Student Journal: summer dispatches from the field Offshore California: last stand of the endangered marbled murrelet
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The Zodiak
Photo by Sadie Ryan

The Dispatches: Zach Peery
Waiting out the rough seas, a break in the weather, and a night-time launch of the Zodiac in Año Nuevo Bay with a plan to catch as many murrelets as possible

AÑO NUEVO, CALIFORNIA - Oceanographic research can be exceptionally challenging because at-sea conditions can be rough and can change quickly. This is particularly true off the California coast during the springtime. Although people often think of the California coast as a sunny, warm, and pleasant place to spend the afternoon, it is often very different from the idyllic scenes pictured in Bay Watch. In the springtime, persistent northwesterly winds are generally 25-30 mph in the afternoons and late-season storms in the North Pacific can generate high seas and larges swells locally. The spring is also the beginning of the fog season, which can significantly reduce visibility.


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Zach Peery has agreed to answer your questions, time permitting. Email Zach.

Because safety is our first priority, much of the research we conduct from our boat (a Zodiac) must be done during brief intervals of favorable weather. Moreover, we must be able to accurately predict the wind, swell, and fog conditions a day or two prior to conducting a survey or capture session so that all the required personnel and equipment can be assembled in time.

Fortunately, a suite of resources exists on the Internet, primarily National Weather Service and National Atmospheric and Oceanic Organization Web sites, that greatly enhance our ability to predict the weather. The most informative sites include the Scripps Research Institute,which pictures a map of all the buoys of the coast of central and northern California with links to each individual buoy, and the National Weather Service, which provides a marine forecast that is updated every six hours. Perhaps the most informative site is Swell, which is set up to provide surfers' with current surfing conditions as well as a forecast for conditions several days in the future. The detail of their analysis of both southern and northern hemisphere storm activity as well a local swell and wind patterns is remarkable. They also provide real-time video images of several locations along the central California coast.

Our crew of four has arrived and the field season officially started last Monday. However, strong northwesterly winds made sea conditions especially rough and generated a solid wind swell that made any boating impossible. However, with a small low pressure system moving over the coast today (June 14), the wind and the wind swell it generated are beginning to fade. The plan is to launch the Zodiac tonight in Año Nuevo Bay and catch as many birds as possible. And then to launch early tomorrow morning in Santa Cruz and do a survey up to Half Moon Bay.

— Zach Peery


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