Eyes Below the Surface: Mapping Johnston Atoll

Why am I out here?

Jan. 09 2017

Why am I sailing aboard R/V Falkor today? There are some easy answers to this question and others that are a bit heavy; not to say that any one answer is more important or less important than the other. There is no question that I am on board Falkor because I work for Sail Martha’s Vineyard, a respected public access sailing, educational, and environmental organization that is fortunate to be a grantee of 11th Hour Racing, a program of the Schmidt Family Foundation. Nor is there a question as to the underlying reason I’m on board; 11th Hour Racing’s total commitment to support grantee organizations like Sail Martha’s Vineyard that place demonstrable emphasis on environmental responsibility and sustainability; or the fact that my son is an 11th Hour Racing Ambassador and I get to participate in this expedition with him. All of these responses have huge meaning and of themselves could answer the question.

Brock Callen, an 11th Hour Racing grantee, is currently sailing on board Falkor to learn about multibeam echo sounding and assist scientists in the mapping of one of the most remote areas of the worldSOI/ Mónika Naranjo González
During the days of transit towards Johnston Atoll, Brock Callen reflects about the people he is working and living with, and the research being done that will be placed in the public domain.SOI/ Mónika Naranjo González

But the real answer at least for me lies in the fact that as I have bounced through six decades of life and entered my seventh, a time when so many would argue that they have “seen it all,” I increasingly realize how little I have actually seen, experienced and learned. As I stand on deck looking at thousands of nautical miles of open ocean in all directions, it brings home what a small speck of mankind I am. What surrounds me this afternoon opens my eyes even wider and kindles my sense of total awe for where I am, the people I am privileged to be working and living with, and the research we are doing and placing in the public domain. It is this awe and this incredible learning experience that I have embarked on that I hope to effectively communicate to the students in my classes, to the people of Martha’s Vineyard and to sailors around the world. I hope that time and words won’t escape me when that opportunity arises.

The Science – The Learning
One of the experiences Brock Callen is going through in the current expedition is receiving daily seminars about science and multibeam echo sounding.SOI/ Mónika Naranjo González

One (of many) of the really captivating opportunities that I have almost every day is listening to the scientists’ lectures. It is like being back in college except the teaching is better. They are able to break down the myriad of moving elements of deep ocean multibeam sonar mapping and backscatter imaging to a level that I can actually understand; and in such a way that the content builds on itself and brings me along with it. It has gotten to the point now where several times a day I’m in the lab getting my multibeam “fix,” each time picking up a nuance or detail that I had not realized before. Speaking of detail, how about the fact that the multibeam resolution is so powerful that you can actually identify zones of algae rising towards the surface as sunset approaches. Incredible!

Yesterday I was sitting with scientists Dr. John Smith, Chief Scientist, Joyce Miller and Jonathan Tree at the console in the Science Control Room and really starting to understand at a basic level the reasons for and the benefits of the research we will be doing at Johnston Atoll. It really struck home the responsibility we all have to try and make a difference in the direction this world is traveling with regard to the health of our oceans. There is no question that our oceans are powerful, but they are also incredibly fragile, and it will take all the commitment, technology and funding that man can bring to the table to address what threatens them and life as we know it. My job and the reason I am here is to reach out and share the knowledge I am gaining.

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