Current position of the SSV Robert C. Seamans. Click on the vessel to view position history. Use the tools, top right, to change the map style or view data layers.
SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans
Entering the Phoenix Islands Protected Area
1°49.116 S x 170°21.007 W
Force 1-2 E-SE. Motor sailing with staysails
Late last night, at approximately 2300, we entered PIPA, and after sailing through PIPA for over twelve hours the ocean still looks pretty much the same as it has for the past week. It looks so similar because PIPA is actually significantly larger that it appears on maps, and a majority of this area is open ocean. Due to the Mercator effect, which is the warping of a sphere when applied to a flat surface – such as a map –, the areas near the pole appear larger in relation with the areas near the equator.
So while PIPA may appear relatively small on a map, in reality its area is equivalent to the state of California. This means we will still have several days of open ocean sailing ahead of us before we reach land (in case you’re curious we are expecting to see land for the first time since leaving Honolulu Harbor when we reach the island of Enderbury on the 20th). To commemorate entering PIPA we had an early morning station with deployments including a hydrocast collecting water samples at varying depths, a Neuston tow which skims a net across the surface, and a tucker trawl pulling a net through the water at a 45° angle.
At only our first day in PIPA, these stations are showing some pretty significant data. We compared the data collected by last night’s hydrocast with a data sample collected at a similar location during last year’s S-254 trip into PIPA. The comparison revealed some compelling evidence of El Nino’s effect on the area. The surface temperature is 2° Celsius warmer than that of last year and the mixed layer (the top layer of water which mixes with the surface) was about 25% deeper. These together demonstrate that El Nino is causing the surrounding ocean to warm; a process which we are concerned will lead to a coral bleaching event within PIPA.
The Neuston net and tucker trawl yielded equally impressive results. The biomass collected was composed of over 30% fish larvae, a number our chief scientist Jan claims he has never seen before. The fish larvae were primarily myctophids but our tuna larvae research group is hoping that this will lead to future samples with equally high levels of tuna larvae. As a result of PIPA designation as a no-take zone we are hypothesizing that we will see a rebound in the area’s tuna population. To prepare for the hopeful influx of tuna larvae, our class topic today was identifying the different species of tuna in both their larval and adult forms.
We finished class with an exercise led by Captain Pamela. To prepare for maneuvering around the islands we practiced gybing, the process of turning the ship by moving the stern through the wind. Gybing efficiently is still a work in progress, but since we gybe to prepare for every science station and there will be plenty of science in PIPA odds are we will figure it out soon. It’s been a busy first day in PIPA and we are only expecting things to pick up from here.
P.S. Maggie would like to give her family and any other readers fair warning that all of her hair was a casualty of the equator crossing.