Great Mother of Wonder

Another run of exceptional days out here in the Southern Ocean – two cold fronts in two days, our first lightning storms … not to mention a kelp attack, close encounters of the “bird” kind and an utterly amazing experience with bioluminescence.

The two back-to-back cold fronts began last Sunday night. The first one arrived in typical fashion, riding in on a northwest wind, but the second came in with a headwind that took forever to switch back over to the northwest, which was fine by me as it put the wind behind us and made the sailing easier. Once it did switch though, it brought along with it lightning and thunderstorms. I had not seen lightning in these squalls before, so it made for an interesting (and dramatic) night. Eventually both cold fronts and their stormy winds passed, leaving us with good winds for racking up some good miles.

45.35797S, 148.83321E1300 Miles to Port - 45.35797S, 148.83321E 

As I write this, I’m just passing under Tasmania at about 45.5 South Latitude and setting my cross-hairs on the southernmost tip of the South Island of New Zealand! That waypoint, at about 155 East Longitude is just about 600 miles away, but there’s still a lot of sailing as the course to Wellington travels up the South Island and then down the Cook Strait. By my estimate, there’s still over 1300 miles left to the end of Leg 2 … but isn’t that cool? I figure, since leaving Jamestown, Rhode Island on October 2nd, I’ve sailed over 15,000 miles! I’m still hoping by the 10th of February to be tied up at Chaffer’s Marina in Wellington, New Zealand, and celebrating my return to Terra Firma.

Now, when I say KELP attack, I probably should have said kelp “attach!” The other morning, just after the second cold front, I began to feel that something was slowing down the boat. That’s the sort of learned intuition one gets around boats. You sometimes sense it before you have any idea what it might be. I finally looked aft and saw a long brown object dragging off the starboard rudder. I hooked up my tether and reached over the side to grab onto it and pulled as hard as I could but got no release. This one was tenacious, but after several attempts, I was finally able to dislodge it. Here’s a picture of it.

kelp
Encrusted kelp - 42.5441046S, 134.5444664E 

For a few moments, I thought that maybe it was a piece of waste rubber, but it was obviously kelp. Upon further inspection, I found it was laced with some sort of crustaceans that were incredibly beautiful in their simplicity and in their subtle color shading. Here’s a picture of them.

42.5441046S, 134.5444664E
Something special, wouldn’t you say? -
 42.5441046S, 134.5444664E

Having never seen anything quite like it before, I could not help but marvel once again at nature’s infinitely fertile ability to manifest life forms of such diverse and inexplicable beauty. Now, I wonder if anyone can tell us more specifically what type of crustaceans these might be? (My best guesses to the questions I pose here are all down below.)

Now as to the BIRDS, for the past week or so, this very interesting group of birds has been regularly circling the boat. I’ve watched them for endless hours, entranced by their curious flight patterns. They aren’t big birds; one would probably fit in the palm of my hand. They have a white band around their mid-section, but what captures your attention is the way in which they fly. Swooping up and over waves, but getting right down to the water and then seeming to dip their right wing in the water, time and time again. Darting up and down in quick motions … it almost looked as if they had a dysfunctional wing.

Now I figured there was some sort of feeding action going on, but I couldn’t tell exactly what, even though I watched for days on end. I did start to notice that they occasionally dipped the left wing too, so maybe it was just a matter of convenience relative to their stalking food. Even after days of watching them, I find it hard to take my eyes off of them. But here’s a picture of one of them about to dip his or her wing. Anyone want to take a guess as to what kind of bird these are?

42.2220238S, 127.330546E
As close to constant companions as I get for now - 42.2220238S, 127.330546E 

So, the other morning, after the last cold front passed, I was up on the foredeck making a sail change and noticed something unusual … tiny fly-like bugs on part of the deck. I wasn’t sure where they could have come from, but after a much closer look, I realized that what I was looking at were like very tiny shrimp, but no longer than a couple of millimeters. I thought these must be what the birds are catching as they swoop and dip into the waves. How about this species … anyone have a clue what they might be?

bioluminescenseAnd as if both these creatures weren’t fantastical enough, the other night, an explosion of bioluminescence proved as spectacular as any I’ve ever seen in all my years at sea. As I typically do, I came up on deck to have a look around. It was pitch dark out and raining with some flashes of lightning off to the north. At first look I panicked … thinking I was seeing the stern light of a ship just in front of me. (In case you’re curious, I haven’t seen another ship for about four or five weeks now.)

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realized what I was seeing. The sea was alive! Every wave top, every white cap was glowing whitish green. The wake from the boat was looking like I had a light on under the boat. The trails from the rudders looked like luminous streamers flying from a circus tent flagpole. Most amazing of all were these floating orbs, glowing bright in the water … and not just one orb, there many all around me! At one point, I counted 20 or more behind the boat and you could see them for quite a ways away… constant in their gleaming brightness.

bioluminesenceOn each side of the boat, there was this same density of bioluminescence. Quite the surrealistic event, I can assure you – sailing along at 10 knots, all alone in the black of night, thousands of miles away from anywhere, in the middle of a thunderstorm and rain … with this incredible beauty erupting all around me. I’ve been back out every night since looking for them, but nothing more so far. I suspect that night was so uniquely spectacular because of conditions that followed from the electrical storm and the super-charged air.

On reflection it strikes me that the closer you get to the ocean, the more it reveals, the more you become part of its surface life. It is truly the great mother of wonder. It surrounds us, feeds us and cleanses the earth and the air. It also provides us with pathways to anywhere in the world and along the way, never stops teaching us and showing us sights and sounds even beyond our wildest imaginings. I so wish there was a way I could photograph this bioluminescence to show you all, but perhaps it’s one of those things you just have to see for yourself. I stood there for half an hour observing it all in the pouring rain. I was both soaked and stoked when I finally went back inside again.

:: (SPOILER ALERT! As to the QUESTIONS above, I shared my observations with Tegan Mortimer, our Earthwatch ocean science colleague for the Circumnavigation, and here are our combined best guesses as to what I saw.

  • The creatures that attached to the kelp are called goose barnacles!
  • The birds look to be gray-back storm petrels.
  • The type of flying they do is something called “dynamic soaring,” which Tegan says she will soon be covering in a new science note about pelagic sea birds. (See Tegan’s previous science notes on our Citizen Science Resource Page here!)
  • Strangely enough, if the birds are in fact gray-back storm petrels, they actually concentrate on feeding on the larvae of goose barnacles, so the tiny shrimp I saw on deck were likely that, which is what the petrels were stalking the whole time.

So, if our answers are correct, then all these sightings were actually interrelated, which gives me a special feeling of gratitude to be able to plumb a little deeper into nature’s mysterious and inter-connected cycles. ::

So onward towards New Zealand! Just another 7 to 10 days and I’ll get a chance to take a break, eat some real food, reconnect with old friends, restock the chocolate and cookie supply, as well as everything else, and begin to prepare Bodacious Dream for Leg 3 of this amazing journey.

I do hope you’re enjoying following along with these updates. I also hope you’ve had a chance to share the Explorer Guides with some young people in your lives or to look them over yourselves. There’s so much more to share and explore out here. Give me a few days once I arrive in New Zealand to get some of these amazing photos and videos up for you to see and enjoy! And here’s the link to the Email List Sign-Up.

But for now, it’s back to sailing. “Roll East Young Franklin, Roll East!”

- Dave, Bodacious Dream and (the well-weathered) Franklin

Tegan’s Science Notes #3 – Sea Turtle Rescue

Explorer GuidesMost conservation efforts around the world are focused on protecting animals and their habitats in their natural conditions. Many of our Earthwatch Institute scientists study endangered species so that we can better understand their lives, their movements and how they interact with their environment. Such scientific efforts also help to inform lawmakers who can then move to protect important areas, ban hunting or harvesting of rare species or manage existing threats to animal populations.

I am very lucky to be involved in conservation action which takes a slightly different route to protecting endangered species: rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles.

Sea Turtle Rescue
A green sea turtle getting an exam(source: rescue.neaq.org)

Every winter, turtles in New England run into trouble if they fail to migrate south to warmer waters. Sea turtles are superbly suited to life in the ocean, but as they are reptiles they don’t thermo-regulate. Instead they rely on the surrounding water to control their body temperature. If the temperature drops too low, the turtles can suffer from a form of hypothermia called “cold-stunning.”

Cape Cod Sea Turtle Rescue AreaWe usually associate sea turtles with warm tropical waters, but New England waters are important summer foraging areas for several varieties, including juvenile Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, and green sea turtles. When the air temperature starts to drop, that’s a sign that the turtles need to start moving south; they’re usually long gone by October. But some turtles fail to migrate and end up incapacitated by the cold water. They float in the water unable to move and are pushed by wind and waves until they wash up on a beach. In Massachusetts, the highest concentration of these strandings occur along the beaches of Cape Cod Bay.

It’s not known why some turtles don’t head south. Some scientists believe that turtles that are spending time in shallow bays may be caught suddenly as the water can cool very quickly in these types of environments. Others think that turtles which enter Cape Cod Bay may be unable to navigate out of it as heading north to get around the tip of the cape is counter to their instincts. In any case, every year many turtles will strand on these beaches, though 2012 was a record-breaking year with over 240 turtles rescued off cold beaches.

