Sunday, July 12, 2009

i'm leaving on a jet ski

The field work season has finally begun--and this year I will be able to help collect data on the personal watercraft (pwc)...aka... the jet skis. For those that are unaware of what this work consists of, we map the water depths of the nearshore off the coast of SW Washington and parts of Oregon. To do this we drive the PWCs that are equipped with an echosounder, gps, and computer system over pre-determined lines that run perpendicular to the coast, recording individual profiles of what the bottom looks like. The distance is usually from inside the surf zone out to ~2 km (~1.24 mi) offshore.

Last week was the first of the 2009 summer season and we went down to Reedsport, Oregon to survey the area where buoys will soon be put in place to extract energy from Oregon's large wave climate. These surveys are part of study to examine the shoreline changes that might occur due to the waves losing some of their energy from the buoys. Just to help with the visualization of what the surveys look like, below is an actual single profile from the area we were surveying. Imagine this as a picture of what it looks like under the water from a side (profile) view. The water is above the blue line and sand is below. The sand often forms multiple large sandbars such as those that are seen below.

There was also a crew surveying the beach topography by walking profiles similar to the one shown above (except on the beach) as well as driving an ATV to create a surface map.

Overall it was a great week and we once all the equipment issues were worked out, we got a lot of surveying completed. Below are some shots I was able to get of my fellow surveyors as they entered the surf zone (obviously the most dangerous aspect of the work).... the office
the uniform

changing drivers

When we first put the pwcs in the bay at the boat ramp, the water is fairly still and calm because it is protected from the rough seas and wind by the surrounding land and jetties. After starting the boats and heading towards the inlet to go out to sea, we can only go 5mph because of the no wake zone. It is here that the driver has the ability to look at the surrounding scenery. In Winchester Bay (the dock near Reedsport) there are large cliffs that drop into the water and are topped with big evergreens housing the multitude of large birds (eagles, hawks, and vultures) that often sail in and out of the trees. After about 5-7 minutes of this sightseeing you can start picking up speed and can see the rocky jetties just a short distance away. The water no longer is lake-like, but instead begins to take the confusing shape of the sea. As soon as you are beyond the first boulders of the jetties an amazing transformation occurs. The surface of the water forms huge (literally rolling) hills! Some of them rolling faster than you can catch and others disappear under your boat shortly followed by a strong push knocking you to the side as you traverse over their set path.

As waves come in sets through the jetties, they immediately bounce off the walls and interact with the other waves that have found themselves caught here as well. This causes water to approach the boats from all direction and can become a very dangerous situation--particularly in an ebbing tide. This risk is further increased by the existence of a sand bar between the jetties. Its presence causes waves to escalate in height as they migrate over it and often even release some of their energy through breaking. My eyes are probably the size of saucers while this is going on because this watery environment is so foreign to me. I wish I was able to bring my camera to share these magnificent views of water that seems to move in a way that resembles a living body. Trust me---it's amazing. It's awesome in a unnerving kind of way and you definitely have to be extra aware and on your toes until your away from the structures and in a slight more predictable open coast.

This area is also well-known by the local fishermen and surfers to be a place frequently visited by great white sharks because of the abundance of seals and salmon. Because I wasn't planning to spend any extended amount of time in the water I wasn't too nervous about this...I figured that statistically I probably wouldn't run in to one and the sound of the motor would more than likely scare them away in they were nearby. However, we were visited by another form of sea life. As 2 of the boaters were driving a line toward shore, a gray whale surfaced right in their path! Two whales began feeding and hanging out here! I was sooo jealous that I wasn't able to experience it from the boats, but I saw it when it surfaced and spouted, releasing it's long breath of air creating a large puff of sea spray. (NOTE: I did not actually take this picture...I pulled it from the internet just to show the whale we saw)

One other interesting side note of last week happened at the hotel. When we arrived to check in there were about 7 State Trooper cars in the parking lot. Apparently there was a large protest happening in Elliot Forest (also near Reedsport) against the logging of 80 acres of "native" trees. Eventually, all the protesters were arrested, but there were some pretty interesting (maybe even extreme) methods they used in attempt to stop the logging...

We had to deal with a very tight parking lot that week and apparently the rental car we brought with us mimicked a Trooper car so well that they thought it was one of their own. When we were about to leave for surveying one morning, we found it completely blocked in by Trooper cars.
Why don't you leave us a can opener next time?!