Welcome to the web site for Sediment and Solute Transport on Rivers and Margins (SSTORM) Research Group! Reide Corbett and J.P. Walsh from East Carolina University and the UNC Coastal Studies Institute lead the team.
Check out our research in/on wetlands, estuaries, barrier islands, shelves and groundwater.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Near the Deepwater Horizon Wellhead Site

We recently were conducting operations near the DWH wellhead site.  It has been impressive to see the two relief-well drilling platforms with my own eyes and up close.  The rigs remain floating over the shut-in well site as if they are monuments to the unfortunate events that transpired.  A few support ships hover around these giant structures, providing some visible evidence of how big these platforms are.   It's hard not to think of the many images that have been shown about the oil spill, from the initial explosion and fire to the oil-stained shorelines and birds.  Fortunately, oil is no longer flowing from the well.  Last night, flying fish swarmed around the stern of the ship as we retrieved the multicore.  It was nice to observe fish that appear active and happy (soaring and crashing aimlessly) so close to the site where things looked so bleak not long ago.  Of course, we still don't really know the impacts on the ocean below and the long-term ecological consequences. Our work will hopefully shed some light.  Read about our research activities at: http://missionlog.noaa.gov/category/pisces/
 
Fortunately, the weather has been great with fairly mild temperatures.  Last night we had a beautiful sunset.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tough Day But Ready For More Work ... and Featured on the NOAA Web Site

The last 24 hours have been challenging.  We had some trouble trying to collect a core in very deep water (>2200 meters, which is well over a mile deep).  Ultimately, we had to give up at one site because we just could not quite tell if/when the corer hit the bottom, and we didn't want to risk tangling up the corer on the seafloor.  Then, after a camera sled tow and CTD, we had a major problem with the winch as we pulled a core to the surface.  Fortunately, thanks to the hard and smart work of the crew, we were able to not only avoid losing the corer but also we got a nice sample. 
 
On a positive note, we have had some good success so far and look forward to getting back to coring tomorrow. 
 
Today, it was great to see that our work on the Pisces was featured on NOAA's main web site (see photo).  Several of the other scientists and I are visible in a photo prepping the multicore.  We're famous :)
 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What We Are Up To

Well, I have been very busy, preparing for the cruise, coring, etc.   So far things have gome o.k.. although we've had our fair share of hiccups.  This is par for the course.  We are big believers in Murphy's Law. 
 
Anyway, there was some press coverage about our cruise, so I'll let you read about what we're up to from a couple of the news stories online:
 
 
 
Also, there is an official blog for the Pisces where they will likely will post some pics and details:
 
I need to go to bed because I must be back up in 5 hours for more coring closer to the now-shut-in wellhead.
 
J.P.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Multicore Assembly

Today has been a good day. I got up and got to work. I was somewhat surprised to learn that the core was just arriving...by FEDEX! (Wow, that must not have been cheap way considering the size and amount of lead). Also, it came disassembled, so I had some work to do (see picture of core in boxes). But, it was basically a large jigsaw puzzle. I've made good progress today and have more time tomorrow. Now I need to help with some computer stuff (GIS). This software will allow us to see where our core sites are relative the bottom and and pipelines, etc. I better get back to work.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Off to the Gulf of Mexico

I didn't think I'd be writing about oceanographic adventures again so soon after my NZ travels, but I'm now off to the Gulf of Mexico. I've been asked to be a scientist aboard a NOAA research cruise to look for oil on the seafloor. After leaving the Pitt-Greenville Airport (pictured), which is in the process of a major renovation (so we'll no longer have to cram in a bathroomless waiting area), I made it to Charlotte to catch my flight to Gulfport. From there, I'll grab a 45-min cab to Pascagoula, Mississippi. I'll get to the ship, the R/V Pisces, about 10:30...I hope. From, there I hope to find my cabin and get settled in. I must admit, the company that has coordinated my last minute involvement in this cruise (CSS, Consolidated Security Service I think) has been very professional and efficient. Hopefully, the ship preparations, etc will go smoothly.

