Guest Blogger: Dave Rivera (PMEL)
After a few days of cruising, we were finally able to finish up the last of our mooring operations. Yesterday, October 6th, we tracked and recovered the drifting PICO-E buoy, which had floated a little more than 650 nautical miles since breaking from its mooring line. In theory picking up a drifting buoy seems relatively straightforward as there was no mooring line or instruments to recover, but reality showed us that this type of operation would take a combined logistical effort and little bit of luck with the weather.
There are countless stories circulating the globe illustrating how people all over the country and abroad are affected by the current government shutdown. Sadly, the effects of the shutdown were also felt here, in the middle of the Atlantic. October 1st, the first day of the government shutdown, was the last time our primary GPS tracking system provided us with coordinates for the drifting buoy so we were forced to use our back up system. Unfortunately due to the shutdown of NOAA computers and servers, we were unable to remotely access the GPS information needed for tracking, and were forced to utilize one of the few remaining NOAA Corps officers with access to NOAA-PMEL (Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory) to update our positions from Seattle, a city that was five time zones away. Fortunately he was available and able to supply us with updated positions as we were nearing the presumed buoy location.
Of course getting buoy positions from Seattle was not our only obstacle as a number of small weather systems also hindered our ability to find the buoy on radar. In the end the only reliable tracking system we had available to us were our own eyes. Thanks to the efforts of the ships captain and crew, we closed in on the buoy around 0100 UTC (11 pm our time) and finished recovering the buoy 2 hours later.
This operation could be rated as one of the smoothest we have had on the cruise. Neither the periodic rain showers nor the lack of sunlight hindered us from maneuvering right up to the buoy, and capturing it using only a gaff and snap-hook on a pole- a method sailors and scientists are rarely able to use due to unsafe sea conditions. All in all we could not be happier with the result of our final mooring operations, and I would like to express my gratitude to the captain, crew, and fellow scientists for their efforts.