a lot with learning how to pilot Seagliders, but like we said in an earlier post, it's like learning a whole new language.

We also rendezvoused with U209, the Slocum glider, to fix the science sensor issues, which was successful. However, two days after the rendezvous, the glider flight data showed a sudden, continuous roll to one side; a telltale sign of a lost wing. However, it could be caused by a number of other things as well, such as something stuck or attached to the glider. Dennis is out on a boat today to pick up U209, as her batteries are very low. Just moments ago, Dennis just recovered U209 to find that our suspicions were correct: U209 was missing a wing. Luckily, that is a very minor issue for a glider! Wings can easily be replaced, as opposed to other components, or gliders themselves.

On the way back home, the waters calmed and bit, and the sky opened up a bit for a gorgeous Australian Sunset.

So a little more about our research project! We’re studying the Leeuwin Current System, which consist of several different water masses contributing to two major water flows: the Leeuwin Current and the Leeuwin Undercurrent. The Leeuwin Current System is vital to the physics and biology of the waters off of Western and Southern Australia.

As aforementioned, we will mainly be flying SG514 and SG520 in the Perth Canyon. The Perth Canyon is a deep portion of the ocean, much like a trench. It is actually an ancient part of the Swan River. A long time ago, when the sea level was much lower, the Swan River flowed out much farther along land to reach the ocean, and, similar to the way the Grand Canyon was formed, the water flow from the Swan River eroded away rock and earth to form a canyon. The ocean has since risen and covered up the canyon, which is now a sudden, deep trench-like formation in the ocean floor (also called “bathymetry” – the ‘lay of the land’ under the ocean. Topography is the lay of the land from sea level and up, while bathymetry is the lay of the land from sea level and lower). The ancient Swan River canyon is now called Perth Canyon! It’s an important mixing zone for the Leeuwin Canyon and has physical and biological features not seen in shallower portions of the current system.

We will be studying the Deep Chlorophyll Maximum (DCM) and Deep Oxygen Minimum (DOM) in correlation with the physical structure of the current system as well as phytoplankton blooms. The winter phytoplankton bloom off of Western Australia is not well understood, so we are hoping to help resolve the unknown!

In addition to the science portion of this project, we are also delving into a new wave of glider usage: flying more than one glider along the same transect at the same time. This is something that University of Western Australia/ANFOG has never done before, and we haven’t done this at Rutgers/IMCS before either! We will be flying SG514 and SG520 along the same path to gather better spatial data and comparative data. We will be flying them in different patterns throughout the mission to achieve different comparative opportunities.

For the past week, we’ve been closely monitoring the flight characteristics of SG514 and SG520 and making the necessary adjustments to get them flying as well (and as energetically efficiently) as possible in order to maximize the time the gliders can stay out in the ocean to collect data and to give the gliders the best fighting chance they can possibly have to fly against strong oceanic currents. They are both pretty well dialed in by this point, just a few more adjustments and they’ll be pretty close to perfect. From there, we’ll constantly monitor them for any changes that need to be made as they gliders become bio-fouled (ocean life growing on or attaching to the gliders) or enter ocean waters with different characteristics. Since gliders rely on finely-tuned buoyancy engines to function, even the slightest changes in temperature, salinity, density, etc, can have a huge effect on their performance. Therefore, we are constantly monitoring the gliders’ performance and ocean conditions in order to make necessary changes as pilots to maximize the gliders’ performance. It’s a 24-hour-a-day/7-days-a-week job…especially when you add more and more gliders out in the ocean at the same time.

We're also monitoring the science sensor data to start to recognize the characteristics of the different currents and water masses. The primary oceanic science data we’re getting from SG514 and SG520 are water temperature, salinity (salt content), water density, dissolved oxygen concentration, chlorophyll-a concentration (there are 3 different main types of chlorophyll!), concentrated dissolved organic matter, and backscatter. We'll get more in depth with the data in another blog post, as that’s a blog post in itself! But we’re getting some REALLY cool data so far, and we're excited to share it with all of you!

This past weekend, Dennis and Kerrie took us backpacking and camping out in the Australian Bushlands! We hiked along a short piece of a very long trail called the Bibbulmun Track. The “Bib” has little shelters for hikers called “Bib Track Huts” all along the trail for hikers to camp in, so we hiked out to a Bib Track Hut, set up camp, and then hiked out to a high point called Mt. Cuthburt, from which we enjoyed some really nice views of the Australian Bushlands and Outback, and then we hiked back to camp where we started a fire and made some Australian-style s’mores! We brought our backpacking/camping/travel hammocks with us, so we set up our hammocks to sleep in under the hut! Dennis and Kerrie were kind enough to lend us a couple sleeping bags so we didn’t freeze during the cold winter Australian nights! The night was absolutely pitch black and silent, and the stars were incredibly bright.

Dennis told us that if we put some peanut butter on a log, once it got dark, a bandicoot would come out to eat it. So we put some peanut butter on a fallen tree…and guess what. We saw a bandicoot! We also went to 2 national parks over the weekend and saw (and touched!) several kangaroos and saw an echidna!

It’s been raining the past week or so (the Western Australia wet season), and although the rain itself is not much fun, it made some waterfalls flow and made for some really beautiful scenery. After all, the rain is beautiful…it’s getting wet that sucks! Normally the waterfalls here are dried up for most of the year, so we were lucky to be able to see them the way we did!

Anyway, we gotta get back to work! We'll have many more things to update you on, and perhaps an exciting surprise depending on several factors. Also, although we're really enjoying being here at UWA/ANFOG, we're also getting very excited to visit Cairns in August! Thanks for reading everyone! Until next time…

-Dave & Shannon 🙂

Change of plans!!!

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Hey everyone! Just a quick update: the ocean weather for the long-term forecast is looking pretty stormy, so we're pushing the glider deployments to THIS SUNDAY! We'll be going out early Sunday morning (June 26) to deploy the 2 Seagliders for long-duration missions (about 5 months) that we'll be using the data from for our research, and doing some day-long tests on 2 other Seagliders (we will recover those at the end of the day). We will also be rendezvousing with U209, the Slocum glider we deployed a couple weeks ago, to make an adjustment to the science sensors.

We'll be going out to Perth Canyon, about 36 miles off the coast of Perth, Australia.

We'll have another blog shortly after the deployments, once the gliders are well under control and on their way!

Dave & Shannon

Gliders gliders everywhere!!!

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

It's been crazy busy working in the glider lab getting 5 gliders refurbished, tested, prepped and ready for deployment! Two of those gliders will specifically be used for our research project off the west coast of Australia. Let us give you a little more info about the 2 different types of gliders we're working with!

As we mentioned in our last post, there are currently 3 main types of gliders, though there are several others that exist (they make up a minute percentage of gliders in existence). Of the 3 main types of gliders, 2 of them are the most widely used type, and are arguably the most advanced and proficient models. These are the two types of gliders we are working with!
One of these types is the Teledyne Webb Research Slocum Glider (see image below). These are the type of glider we own and operate at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences (IMCS) at Rutgers. They come in different models, which are meant to operate efficiently in a given depth range. There are 50-meter, 200-meter, and 1000-meter models; effectively shallow, intermediate, and deep gliders, respectively. The number of meters defines the maximum operable depth each particular model can function in without being crushed by the surrounding pressure, as pressure increases greatly with depth in the ocean. Base-model Slocums cost around $120,000 each. We have over 20 of them at Rutgers. We've lost 7 🙁 but we've flown well over 200 missions! Considering how new of a technology this is, and how much Rutgers pushes the bar with our missions, that's a really good rate. 🙂



The other of the 2 types is the iRobot Seaglider (see image below). iRobot happens to be the company that makes that little autonomous disc vacuum that vacuums your floors all by itself (it's called the Roomba)! They make many different kinds of robots, many being military and maritime grade robots. Unlike the Slocum glider, the Seaglider comes in one model that is rated to 1000 meters. The base-model Seaglider costs around $140,000.

Sounds like a lot of money, right? While obviously it is, in respect to other methods of oceanographic sampling, it's rather cheap! Or to use a better term: COST EFFECTIVE. To hire a large oceanographic vessel for a science cruise can cost $50,000 per DAY. NOT for the WHOLE CRUISE. NOT for a MONTH or a WEEK. $50,000 PER DAY. To put that in perspective: IMCS hired a vessel for a cruise that lasted about 2 months in Antarctica this past winter. Do the math. Gliders are WAY cheaper.In addition, even though vessels are hired for long periods of time, they don't gather much data compared to a glider. A vessel has to get to a station, prepare the sensors, lower the sensors, get one reading (called a "profile"), raise the sensors, wait for other science teams to complete their tasks, and then haul to the next station. And so on. Not only does this take a lot of time, but The water is only sampled at one point ever x-number of miles. Which can sometimes be tens or hundreds of miles in between. That's a lot of space that's not being sampled that we have to make "guesses" about. And that's not the best way to try to understand our oceans, or anything at that. 

