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Days in the Life of a Field Oceanographer
They say a bad day in the field is better than a good day in the office, but for the marauding band of field oceanographers at Woods Hole Group bad days in the field are averted by diligent planning and honed expertise.  Good days in the office are splashed into the schedule here and there to process and deliver the treasure troves of data collected in the field, write a report, or prepare for the next foray.  Performing repairs on a Cape Wind towerThis past busy summer field season started off with a bang just before the 4th of July.  For us, Independence Day would mean independence from the job for a day or so in between rocketing off to the next locale.  The Holiday was a welcome break between a week of work installing two real-time current measurement systems on the Maumee and Cuyahoga Rivers for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes system and a day of dangling from a 180 foot tall meteorological data collection tower on a shallow shoal in Nantucket Sound at the proposed site of the first offshore wind farm in the U.S.  I had a scant 16 hours of office time to show off pictures of the horizontal ADCP deployment systems that will aid the shipping interests in and out of the Great Lakes, catch up on some QA/QC and reporting for the Narragansett Bay Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS®), and prepare for the replacement of some wind sensors on the tower to end the week.  I got back just in time on Friday to get the marching orders for the next major field endeavor, a much anticipated kickoff to a two month mooring program in God’s country; the Penobscot River and Bay Tidal Current Measurement Program for NOAA. 

It seemed as though I had just returned from the pre-deployment equipment configuration and planning meeting at NOAA’s Field Operations Division headquarters in Chesapeake, VA.  Now it was time to set the miniature SUBS moorings free and let the trawl resistant bottom mounts settle in to Performing maintenance on NOAA PORTS equipmenttheir murky nests at the bottom of the swift moving Penobscot River.  For this mission, the crew operated like a well-oiled machine; railroad wheel anchors and thick lengths of chain were ushered about the deck, acoustic releases and pop-up buoys were assembled and tested while ADCPs were meticulously tested and calibrated amongst inquisitive on-looking tourists along the docks in Castine.  The deployment went smooth, but the thought of getting everything back would keep us all in suspense until August.  Another Monday was here and I had another 16 hours to download from the Penobscot, catch up on some paperwork and mobilize for 3 days of diving and maintenance for the Narragansett Bay PORTS®.  It was time for the underwater inspection and maintenance of the bottom mounted current meters and our annual biofouling massacre.  The job isn’t always glamorous, donning our SCUBA gear and armed with an assortment of scrapers and scouring pads we clear away the mussels, hydroids, and algae encrusting our equipment and move on to the next station.  Eventually we dry off and work our way around the shores of Narragansett Bay servicing the land based tide stations.  I’m enjoying this time on dry land for now, because on Monday it’s off to the oil patch we call the Gulf of Mexico. 

The long, steamy days on the 800-foot drillship Discoverer Spirit quickly blur together as we play part electrician part oceanographer, part roughneck and part information technologist.  This is a world that Darwin would respect, as only the strong survive out here.  The rig is bustling and the currents are strong.  With miles of drill pipe hanging from the derrick and piercing the water surface in the moon pool, the day shift has come and gone and just when the drillers need it the most we deliver the first current profile.  Now they have the information they need to plan their drift and stab the hole as the currents whisk the ship along. 

After one helicopter ride, one car ride, one bus ride, one airplane ride, another car ride, its home at last.  No day in the office this time though, it’s a day of R and R before kicking off a two-week long beach survey on Nantucket Island.  This means an early start to hit the office and gather up the first load of equipment before racing off to Beach survey data collection on Nantucketthe airport and the puddle jumper that will serve as my means of commuting to the Island over the next two weeks.  GPS in hand, 4-wheel drive at the ready, and sunscreen lathered, the beach is ours for the surveying.  After collecting 50 topographic profiles my waterlogged rodman and I have conquered the beach, and the next step is the bathymetry survey.  We rig the boat and steam for the coastline around the corner from our safe haven at the marina, its like glass, a perfect day and a testament to diligent planning.  After a week of navigating the waters offshore we finish the survey and clamor into the laid back airport in the nick of time and commandeer a plane just for our gear: boxes, tripods, and survey rods.

It was just over a month since my adventure began in Toledo, then Castine, on to New Orleans and the Bayou, back up to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island and I was leaving Nantucket to plant my feet back in Falmouth for a few days? hours? who knows?  Four and a half weeks, five states, 4,500 miles, 4 water bodies…forget it say most, but the dedicated, qualified, field oceanographers at Woods Hole Group say “Follow the Leader in Marine Environmental Solutions”…catch us if you can!

Carl Johnsen

Carl Johnsen, Field Oceanographer
Mr. Johnsen’s experience spans 11 years performing deployment and maintenance of real-time oceanographic measurement systems.  Mr. Johnsen is the operational leader for the operation and maintenance contract for the NOAA Narragansett Bay PORTS®, and assists with the operation and maintenance of the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River and Bay PORTS®.  Mr. Johnsen installed and maintains real-time oceanographic systems on offshore oil and gas exploration and production platforms in Indonesia, Singapore, Brazil, and numerous locations in the Gulf of Mexico.

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