I'll try to report back tomorrow. We shove off on Friday.

J.P.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Safety Drills, Donuts and Smooth Sailing Back to Wellington, September 13th

After deploying the tripods, we ran a safety drill. This is required regularly on ships, and it’s always good to be reminded of what to do in the event of an emergency. I had a friend who was the chief mate on a tall ship, and many years ago she recounted to me a story of her having to lead an abandon ship during a hurricane in the Atlantic. I have never forgotten her tale, and to this day I take drills and learning emergency procedures seriously. Of course, this is good advice for all of us to consider on a regular basis for a variety of emergencies, e.g., what to do in the case of a fire at home or work, a car accident, a tornado or an approaching hurricane. During our time in New Zealand, there was obviously much discussion about earthquake response. Videos reminding people to “drop, hold and cover” aired regularly during the past week. Although the enactments were a bit silly their message was simple, clear and could be critically to saving lives. We all need to be ready for the unexpected, particularly at sea where a calm day can quickly turn into a nightmare.
After the drill, Carol had whipped up some amazing homemade donuts and ├ęclairs. Once we filled our bellies and our allotted time with the collection of a few more cores, the Captain turned the ship to the south and began the long steam home. We fortunate to have relatively smooth seas for the trip home, so we could get all our stuff rinsed with freshwater and packed away and then enjoy the beautiful New Zealand coastline, play some cards and relax. All in all it was a very successful cruise.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tripods Reployed, September 11th


After a few days of slaving away inside a shed in Gisborne, Andrea Ogston and Dan Nowacki from the University of Washington have downloaded all the previous tripod data, cleaned the various instrument, reinstalled new batteries and reprogrammed the sensors for the next period of measurements. This was an impressive amount of work, but they were able to get it all done because of their considerable experience at this type of work. We were excited to find out that we received lots of great data from the second deployment. For example, I quickly made a preliminary plots of bed elevation changes and wave heights at the “depocenter” site, and it appears that many large wave events (>5 m or 15ft wave heights) occurred over the last few months causing significant (~3 cm) erosion. This was a surprising result as this is a location where long-term sediment accumulation is know to occur. The data collected will provide us with valuable new insights into sediment dynamics seaward of the Waipaoa River.



We were fortunate to have great weather on the day we needed to redeploy the tripods. So, after some quick checks and adjustments, the pods were lowered to the seafloor. This is a somewhat delicate operation as we need to carefully place the expensive, instrumented systems right-side up on the ocean bottom about 40-60 m (120-180 ft) below. For the first two tripods, we used one of the acoustic releases to detach the pods when they hit the bottom, but for the third we needed to use a slip-ring system, where someone on the ship pulls on a line when the tripod reaches the bottom (see picture of Rip and UW team). This is particularly challenging and potentially dangerous in rough weather, but it went without troubles for us thanks to the small sea conditions.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sun, Cores and a Giant Worm, September 10th

The 10th was a good day of coring. We collected a lot of cores and had a lot of fun while doing it. One of the highlights of the day was finding a nasty, giant worm in the base of one of the cores. This thing was ugly and mean. Actually, it bit or poked Reide through a glove. We decided to give the worm our own very technical science name "The Waipaoa Mega Aggressive Death Chicken Worm". I'm not sure where the chicken part came from. Yes, it was as scary as it sounds. As you can see from Alan's face, it wasn't all fun and games, but it certainly was a beautiful day.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Clouds, water and rock: New Zealand is a land (and sea) of beauty

The other day we were diligently working on processing a core when Reide said to me,”Hey J.P., grab the camera.”  Jokingly, I said to him “What? Do you want to take a picture of some clouds, water and rock?”  The funny thing is that most of our pictures are of just that: clouds, water and rock.  Why? because New Zealand is a beautiful country and because on the ocean, the conditions are always changing, constantly bringing new arrangements and colors of these three features.  Although a lot of the time, there isn’t much to see from a ship on the ocean.  Occasionally, we are lucky to see some incredible views.  Below are pictures of a few of the many great views we've had of clouds, water and rock… p.s.  Also, I should mention here that it's my sister, Corinne's birthday.  Happy Birthday!   


