Buoy Deployment and Small Boat Operations

With three more full days of the cruise to go, there is a lot of work left to be completed, but the first half of the cruise has yielded many useful products for the Beaufort NOAA laboratory and Coastal Carolina University (CCU) scientists.

On the first full day of the cruise, CCU scientists worked together with members of the crew to deploy an observation buoy off the coast of North Myrtle Beach. The data collected by the buoy, a combination of meteorological and oceanographic readings of rainfall, temperature, radon, dissolved oxygen and more, will broadcast readings every two hours to this website, http://bccmws.coastal.edu/lbos. The buoy is presently collecting data, but is not listed on the website because the data is not yet available for public view. CCU hopes that this buoy will increase their understanding of how all natural systems work together, which is evident in their wide array of instruments already deployed off the coast of South Carolina, where all can be tracked on the above website. They ultimately want their efforts in data collection to unite climate modelers, biologists, atmospheric scientists, geologists, and more in order to improve and extend the timeline of weather forecasts and storm surge predictions. One graduate student aboard will be actively studying some of the buoy data and compiling science-based data sheets for the Southeast Wind Coalition, an academic based consortium of universities and energy companies. She will formally present her findings to the coalition to help them better understand the oceanographic conditions in the region and assess the potential for offshore wind turbine energy development.

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Buoy deployment from the main deck of the Nancy Foster (left), followed by an Acoustic Wave and Current (AWAC) instrument frame (right), weighing 2,700 pounds to help anchor the buoy in place. The AWAC technology works in tandem with the buoy, collecting seafloor current direction and speed. The AWAC is also capable of recording wave patterns, and can differentiate vessel-produced waves, storm surges, and normal wave action (http://www.nortek-as.com/en/products/wave-systems/awac). Image credits: Erika Koontz

Small Boat Operations

Following the successful launch of the buoy, small boat operations utilizing small boats Nancy Foster 3 (NF3) and Nancy Foster 4 (NF4) commenced. Two scientists and a coxswain per small boat launched off the main deck for a full day’s worth of work to obtain extensive ground-validation data in the first of two inshore regions of interest, each covering an area of approximately 53 square miles. Between 14 and 37 points were collected by each small boat per day, and the points were chosen the evening before based upon the multibeam echo sounder (MBES or multibeam) sonar surveys conducted during the day. Using a GPS, the coxswain maneuvered the scientists team to within twenty feet of the site locations, where the scientist teams deployed a drop-camera and a GoPro on a metal frame supported by a downrigger to within a few feet of the bottom and recorded live video footage with latitude and longitude video overlays to track the position of the cameras as the small boat drifted over the site.  Over the two full days, the small boats together visited and obtained footage from ninety-nine different points within the first region of interest.

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I am seen here using the downrigger to lower the drop camera frame to the seafloor, and Matt, in the foreground, is watching the live feed from the drop camera to ensure the camera is aptly positioned close to the seafloor for the video recording. Image credit: Coastal Carolina University

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Site NF3-7 showcases a great example of hardbottom, exposed bedrock colonized by a variety of invertebrates and vertebrates, and ledge habitat where colonized bedrock meets another habitat type, unconsolidated sand. The habitat is rich in nutrients and provides ample habitat for many fish species, some of which are seen. Image credit: NOAA

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Site NF3-9 is representative of the majority of habitats seen during the ground-validation efforts by the small boats: unconsolidated sand. Occasionally, there will be some interesting critters, like starfish, sand dollars, or inshore lizardfish. Image credit: NOAA

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An exported bathymetry map with 45% of the region of interest covered with multibeam data. Red colors indicate shallower regions, with blue colors representing deeper regions, and values are in meters. The above map also shows the locations of the 99 ground-validation points completed with the small boats, with the two larger red points showing the NF3-7 and NF3-9 site locations. Image credit: NOAA and Erika Koontz

A special thanks to CCU professor Dr. Paul Gayes for his explanation of the buoy’s capabilities and proposed future impacts.

References http://www.nortek-as.com/en/products/wave-systems/awac

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