The rescue operation starts with a team of very dedicated volunteers from Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Sanctuary, who carefully walk the beaches after every high tide whether that’s early in the morning, late at night or in bad weather. When the turtles wash ashore they are exposed to extremely cold air, so it is important to find these turtles as soon as possible. After a quick exam, the turtles are transported to the New England Aquarium Animal Health Center where veterinarians and rescue staff coax them back to life.

As the turtles slowly warm up they will be assessed for injuries, have blood drawn, have x-rays taken and be allowed to swim in shallow pools with supervision. Once they warm up, they will be moved to the big tanks to continue their recovery. Rehabilitation can take months as turtles can have injured flippers, pneumonia, eye injuries among other ailments which need medical attention. One turtle even received acupuncture!

Sea Turtle Rescue TanksTanks hold turtles until they are recovered enough to released - (rescue.neaq.org)

Once they are stable they may be transported to other facilities that will continue to care for the turtles until they can be released to the wild. Over 80% of the cold-stunned turtles which come to the New England Aquarium will make a full recovery and be released back into the wild. Some of these turtles will be fitted with satellite tags which will track them in their first months of freedom. This is helping scientists learn more about sea turtle navigation and movement.

Sea Turtle Rescue
Kemp’s ridley turtles being released(rescue.neaq.org)

Why is this work important? The rescue team regularly rehabilitates three species of turtle: loggerheads, greens, and Kemp’s ridleys. All three of these are classified as “endangered” with decreasing populations. The Kemp’s ridley in particular is the most critically endangered species of sea turtle in the world; in the past 70 years, the population has gone from 89,000 nesting females to only around 1,000! Kemp’s ridley turtles have an interesting nesting ritual callled an “arabada” or mass nesting where the females will come on to the nesting beach all at once taking over whole sections of the beach. (See photo below.) This behavior makes them very susceptible to hunting, which has severely reduced their population. Today they are also threatened by habitat destruction, pollution and entanglement in fishing nets. There is a huge amount of conservation work being done to address these threats including fitting trawl nets with turtle exclusion devices (TEDs) and protecting nesting beaches. The work to save these turtles from certain death in Cape Cod Bay is just one part of the bigger work being done to save these species from extinction, and part of the much grander effort to preserve the diversity of life in the natural world, of which we are all a part.

Want to learn more about sea turtles?
• Follow the New England Aquarium Rescue team’s blog at rescue.neaq.org to learn more about cold-stunned sea turtles.
• Visit seaturtle.org which has lots of interesting information about sea turtles and sea turtle science.
• Take the hands-on approach and sign up for an Earthwatch expedition studying sea turtles.
• If you live in the Cape Cod or Long Island region volunteer as a beach walker or turtle transport driver.

Sea Turtle Rescue
An arabada, Spanish for “arrival” nesting event(source: jameskaiser.com)

:: Tegan’s Earlier Science Notes:
#1 – Bird Migrations
#2 – Wind and Weather
:: Citizen Science Resources Page

:: BDX Explorer Guides
- Our Watery World
Wind and Weather
Math
Sea Life
Oceanography
Sailboat Glossary
Mentor Guide

Do you happen to know other scientists, educators or journalists who might be interested in our Learning & Discovery agenda? If so, we’d love to make their acquaintance. We can always be reached at oceanexplorer@bodaciousdreamexpeditions.comThank you!

Email List Sign-Up … Right here!

Tegan’s Science Notes #2 – Wind and Weather

(This is the second in a series of “Science Notes” from from our ocean scientist colleague, Tegan Mortimer, who works with Earthwatch Institute. These postings follow from encounters with nature that I have on the water. Tegan’s first Science Notes was onBird Migrations” – and can be found at the link or on our Citizen-Science Resource Page. Tegan’s Science Notes support our “Learning and Discovery” agenda, which we will keep expanding on over the course of the circumnavigation. Such “custom-made” reports we feel are particularly appropriate for sharing with the younger learners in your world. Please Contact Us if you have questions or suggestions on how we might better serve the interests of young learners and their mentors. Thank you, and take it away, Tegan!)

Today we’re going to talk about a very important topic; wind and weather. Dave spends a lot of time paying attention to the wind and weather patterns that control his journey. There are two types of weather patterns that Dave is confronted with: global weather and local weather.

Let’s start with global weather. These are weather and wind patterns which occur over very large parts of the globe and don’t change very much if they change at all. These are things like the trade winds and the doldrums.