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Another Day on the Kaharoa, September 8th, 2010

It’s 5AM, and the engine grumbles to a start.  I’m nudged awake as the ship bumps against the wharf.  The calls of birds are replaced by the squeaking of the hull against a tire. When I gain consciousness, I realize that it is pitch black, and it’s time to get moving as the Captain, Simon, and crew are preparing the R/V Kaharoa, our research vessel and temporary home, for another day at sea.   I’m comfortably nestled in my bunk, so I’m not looking forward to wrestling myself out of my top-bunk perch and getting to work.  I heard rainfall during the night, so I suspect the sunshine of yesterday has been replaced by windy, wet conditions.  As the first scientist into the mess area, I fill the French press with ground coffee and hot water and say hello to the stirring crew.  Carol the cook greets with me with a warm smile and “G’day” and asks what I’d like for breakfast.  Her standard breakfast includes eggs (any style), toast, hash browns, baked beans and bacon.  Knowing that Carol will be serving lots of other great food during the day, I opt for a couple eggs and toast. Everyone soon fills the mess to “have a feed” before the first core is on deck.  I check in with Simon on the bridge to make sure the latitude and longitude positions for the first few stations are acceptable as we steam toward our first site.

The crew and scientists are a seasoned bunch.  Upon reaching the station, everyone has their foulweather gear on and is ready for sampling.  Despite light rain, deck operations move efficiently. As this is our second cruise on the Kaharoa, the coring procedure is well choreographed.  Steve (Chief Mate), Dan (2nd Mate), Pete (AB) and Alan (NIWA scientist) guide the multicore on and off the ship.  When cores are landed on deck, Alan orchestrates their disassembling and sub-sampling with the help of Rip (Univ. of Washington), Reide (East Carolina Univ.) and me (J.P., also of ECU).  Our typical duties are:  core x-raying (Alan), core slicing and bagging (Rip and Reide) and sieving for macrofauna (me...note in picture that I do get dirty).  All the while, students Joey Kiker (ECU) and Julia Moriarity (Virginia Inst. of Marine Science) work endless hours in the lab, conducting erosion analyses of cores; they are excellent workers.  Once we get into a routine, the coring moves pretty quick, and before we know it, it’s time for another meal or snack.  Thanks to Carol, we are very well fed.  In New Zealand, they have “smoco” at 10AM and 3PM.  “Smoco” is short for smoke and coffee break, and on the ship, Carol serves up tasty snacks, like cake or cookies.  Her ├ęclairs are fabulous (see last cruise), but I think my new favorite treat is the freshly made donuts with whipped cream and raspberry jam.   Now, I know all this mention of food sounds pretty decadent, but when you’re working hard on the deck of moving ship, discussion of and anticipation for food can really help keep people going.  The other thing which aids in enjoyment of the day is the endless teasing and joking that goes on, and it seems on this ship, everyone is involved in the fun.  The reality is that is it can be tough working on the ocean.  Sleep, food and some fun make it manageable.

Although the day started like a routine one, our scheduled plan had to be shifted because of unforeseen events (which seems to be typical)  As most of the world knows, Christchurch, New Zealand experienced a major (7.1 magnitude) earthquake a few days ago (the day we left, September 4th at 4:30 AM).  Obviously, this was/is big news across the country.  Although we were not directly impacted, everyone aboard knows people who were there.  The person most affected was Simon, our Captain, who lives in Christchurch when not at sea.  Indeed, we were really happy to have Simon as our Captain because he’s not only a very competent seaman but also a great guy.  Unfortunately, on the morning of the 8th, Christchurch experienced another strong earthquake, and as a result, Simon had to get home to deal with problems caused by the recent events.  As a result, we returned to port about mid-day on the 8th.  A replacement captain, Evan, met the ship that evening.  He has lots of experience.  He has captained  the Kaharoa previously and now typically works on the larger Tangiroa.  Evan is friendly and relaxed and will certainly prove to be a very good captain for us as well.  Of course, we wish Simon and all in Christchurch well.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Boarded by Fisheries!!!

Sept 7th,

It was a good day.  Weather was pretty nice, and the coring went well.  Of course, the food was great as usual.  Attached are some pictures.  The highlight of the day was definitely being followed by the Navy ship and boarded by the Fisheries officers.  We certainly were not in violation of anything, but a ship we saw earlier in the day throwing lingcod over the side likely was not behaving appropriately.  Apparently, Fisheries works closely with the Navy on managing the waters.  Unfortunately, I need to get back to eat some dinner.  I'll let the other pics speak for themselves.  Enjoy.  J.P.

b

September 7, 2010 Day 2…or is it 3?


We have spent a full day coring…collecting multicores along a shore normal transect from inside Poverty Bay to the upper slope.  Amazing how everyone quickly moves back into the needed roles in order top efficiently collect and process the samples coming up on deck.
 
Julia and Joey feel right at home back in the wet lab…like they never left the comforts of home.  The Gust microcosm is working well, at least initially…some modification was eventually needed on one of the flow through turbidity cells, but we got it running again.  That is one thing that you have to deal with when "at sea"…you can't simply run to the hardware store when something breaks.  You simply figure out a way to make it work…you have no other choice!

Rip and I have been on core cutting duty…efficiently slicing through meters of sediment through the course of the day.  Doesn't that sound pretty exciting…yes, we are mud slingers!  Alan has taken command of our deck operations…at least we let him think he is in charge.  Al never stops moving until everything is processed, cleaned up, and the multicorer is ready to go over the side again.  He's an animal…after collecting several cores from different stations, Alan leaves the deck long enough to shoot the x-rays of those cores, but that is about it.

Then there is our fearless leader…Walsh tirelessly orchestrates the whole sampling scheme, when and where, and how…if only he would actually get his hands a bit dirty!  OK, OK, I am joking…it is quite the team we have out here, everyone working hard and getting the job done.

On shore, Andrea and Dan are busy downloading data from the tripods and prepping them for the next deployment.  Hopefully it all comes together over the next few days…still plenty of stations to occupy and need to redeploy the tripods.  The weather has been on our side so far…let's see what the next few days have to offer.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Monday Sept. 6, 2010


9/6/10  Day 1

We made port in Gisborne around mid-day on Monday (6/9/10) with three tripods in tow (not really towing them, they are on deck).  Yes, all three tripods were recovered successfully thanks to a truly exception captain and crew, as well as the experienced scientific party  (pat, pat, pat…sorry, had to do it)…everyone chipping in when needed.

We spent the first ~26 hours of the cruise steaming for our first site.  Once arriving at our deep water station (~350 meters) at about 1945 hours on 9/5/10, we started several hours of CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) stations.  We completed a detailed shore normal and parallel transect at about 0400 and then re-rigged the A-frame in order to deploy the multi-corer at two additional stations.  Not a bad nights works…finished it off with a big breakfast (eggs, bacon, toast, beans, and fresh coffee).

Aaahhh, but the day was just beginning.  As the winds picked up to more than 20 knots (expected to reach a gale this afternoon), white caps as far as the eye could see, we were all anxious to retrieve the three tripods that have been collecting data (waves, currents, temperature, salinity, turbidity) for the last four months…always an unnerving time.  Will the tripods still be there, will they respond, send their float to the surface?  As you can see, all three are present and accounted for…YES!!!

See the faces of surprise, excitement, elation…or is it confusion?  The fun is just beginning…we start first thing in the morning, collecting cores along the margin.