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Confounding strings of letters

“Hey Jim, based on the latest GOFS we want to send down the LISST on the shelf, but first we need to cast the CTD from the CHUMP. Will you add that to the POD right after the SUIT deployment?”


Scientists really like acronyms.


This is the CODA cruise (Coastal Ocean Dynamics in the Arctic). The two primary tools for collecting data on this cruise, both custom made for the scientists using them, are the SWIFT buoys (Surface Wave Instrument Float with Tracking) and SUIT net (Surface and Under Ice Trawl).


Every conversation I overhear is laden with confounding strings of letters that must mean a lot, at least to a few. Plenty of them still fly right over my head, but the ones we use daily, like the ones in that first sentence, are starting to take on meaning. So just in case you find yourself surrounded by oceanographers at your next happy hour, you can impress them with these 6 useful acronyms I’ve just recently learned.


CTD: Conductivity, Temperature and Depth

This is a gizmo that we drop overboard pretty much anytime the ship is sitting still. It measures conductivity (which translates to salinity – literally how salty the water is) and water temperature through the water column (relative to the depth). CTD’s come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes we send over the big fancy ship’s CTD with the crane, and other times we drop a little tube in a frame over the side. All of the science teams onboard use this data in some way. It basically gives a context for whatever else is happening nearby with the waves or the ice or the fish.

The ship's big CTD has its own crane and door

LISST: Laser In-Situ Scattering and Transmissiometry

This is another thingamajig that we drop overboard whenever we stop the ship. Emily, an Oceanographer from UNC, brought the LISST for her research on coastal sediment distribution. It measures the small-angle optical VSF (that’s Volume Scattering Function…leave it to the scientists to use an acronym to describe an acronym). In real life, it’s a little laser that shoots through a hole and deflects off stuff in the water, then does a bunch of math and spits out numbers that tell Emily the size and distribution of sediment in the water.


Every time we stop the ship for a station, we cast the CTD and the LISST from the ship’s crane (along with a Niskin bottle, which is a fancy looking water bottle to collect water samples but didn’t make it into this list because it’s not an acronym, it’s named for a guy named Niskin). For simplicity, some clever people recently lashed all three of these devices together into a lumpy but efficient pile of sensors we now lovingly call the SASSY (Sediment And Salinity SYstem).

The SASSY being deployed with the ship's crane

ADCP: Acoustic Doppler Current Profile

Because this ship was built for the purpose of scientific research, it has a host of its own sensors and equipment to supplement the data that researchers are collecting. One of these is the ADCP, a sensor mounted on the retractable centerboard that measures the currents in the water below the ship. It uses sound waves that are reflected off of particles in the water to figure out how fast that water is moving and in what direction, then generates strings of numbers that are very useful to the people researching how the water moves around up here.


GOFS: Global Ocean Forecast System

Because of the theme of this article, I feel obligated to copy over the description of the GOFS from the Naval Research Laboratory’s website:

“Navy ocean/ice nowcasting and forecasting capability based on the HYbrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM), two-way coupled to the Community Ice CodE (CICE) and using the Navy Coupled Ocean Data Assimilation (NCODA).”

Three acronyms to describe an acronym! The GOFS forecasts are pretty smears of color over a map that predict what the ice is going to do in the next few days. We rely heavily on these daily GOFS ice forecasts to decide where to go and what is going to be happening around us.


POD: Plan Of the Day

This one’s a little easier to grasp, but crucial to the daily conversation aboard this boat. Every night at our 18:00 science meeting, we talk through the rolling POD for the next three days. It includes specific positions and instructions for the bridge, which teams are doing what, and the hourly ice observer schedule. If you want something done, it better make its way onto the POD!

The SWIFT buoy status board, full of acronyms

The acronym-ing has apparently worn off on the ship’s crew too. Just today I overheard on the radio when the bridge called down to the science team to let them know that there was a PB sighting on the horizon. Yes, that’s right, they abbreviated polar bear. (And yes, we saw a PB! It was a tiny white dot on a vast white and grey canvas.)


I think you should ask Jim about some of these acronyms yourself.

You can do that during our LLS (that would be the Last Live Stream) in two days.

It’s this Wednesday at 11am pst (2pm est). So, get your questions ready because this one is all about your curiosity. Oh, and you might need a warm hat - we will take you out on the back deck to see some ice and real science at work.


To tune in, just click this YouTube Link on Wednesday (you can also find that link and other details at iceinmotion.com/live). See you there!

Words by Becca Guillote

Photos by john Guillote

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