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Around The Fleet

Wet Or Dry

Sally Ride's labs support 'super' science

Standing in the lab of the research vessel Sally Ride, Ana Sirovic and Joe Warren hunched over a three-foot-long echosounder like surgeons evaluating a patient. The yellow echosounder, resembling a cylindrical canister, had spent five months submerged under nearly 1,000 feet of Pacific Ocean and required immediate attention.

Wielding wrenches and pliers, the pair carefully removed cables, bolts and external mountings to retrieve the treasure inside, a flip phone-sized flash drive. After connecting the drive to a laptop computer, the scientists waited a few nervous moments before easing into relaxed smiles.

"Here are 11,400 files of acoustic data, right where we need them," said Warren, an oceanography professor at Stony Brook University in New York. "Nothing is damaged or broken. Super!"

"When you lower this equipment into the ocean and leave it there, you cross your fingers and hope for the best," said Sirovic, a research scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

Meanwhile, in another part of the lab, Madeleine Hamann stood under the glow of 15 large computer monitors displaying detailed, multicolored sonar imaging of the ocean floor.

"We're getting some awesome information so far," said Hamann, a Scripps graduate student conducting her own separate research. "Wave fluctuations, unique frequencies, water column data. It's turning out to be a very productive cruise."

Knowledge for academia and the U.S. Navy

Sirovic, Warren and Hamann were among more than 20 scientists, engineers and graduate students on a recent science verification cruise to the La Jolla canyon region off of Southern California's coast. Much of their research was sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to study whale migration patterns and improve understanding of ocean dynamics.

The Sally Ride is one of two brand-new research vessels added this year to the academic research fleet, a collection of ships conducting scientific experiments worldwide. Owned and built by the U.S. Navy, the Sally Ride is operated by Scripps under a charter lease agreement with ONR, which funds and oversees the Navy's ocean science and technology efforts.
Photo collage of person working on the Sally Ride, the Sally Ride moored, and two people working in the Sally Ride.

Serving up science, wet or dry

Although the Sally Ride already has earned acclaim for its state-of-the-art suite of technology, its onboard laboratory also is dear to scientists' hearts.

Spanning 2,000 square feet, the lab is a buzzing hive of passionate scientific conversation, the loud unpacking of equipment and sleep-deprived researchers studying data on computer screens.

The lab can be divided into two sections: wet (for analyzing fish, marine life and samples of water and undersea sediment) and dry (for computer-intensive work).

When their instruments were fished from the ocean, Sirovic and Warren rinsed them in the wet lab with freshwater hoses and cleaned off lingering organic matter. Their ONR-sponsored research involves underwater acoustic recorders and echosounders monitoring blue and fin whale populations in the waters off of Southern California.

The data gathered will help the Navy better understand whale migration patterns and behavior to avoid putting them at risk during naval exercises.

In the dry lab, Hamann's team studied data from sensors measuring water temperature and pressure in the vast underwater La Jolla canyon - factors that help create powerful turbulence when giant underwater waves break between the canyon walls. Her ONR-sponsored research seeks to better input turbulence data into ocean computer models to support naval operations worldwide.

They also represent another way the ONR-Scripps partnership fosters a better understanding of the world's oceans for national security and naval operations.

Warren Duffie Jr. is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications. He wrote this aboard the R/V Sally Ride during a just-completed scientific verification cruise.