NSF-PEACH Cruise Halfway Completed

Crew and moorings on the deck of the R/V Neil Armstrong. Photo credit: Joe Zambon

Last Saturday (22-April) marked the halfway point of the NSF-PEACH R/V Neil Armstrong cruise with OOMG’s Joe Zambon and NCSU Marine Science undergrad Lauren Ball. While underway at sea, both researchers have participated in research exploring the waters along the continental shelf from Cape Cod, MA to Cape Hatteras, NC. So far, the team has taken advantage of the prevailing calm seas and have deployed meteorological buoys, Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCPs), Pressure-Inverted Echo Sounders (PIES), eXpendible BathyThermographs (XBTs), Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) profilers, hydrophones, Argo floats, autonomous gliders, and have collected and filtered hundreds of liters of sea water from the surface to the sea floor for analysis.

Filling the Gaps with Models


Satellite-derived Sea Surface Temperature (SST) on 22-April 2017 for NSF-PEACH study region, overlaid cruise stations. Photo by Joe Zambon using Google Earth.

Throughout the NSF-PEACH research cruise, OOMG’s Joe Zambon has been providing data to PIs and Chief Scientist Magdalena Andres for cruise planning. Several study sites were pre-determined months in advance, but this data has been instrumental in determining supplementary surveys of the Gulf Stream. In addition, short-duration features such as eddies have been sampled by determining their location while at sea. One significant challenge of this has been to balance data from satellites and models. While satellite data provides a high-resolution (~1 km) daily picture, there are gaps where they cannot see through clouds – a big problem in coastal environments. To fill the gaps, OOMG’s numerical models are employed with lower resolution (~7 km). The two products, working in tandem, allow research scientists to deploy instrumentation and direct transects with more confidence than any one product alone.  Below is a short animation of the PEACH domain with Satellite and CNAPS model-resolved Sea Surface Temperature (SST).

Bathymetric Survey Off Cape Hatteras

Computer terminal during bathymetric survey run. Photo credit: Joe Zambon

One cruise objective for the April 2017 NSF-PEACH research cruise is to conduct a bathymetric survey of the shelf break approximately 20 nautical miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, NC. UNC’s Sara Haines explains that existing bathymetry in this area is of questionable quality possibly owing to the stitching of hand-drawn bathymetric maps in along the line of latitude at 35ºN. Over 2 evenings, R/V Neil Armstrong will drive several lines over the area while using shipboard multibeam sonar in order to survey the seafloor. This data will be extremely important for OOMG’s numerical models resolving the area in future studies of the Gulf Stream and shelf water exchange.

Cape Hatteras Research Cruise Continues

scientists working on buoy instruments

Harvey Seim and Sara Haines (UNC Chapel Hill) work on instruments on a buoy. Photo Credit: Robert Todd (WHOI)

The cruise progresses, and the scientists have used calm weather days to work on instruments on moored buoys. Some deployed instruments are already returning data, showing the velocity of the Gulf Stream.

Read details of the instruments being used at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute’s site here.

Read the research project overview here.

Undergrad Perspectives on a Research Cruise: Part 2

By Lauren Ball, a senior in the Dept. of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences at NC State University. Lauren is part of the science crew on the R/V Neil Armstrong, collecting data off of Cape Hatteras, NC.

One thing I was not expecting about this research cruise was the lack of a personal schedule.  I am on watch from midnight to noon, meaning anything scheduled within that time period I am partly responsible for executing, but depending on the day there may not be anything that needs my attention.  Other times, there are experiments scheduled for outside my shift time and I adjust accordingly to be able to work on those.  While on a research cruise, you have a limited amount of time to get your list of tasks done, which means everyone works hard to accomplish the cruise goals.
As a student who has worked full or part time throughout my degree, lack of a daily schedule is a foreign concept to me.  So I sleep when I can, and try to jump on any part of the itinerary that is possible for me to participate in.  Dr. Zambon was right when he told me that I’d learn more on this cruise than I would if I had sat in a classroom the rest of the semester!

