Mike Reynolds is serving as chief scientist on a yearlong expedition aboard a 65-foot, single mast, steel-hulled yacht that is sailing around the Americas. Its mission is to bring awareness to people about the conditions of our oceans. One of the jobs for the expedition scientist is to meet with local people along the way to discuss the scientific program.
Scientist Michael Reynolds (top, right) shoots the sun with the sun photometer supplied by the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) while aboard Ocean Watch (background).
The voyage of Ocean Watch began in Seattle around Memorial Day and the ship arrived in New York Harbor on Saturday, October 3. The rest of the voyage will take the yacht and its crew around North America — down the east coast of the Americas, around Cape Horn, up the west coast of the Americas, and back to Seattle sometime next year. In the meantime, you can follow their progress and read about this great adventure on their daily blog with pictures at www.aroundtheamericas.org.
The Ocean Watch and its crew are currently in safe harbor at Charleston, South Carolina after a hair-raising trip around Cape Hatteras last weekend. On Saturday, Watch Captain Herb McCormick blogged that it was the “worst night/day of trip so far. Since Seattle. Bar none. There is no second.” In Charleston, Ocean Watch was hauled out of the water for maintenance and to have the large, fixed propeller - which the crew opted for during the Arctic portion of the voyage through the ice - for a more efficient prop that will be useful during the long offshore sailing passages to come. Today, the voyage resumes when the team sets sail for its final stop on its current U.S. East Coast tour: Miami, Florida.
The interview below was conducted before their adventure in the Gulfstream unfolded, but you can read all about it on the Crew Log for Saturday, October 10 at the expedition’s website.
Q and A with Mike Reynolds aboard the Ocean Watch in New York Harbor, October 6, 2009.
Q. How did you get involved with the Ocean Watch project?
A. I started working on this project a year ago. I have an instrument, Infrared Seasurface Temperature Autonomous Radiometer (ISAR) that was originally developed at BNL with the Univ. of Miami. I’ve been working with ISAR for 8 years or so. It’s a high quality infrared thermometer that measures the skin temperature of the ocean. My friend from the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab, Andy Jessup, said we’re having a meeting about a cruise that you might be interested in and maybe you could deploy your ISAR data for the cruise. In the course of the meeting, I realized that this was not just a cruise. This sailboat was going to be sailing 25,000 miles, stopping 31 times, and delivering a very important message about the health of the oceans. The more I listened, the more excited I got.
Q. What do you hope to get out of participating?
A. I’m very interested in giving back. I’m semi-retired, although I have some projects under small contracts. At this time in my life, I’m interested in doing some volunteer work and I thought this cruise would be perfect. I get to talk about the things I like and do work that I like, and it also allows me to do something for the world. I said I’d be happy to build other instruments, so now there’s what might be called the meteorological/climate package that sits at the very tiptop of the mast, and when we’re underway, I do some water sampling and things like that. And by golly, before I knew it I was the chief scientist. That’s what happens when you volunteer.
Q. Will you be on the entire voyage?
A. I won’t be on the whole cruise, but I chose three long segments for various scientific reasons. The first was from the departure in Seattle to Barrow, Alaska. That segment took about two months. The ship then went on through the Northwest Passage, and I was sorry to miss that. But I also selected the segment from Boston to Buenos Aires -- that’s the one I’m on now. I am very interested in aerosols because I did a lot of work with ARM (Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program), and the east coast gets a plume from Africa known as the African Plume, actually two plumes, one from burning of biomass and one from the desert. I’m getting off in Buenos Aires and will pick it up again in Lima because there’s a lot of people, especially some of the primary funders of this operation, who would love to ride around the Horn. From Lima we’ll go to the Galapagos and up that way. That leg is also very important for the ARM project; it’s called the Eastern Ocean Margins up the west coast of South America and the west coast of the US.
Q. What are some of the projects you will be working on?
A. We have a project with NASA doing cloud observations. We have an instrument called MicroTops to study aerosols optical depth. We have other projects, including a very interesting one studying jellyfish populations. There seems to be quite an epidemic of jellyfish in overfished areas so we’re looking at that, taking samples.
Q. What’s been the best day? The worst day?
A. The best day was the day I got on. And the worst day is the day we actually hit serious waves. You head out of Seattle and pretty soon you’re in the ocean, and it takes me a day to get over seasickness. I don’t really get sick, but I start feeling a little uncomfortable and I get frustrated because I’m trying to work and the whole world is bouncing around. It’s amazing to me that our photographer can sit with his computer on his lap and photo shop while the ship is literally being pitched 40 degrees each way. But he’s a highly experienced sailor.
Q. What’s your sailing background?
A. Primarily on the Great South Bay. As an oceanographer, I have been out on larger ships. But in terms of sailing, I was pretty much a day sailor. I know what the lines are; I know the different halyards and the sheets. I know what they all are, just on this ship they’re a lot bigger.
Q. Has anything surprised you?
A. Nothing has been totally surprising. I spend a lot of time at sea trying to keep all the instruments running. I try to take data, and there are a lot of areas where we take a lot of spot samples like jellyfish. I spend a lot of time recording all that. In those ways I’m sort of a proxy for other scientists. It’s my job to collect the data, then provide all the related data around it. But as any scientist at Brookhaven will tell you, you don’t reach conclusions while you’re collecting the data. And that’s what I’m having a hard time explaining to the public relations people and the news media. We’re trying to show them what we’re doing, but what they want are scientific conclusions and you just can’t give them that. We’re still gathering data. There are a few things like the African Plume that I can talk about as something concrete that we’re looking at but from that data we haven’t reached any hypotheses.
Q. Who has been interviewing you?
A. It comes and goes. New York 1 was here today, and CNN is supposed to come by at some point. We’re meeting the science editor from the Wall Street Journal tomorrow also. The PR people are putting together the schedule and mostly I just show up. But I do want to be sure of my facts, so I have been spending some time contacting my colleagues just to make sure that what I’m saying is correct and current.
Q. What are you most looking forward to on the rest of the trip?
A. Warm weather. I’m sure Miami will be pretty warm and once we hit the Gulfstream, it’s going to be very warm. It will be New Year’s in Buenos Aires. So it should be tropical the whole way. And I’m looking forward to that. I only brought shorts and T-shirts with me, so I had to go buy some presentable clothes for the New York media activities.
Q. Anything else you’d like to say about the expedition?
A. I would like to say something about the people who had the vision to do this – the captain, Mark Schrader, who has completed two round-the-world solos and is probably one of the most experienced sailors in the country; David Rockefeller Jr., who is a sailor and a very strong environmentalist; and David Treadway, who is a therapist and chairman of the board of Sailors for the Sea. Also Tiffany Trust and Unilever are major contributors. These people have come forward in hard economic times and put quite a bit of money into this thing and I think it’s pretty remarkable. In addition, a host of companies such as Helle Hanson, Raymarine, Nobeltek, and Stratos Iridium have donated essential equipment to the project.