A setback

Schematic of a CTD profiler, showing the layout of the rosette.

We’ve discovered that we won’t be able to install the knife gate mechanism for the ADCP (funded by our MRI grant) because the design of the new research vessel doesn’t have enough space for it. Without the knife gate, deploying and servicing the ADCP will be somewhat more difficult. We have asked NSF for permission to use these funds towards purchase of a Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) profiler/rosette system instead.

A CTD/rosette system in use on a research vessel. The unpainted steel cylinders in the carousel are used to collect water samples for analysis.

This piece of oceanographic equipment, like the other equipment purchased with the MRI funds, will further the use of technology for teaching undergraduates. If we are allowed to use the funds this way, we’ll need to make up the difference in cost. Middlebury College and a local foundation will help.

MRI grant awarded!

We’ve just been notified that our MRI proposal will be funded! This new NSF grant will be used to purchase the multibeam sonar and underway ADCP we requested last January. We worked very carefully with AAM and all of the equipment vendors to ensure that every expense related to purchasing, installing, and verifying this new equipment on the vessel could be provided through the MRI grant. No vessel contingency funds will be needed.

We are elated. This vessel will be capable of so much — the possibilities are really thrilling!

A new berth for the Baldwin

We’ve been looking for a good home for the R/V Baldwin, the College’s current research vessel, and I’m delighted to report that the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has responded with a letter of interest. The LCMM is a non-profit museum on Lake Champlain, 20 miles from Middlebury, that runs numerous educational programs on the lake, including “field” trips and a summer program for kids. Their research arm, the Maritime Research Institute, focuses on archaeology and conservation and hosts an underwater field school for budding nautical archeologists. They have also constructed a small fleet of full-sized working replicas of historic vessels, used for education (but mostly while docked). We think the Baldwin will feel right at home there!

The R/V David Folger

Middlebury College’s Board of Trustees has officially adopted the R/V David Folger as the name for our research vessel. It’s named after the Geology professor who started the College’s Lake Studies program back in the early 1970s. His influence in research on Lake Champlain, already important and durable, will continue through our use of this facility named for him.

Daily conversations with AAM and Dave Weed continue, and things are moving along according to the revised schedule. Dave has visited AAM several times in the past two months. We’re in the final stages of completing the smart-lab technology design and integrating it with the wheelhouse navigation systems.

A logo that reflects the lake

In addition to their names and the official identifying information that all boats must display on the stern, most research vessels also have logos. Here’s a first look at the logo for the new research vessel:

The logo emphasizes that this vessel is built for lake research

We asked for a logo that highlights Lake Champlain’s most characteristic features, and College Communications has come up with a great design. It’s a view over the water to the west, with the sun going down behind the Adirondacks, which are reflected in the lake.

Our students will tell you, though, that the lake is rarely this calm!

Happy holidays…

NSF has approved Dave Weed as our marine inspector. Dave was the best match out of several inspectors we interviewed, so we’re very pleased to have him on board! The contract for Richard Furbush, who will captain the new vessel, was approved and signed back in October; he’ll be working with Dave during the construction process.

The aluminum for the vessel has also been ordered. It will arrive at AAM in plenty of time to meet their January schedule.

Tom and I will be teaching at Middlebury’s California campus — the Monterey Institute for International Studies — this Winter Term.

Looks like all the hatches are battened for now — peace on earth & goodwill to all! I’ll see you in the New Year.

Gearing up for another major proposal

Tom and I have decided to submit another proposal to the NSF in January. This one is an application for a grant through the MRI program to purchase a multibeam sonar/ADCP (acoustic Doppler current profiler) system to support educational and research activities on Lake Champlain. The multibeam sonar is a real-time swath-mapping acoustic tool that can do extremely detailed bottom mapping – much better than the side-scan sonar we currently use. It gathers data 70 degrees on either side of the boat within 0.25 – 1.0 m horizontal cells and 2-10 cm in the vertical!

As its name suggests, multibeam sonar works by bouncing multiple sonar beams off the area being surveyed.

As educators, we hope to upgrade the technology and investigative programs we can provide to students in the region. And as researchers we have been slowly changing the focus of our work, from large-scale systems to medium- and small-scale sediment and circulation dynamics. In these smaller systems, even the best bottom bathymetry that we have now is lacking, because it’s based on track-line measurements taken more than 150 meters apart. That’s better than the old lead-line data, but not good enough to produce the detail needed for today’s geodynamic research. For example, our current instruments just can’t capture the deep circulation in the lake around and over sediment drifts, underwater slumps and landslides (which we are seeing more often), subsurface terraces and river channels, fine details of the many pock marks around Burlington and Cumberland Head, sediment furrows, and countless other features.

Multibeam sonar can capture an astounding level of detail!

The multibeam instrument is capable of collecting vastly improved bottom bathymetry that would benefit many other lake researchers in the region, so we hope to recruit our colleagues’ support for this proposal. The ADCP provides a quick and reliable look at the currents every few seconds. It can collect water-velocity data from ~1 meter below the sensor to depths of up to 70 meters every 1 meter (sometimes less) in the vertical – while the vessel is moving!

All American Marine to build new research vessel

It’s official: All American Marine will build Middlebury’s new research vessel. The vessel will be twin hulled — a catamaran — and 45 feet long. Middlebury’s research vessel will be very similar its sister ship, the R/V AUK (pictured here), which AAM built for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Of the eight ship builders who sent us proposals in 2008, AAM was the best: their design and construction capabilities are superior, and the level of detail they provided convinced us that they are the right choice.