Tuesday, August 26, 2008

#9 The Healy's Marine Science Technicians

The Healy’s Marine Science Technicians


Coming off of watch this morning offered a good chance to talk with two of the three Marine Science Technicians on board, Rich Layman and Tom Kruger. The MSTs provide direct logistical, hands-on-the-deck support to the science crew for such projects as deploying and retrieving buoys, drilling for science core samples, and dredging for rock samples. They rotate two to a shift; the third MST is “Runamok Chuck” Bartlett.

This morning I finally watched Rich deploy one of the two daily XBTs (expendable bathymetric thermographs). The XBTs are generally scheduled for 0830 and 2030 but today the ice conditions were such that we grabbed the opportunity closer to 0800, since it looked like the large stretch of open water that was then open would be the only one available much of the morning. The XBTs are shot into the ocean to measure water temperature as against depth, an important input for calibrating the multi-beam sonar equipment. Temperature affects the density of water, which in turn affects sound speed. Since the multi-beam sonar measurements we are using for mapping rely on bouncing sound off of the ocean floor and back to the ship, knowing the density of the water through which the sound travels is essential to understanding the data correctly. The XBTs are little missile shaped devices about 10 inches long that carry a temperature sensor. The XBT is attached to a thin copper wire thousands of meters long and can be “shot” from a hand-held device. XBTs are launched into the water from the ship’s fantail and, once the wire spools out to the desired depth, readings are taken from the information that is sent back up the wire. Once this is done, the MST breaks the wire, letting loose the XBT.

Both Tom and Rich are new to the Healy and to the Arctic, having been here one and two years respectively. This is a product of the Coast Guard’s fairly strict rotation policy of moving personnel from one ship to another every two or three years, depending on their rank. Rich joined the Healy from his prior Coast Guard post at the National Response Center (NRC), a joint undertaking of the USCG, EPA, DOI and several other federal agencies to monitor hazardous materials spills and emissions. Tom’s last Coast Guard position was with the Coast Guard’s regional reporting station in Louisiana. Given the extensive oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Tom gained considerable experience in related response measures. It is striking how seriously both take the Coast Guard’s responsibility to patrol illegal emissions of hazmats in national waters. They know their CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) well, which is where they find the listings of current “reportable amounts” of hazardous materials.

Perhaps most unexpected were their observations as to how the reporting requirements serve more than the legislatively intended function of generating self-reports from companies and individuals who cause the spills. A reportable spill can range from one drop – if it creates a “sheen” on the water – to tens of thousands of gallons. The additional effect of self-reporting also encourages companies to report incidents whose provenance is unclear. If a company spots a spill of unknown origin, it is most interested in establishing that it has not caused the spill. This leads in turn to pretty effective protocols for checking and ensuring that their own facilities are not “leaking”. We talked a bit as well about their work in earlier positions requiring the boarding of foreign vessels in US waters to enforce international standards such as those set under SOLAS (an International Maritime Organization treaty on the Safety of Life at Sea).

Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.