Tools Scientists Use

NOAA Research VesselOceanographers collect most of their data by using research vessels. Ships, ranging from large ocean-going vessels to small boats for coastal work, are imperative due to their ability to facilitate various types of computers, equipment, and labs and remain at sea up to a month. Submersibles, such as the three-manned Alvin, have been useful to examine great depths. Precise measurements and photographs can be taken in mid-ocean ridges and trenches. These tiny submersibles must be towed by ships before lowering to their site.

NOAA SubmersibleMore unusual are platform stations, stationary and floating. Buoys can be anchored to the ocean bottom or left free-floating. They have several sensors attached to detect surface and underwater data. While floating in the polar regions, vessels frozen in ice and scientific camps track their drift, and study unique phenomena such as magnetic conditions and auroras. This reminds me of the refueling scene in Firefox (starring Clint Eastwood!)

Common types of instrumentation include:

  1. Buoy Reports (see above also and below for links) - Several buoys worldwide provide air temperature, air pressure, wind speed, wind direction, sea surface temperature (SST), significant wave height, average wave, period dominant, and wave period. Data is transmitted directly to passing satellites or recorded within the system.
  2. Earthwatch SatelliteRemote Sensing - Satellite pictures of the earth, depending on the photo interpretation, can analyze floods, restore wetlands, determine coastal erosion rates, detect temperature and salinity changes, map out currents and eddies, and even track red tides. Quick Bird 1 (picture), a remote-sensing satellite, is part of NASA's, Earthwatch Program.
  3. Gravity Corer - This is a simple heavy pipe that samples ocean bottoms using its own weight. Core samples help determine the composition and age of the crust.
  4. Nansen Bottle - Container used to collect water samples and temperatures at various depths. These samples are later analyzed for composition and distribution of chemical contents.
  5. Biologic Dredge - This device is characterized by two runners holding a net in between for trapping small benthic (bottom dwelling) flora and fauna. It resembles a tank without the gun.

Here is a sample of the many buoy data reports listed online: