Monthly Archives: September 2014

Fjords, bears and natural beauty: Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island

Last week we finished a two and a half week long trip to the West Coast Of Vancouver Island (WCVI). We left Seattle with clear sunny skies and made the transit to Victoria to clear customs. Victoria is a really scenic waterfront city with a unique inner harbor. We arrived just as the last of three large cruise ships was arriving in town for the evening. The city was jammed with tourists. A band played on a waterfront dock and few piers down from us and it was warm. A perfect late summer time to hang out in a waterfront town.




The next morning we departed early and just as we passed Race Rocks, we entered thick fog for the rest of the day. We entered Barkley Sound and began knocking out sampling stations and ended at the head of Effingham Inlet.

This first week was all about taking water and bottom samples throughout the numerous islands, fjords and channels. The main focus was to search for a microscopic sized cyst that is highly toxic. The cyst causes many issues including red tide found in shellfish. The water data that is recorded is used by the next science party the following week. More on that later. Needing to sample such a vast area, we would take a sample with the CTD and the water column would be recorded for temperature, salinity, oxygen, light, etc., then capture water at various depths and move to the next station a mile or two away and repeat. Two or three times we would re-rig the crane wires and drop a bottom core contraption down to collect a bottom sample (mud). They would also tow a little net on the surface that collect material and later sampled for plastic.





The next morning the fog had lifted off the water and hung at about 100′. We wandered throughout the Broken Group Island chain. There are countless little hidden bays, coves, little beaches, and anchorages. We only saw a few boats. This would be an ideal place to bring your kyak and explore for a week or two. Upon leaving the Broken Group and the inland deep fjords, the clouds pushed East and we were met with bright sun….and wind. Plenty of wind. We had to make a run to the North and had about 22 miles of open coast to transit right into the stacked seas.

The Barnes, our converted ice breaking inland harbor tug (notice: no mention of coastal or ocean in the description) made it through but she has this really funny roll / yaw / motion due to the shape of her ice breaking hull. The net result was that everyone but the captain, myself and the Mike the marine tech were sick. A couple really sick.

We made it through and arrived in Tofino. Tofino is one of those towns that was once a sleepy little commercial fishing town and maybe some loggers lived there too. Then the surfers found out about the surf and the whole place exploded. Now it has coffee shops, board shops, hotels, restaurants, art stores, a tatoo parlor and numerous whale watching / fishing / float plane/ and bear watching tours.




From Tofino, the trip included going to the head of most of the big inlets (fjords).






















Taking a bottom core (mud collection). See the little tube with a perfect mud sample:


Near the end of the first week, our anchorage for the night was near a natural hot springs. We pulled in and anchored, launched the small boat and I ferried a could loads of people to shore so they could go soak. I didn’t go because there was about 15 minutes of daylight left and I wanted to catch some rock fish to eat. That plan failed because by the time I got everyone to shore and then made it to the fishing spot, it was really dark. Early the next morning, Mike the marine tech and I left in the dark and when the light came we nuked the rock fish and ling cod in about 25 minutes. We both filled our catch limit and headed back to the ship, loaded the small boat back onboard and pulled anchor right on time. I cleaned fish in between sampling stations much to the horror of the squeamish girls onboard. That night we had a BBQ and some excellent fish tacos!

That night the science party disembarked and the new group arrived and worked late into the night setting up all of their equipment. They use the recorded water sample data that was collected by the first group and look for areas over anoxic water (areas with no oxygen) to do their research.

The main thrust of the project is to test new equipment that will be used in other areas of the world with large anoxic zones, primary Peru, Pacific Baja Mexico and Bermuda. Tofino Inlet, with it’s close proximity to Seattle and it’s very anoxic condition, make it a perfect place to test this equipment. Tofino inlet is basically a long deep fjord (approx 100 meters depth)extending way up into the mountains. A few miles from the head of the inlet are a couple of small islands on either side of the inlet and between them is a high spot (approx 30 meters depth). This high spot essentially cuts off the flow of deep water trapped on the upper end of the inlet. The tides can exchange to top layers of water only. The deeper layers remain stagnant and have so for approx 100 years. They have found microbiology living in these waters that have only been found in areas such as deep hydrothermal vents.

The equipment being tested relates to falling particles. I’ll do my best to pass on what was explained to me. It goes like this: About 1/3 of the world’s CO2 is in the deep ocean, another 1/3 is on the surface (in alage) and the plants etc on land, the last third is in the atmosphere. Some of the CO2 that falls into the ocean is consumed in the food chain such as algae and plankton, etc. Some of that dies and falls to the deep ocean floor effectively removing it from the system. Their equipment is meant to catch these falling particles and measure the rate at which they fall. The idea is that if enough falls to the deep ocean it won’t be in the atmosphere causing global warming.

The way they catch these falling particles is with big nets that hang way down in the water column from a surface float. The particles land in the net and then are collected in a little bottle at the bottom where they can be taken into the lab and studied.


The second way is with traps. These traps will be free drifting in the ocean and have several chambers in the collection bottle that close at different intervals. Here is what the traps look like:

We saw quite a few bears on the beaches during the low tides. If you are closer in to town, the bears are used to the tour boats pulling right up to the beach and tourists taking thier picture. Out away from town they are more skittish. That is unless there are some tasy crabs under those rocks for lunch:







The last couple days the clouds returned and it rained lightly. We had absolute flat water conditions all the way back to Victoria and on to Seattle. I got home late Friday evening and left again on Sunday evening to drive 3.5 hours to Portland, OR for ARPA Class. (see previous post).

I would absolutely love to cruise the entire West Coast of Vancouver Island over about a month or two!

Stay tuned for more posts in the coming few weeks!

Elwha River Dam Removal

Elwha River

I’ve got alot of catching up to do to this blog, so I’m going to condense down to two or three posts what I’ve been up to lately:

I was supposed to be sailing onboard my normal research vessel, the Thomas G. Thompson, accumulating more unlimited sea time, however the University of Washington asked if I would stay as the mate for several more trips on the Clifford A. Barnes as we had several important trips scheduled. They were having a hard time finding someone who was familiar with the ship. The license needed is very common at 100 tons, but the ship’s internal workings are a whole different level than the majority of 100 ton captains ever see. The boat has alot of systems more commonly seen on a ship and ship’s have engineers. With a crew of two (captain and mate), we get to spend time in the wheelhouse, running the crane and winches, cooking, and playing engineer. I was a deer in the headlights so to speak when I first entered the engine room on the Barnes, but have spent time working in there in between trips and getting to know her failry well. There is a bunch more to learn, but the basics are under control.

One of the cruises we did was a trip to the mouth of the Elwha River on the Olympic Pennisula of Washington State in the Straights of Juan De Fuca. The river was blocked by two dams years ago. The dams had outlived thier useful life and conditions on the Elwaha were perfect to take on a project like this. First off, most the Elwaha’s watershed lies within the boundries of Olympic National Park. Also the river dumps directly into the Straights of Juan De Fuca, allowing the sediment that runs off to be scattered by the strong tides. One of the biggest issues with the dams is all of the sediments collect behind the dam. In most of our NW rivers, if a dam were to be removed, the sediment would flush downstream and block streams and rivers or build up behind dams further downstream.

Our trip was with a group of scientits monitoring the mouth of the Elwaha and studying how the sediment flows are changing. Here are some photos of the new river mouth and the Elwha River Basin:



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The first part of the dam removal was started a year or two back and began sending the flows towards the estuary right away. This summer the last part of the last dam was removed. The beach at the mouth of the river has grown approx. 300′ and if there are any large floods over this coming winter should expand fairly raipidly. Our group was focused soley on the oceangraphy aspects, however there are also groups watching the biologly as well. For example the sediments have covered up some estabilshed kelp beds and driven out thier inhabitants to be replaced by different species such as clams. There were no plans for salmon to be stocked in the river and it was estimated that it may take four years for any to return. The very first year the first dam was removed, wild steelhead returned to the upper river and this year at least 4,000 wild salmon have returned to the lower river with at least some of those reaching the upper river.

The other part of our trip was to host some donors to the university who may help with the replacement for the Barnes as she is scheduled to be retired in a couple more years. She was also designed as an ice breaking inland harbor tug and not a good coastal boat at all unless conditions are very favorable.

As we departed Lake Union in Seattle we had to lock out through the Ballard Locks in thick fog:


The mouth of the Elwha River is a one hour run in the Barnes (also commonly refered to as Cliffy) to Port Angeles, WA. This port has a USCG Air Station (one of two serving the WA Coast. The other being located in Astoria, OR) and also is where incoming and outgoing ships must pick up or drop off thier Puget Sound Pilots. There is also a large log loading facility and many tankers anchor here while awaiting space or assignment to refineries further inland. We would return to Port Angeles each night and offload science equipment so it could be repaired and made ready for redeployment. We were also able to change members of the science party and pick up and drop off donors.

Our first objective upon arriving at the river mouth was to try and recover a tripod that was set on the seafloor months before. The tripod has several instuments that are continually recording currents, water conditions, etc. Much more detailed that I can relay to you with my limited knowledge of this stuff. I aways ask the science party obout them, but it quickly gets technical and I never remember what they told me. The first attempt to rever the tripod failed and the acoustic release failed to send the bouy with the retrival line to the surface. We finished the day using a “Ship X” witch is a little spring loaded contraption much like a bear trap that is lowered on the crane wire. When it touches bottom, it snaps shut and returns a sample of seafloor bottom so it can be studied in the lab upon return.

The Ship X: (how it got it’s name is unknown to me)



There are about 200 stations marked that have been sampled in the previous trips:

We returned to port and the next morning they brought another piece of equipment that was able to get the second acoustic release to trip and we were able to recover the tripod:


Since it is on the sea floor in shallow water it accumulates a whole bunch of growth that must be cleaned off. The instruments are removed one at a time and downloaded and then once on shore serviced and new batteries installed. Everything is then remounted and at the end of the trip the whole thing is redeployed again.

Part way through the week, we shifted to coring. The equipment used is called a box core and is lowered rather fast on the crane wire driving the box into the seafloor. As it is lifted the end shuts and they get a perfect core and then cut samples one inch deep for closer insection in the lab:








Among other things, they are looking for a particular isotope that falls in the rain and then is flushed out to se, settling on the seafloor. By tracking this they can tell alot about the flows of sediment.

Because we were coming in and out of Port Angeles each day, I took variouse pictures of the happenigs at the port. Some of the pictures are of shipping, the Lidsey Foss Tractor Tug, the Black Ball Ferry (Coho) which runs from Port Angeles to Victoria, the USCG Air Base, etc.:


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Here is some further information regarding the project: