The RV Lady Amber.

The Lady Amber is a 20m schooner rigged sailing vessel under the command of Peter Flanagan –  its “dedicated purpose is to fill the gap areas in the oceanographic Argo robotic array between Latitudes 50⁰S and 50⁰N with the exception of official demarcated piracy zones and within the constraints of the cyclone seasons.”

There are about 8500 floats that have been deployed in the oceans since 2000 of which an average of 3500 are continually active. The floats are untethered, (not anchored), and as they are free floating, they move with the currents (another reading is taken from this result’s as ANDRO, the worlds first accurate Atlas of Ocean Currents).

The green dots are active ARGO floats for the Eastern Pacific region; 600 floats are required here to maintain the array. 2012

The green dots are active ARGO floats for the Eastern Pacific region; 600 floats are required here to maintain the array. 2012

Due to this movement, gaps are formed in the array and the floats have to be continually replaced at a rate of 600 to 800 per year, a small percentage of them run ashore, get run over by ships or die and have to be replaced as their batteries run out, (about 5 to 8 years).

Deployment Float36:ID. 5458i  2011-12-07-22h26m54s UTC

Deployment Float36:ID. 5458i
2011-12-07-22h26m54s UTC

Data from Argo floats like these give us an in-depth understanding of the structure of the ocean beneath the surface. They have also increased our knowledge of the circulation and variability of these remote oceanic regions.

Argo floats are normally deployed by ‘SOOP’ ships; (Ships Of Opportunity). However, these ships have a set course between ports as seen here. Because of this, large  gaps  are left in the ocean where they don’t travel and would be prohibitively expensive to send a research vessel.

Argo floats are normally deployed by ‘SOOP’ ships; (Ships Of Opportunity). However, these ships have a set course between ports as seen here.
Because of this, large gaps are left in the ocean where they don’t travel and would be prohibitively expensive to send a research vessel.

It’s our job aboard Lady Amber to close those gaps which are vital to maintaining the array and where the Ships of Opportunity don’t or can’t go deploying Argo floats as well as inspection of the Tsunami and RAMA moored buoys. We will also be involved with other research early next year like co2, XBT, Argonite and plankton sampling, pollution measurements and weather buoy deployments (SVP’s) and so on as many of the other disciplines have the same problem as Argo to get access to these less traveled waters.

The blue and white areas on the above chart indicate where we still need to deploy floats to complete the ARGO array. Ideally the requirement is to place a float every 3° X3° but as the floats drift out of position or die they need to be replaced. The requirement is currently about 800 – 1000 floats per year.

The blue and white areas on the above chart indicate where we still need to deploy floats to complete the ARGO array. Ideally the requirement is to place a float every 3° X3° but as the floats drift out of position or die they need to be replaced. The requirement is currently about 800 – 1000 floats per year.

This is where the Lady Amber comes in – the responsibility of providing float coverage of under studied areas (gap areas). The figure below outlines gap areas closed off the West African Coast by the Lady Amber’s latest 2013 deployment mission.

Results of Lady Amber Deployments:

Latest results of Lady Amber Deployments off African West Coast. Top figure shows gap areas in red, lower figure shows gap areas filled by Lady Amber deployments in 2013.

We believe in what we are doing…

To carry out this rather enormous task we have an extended cruising range aboard the Lady Amber. She is constructed to carry 4000 liters of water with a 150 liter p/hr water desalinator and 2000 liters of fuel including a huge fridge and freezer capacity with the result that our cruising range could be extended to 3 months at sea if necessary. (Or until the crew go stir crazy)

Of course, the rough sea and weather condition to go with it. We believe in what we are doing which is why we take the risks to achieve this. Our best efforts, we are told, go a long way to completing the Argo array.

Sailing in extreme conditions to get to the deployment positions is just part of the job…

Sailing in extreme conditions to get to the deployment positions is just part of the job…

…we are cost effective without the carbon footprint…

Our advantage is that, as we are under sail, i.e. wind powered, we are very cost effective, we don’t have nearly the carbon footprint of our larger brothers, also, our crew are fully trained and qualified in the initialization and deployments of the floats so there is no need to have an extra technician aboard.

Midshipman Rika Botha (Navigator) pre-testing an Iridium float immediately prior to deployment

Midshipman Rika Botha (Navigator) pre-testing an Iridium float immediately prior to deployment

In the countries we visit to resupply we seem to attract a lot of attention, not only by the public but we get invited by government officials and the scientific community for meeting and delegations. One of our tasks under the banner of the IOC (Intergovernmental Oceanic commission) is to meet with governments of all countries including the SIDS (Small Island Developing States).

We have a huge selling advantage here. On our journey so far we have had quite a few official invites. These visits that we have had in the past we usually reciprocate by entertaining them aboard our ship where the enthusiasm of the officers and crew for what we are doing becomes a very convincing cocktail.

In the past year alone, the crew of Lady Amber has spent some335 days at sea, our last run being an almost continuous 120 days without seeing land. During this time we have deployed 55 floats and closed many of the gap areas in the array that until now have been difficult if not impossible to cover.

Route taken by Lady Amber deploying 55 floats in the gap areas of the Indian Ocean 2011. For this we have travelled 34586 miles in 11 months in every sea and wind condition imaginable.

Route taken by Lady Amber deploying 55 floats in the gap areas of the Indian Ocean 2011. For this we have travelled 34586 miles in 11 months in every sea and wind condition imaginable.

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