The R/V Neil Armstrong returned to its home port in Woods Hole, MA, on 16 June 2020, having completed a successful 10-day mission to service the Pioneer Array, 75 nautical miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Its crew and nine-member science party from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution proved that it is possible to work onboard while adhering to strict precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The expedition was the first science mission to have departed Woods Hole, MA following a “pause” in research expeditions imposed in March by UNOLS (University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System). UNOLS coordinates the U.S. academic research fleet ship schedules and has established guidelines for COVID prevention and mitigation aboard these ships.
“The preparation was arduous and comprehensive” said Al Plueddemann, Chief Scientist for the Pioneer Array expedition. “That preparation paid off with a cruise that completed everything we set out to do.” Plueddemann led the scientific team in a partial “turn” of the moored array, which means that equipment that had been deployed was recovered for refurbishment, and replaced with equipment that could undergo the rigors of being at sea, collecting, and recording data for the next six months. Over the 10 days, the team deployed five Coastal Profiler Moorings (CPMs) and recovered seven CPMs. In addition to the mooring turns, the expedition included many CTD casts (measuring Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) in the vicinity of the Pioneer Array, and the collection of shipboard meteorological and oceanographic data, both while on station next to the moorings, and while underway along specific track lines.
On top of what would be accomplished under normal operating conditions, the team was able to provide data in real-time to scientists who would normally be onboard, but whose participation was limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Through an innovative use of data telemetry from the ship, WHOI’s Shipboard Scientific Services Group made it possible for members of the Northeast U.S. Shelf Long-Term Ecological Research (NES-LTER) team to receive data and images of phytoplankton and microzooplankton in near-real-time along the cruise track. The data were collected by Imaging FlowCytobots (IFCBs), which provide long term, high-resolution measurements of phytoplankton abundance and their cell properties.
“Our ability to conduct a near-normal cruise in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is a testament to the commitment to preparation from UNOLS and WHOI, and a reflection of the strong team within OOI and on the Armstrong” said Plueddemann. “We were all excited to get back to sea”.
The following is a collection of images from this successful mission.