Gliders are not only much more efficient in many ways, but are literally changing the type of data we can get about our oceans. Gliders can sample 24/7 along their track (or "transect"), which provides HIGH-DEFINITION, HIGH-DENSITY DATA. It's filling in all the gaps that previous technologies, such as vessels and moorings, couldn't achieve before. That means no more guessing. Just hard evidence. It's literally a miracle for ocean science.

Anyway - we digress. Where were we?...talking about the Slocum vs Seagliders. So now that you have a better idea as to the importance of gliders to ocean science: as you can see, while they both operate under the same principle of a buoyancy engine, they both look quite different. And they are. While some of their internal components are very similar, others a very different. However, they can both carry essentially the same science sensors and both have the some functional goal in mind: GET OCEANOGRAPHIC DATA.

So when it comes to gathering new data, the sensors are the same, and one could effectively interchange the vehicle (glider) upon which the sensors are carried on. But as aforementioned, the variances in the two gliders are enough for one to be preferable over the other to different users and groups.

Luckily, we don't even have to choose here at the Oceans Institute of the University of Western Australia! They operate BOTH Slocums AND Seagliders here! Which is awesome for us, because we can continue working with Slocums as we have been at Rutgers, and along the way see the variances in how UWA operates their Slocums, as well as learn how to tech and operate Seagliders!

Last week, we refurbished and prepped a Slocum, U209, for a deployment off the coast of Mindarie, Australia, about 45 minutes north of UWA/Perth. We headed out with Dennis (UWA's head glider technician...see picture below!) before sunrise on a local dive boat with a very friendly captain! Remember when we said we'd be sure to take some photos during the deployment? Well we did, but not as many as we had hoped to. To put it gently, the sea was rather restless that day 😉 There was about a 3-5 foot swell and LOTS of wind chop, so it didn't make for the best picture-taking day. I (Shannon) quickly became best friends with the bench with seasickness, and after a while of testing U209 staring at the computer screen, the wind chop got to me (Dave) a bit too and had to take my eyes off the computer for a little while too. But it's okay - it's all in the name of ocean science! However, despite the less-than-stellar conditions, the deployment was successful! And that's one of the reasons it's much better to have a glider out sampling rather than a human on a boat: humans get seasick, gliders/robots don't! Also, with seas much worse than what we went out in, we wouldn't be able to go out to sample the ocean. The safety of the scientists is paramount. However, gliders can stay out in the harshest of conditions, such as hurricanes. And these harsh conditions tend to be times that humans have never sampled before due to safety reasons - this, again, means NEW DATA.

There were a couple hiccups with U209, but that's part of game. One of which, the science computer went down while a storm hit, so we unfortunately didn't get data during that premium time. Also, the gilder wasn't flying as well as it should have been, so Dennis rendezvoused with U209 over the weekend to add a little more weight to the glider to allow it to fly better, and it worked well. A difference as little as 5 grams can make a HUGE difference in the way the 120-lbs (55,000 grams) glider flies. There's a LOT of science, physics, and math that goes into the technical and preparations of getting a glider ready for a deployment.Now that the Slocum U209 is out on its mission, we've been prepping 5 different Seagliders for deployments in all different areas of Australia! Two of those will be the gliders that we specifically use to gather oceanographic data for our research. As of now, it's looking like those two will be SG520 and SG516. But that may change as we continue the refurbishment and preparation. 

We've mostly been working technically with the Seagliders so far, so that once we get into the operation and piloting we'll have a better idea of the internal workings of the Seagliders and know exactly what we are controlling. As you can imagine, technically working with robotics' internal components is difficult and time consuming. Our experience working with Slocums is helping a lot with diminishing the learning curve with Seagliders, but of course it's quite different.

Starting this week, we'll begin getting much heavier into the operation and piloting of Seagliders. Learning how to operate, pilot, and communicate with gliders is literally like learning another language. And that applies for each different type of glider (Slocums vs Seagliders)!The surf hasn't been too great the past week or so, but a better swell is starting now! I'm (Dave) excited to get some Aussie waves! 

We went to Fremantle ("Freo" for short) last weekend, which is a small historic port town just south of Perth. It was a cool little town! We got to take a tour inside an Australian military submarine!

Other than seeing Fremantle and going to the beach, we haven't had too much time to venture out much since we've been so busy in the glider lab! But we have some fun things planned, including a hike or two (called "bushwalks" here!), a couple trips to Rottnest Island ("Rotto" for short) about 10 miles off the coast of Cottesloe Beach (where we're living), and a couple other things too! And don't forget we're spending a week in Cairns at the end of our trip on the east coast of Australia to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef! :)!

That's all for now. Within the next couple posts, I'll get into more detail about our research project and exactly what we're going to studying about the Indian Ocean! Thanks for reading everyone! G'day mates! 🙂

Here's a couple more pictures!
-Dave & Shannon


G’day from down under!!!

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

We're finally in AUSTRALIA!!! We arrived last Wednesday, so we've been here a full week now, and have a good amount of stuff to share with you! It's been pretty rough getting on the 12-hour-difference time schedule, but we'm getting there!

First of all, it is absolutely BEAUTIFUL here. The plant-life and wildlife are exotic and the beaches are breathtaking. The sky is literally bluer here (less particulate matter in the air) and the clouds alone are incredible. They're so high in the sky and vast; it really gives the true impression of how huge Australia really is.

We've both now been in our third ocean! 3 down (Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian) and 2 to go (Arctic and Southern)!!!

Anyway, we're in Perth, which has a population over over 1.5 million people. That being said, it is commonly known as the world's most isolated city...which it is! The nearest cities are thousands of miles away. Perhaps arising from being the most isolated big city in the world, the food is super expensive here! Many times 2- or 3-times as expensive as in the US! We certainly didn't quite expect that! North of Perth, about half way up the continent of Australia is Ningaloo Reef; the world's only extensive reef system of the west coast of any continent. We may even get a chance to visit Ningaloo Reef for a glider deployment! On the east coast of AU is Cairns (the Great Barrier Reef) (which we will be visiting for a week at the end our our trip!), the Gold Coast, Sydney, etc. Those are the more commonly known and visited tourist attractions.

So over the past week we've been lucky enough to go to the beach a few times, visit the city, and do some walking around in Kings Parks, which is a part-preserved forest/part-botany forest. Really pretty there.

Some of the birds here really are quite fascinating. Beautiful colors and really cool sounds and songs! The Kookaburra sounds really cool in particular. Its sound is actually replicated by Aboriginals that play the didgeridoo.

The first couple days we got here the surf was great! But the swell has passed and I'm (Dave) waiting for another good swell to come in since I brought my surfboard! Also had some wetsuit problems, but hopefully they'll get resolved soon and I can get some really nice waves! One of the professors we're working with at the University of Western Australia worked on a project to create the world's first artificial SURFING reef! The reef was designed to create perfectly breaking waves for surfers, and is just a few miles away from where we're staying!


This past Monday we started work at the University of Western Australia's (UWA) Oceans Institute (OI). We are working with Ben, Christine, Dennis, Mun, and Chari, who are all from UWA. We started off on Monday morning with an ANFOG (Australia's National Facilities for Ocean Gliders) meeting about the plans for this week and the next coming 2 months. We have a glider deployment this Friday, for which we have been preparing and testing the glider U209 for. The glider will be taking measurements of the Leeuwin Current just off the coast of Perth. The Leeuwin Current is vital to the marine biology and ecosystems here in Western Australian waters. In addition to prepping U209, we prepped U210 for another Marine Science Institution in Tasmania for a very cool guy named Lindsay who I met in the Canary Islands this past March for a global glider observatories conference!

After we get U209 in the water, we will begin prepping the 2 gliders which we will be piloting for our primary research this summer. They are a new type of glider which we have not worked with yet, which is exciting to be able to learn how to tech and operate another type of glider (there are 3 main types of gliders, so we'll know how to operate 2 out of 3 after this summer!). The type of gliders we are very familiar with are Teledyne Webb Research Slocum Gliders, such as U209 and U210 are, as well as the Rutgers University gliders such as RU27. We will be working plenty with Slocums, but the main part of the data from which we will be using for our research will come from sensors aboard the 2nd type of glider: iRobot Seaglider. Essentially, the sensors on any glider are the same, the variance is just in the glider itself; the vehicle to which the sensors are attached. When it comes down to it, data is data!

We will be researching the Perth Canyon, an ancient part of the Swan River and begins about 20 nautical miles off the coast of Perth. I'll get into more detail about that when the times comes, but its geoformation is similar to the Hudson Canyon off the coast of NJ!

So as we said, we'll be going out of a boat early Friday morning to deploy the Slocum glider U209! We will be with Dennis, the glider tech at UWA. We'll be sure to take some pictures!

Speaking of pictures, photography and is a mini-hobby of ours, so we'll be sharing some photos we take along the way of this Australian Adventure! I (Dave) particularly like dynamic landscape photography and supermacro photography. Hope you enjoy them!

Dave & Shannon 🙂



Giving up our summer for winter?!?!

