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ASCA Cruise Report 2016 – my first taste of science at sea

By Ntombifikile Nxiba, SAEON-sponsored CPUT Student
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The Agulhas System Climate Array (ASCA) is an exciting oceanographic project hosted by several organisations, including the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) and the University of Miami (UM).

The first ASCA cruise took place in April 2015 and the second cruise from 6 April to 6 May 2016. On account of turbulent weather conditions, legs 2 and 3 of the second cruise were postponed to the cruise planned for June 2016.

On each leg there were different types of fieldwork to be done. As an Oceanography student from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) who is currently doing work-integrated learning (to experience fieldwork), I felt privileged to be considered for participation in the 2016 ASCA cruise. The cruise provided students an opportunity to be exposed to different fields of science. As a fledgling scientist, my main objective was to gain experience and to return with in-depth knowledge of how things work at sea. The idea was to learn, observe and gain experience.

The first leg of the voyage took place from 6 to 23 April. Departing from Cape Town, we sailed to Port Elizabeth until we reached the ASCA transect line where we started deploying instruments such as moorings, Current Pressure Inverted Echo Sounders (CPIES) and Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) casts. The intention was for the students on board to gain knowledge of how these instruments are deployed, which I certainly did while getting my hands dirty preparing the instruments, specifically in terms of the function the instruments perform and why they form part of mooring.

My main focus on the first leg was to get involved in any fieldwork that would assist me in achieving my project objectives (Operational Oceanography project), which is based on how to prepare mooring for a cruise. Having gained that knowledge, I set out to gain further knowledge on mooring deployment and instrument configurations.

Each participating student was given a duty as instructed by chief scientist Prof. Lisa Beal, which helped us to work as a team. Various activities took place at different times, scheduled by Prof. Beal assisted by the co-chief scientist.

Student involvement

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Ntombi (right) and ASCA Officer Jethan d'Hotman carry current meter and microCAT instruments to Chief Scientist Professor Lisa Beal, who recorded the serial numbers (Picture: Kayleen McMonigal)           

Future physical oceanography scientists waiting for instrument attachment on the mooring line (Picture:Mfundo)                                


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Ntombi and Jethan assist Prof. Beal in recording the serial number of each instrument attached to the mooring line and the time they hit the water column (Pictures: Kayleen McMonigal)                                            

Lessons on how the acoustic release works and how it sends the information on board by Prof. Beal and mooring technician Cobi Christiansen, both from the University of Miami (Picture: Kayleen McMonigal)



Deploying the acoustic release (Picture: Kayleen McMonigal)

The ASCA cruise was certainly an opportunity of a lifetime. The information and outputs of the first leg contributed to my studies in a big way, and exposed me to the work done on a marine research cruise.

"I am looking forward to gaining more fieldwork experience in the future and to be part of any cruise that would expose me to the oceanographic instruments in particular." - Ntombi Nxiba

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