After a nine day sail the R/V Araon arrived in Jang Bogo Research Station! As a first time visitor to Antarctica the view not only took my breath away, but dumbfounded me. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and admittedly I haven’t found the words yet to describe it- the sheer scale of the landscape leaves me at a complete loss. Luckily ORCAA sent me with a camera, which should speak a little more clearly than I can these days.
After a short stop in Terra Nova Bay on Saturday to bid our Italian colleagues goodbye, the Araon spent ~48 hours breaking through 1-2m thick ice (the noise was deafening and impressive). The ship, as I’ve mentioned before, is state of the art and extremely efficient at it’s job- breaking ice. The frozen sea stretches in front of us dauntingly, but the ship is not phased as she bows over the ice which creaks and breaks under the weight of the ship, blazing our path toward the continent.
After quite some time on the ship I think both passengers and crew were eager to step onto the ice and set foot on the continent of Antarctica. Admittedly, the only thing which seemed to satiate the passengers onboard the ship were the frequent sightings of Adelie penguins, and a very long encounter with an emperor penguin that curiously watched as we stopped to rearrange our cargo deck.
While I can’t underplay the thrill of watching penguins from the ship, it did not compare to the excitement of reaching the continent itself.
The Jang Bogo research station is one of the most impressive facilities I’ve ever seen. It is outfitted to comfortably hold multiple research teams investigating a range of environmental features including space weather, geophysics and seismology, geology, and oceanography. It is also outfitted with an indoor greenhouse where salad greens are grown for consumption throughout the year, a state of the art gym (with climbing wall), an espresso bar, multiple lounges and conference rooms, wet and dry lab space, and considerable charm.
The team currently in residence at Jang Bogo are extremely gracious, and generously toured me through the facility within moments of stepping foot inside the door. The facility, which officially opened its doors last February, is nearing completion, and various research projects are currently underway. Many of the researchers currently at the base will accompany us on the return journey to Christchurch, NZ.
For now, the crew has been working round the clock (the never setting sun allows for very high productivity- human and primary) to unload supplies, scientific cargo, and fuel for the base. Tomorrow our helicopter pilots will begin flying missions as various ice dynamic studies progress, and in two days time we will set sail for our oceanographic cruise.
More to come.
Your Antarctic Correspondent,
We are at sea! After a several day weather delay at our port in Lyttleton, NZ the R/V Araon has finally departed and is making her way south. The first hour at sea was magical. Every science team on the boat (of which there are several) made their way to the helicopter pad to take photographs of the blue New Zealand waters, the ever diminishing landscape, and of course, each other.
The highlight of the departure was the arrival of several small pods of Hectors dolphins who escorted us out of the bay! I am the only marine mammalogist on the boat, but I was clearly not the only one excited to see the dolphins. Admittedly I had slunk inside to change my laundry over when one of the Kiwi helicopter pilots graciously hunted me down and dragged me back outside so I wouldn’t miss them.
The same pilot also stood on the deck with me for nearly an hour that same evening telling me everything he knew about pelagic seabirds (which is admittedly more than I know), and pointing out how they use the wind funneling off the Araon similarly to a helicopter. The albatross are amazing! I wish I could identify them to species, but as a first time Southern Ocean visitor I’m clueless. Everything I know I learned in my afternoon at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, or Ricky the Kiwi pilot taught me.
A little about the demographics of our ship. The Araon is a Korean icebreaker (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts) run by KOPRI (the Korean Polar Research Institute). I’m part of an oceanographic team working under Chief Scientist Dr. Won Sang Lee (KOPRI). Our team is made up of myself (representing the NOAA/PMEL Bioacoustics Lab), a German Oceanographer who will be recovering three Ocean Bottom Seismometers (OBS), one Korean micro-biologists, one Korean geoscientist, one Korean geoscientist/acoustician, and one Australian oceanographer. We meet nightly at 2000 (8PM) to debrief the day, make any plans, and to discuss our research. Won Sang presented an overview of the KOPRI mission in Antarctica at our meeting last night including our role at PMEL on the acoustics side of things (despite the incessant and nauseating rolling of the ship). I’ll be presenting some of my work at our meeting tonight, despite my research occurring a hemisphere away (although keep me down here long enough and suddenly my research will develop an Antarctic component).
