Day 14: GLAD Expedition – Cyclone Hunters

Today is cyclone-hunting day. Don’t worry- it’s not nearly as sinister or dangerous as it sounds. The kind of cyclone that we’re eager to meet is a circular current 50 km in diameter with flow speeds of up to 40 cm/s. In other words, it’s no menacing maelstrom; rather, it is a counterclockwise-rotating feature that was very recently spun off the Gulf’s loop current (much in the same way that “Frasier” was a spin-off of “Cheers”).

The ship’s on-board ADCP has been crucial for this exercise. Using this sensor, we are able to view a real-time stick plot of the local currents (corrected for the ship’s velocity, of course). The ADCP retrieves data up to a water depth of 750 meters, so we are in a position to get a pretty good picture of the gyre’s behavior.

Also of interest to this portion of the experiment is the data collected by oil rig-mounted ADCPs. Until rather recently, such data was proprietary (and closely guarded by the likes of Shell, Chevron, etc.). Nowadays, it can be publicly accessed through Texas A&M’s GCOOS (Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System) network at http://gcoos.tamu.edu. The network also allows access to the meteorological measurements made on those rigs, so we’re not without our third-party data in any area of the experiment.

The food on board remains wonderful, and today’s lunch of calzones didn’t deviate from that script. The galley MVP of the past few days, though, is the pineapple upside-down cake (last night’s tiramisu was a strong second-place finisher). Thankfully, the size of the original cake was fairly large, so it had a good deal of staying power as a leftover. That is to say, when we’re just back from drifter construction/deployment and sitting down to watch the women’s archery gold medal game, we have the opportunity for a great mid-meal sweet.

Deployment of the final 67 drifters will begin at around 3:30 PM EDT (about an hour from the “now” I’m writing in). The exact shape and orientation of the node configuration may change a few times between now and then, but at the moment it is looking like a giant “L.” I have been assured that this configuration is for entirely scientific purposes and the fact that our deployments will soon spell out “L S S” north of the “Large Scale Survey” track is a complete coincidence. Still, I can’t help but shake the feeling that the powers that be aboard the Walton Smith are using the Gulf of Mexico as a giant Ouija board to give Ed Ryan nightmares (Ed is the scientist at RSMAS who has been collecting the SPOT satellite data). In any case, I’d better get going before they find me.

Nathan Laxague signing off (somewhere between pondering an absurd conspiracy and coating himself with 45 SPF sunscreen).