Undergrad Perspectives on a Research Cruise: Part 1

By Lauren Ball, a senior in the Dept. of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences at NC State University.

Lauren by deep sea vehicle Alvin's capsule

Lauren by deep sea vehicle Alvin’s capsule. Photo credit: Joe Zambon

As a graduating senior in Biological Oceanography, I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the PEACH Cruise on the R/V Neil Armstrong.  I ended up only having one class this semester, Observational Methods and Data Analysis in Marine Physics, and Professor Ruoying He announced the cruise opportunity during one of the first meetings.  Although my concentration is biological, I jumped at the chance to get my first research cruise under my belt, and, since I am in the middle of job searching, to be able to add this to my resume.  My primary assignments are assisting Dr. Joe Zambon on the marine physics aspects of the cruise, and helping Marco Valera collect planktonic specimens for later analysis in Dr. Astrid Schnetzer’s lab.

Joe Zambon, Lauren Ball, and Marco Valera at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MA.

Joe Zambon, Lauren Ball, and Marco Valera at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Photo credit: Lauren Ball

As cliché as it sounds, some of my favorite parts of the cruise have been seeing the instruments that were described in class actually used or deployed.  So far I have been participating in expendable bathythermograph (XBT) and conductivity, temperature, and depth recorder (CTD) deployments and preparing plankton samples at each site, and watching the Acoustic Doppler Current Profile (ADCP) and Pressure Inverted Echo Sounder (PIES) launches.  We will also be utilizing a glider, met moorings, and Argo floats later in the cruise.  No matter how much you study a subject, you can’t fully learn until you gain the experience.  This is why I chose my major:  to be by the sea, have adventures, and become a part of a research team on a subject I find very interesting.  I thought my education was coming to an end, but now I can see it’s just starting.

Biological Sampling by Physical Oceanographers

OOMG’s Joe Zambon and MEAS technician Marco Valera pouring sea water samples for analysis. Photo credit: John McCord (UNC Coastal Studies Institute)

MEAS technician Marco Valera from Dr. Astrid Schnetzer’s Plankton Ecology Lab has been collecting plankton samples by filtering hundreds of liters of water from various depths of CTD casts. Marco’s water samples are time-sensitive and need to be filtered immediately after arriving on the ship. OOMG’s Joe Zambon and NCSU Marine Science undergrad Lauren Ball have been happy to help out. After attending a few training sessions on-shore, they have spent some night shifts in the wet-lab filtering out hundreds of liters of sea water. These filtered samples will then be analyzed for DNA and chlorophyll to determine plankton concentrations at different depths along the east coast. The typical toolbox of the physical oceanographer does not include graduated cylinders, glass-fiber filters, test tubes, hydrochloric acid and syringes. However with any research cruise, everyone’s science is a priority and Joe, Lauren, and Marco have all had a hand in each other’s research.

Research Cruise Underway at Cape Hatteras

M. Andres and PIES on R/V Armstrong deck

Chief Scientist Dr. Magdalena Andres and a PIES on the deck of the R/V Armstrong. Photo credit: Robert Todd (WHOI)

The research cruise to study processes affecting exchange across the continental shelf at Cape Hatteras, NC got underway on 13 April 2017. The R/V Neil Armstrong set out from its home port of Woods Hole, MA carrying scientists including OOMG’s Joe Zambon and NCSU Marine Science undergrad Lauren Ball. Researchers have been deploying eXpendable BathyThermographs (XBTs), which transmit temperature as they sink through the depths. Plans also include deployment of an underwater glider, pressure inverted echo sounders (PIES), and acoustic Doppler current profilers (ADCPs).

Stand by for more posts from this cruise!

R/V Neil Armstrong

R/V Neil Armstrong. Photo credit: WHOI

Track the Armstrong’s position here.

Thanks to the National Science Foundation for funding this research!

Jeff Willison Delivers Lecture at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Jeffrey Willision, PhD

Ocean Observing and Modeling Group postdoctoral research associate Jeff Willison delivered a lecture to the Southeast Climate Communicators Network (SCCN) at a workshop hosted at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Willison’s lecture covered the nuances of climate modeling and explained how climate scientists try to determine which physical processes are important for understanding how the Earth’s climate will change under the influence of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gasses.

SCCN is comprised of professionals such as teachers, zookeepers and museum docents. Workshops such as this one allow SCCN members to educate themselves so they can effectively teach the general public about how we know what we know about climate. SCCN members hail from Virginia and the Carolinas.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the most popular museum in the Southeast with over one million visitors per year.

Undergraduate Teaching and Research While Underway at Sea

Joe Zambon and Lauren Ball filtering water samples onboard R/V Neil Armstrong. Photo credit: John McCord (UNC Coastal Studies Institute)

Three times per week this spring, OOMG’s Drs. Ruoying He and Joe Zambon teach an undergraduate class, MEA 462 – Observational Methods and Data Analysis in Marine Physics. At the beginning of the semester, Joe announced two opportunities for at-sea research that were available for any eager undergraduates to participate in. Lauren Ball volunteered for the first opportunity, with over 2 weeks onboard R/V Neil Armstrong. During their time at sea, Joe and Lauren have contributed to NSF-funded research into the waters around Cape Hatteras, including the Gulf Stream. This experience has supplemented her classroom instruction with valuable hands-on experience and mentorship.

Update: Read parts 1 and 2 of Lauren Ball’s perspective on this research cruise.

OOMG’s Joe Zambon Departs for East Coast Research Cruise

R/V Neil Armstrong docked at WHOI. Photo credit: Joe Zambon

OOMG Research Assistant Professor Dr. Joe Zambon left this morning to board the Research Vessel (R/V) Neil Armstrong, departing out of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) in Cape Cod, MA. Joe, along with NC State Marine Science undergraduate student Lauren Ball, and MEAS technician Marco Valera will represent NC State University as a part of a multi-institutional research cruise.

Other participating institutions include WHOI, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill, UNC Coastal Studies Institute, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, and the University of Rhode Island. The cruise, scheduled to conclude in early May, will investigate the Gulf Stream as well as processes on and off the continental shelf near Cape Hatteras, NC. This study is funded by the National Science Foundation grant OCE-1559178 titled An Observational and Modeling Study of the Physical Processes Driving Exchanges Between the Shelf and the Deep Ocean at Cape Hatteras.

OOMG Teaches Weddington Middle Schoolers About Oceanography

Laura McGee presentingn ocean modelingApproximately 250 eighth grade students from Weddington Middle School (near Charlotte, NC) began their three-day field trip to NC’s Outer Banks with a marine science presentation by OOMG scientists at NC State University’s James B. Hunt, Jr. Library. On March 29, graduate student Laura McGee, Lab Manager Jennifer Warrillow, and Research Assistant Professor Joe Zambon introduced the students to their research in marine environmental modeling and autonomous underwater vehicles (ocean gliders), then took them on a virtual journey aboard Deep Submergence Vehicle (DSV) Alvin. Research Associate Professor Carrie Thomas, also from NCSU’s Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, presented some of her Antarctic research to the group. Nancy Zimmerman, lead chaperone and school teacher, stated, “This information fits perfectly with the ocean sciences unit we’re just beginning to study. It was a great introduction. To have the chance to hear all of your experiences was incredible. The teachers were learning, as well, and we look forward to using your material to assist our instruction.  We are very grateful for your expertise and your willingness to share with us.”Jennifer Warrillow presenting ocean gliders

Thanks to NC SeaGrant for facilitating this visit and outreach event.
Joe Zambon presenting Alvin middle schoolers watching OOMG's presentations

Dr. He Invited to Speak in China

Dr. Ruoying He was invited to speak at several institutes in China in January 2017. He traveled with fellow oceanographers Dr. Dennis McGillicuddy and Dr. Don Anderson, both of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Their stops included the Key Laboratory of Marine Ecology and Environmental Sciences in the Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology; and  Xiamen University.