Ours is not the only crew, however. There are five scientists from PRNA (the Italian Polar Research Institute) who are hitching a ride on the Araon as they prepare to summer in the Mario Zuchelli Research Base in Terra Nova Bay. They are studying the impacts of ocean acidification on polar macro invertebrates. There are two NOAA researchers headed to the Jang Bogo base to install a space weather radar. The methodology of their work is actually very similar to mine (wavelengths and physics) but what they’re actually doing is still beyond me. There are also two Russian ice pilots on board whose job it is to navigate us through the ice when we get into the Ross Sea, and a Finnish fellow who has been unfortunately seasick since we boarded the Araon. Lastly, and certainly not least, there is a team of Korean scientists (largely geo-scientists) headed down to summer at Jang Bogo Station and do all manner of measurement and experiments.
Oh! How could I forget! There are three Kiwi helicopter crew onboard. Two pilots and an engineer. I adore them.
All said and totaled there are about 30 crew members on the boat, and about 45 scientists/passengers on the vessel. There are three women; myself, my amazing roommate Ombretta, and Sukyoung from our research team. Ombretta will depart at the ice for the summer, and we will be down to two.
A few things I wished I had known before I came (silly living things, for anyone trying to get info on daily life at the R/V Araon). There is a refrigerator in every cabin, and also a hair dryer. The power source is European style and in 220v- this is very important for instrumentation. Make sure you have a converter (not a just and adapter!). The beds are hard but clean, a sleeping bag goes a long way. The food is very Korean (we had steamed octopus in chilli sauce yesterday), they make a bold effort to include western style food, but it’s just that, an effort. Bring tea if that’s your thing (it’s mine), there is green tea on the boat, nothing else.
Good advice I was given (thanks Matt!): bring an HDMI cable. There are TV’s everywhere you can hook your computer into. Spices go a long way. There is white rice at every meal, bring a little cumin, garlic salt and spinach? You’ve got a decent meal. Bring a mug. All beverages are served in small metal cups. They get very hot, and hold very little. A to-go mug has made my life much better. Especially since I’m on the third deck, and tea water is on the main level.
Other than that the rooms are very accommodating, there is wifi throughout the boat (albeit very slow wifi), and ample space to spread out. There is also a sauna and a karaoke machine- but only time will tell if I dare to use them.
Over and Out.
Your Antarctic Correspondent,
For the first time in the last 13 hours the electronic plane icon that has been flying across the digital screen in front of seat 41C on this United Airlines international jumbo jet is traveling above land. We are flying over a small island chain to the northeast of Australia as I type this; the capital of Port Vila is marked with a white dot. Prior to this the plane on the screen flew over nothing but vast Pacific Ocean. We land in a few hours in Sydney. It’s my first trip to Australia, and a short one at about 2-hours before I catch a flight to Christchurch, NZ where the R/V Araon will be docked.
Getting to Antarctica takes a long time.
Three flights totaling ~20 hours of flying time across four airports and three countries, and that’s just to get to New Zealand. From there I’ll board the R/V Araon for a ~9 day sail to the Ross Sea. In a world where I can transit continents in a day, that it takes over a week to reach Antarctica is both satisfying and daunting. It really is that far away, but it’s Antarctica… shouldn’t it take a long time to get there?
I don’t have a lot to report yet. The days leading up to the trip ended with a flurry of activity. Equipment had to be shipped, driven, and then flown around the world. An early evening training session with PMEL’s Matt Fowler got me up to speed on what’s expected of me, what I’ll actually be doing on the ship, and why the expedition is happening at all.
The cruise is multi-purpose; resupplying the Korean Antarctic Base – Jang Bogo Station – is one of the expedition tasks. As is collecting valuable data on conditions near the Dragovski Ice Tongue, and recovering various instruments deployed last year to study seismic activity in the region. But my role is to recover an Ocean Bottom Hydrophone, or OBH for short, from approximately ~1000m (3300 ft) beneath the cold ocean waves.
This seemingly impossible recovery task is accomplished by chirping. We’ll be using something called an acoustic release. What that means is I have a piece of equipment on the deck of the ship with an acoustic element that gets slung overboard to ‘chirp’ into the water. The right chirp, at the right frequency, and the right timing, will wake up an element built into the hydrophone on the ocean bottom. If it hears the right signal, it chirps back a predictable reply. It’s all very charming to hear, and slightly more technical than I’m describing, but as Matt said when he was training me on it “it’s technician proof”. Once contact is made with the hydrophone, and I confirm that the signal it’s responding is in fact our own, I can send a release command that will theoretically release the hydrophone from it’s bottom mooring allowing it to float to the surface of the water (should take 5-20 minutes, Matt tells me).
It all sounds fairly straightforward and I’m assured that the technology is sound. Will it work? I don’t know yet, it should. But it’s going to take me another 9 days to get to the Ross Sea, so you’ll have to standby while I get off of this plane, onto another one, then into a taxi, and onto a ship, then sail south south south. This may take a while.
-Your Antarctic Correspondent-
Classes have started again here at OSU. I know this is old news for those east coast universities that start classes in late August or early September, but here in Ye Olde Oregon fall starts late… so school starts late. As a PhD student I’m no longer required to take classes at the university, and having just pushed the paperwork through on our National Park Service Grant I will soon be exclusively a GRA (graduate research assistant) and will no longer be required to teach courses either. For now, however, I am both student and teacher — taking classes and teaching them.
I love teaching. Rare for many researchers I know, but for me – true. I find it helps me to synthesize my thoughts, to approach science creatively and simply, and to consistently reference back to the basics. In my tenure as a graduate student at OSU I’ve been privileged to both TA and instruct classes in basic biology, ecology, intro to anatomy, physiology and disease, marine biology, marine mammal science, marine habitats, and (my all time favorite) field sampling. FW255 — field sampling — is a required course for all of our Fisheries and Wildlife undergraduate students; I’ve been a GTA (graduate teaching assistant) under the brilliant and compassionate guidance of biological oceanographer and community ecologist Dr. Doug Reese for four quarters. The course gives students the opportunity (under the instructors’ guidance) to design and execute field studies at the Finley Wildlife Refuge. Courses range from comparing predator habitat use, to investigating the impacts of beaver dams on water clarity, to chronicling avian community structure. I know. Our students are impressive, creative, young minds.
For my part I see participating in this course as an opportunity to introduce undergraduate students to acoustic ecology. In my tenure I’ve guided students through studies that seek to aquatically detect amphibian species, investigate the impact of diel vs. nocturnal raptors on songbird communities, and studies that use acoustics (playbacks and recordings in this case) to test for territorial responses of red-winged blackbirds to encroaching yellow-headed blackbirds. Currently we’re starting up two playback studies; one study uses acoustic playbacks to investigate the impact of raptors on waterfowl, the other which will asses behavioral responses of elk to breeding calls (assuming we can find the elk — backup plan includes tracking elk and using trail cams. No student left behind here).
While there’s a lot to love about teaching this class (I spend two days a week hiking through a wildlife refuge looking for animals, I can pay my rent each month), there are a few things that really strike me as I start up my fourth quarter interacting with our students in the field. First, I have a lot to learn. Whenever I start to feel like I understand something in its entirety, be it about ecology or about bioacoustics, a student asks me a question I don’t know the answer to. I then go home, look it up, and learn something for the both of us. It is simultaneously refreshing, inspiring, and humbling. Good qualities for any PhD student to embody.
Second, teaching is valuable. While I believe that my research has, and will continue to have an impact of the world around me, when I teach I can see the impact. My students start the quarter not knowing how to do something (“What is a quadrat?”), perhaps lacking direction (a.k.a. don’t know how to operate a GPS), and are sometimes a little short in the inspiration department (“What study do you think I should do, Michelle?”), but when then leave? By the time my students hand in their final papers — a full scale research paper, intro, methods, results, & discussions, stats and all — I can see that they have changed (“We used a one square meter quadrat to investigate insect biodiversity between the upland forest and the agricultural lowland riparian zone”). Further, the relationships that I see unfolding in our class between the students and their groups, and the students and Doug and myself, are proof to me that doing science is a powerful tonic for a healthy life. Not everyone loves teaching, not everyone gets it, but for me (at least for now) it’s nourishing to put big picture impacts into real world perspective.
So yes, I am a teacher. Yes, I am a student. The teacher is a student & the students are the teachers.
But enough with philosophy (Niki’s really much better at that than I am). While 99% of the time I love teaching… no one can deny that this is also true. Cross your fingers and I may just graduate some day.
…but first a name
I’ve dedicated the past 3 years to understanding non-song vocalizations, which admittedly is just a drop in the bucket. Now, as I venture into my fourth year of this relationship I have to acknowledge that I’ve moved from one chapter of my research into another. The Rapunzel Project (the whimsical name for my M.S. project) was my first foray into bio-acoustics, large scale fieldwork, and in internship development. While I wouldn’t consider myself an expert at any of these things, I’m also no longer a novice. I defended my thesis, we’re working on publications, and by and large I’ve put the Rapunzel Project to rest (I even retired the blog!).