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Luckily the winter we will be experience will be in AUSTRALIA! So the weather should still be quite comfortable! We'll specifically be in Perth, Western Australia (see image below) for most of the journey for a period of 2 months. We will be working/interning/performing an independent research project at the University of Western Australia, from which we will be producing, amongst other things, a published paper!

Dave Kaminsky and Shannon Harrison here, by the way. We know some of you following along may not quite know exactly what we're doing down here, so let us fill you in a bit. Those of you who are more familiar with it may be able to skip a paragraph or two!

We've had some incredible opportunities and experiences here at Rutgers as an undergraduate, particularly with underwater robotics. The kinds of underwater robots we work with are probably nothing like most of you have seen on TV, such as Alvin or Jason that explored the Titanic. That's just because the robots I work with are some of the newest underwater robotic technologies; literally the robots of the future!

We work in the Coastal Ocean Observation Lab (COOL) in the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences (IMCS), as well as the Glider Lab in IMCS (Oceanographers love acronyms and abbreviations!). We have worked with a few different technologies, including satellite imagery and coastal radar, but primarily underwater robots called gliders (pictured below!).
Gliders are a type of Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) that carry suites of science sensors to measure different aspects of the ocean (or bodies freshwater, too!). Gliders are designed to be controlled via satellite to able to stay out in the ocean for long periods of time and to travel long distances. This is achieved by maximizing battery power by not using any kind of energetic means of forward propulsion...such as a propellor or water jet. Instead, gliders have a piston at the front of the vehicle called a buoyancy pump. This pump can draw in or push out about 1 cup's worth of seawater. When the pump draws in water, it makes the nose of the glider "heavier" (more dense/negatively buoyant) than the surrounding seawater, and the nose of the glider pitches down. Since the glider has wings and is hydrodynamically designed, the robot glides (hence the name "glider"!) down AND forward, rather than just sinking straight down. When the glider gets to the desired depth, the pump pushes out the water, making the nose of the glider "lighter" (less dense/positively buoyant) than the surrounding seawater, and the robot glides up and forward towards the surface. The glider repeats that pattern over and over, making a sawtooth-like pattern vertically (see below! the dive angles are exaggerated in the picture...a normal glide angle is only about 26 degrees) in the water to create forward motion without using much battery power at all.
Current models can stay out in the ocean for up to about a year as of now, and newer models in development now are projected to be able to stay out in the ocean for up to 5 years (!!!) without human contact. The science sensors on the glider can collect all different kinds of data, such as temperature, salinity (salt content), depth, density, dissolved oxygen, phytoplankton health and abundance, nitrate, dissolved organic matter, microturbulence, ocean current speed and direction, etc. After all, the mechanisms and physics of the way these gliders work are truly incredible, but when it comes down to it, gliders are nothing but vehicles to carry sensors for a science mission!
So there you have it! That's what we'll be working with here down under!
This summer will be an amazing extension of the experiences we've had working with gliders here at Rutgers. We will be working at the School of Environmental Systems Engineering (SESE) and the Australian National Facility for Ocean Gliders (ANFOG) at the University of Western Australia (UWA). ANFOG is part of Australia's Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS). See...we weren't kidding about the acronym/abbreviation thing!!! Anyway, We will be studying the Leeuwin Current System, which is vital to both the climate, biology, and ecosystems particularly off the coast of Western Australia. We will also be working with the UWA/ANFOG staff to fly their first fleet of gliders (two or more gliders flying a similar pattern within close proximity of each other). Flying gliders as fleets, rather than individually, has the advantages of having multi-point samples for averaging and better resolving anomalies in the data, sensor calibrations, etc.
We're SUPER excited for this summer!!! This is our ideal internship/research opportunity for my last summer before we graduate next year and move on to grad school. What's extra special about this internship is that the program didn't already exist - this is totally new to the University of Western Australia. We were able to raise all the funding for this experience. We worked tirelessly for a long time and through many moments of grim-looking horizons for this...but luckily our hard work has paid off in a way we can't even begin to truly express our gratitude for. We would like to very sincerely thank the faculty and staff at the University of Western Australia/ANFOG, the faculty and staff at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, the staff at Teledyne Webb Research, and the Rutgers SEBS International Program, among others who made this possible. Thank you SO much.
While we're in Australia, we plan on experiencing as much as possible in our off-time, including surfing, scuba diving, hiking, etc! We'll be sure to post pictures and videos of all our adventures, both in and out of the internship. Please feel free to comment on any of our blog posts, we encourage it! Thanks for reading everyone! Looking forward to keeping you updated!
Dave & Shannon 🙂