Bigger (and Smaller) Than You Can Imagine

The ocean is big. We are small. These statements are obvious. But just how big, and how small? Numbers and estimates only take your brain so far, and then you have to start using analogies. Here’s one: the Mariana Trench, the deepest trench of the ocean (11km or 6.9miles deep) goes further “down” than Mount Everest (8.8km  or 5.5miles high) goes “up.” Here’s another one: less people have been to the deepest parts of the ocean than have been to the Moon! By the time this expedition is over, scientists will have done over 120 CTD casts. (CTD, if you remember, stands for conductivity, temperature, depth, and is lowered, or “cast,” into the ocean with a slew of instruments that allow scientists to get data on the salinity, temperature, chemical composition, currents, etc, of the water.) You can see on the board in the ship’s hydrochemistry lab that the upcoming series of CTD casts start at 1100meters deep, and that each station gets more and more shallow. This transect, or line of stations, will provide data for the water moving through this area. And earlier in the expedition, we deployed a glider. Gliders move through the water, guided by periodic remote instructions from scientists onshore.

The “view into forever” looking out over the bow of the ship from the top deck. Photo from Tobias Wolf

The “view into forever” looking out over the bow of the ship from the top deck. Photo from Tobias Wolf

The board in the lab, with upcoming CTD stations. Look, we’re going more and more shallow!

The board in the lab, with upcoming CTD stations. Look, we’re going more and more shallow!

All of these things tell us about the ocean, and yesterday we learned from Ilona Goszczko of the Institute of Oceanology of the Polish Academy of Sciences about the “sea” of Argo floats (named after the ancient Greek ship) that are monitoring the world’s oceans as we speak. There are several kinds – if you want to know what is in the water, there are “BioGeoChem” floats. If you want to know about deep (I mean, DEEP) ocean waters, the APEX-Deep can go 6km (3.8miles) down. APEX-Electromagnetic can tell you about the motion of the ocean’s layers. And if you have something else you want to study, engineers can add sensors of your choice! To date, there are more than 4,500 floats deployed and over 1million profiles done of the oceans worldwide. However, although floats have been deployed in the periphery of the Arctic Ocean, they cannot be placed in the interior of the Arctic, because the sea ice would limit satellite communication and potentially damage the floats.

Now let’s get back to scale. This map looks like we have the oceans covered – but think about this. Imagine placing a grid over the Earth, with gridlines marking off increments of 3 degrees (1degree is 60nautical miles). The goal has been to deploy 1 float at every point on that grid, which means that even with 4500 buoys, each begin their journey separated by roughly 200miles in any direction!

Each blue dot represents each of the more than 4500 floats in the ocean!

Each blue dot represents each of the more than 4500 floats in the ocean!

Argo Float Maps

Each of these Argo floats moves through the water, and communicates data to satellites!

Each of these Argo floats moves through the water, and communicates data to satellites!

Argo Information Centre

 

 

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14 Responses to Bigger (and Smaller) Than You Can Imagine

  1. Luis Hurtado says:

    Hello! Any math equation that is used repetitively when dealing with this data?

    • lindsay says:

      Hi Luis, yes, lots of math and equations! One thing that is pretty constant is that the electrical signal, that comes up the wire on the CTD instruments that we send down into the ocean, has to be converted into the readable data that we see on our graphs and screens. Also there are equations that help you figure out the percentage of sunlight that reaches certain depths of the ocean, which helps us understand what organisms can live there. And lots more! :)

  2. Elmonty Graves says:

    Would you consider taking a voyage to the Mediterranean Sea? If so, do you think it will be better than the Artic voyage?

    • lindsay says:

      Hi Elmonty, I would definitely love to go on a research expedition to the Mediterranean! I don’t think you can compare, it’s like comparing “apples and oranges” as they say. But even though the Mediterranean is beautiful (I have seen it, but from land, not a ship), the extremely rare opportunity of the seeing the Arctic is one of the best things ever I think!

  3. Stefanie Gonzalez says:

    Hey Lindsey, the crew sure does a lot of hard work on that ship! I was wondering, what do you do on your breaks, for fun? Are Sundays the only “off days” from work?

    Sorry that the question isn’t relevant to the post. I’m not sure how the comments get sent through. Do you still get notified of a comment even if it’s posted on a later blog post?

    • lindsay says:

      Hi Stefanie, breaks are really rare on a ship, because there you only have limited opportunities and time on a ship, and you have to make the most of it. But we usually had a treat of some ice cream for a snack, and sometimes at night we would play a game or cards before going to bed. And there is a ping-pong table too!

  4. Jose libre says:

    Hi, as I saw the diagram above it reminded me of a similar one ive seen before. it was about a cylinder that with every time it submerged, due to the waves, it would lift cold water from the deeper parts of the ocean its in and would help regulate the water temperatures of those areas. the water would be uplifted through the center shaft of the cylinder. I was wondering what your thoughts were on that contraption. do you think it would actually work or make a significant difference? Have you heard about it or a similar device before?

    • lindsay says:

      Hi Jose, I don’t know what kind of contraption you’re describing, and I don’t think that it would work in practice, especially on any kind of scale. Also, I am not sure what the benefit would be? Thanks for writing in with the question though, it’s always interesting to think about new contraptions!

  5. Briana morales says:

    do you think sea levels will rise if the weather gets more stronger ?

    • lindsay says:

      Dear Briana, as global temperatures increase, sea level will rise due to melting ice, which will affect coastal communities. (This is due to Antarctic/Greenland ice melt, and other places where ice would melt off of land – in the Arctic, the sea ice is already in the water and would not affect the sea level – that’s an experiment you can try at home with a glass of ice water). There are also observations that point to weather patterns and storms getting either stronger or more frequent as the climate changes.

  6. Zayna Vincent says:

    how are the weather in artic? do you want to come home?

    • lindsay says:

      Dear Zayna, I actually like the cold weather, so as much as I love Miami and miss my family and friends, I’m a little sad to leave the cold weather behind! :)

  7. Jennifer Rivas says:

    Hi I Have Some Question, Are Arctic cyclones chewing up sea ice? &Are scientists conservative about sea ice?

    • lindsay says:

      Dear Jennifer, Arctic cyclones might have a localized effect on sea ice in their vicinity, but that is not a cause of the overall ice melting. However, scientists are also trying to determine how climate change, and warming temperatures in general, might contribute to different atmospheric effects like storms.

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