All that being said I’m thrillingly eyeball deep in my PhD (first committee meeting: check!), and my research is actually rolling along in advance of my first field season (patting myself –very lightly – on the back). I’ve been giving talks on my research, and the blog posts are rolling out in various forms and locations. With all of this communicating about my research I became aware of something, my project didn’t have a name. Now I know that naming each project isn’t mandatory. Some people name their cars, some don’t; some people name their research, others don’t. But I have to admit writing the words “my dissertation research” over and over has grown tedious. As someone who values accessible communication as well as the role of creativity in science, I reached out to my fellow lab mates and asked for help with a name.
Suggestions varied wildly (“Life is the bubbles” anyone? How about a Calypso reference… so much fun). The name we settled on was astutely suggested by none other than ORCAA’s Selene Fregosi (maybe that writing workshop she wrote about helped with more than just her thesis). Without further ado let me introduce you to ORCAA’s Acoustic Spyglass: investigating the impact of vessel noise on humpback whale non-song behavior from the shores of Glacier Bay National Park.
I’m please with this name because (a) it incorporates both the visual and acoustic elements of the study, (b) because the use of a hydrophone array to localize animals is quite literally a form of “acoustic spying”, and (c) the use of a spyglass implies both antiquity and a sense of looking forward. When you pair visual observations with passive acoustic monitoring you are often looking forward (to the sea, tracking whales), but often technological constraints require that you listen retroactively after the hydrophones have been recovered. In this way I am quite literally listening to the past.
Listening to the Past
Nowhere is this more poignant than in the first chapter of the Acoustic Spyglass (see that… not “my dissertation research”), where I investigate non-song call stability at the decadal scale. I’ve acquired recordings of non-song vocalizations in North Pacific Humpbacks from the mid-1970’s through present day. I’ve been reviewing these to assess if non-song vocalizations, similar to song, change rapidly with time, or if humpbacks exhibit vocal stability. It is well known that humpback whale song changes annually, and this change is believed to be culturally mediated. Little is known, however, about how non-song vocalizations stand up to the test of time. Understanding the stability of non-song vocalizations may tell us something about call innateness, and may provide clues into how these vocalizations are used. Further, if non-song vocalizations (or specific types of non-song vocalizations) have been relatively stable for the past four decades then they may act as a metric against which to quantify change in the face of a shifting baseline (increasing ocean noise, climate change).
What’s so exciting (to me and possibly the ~twelve people who study non-song communication in humpback whales) is that based on first glance at least one call type – the SEAK Whup call – is remarkably stable over time! I’ve detected this vocalization in every data set currently in my possession. I want to be clear, that these findings are anecdotal at this point. I’ve only just started quantifying my samples, and I have a long way to go before everything is sufficiently measured and described. But from first glance would you agree that these two spectrograms look pretty similar?
There’s something magical about listening to vocalizations that were produced in the 1970’s and hearing some of the same purrs that I’ve grown familiar with. That the scientific community forty years later is just now beginning to investigate what these non-song vocalizations mean is a testament to the breadth of research yet to be done on Southeast Alaskan humpback whales. Humpback whales are long-lived, with lifespans that can reach 90+ years. This means that the whales in these historic recordings may still be vocalizing in Southeast Alaska today. Or perhaps these recordings may be a link between a previous generation of whales and those who have only recently made it to Southeast Alaska to forage. In either case the analysis of this long-term acoustic data set is the first step to answering some of the basic questions about how humpback whales communicate and I’m extremely excited to be listening.~This work is extremely collaborative. Data contributions have been made my individual researchers referenced above as well as the National Park Service, and the Alaska Whale Foundation~
***Follow my personal research blog here, or check out my lab’s blog blogs.oregonstate.edu/bioacoustics for a broader view of bio-acoustic research***
Hello Acoustics Aficionados!
A few weeks ago I wrote to you about my upcoming trip to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and my big “Solo” adventure into the great Alaskan Wilderness. Well I’m happy to report the trip was an enormous success and — like so many endeavors in science — all of my “solo” work was accomplished through collaboration.
The purpose of the trip was threefold (1) familiarize myself with Glacier Bay and the surrounding community, (2) identify a viable field site that would enable Leanna and I to meet our dissertation goals, and (3) to build and maintain relationships (with the area and with the people). In short, my goal was all about getting my feet wet in the world of Glacier Bay research, which as it turned out was an extremely easy to accomplish literally and figuratively — Southeast Alaska is very very wet.
The nearest airport to Glacier Bay is in the diminuative village of Gustavus (small town, big character). Living in Juneau off and on for years I’d heard a lot about this tiny place — slow bicycle races and town-wide pancake breakfasts on the Fourth of July, a community garden that would make most Alaskans blush. With a population that ranges from 350-600 (with an influx of seasonal workers in the summer) Gustavus isn’t exactly what you’d call a city, even by Alaskan standards… and it’s not so easy to get there.
I traveled via shuttle from Corvallis to PDX (nothing new here) and hopped a flight to SeaTac Airport where I settled in for a cozy overnight on an airport bench. It felt very familiar. Traveling to and from Southeast Alaska (for less than a small fortune) requires patience, a little bit of traveler’s tenacity, and typically an overnight in Seattle. Sipping an evening tea and looking around the airport I was not the only one with Xtra-Tuffs on bunking down for the night… there were quite a few of us headed home.
A 6-hour layover in Juneau was just enough time for coffee with University of Alaska- Fairbanks PhD student and humpback whale biologist Suzie Teerlink, who filled me in on some of the details of her citizen science initiatives, whale watch cooperative efforts, and some of the in’s and out’s of her Juneau fluke ID project. My first foray into humpback whale research was working with Suzie on some of these projects in their infancy, and was exciting to see how much they’d grown! We wrapped up our reunion with a quick hike before heading over to Wings of Alaska and boarding the 6-seater Cessna 207 turboprop aircraft that would safely transport me over over the mountains and fjords and set me down in Gustavus, AK. There I was warmly greeted by the Park whale biologist (and co-PI on our project) Chris Gabriele.
Over the next few days I had the chance to meet a number of the Park Staff (fisheries biologists, bear biologists, research technicians, administrators and more!), and importantly Chris and I had the opportunity to talk (face-to-face) about humpback whale non-song vocalizations — also called social sounds — produced in Southeast Alaska. Chris and her colleague Lauren Wild of the Sitka Sound Science Center have a new study coming out in the Journal of the Canadian Acoustics Associations on the acoustic properties and usage patterns of the humpback whale “whup” call. The call (which can be heard here), which is a putative contact call, plays a large role in my research past and present. I hope to build off of the work they began at the Park to understand more about how humpback whale use this and other vocalizations, as well as how vessel noise may change vocal behavior (including producing the “whup” call) or limit acoustic communication space. More details on that, and the first chapter of my dissertation, in my next blog post.
Back to the trip, I would be remiss if I led you to believe that we spent all of our time talking (remember goals 1 & 2!). While initially we didn’t think we’d have access to a boat (hence my initial decision to camp on the island for a few days), much to my excitement the Park research boat R/V Capelin came available. My second day in the Park was spent on the water scouting for field sites, measuring bottom depths, marking waypoints for locations of interest, and kayaking through non-motorized waterways to scope out potential field sites. I’m happy to report that we found one! After eliminating what looked to be a lovely cliff (with lots of blind spots and bear scat), and a good hike around Bartlet Cove where the Park’s current hydrophone is deployed (and where vessels transit daily), it was the north east tip of Strawberry Island that made the final cut. It might not look like much in the photos (did I mention that Glacier Bay is part of a rain forest?), but I think it’s exactly the spot we’re looking for.
With a field site decided (Goal 2, check!) one of the last things I was hoping to accomplish on my trip was to familiarize myself with the area, both terrestrial and aquatic. I was fortunate to spend another day on the water with Chris during one of her many whale surveys. It was a great opportunity to view whale behavior in the Park, which I’d anticipated would be different than the behavior I’d observed in Juneau or in Frederick Sound (and qualitatively, it was different); but it also gave me the chance to see more of the Park wildlife (otters! so many otters!) and get a feel for how operations work there. Part of getting familiar with an area involves knowing how to have the least negative impact both ecologically and culturally.
I took a camper orientation which gave me some good tips on how to minimize my impact on the island, but I also spent some time walking through the exhibits and chatting with Park employees, trying to get a feel for both the scientific community at the Park and the rich cultural heritage of the native people in the area. Long before Glacier Bay became a national park it was the ancestral home to the Huna Tlingit people. Near the end of the Little Ice age the glaciers (of which there are MANY) surged forward and the Tlingit were forced to abandon their settlements in the bay and move across Icy Straight to establish a new village. To the Huna Tlingit, Glacier Bay remains their home. In Barlett Cove (where the Park headquarters and the Glacier Bay Lodge are located) the presence of the Tlingit culture is palpable. A Tlingit canoe is on display and current plans are underway for a Tlingit Tribal House.
In what I thought was a poignant manifestation of the culture of science alongside the culture of people, on the same path as the canoe is a structure housing the recently re-articulated skeleton of a humpback whale named Snow, who was struck by a vessel in the Park in 2007. Snow’s bones were buried, cleaned, sent to Maine for articulation and organization, and then finally returned to the Park for the final installation. In a “Alaska’s such a small place” sort of way, one of my first field technicians, Linsday Neilson, was on the articulation team. The skeleton was complete by the time I arrived, but I did manage to catch her for a long overdue hug on the dock.
My last day in the Park I headed out early (5am early) and was fortunate enough to catch a ride on the small cruise ship the Baranof Dream which was headed up-bay toward the glaciers. I spent the day on the boat as a tourist admiring the spectacular scenery and mingling with the passengers. I spent the following two days as the “marine-biologist in residence”, giving talks about our research in the Park, pointing out wildlife, and harkening back to my days as a naturalist in Juneau (the killer whales were certainly a highlight too).
But c’mon this is Alaska, you never get out that easy!!! Despite my efforts to leave straight away I ended up with an extra day in Juneau, and while I won’t go into the details of how the extra 36 hours went (that’ll have to be another blog post) you can see from the photo that it turned out pretty well. Until next time!
It’s Summertime here at ORCAA and in case you haven’t noticed that means fieldwork. We’ve got Amanda eavesdropping on porpoise here in Oregon, Selene is tagging whales in California (yawn, who would want to do that I ask, green with envy), Niki (while not technically in the field) is reporting to us from the turquoise Mediterranean, and our honorary labmate Leanna is in full blown seal tagging development. I am, admittedly, not spending my summer in the field this year (probably just as well… I need some time at home with my data, my dogs and my sunflowers: read about previous summer field adventures during my M.S. here) that doesn’t mean that I’m going to disappoint you. While my 2014 summer field season may be short, it’s just the beginning for 2014.
Solo, Southeast, Social Sounds
For those of you who don’t know me, I finished my M.S. here at OSU in the Oceanography department. I received an M.S. in Marine Resource Management with a focus on conservation. I studied humpback whale communication in Southeast Alaska (you can read my M.S. thesis here). I moved to Juneau in 2007 after traveling through wet sunny tropical Central America. I thought Alaska was going to be a brief pit stop on my way to tropical living. Little did I know that 7 years later I’d still be working in the inside passage, that it would have slowly become home to me, or that I somehow would have become a cold-weather biologist (I blame it on the whales).
So, I’m headed to Glacier Bay National Park on Monday to scope out a field site for my dissertation research. For my dissertation I’ll be investigating the use of social sounds in humpback whales (how do social sounds fit into the general repertoire of humpback whales?) and what impact noise has on social calling behavior (Lombard effect in migratory corridors has been documented in Australian humpbacks , what might vessel noise do to calling rates on a foraging ground?). For this study I’m paired up with our own seal enthusiast Leanna Matthews (see her previous post for details on the other side of seal research), who will be looking at the impact of noise on harbor seals. We’ll be sharing a field site, and more importantly we’ll be sharing a bottom mounted hydrophone array that we intend to use to localize vocalizing animals. Concurrent with our acoustic deployment we’ll be making visual observations with a theodolite from a nearby elevated platform. My job next week, is to investigate potential field sites, with elevated observing options, calm waters, seals, whales, and a sleeping location as far away from the bears as possible. Should be easy right?
The glorious part? I’m taking the trip Northward alone- Solo. Though I will be well tended to by GLBA biologist Christine Gabriele, if the weather holds I’ll be spending a night, or two, alone at our potential field camp. Hiking around the island, observing whales and seals, and breathing in the cold wet Alaskan air all by my lonesome. Call me old fashioned, but I still think that seeing an area is the best way to choose a field camp. I’ve done my research, looked at velocity charts, bathymetry charts, and topo maps… but without seeing it, listening to it, and being there I don’t feel prepared to set our precious hydrophones on the bottom on the ocean and hope for the best. So, solo I go.
But… like I said earlier, this short trip (a week total) is just the start my 2014 field season.
I think secretly every biologist imagines the day that something like this happens to them:
Brilliant Super Scientist (a.k.a Holger) *on phone*: Good morning! Did I wake you?
Me: No of course not (I’ve been awake for at least 15 minutes, and you don’t know I’m in my pajamas. Who makes work phone calls before 8am?).
