• One Foot in Front of the Other

    It's hard to remember that the true "science" of the CORAL campaign is quite literally the data collected by the airplane. All of the ground work - from logistics to boat hours, from instrument setup to algorithm tweaking, from underwater camera challenges to photomosaicking... all of this has but a single purpose: to validate the data collected by the airplane. To conclusively state, "Yes. The airplane imagery looks good."

    So how do you tell 14 people working their butts off for two solid weeks that the airplane still isn't ready? And that even if it had arrived on time, there's too much cloud cover to conduct any useful flyovers?

    It's not easy. But the unpredictability of the weather is something that every environmental scientist comes to accept. The chaotic nature of the Earth is both incredible and incredibly frustrating, and we experienced the latter during our Operational Readiness Test in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

    Luckily, a coral reef ecosystem takes a long time to change its structure in any significant and visible way. Because of this, we can confidently say that the airplane images (shot 1-2 weeks late) are still correlated with the underwater validation images. In the end, our benthic cover team was able to document almost 20 sites, despite high tradewinds and turbid water!

    It was eye-opening to see just how many moving parts come together to create a good matchup. The science team needs to be on location, the airplane has to be on standby, instruments can't fail, pilots need to have available hours, clouds can't blow in, etc., etc., etc. And this is all for a study conducted right here on our home planet.

    I can't even imagine how NASA deals with outer space.

  • Mission Complete

    Woah. A whole month has gone by since my last post, but it feels like only yesterday. I've never traveled for work at this scale before - a field campaign, a science convention, and preparation for the next field campaign all at the same time. I was in Oahu so long my hotel room started to feel like an apartment.

    Over the next few days I'll try to break down some of the highlights of the trip. The plane containing the PRISM instrument arrived two weeks late. I took a Portugese Man-O-War to the face. We experienced 26 mph winds in Kaneohe Bay during a time period that's historically calm. But after all was said and done, the Operational Readiness Test was deemed a success! Thank God.

  • 3 Days and Counting

    I'm really antsy to get off the island. Americans take for granted the ability to jump into a car and move freely across four million squares miles of political boundaries... my home state alone is the size of France! So, living on a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean can be suffocating.

    Conversely, living in a tropical jungle means there's always something exciting going on. Last week we had two indicators of ecosystem bouncebacks: a land hermit crab sighting and a sudden bee swarm.

    Land Hermit Crab (Coenobita clypeatus)

    Like all hermit crabs, these guys find old shells to live in. They are both the biggest species in Bermuda and the only hermits that live on land, causing real estate to be a perpetual seller's market. Bermudians added insult to injury by overfishing their shell of choice: the West Indian Topshell. The decimation of one species led to total poverty for the other. As far as we can tell, the land hermit crab survived the last few decades by carrying around fossils and human garbage.

    The Topshell was reintroduced to the island in 1982 with severe protection laws. Both species have been on the rise ever since, though the land crabs are still a pretty rare find. The one pictured above (now a temporary lab pet) is snuggled into his very own West Indian Topshell! A solid sign of ecosystem recovery.

    Bermuda Bees

    Between mites, pesticides, hurricanes, and the general global phenomenon, bee populations in Bermuda have declined drastically over the past decade. A group finally formed in 2013 (The Buzz) to help restore a natural environment condusive to bee reproduction. Last weekend a huge swarm flew into my neighbor's garden, and a local beekeeper was able to remove and re-home them into a proper hive box.

    And here's a picture of my lil' nugget. I'm not looking forward to being apart for the next 3 weeks.