Rouying He in the KLMEES
Roy speaking at Chinese Acad of Sci Jan 2017

Ruoying He et al in China Jan 2017

Roy speaking at Xiamen University Jan 2017

CNAPS Prediction for This Weekend’s Winter Storm

A major winter storm is expected to impact the southeast US and the Triangle region of North Carolina this evening into Saturday morning and afternoon.  As with most winter storm events of this magnitude and in this region, a serious concern is not the amount of precipitation, but precipitation type.  The impact of this event will be strongly influenced by the timing of the changeover from rain to sleet to snow.  Earlier forecasts suggested that warm-air aloft could be enhanced in advance of the low pressure system setting up along the coast.  It appears that this warm layer is now eroding, keeping the air aloft below freezing.

We can utilize North American Model (NAM) guidance as an example (courtesy of Plymouth State University) model forecast sounding.  First, a quick lesson… A sounding is a graphical representation of the temperature, dewpoint, and wind of the atmosphere above a point.  The red line represents temperature aloft, the orange line is 0ºC/32ºF.  Any point where red crosses to the right of the orange line is where melting can occur.  With a deep enough layer of warmer-than-0ºC air, snow can melt into sleet and further melt into rain.  Snow, once turned to sleet, cannot turn back into snow.  It will either continue to melt and fall as rain or refreeze and fall as sleet.  If it hits the ground as rain and refreezes, it is freezing rain.

As we’re running models that predict not just what’s going on at the surface but also aloft, we can generate future soundings of the atmosphere.  This animation shows the evolution of the forecast sounding at KRDU (Raleigh-Durham International Airport) from the NAM.  The most-recent (6 January 18Z, 1PM EST) run suggests that air aloft at this location will just barely stay below freezing this evening into tomorrow morning.  This should allow precipitation at the airport fall through the entire atmosphere as snow.  However, you may notice how precariously close to the freezing line the temperature is forecast to be.  If the temperature-aloft forecast has a one or two degree cold-bias, the entire forecast changes; the atmosphere ends up being warmer, more precipitation falls as sleet/rain, overall snowfall totals are reduced, and travel is made more dangerous.  As a result, it is extremely difficult to say with confidence the amount of snowfall any location along the rain/snow corridor will receive.  This is the difficulty in winter forecasting in this region, especially when winter storms impact major metropolitan areas.

Hopefully that conveys the difficulty involved in answering the question, “So, how much snow are we going to get?”  Having said all of that as an extensively long disclaimer, our CNAPS model is predicting 5″ of snow to fall at the airport which puts it along with the averages predicted by the Short-Range Ensemble Forecast (SREF).  Time will tell how accurate that prediction is.

Winter Break Outreach

OOMG Postdoc Joe Zambon took some time away from visiting family over the winter break to talk to a group of 40 students at Victor Junior High School in Victor, NY.  Teachers and administrators invited Joe to speak to the school’s Young Women’s Leadership and The Young Men’s Leadership Groups comprised of students aged 10-14.  These groups have been formed for interested students to gain valuable service and leadership skills.  Joe was asked to present some interesting aspects of his career to this diverse group.

Victor’s students were actively interested in a number of different facets of oceanography.  Joe presented video and images of his previous adventures on various research vessels, autonomous vehicles, robots, and human-occupied submersibles.  In addition, Joe led discussion on various ocean models, opening the door for instructors to utilize OOMG’s CNAPS model in conjunction with pre-designed lesson plans available via SciREN.

After his talk, several students approached Joe and asked interesting questions about different aspects of physical and biological oceanography.  Unfortunately time was limited as most students had to catch their busses.  Everyone in attendance was encouraged to follow-up any questions with Joe and other members of OOMG.