Brilliant Super Scientist: Good. Do you want to go to Antarctica?
Me: Yes. Yes I do.
This actually happened. I’m going to Antarctica! This November I will head as far South as you can get. I’ll be joining a crew of scientists on the Korean icebreaker the R/V Araon as we head southbound from New Zealand toward the Ross Sea. My role will be the recovery of a U.S. hydrophone that was deployed in the area last year. The hydrophone was deployed as part of an interdisciplinary project to track oceanographic and geologic (namely glaciers) conditions in the Antarctic. The ocean is a noisy place, and lots of features biotic and abiotic contribute to the ocean soundscape. Human activity in the Southern Ocean is limited… making it an ideal place to use acoustics to study natural phenomena like ice (and whales… lets not forget that there are lots and lots of whales in Antarctica).
We will be at sea for almost a month, with a stop at one of the the Korean Research Stations at the midway point. I don’t know all the details yet, but rest assured there will be many stories to tell. Lastly, while this isn’t technically a “solo” expedition, I will be the only one from my lab and possibly one of the few native English speakers on the boat. I spent the evening listening to Korean phrases, luckily I have a few months left to figure out how to say hello.
In short, it’s going to be a big field year for me. Followed up by an intensive field season in the summers of 2015 & 2016 (with interns! I love interns!)- and all it cold weather places. If you pair my upcoming trips with my past year of Arctic data analysis (Marvin The Martian was a Bearded Seal… remember?) then I suppose my dreams of becoming a tropical bioacoustician are out… or are they?
***all cartoons reprinted from www.michw.com an excellent blog about science, and comics***
Holger, Selene, and I spent all of last week participating in a Marine BioAcoustics Summer School (SeaBASS), hosted at the National Conference Center in Washington, D.C. (well, near D.C. – technically were were in Leesburg, Virgina just beyond the temptations of our nation’s charismatic capital city.). I think I can safely say that we are collectively exhausted, inspired, and academically saturated. It has been glorious. Before the glow wears off, and the social media requests from all of my new colleagues and friends stop rolling in, I thought I’d take a moment to recap the experience.
SeaBASS, for those unfamiliar, is a week long intensive bioacoustics course headed by Dr. Jennifer Miksis-Olds of the Penn State Applied Research Lab, and Dr. Susan Parks of the Syracuse University Biology Department. The goal of SeaBASS is to “provide the opportunity for graduate students interested in pursuing careers in marine bioacoustics to develop a strong foundation in marine animal biology and acoustics, foster technical communication across disciplines, and to develop professional relationships within the field.” (Taken from the 2014 SeaBASS handbook). To achieve this, Susan and Jenn invite experts from the field (including ORCAA’s own Dr. Holger Klinck) to give half day seminars on topics relating to underwater sound and the behavior and biology of the marine organisms who depend upon it.
Topics broadly cover the field of bioacoustics, which is simultaneously interdisciplinary and highly specific. This year topics ranged from the fundamental physics of marine sound (taught by Dr. Adam Frankel– a fellow humpback whale specialist and senior researcher in the field of marine bioacoustics), to echolocation (taught by Dr. Laura Kleopper, powerhouse marine bioacoustics newcomer, and inspiring woman in science), with stops along the way to study Acoustic Density Estimation (SeaBASS favorite Dr. Tiago Marques, of University of St. Andrews), active acoustics (Dr. Joe Warren of Stoneybrook University), Animal Communication (Dr. Sophie Van Parijs– NOAA scientist and oft cited acoustics expert), Impacts of Noise (Susan Parks of Syracuse University), Hearing (Dr. Michelle Halverson) Passive Acoustic Monitoring (Holger Klinck, our fearless leader), bioacoustics “Hot Topics” (Jenn Miksis-Olds), and my personal favorite Sound Production in Fishes with the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Lab’s own Dr. Aaron Rice (Holger tried to convince me to do my PhD in fish acoustics once, I laughed at him… I was so naive).
I have to admit I’m glad I didn’t see the line up before I got on the plane to head west. If you’ve spent time in the field of bioacoustics most of these names you are likely familiar with, if you’re not – now’s a good time to head over to google scholar and check out their work. The initial intimidation factor was high, but I’m pleased to say the interactions were the opposite. All of the presenters went out of their way to interact with the students on both a professional and a personal level (I’m tempted to post karaoke photos… but I won’t… not here). I got career advice from the greats (work-life balance anyone? I have two dogs and a garden, I plan on keeping them once I’m done with a PhD), learned about the elusive mating habits of the wild haggis (to hear a mating call of a wild haggis click here), and made some important connections both with the presenters, that I now feel comfortable considering my colleagues, and the other students who I now consider friends.
I could go on for pages about my experience, I learned new material and reinforced some of the principles I’m already familiar with, I furthered my research, I drank beer while talking about acoustics (so much fun… seriously…. so much fun), and helped myself and others to find their inner spirit animal. Some of these things may not make sense to those of you who weren’t there, but the take home message is this: Marine bioacoustics is a discipline, a tool, and a community that I am increasingly excited to be a part of.
PS- Stay tuned for stories about honorary OCRAA team member and SeaBASS colleague Leanna Matthews as she makes her way to Newport to test some theories on how to get small acoustic transmitters to stick to the body of harbor seals… field trials ahead? I think so.
PPS- One of the most important things I learned from SeaBASS? The value of Twitter. Check out our Twitter feed (@ORCAALab) for a play by play of the SeaBASS action. Live tweeting, as it turns out, is super fun #SeaBASS2014
You may find this difficult to believe, but now that I’ve reviewed an entire year’s worth of data from Alaska’s Beaufort Sea I can say with great confidence (and no scientific evidence) that Marvin the Martian was in fact a bearded seal. If you don’t believe me I encourage you to listen to this sound and tell me that when he’s hanging out in his PJ’s on Mars that this isn’t exactly what’s coming out of our little Martian friend’s mouth.
While of course I’m being facetious, it is only to a point. The scary alien sound effects that have been ingrained in pop culture are made manifest in the Arctic soundscape. While the stoic images of starkly white sea ice may elicit feelings of cold noiselessness, underneath that sea ice it is loud.
In collaboration with the NOAA/PMEL a calibrated autonomous underwater hydrophone package (AUH) was deployed at the continental shelf break approximately 50 miles off the of the coast of Alaska in the Beaufort Sea. Using the AUH we were able to record continuously for an entire year (as my lab mate Amanda tweeted once she was done analyzing beluga calls “I’ve officially finished analyzing 8,760 hours of Arctic
#bioacoustics data”). For the acoustic buffs out there, the AUH was able to precisely record underwater ambient sound levels with 16 bits resolution (i.e., with 96 dB dynamic range) in the 10 Hz to 2,500 Hz frequency range. For the non-acoustics buffs out there this means that we could record sounds ranging from just below the low end of human hearing to about the pitch of a high whistle (think a little girl whistling Andy Griffith).
This was my first foray into Arctic acoustics, and I was properly daunted. My experience to this point has been strictly working on acoustics collected in Southeast Alaska that had concomitant visual observations. There were only three species my hydrophones were likely to detect- humpback whales, killer whales, and harbor seals. In the Arctic, however, there are many species (we detected bowhead whales, killer whales, humpback whales, beluga whales, ribbon seals, ringed seals, AND bearded seals). Furthermore the sound of the ice itself is deafening! It whistles, whines, creaks, groans, and pops- making this critical abiotic feature a character in its own right.
The Arctic is known to be visually “other-worldly” and I cannot emphasize enough how this is made manifest acoustically. For the spectrogram savvy this is a spectrogram of Marvin the Martia… I mean two bearded seals. FYI- this spectrogram was generated from the afore referenced sound file. For those less familiar with a spectrogram, a spectrogram is a visual representation of sound. Time is along the x-axis, and frequency (which we related to pitch) along the y-axis. The colors represent energy (or as we manifest, volume). The brighter the color the louder the sound. By generating spectrograms it allows researchers (like the PI’s, technicians, and of course grad students) here at ORCAA to classify caller species, to classify call types, and to gain a better understanding of who is utilizing the marine habitat and when. In the case of this Arctic data set I enlisted the advice of Arctic expert Kate Stafford at the University of Washington Applied Physics Lab to help me classify some of the more obscure files. She generously pointed me toward an excellent new publication which enabled me to compare the spectrograms that I was generating with those from known species.
Despite the many resources (publications, lab mates, experts in the field) I was still unable to identify all of the calls to species. Many calls were graded, others obscured by the sound of airguns (possibly more on the topic of airguns in the future), and still others vocalizations obscured by the sound of ice. Given that the goal of the project is to monitor long-term changes and trends in the Arctic underwater ambient sound field I understand that this is a cursory first pass at an incredibly rich data set. With as many hours as have yet to make their way into our lab I can’t help but imagine… who other than Marvin we might find there.