So how does it work? Let’s start with the most basic concept of weather: warm air rises and cold air sinks. Understanding this concept is the first key to understanding weather and wind. Imagine that the air around you isn’t all this one big cloud of, well, air; instead it’s lots of pockets or parcels of air like cushions all packed together. By the way, this same phenomenon happens under the ocean with seawater as well as inside the earth’s core with magma.

Now, going back to the atmosphere, these different pockets can have different properties; different temperatures, different moisture contents and they can move independently of each other. A pocket that’s close to the surface of the earth is going to receive more heat from the earth than a pocket of air higher up in the sky. This warm pocket of air will start to rise and as it rises, it cools down until it reaches a point where it starts sinking again. This process than will start all over again as parcels of air keep going up and down. This movement of air upwards is sometimes called an updraft.

Now what does this all have to do with winds? First we have to imagine that we have a parcel of warm air at the ground. Like a balloon this air is going to rise, but as it rises, its temperature goes down. Eventually this air cools enough that it will start sinking back down. So we end up with our air going up and down over and over.

Let’s imagine this process of air rising and then sinking stretched over a longer distance, so that once the air sinks, it flows across the surface picking up heat until it rises again. The surface of the earth is covered by a series of these rising and sinking cells.

Global Wind Patterns
Source: wiki.flinthill.org

If we look at the diagram above we see that there are three major cell types. I’m going to talk about the Northern Hemisphere here, but it is exactly the same in the Southern Hemisphere - just flipped the other way! Hadley Cells transport air from the tropics towards the equator where it rises and is carried northward aloft. The Ferrel Cells cover the mid-latitudes and carry air which sinks at the tropics north to the Polar Cells which transport cold air south from the poles. This system helps to distribute the excess heat in the equator and tropics out to the mid-latitudes and polar regions.

What you’ll also notice is that this system of circulation gives rise to the major winds, especially the trade winds which Dave has been experiencing, and which are so essential to trans-Atlantic crossings.

Now it’s time to introduce the second major concept: high and low pressure. When you have a steady stream of air rising, it’s not going to be able to sink back down because there is more air pushing up behind it; instead it flow outwards before sinking down again. Where the air rises and disperses is a low pressure and where the air converges and sinks is a high pressure. Air will always flow from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. This “pressure” concept is found throughout biology and chemistry as well.

If we look at the equator, between the two Hadley cells, we see that air is traveling towards the equator, rising, and then flowing outwards. This is a Low Pressure area. Conversely, when we look at the area between a Hadley cell and Ferrel cell we see that the air converges aloft, sinks and then flows outwards, this is a High Pressure. What this means is that there is a low pressure all the way around the equator, a high pressure around latitude 30° and another low around latitude 60°. Air naturally flows from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure. When this is combined with the revolution of the earth you get the major winds.

highs and lowsSource: rgsweather.com

You’ve probably heard about high and low pressures in your local weather reports too. High and low pressure areas occur when the surface pressure is either higher or lower than the surrounding “sea level pressure” which can happen for a variety of reasons. These pressure systems are responsible for most of our local weather. The same process that I described early is occurring here as well, a low pressure is air moving up and away and a high pressure is air moving down to the earth.

The GENERAL RULE is that air flows into a low pressure and away from a high pressure. In the northern hemisphere winds flow clockwise around a high pressure and counter-clockwise around a low pressure, and it’s the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere. Low pressure systems are usually associated with cloudy, wet, and “unsettled” weather while high pressure systems bring dry and clear conditions.

So, let’s finish off with a problem. Below is a picture of winds (taken from a very cool site) which are forming a weather system. Based on this map we can say a lot about the local weather. Are we looking at a high pressure or a low pressure? What types of weather are associated with low pressures? What types of weather are associated with high pressures? What do you think the conditions are like in the area shown?

http://hint.fm/wind/
http://hint.fm/wind/ 

Let’s break it down based on what we’ve learned. So we are in the northern hemisphere so we can figure out if this is a high or a low pressure based on the circulation of the winds. They are circulating counter-clockwise which means that this is a low pressure. Another clue is that the winds are circulating into a tight center rather than out of an area like we can see to the left. The bolder lines on this map show stronger winds so we can see that there are strong winds around the low pressure and lighter winds around the higher pressure to the west. We also know that low pressures being rain and cloudy weather. So looking at this map we can say that most of the northeastern United States is experiencing rainy or stormy weather with high winds. In fact this is a map showing wind conditions during Hurricane Sandy last year.

(Tegan Mortimer is a scientist with Earthwatch Institute. Contact Tegan directly at Tegan Mortimer <tmortimer (at) earthwatch (dot) org>)