The Seascapes

The Seascapes

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The “Butterfish Smackdown” II. Panic mode

Conceptual diagram of the experimental evaluation we are about to perform of "nowcasts" from the habitat model we made with the fisherman.  Our model will be coupled to MARACOOS ocean observations to make 4  hour "nowcasts" which will be sent to the  F/V (fishing vessel) "Karen Elizabeth". The "Karen Elizabeth" will sample butterfish in areas where the model predicts habitat is located and where it is not located.  We will then send those locations, times, and catches from the boat back to shore.  Well...that is the idea.

T-17 days 

It’s Thanksgiving Day and we are 17 days away from sailing from Rhode Island on Chris Roebuck’s, FV "Karen Elizabeth" to sample nowcasts of the butterfish habitat model we made with the fisherman.  Our current panic has to do with finding a way to send the model nowcasts 200 miles offshore every day in a form we can actually use on the ship to figure out precisely where to fish to test the model (If anyone has a solution better than passenger pigeons please don’t hesitate to tell us).  

We also found out yesterday morning that we don’t actually have a research permit allowing us to fish anywhere. We will therefor have to sample on Chris Roebuck’s fishing permit. This worried us allot because along with the constraints of the fishing permit, fisherman are a secretive bunch. As a rule they don’t disclose where they fish and how much they catch except to very best friends.  And of coarse, we want to transmit our fishing locations and catches back to the lab so our experiment occurs in real time on the shore, as well as on the ship 200 nautical miles away. But during yesterday afternoon’s conference call we asked Chris,  whether we could send the locations and catches during fishing back to the lab. “Sure” he replied with no hesitation.  We asked again since we expected “no” and an arduous negotiation. We didn’t believe our ears.  “Sure, I don’t see a problem with that”.  Now that reduced the anxiety a little bit.  

But that was just my anxiety and Josh’s. Laura Palamara who merged my original butterfish habitat model with the fisherman models into a working collaborative model I have only tweaked, now carries the anxiety of having to clean up and automate the badly written nowcasting code I have written for a different computing platform. (I am a habitat ecologist, not a programmer and I make terrible computer programs).  And Josh Kohut who has a true gift for pulling and keeping all the collaborators working happily  together, as well as being an expert at ocean physics, is struggling to keep all the feral cats, including myself, happy in the house.  His anxiety level is probably the highest. 

And we still haven’t found the solution for sending data back and forth across 200 miles of open ocean without breaking the bank.  And that’s exactly the infrastructure upon which this entire experiment depends.  

So this is research science, and with fisherman to boot. When the papers are written and presentations are made it all looks so perfectly thought out and executed.  Or at least we try very hard to make it look like that.  But behind the scenes and just before the “showtime” of the experiment, it’s nearly a train wreck and could very well become one.  Real research science is all about finding out something you don't know using methods you’ve dreamt up which may not actually work.  What else should we expect? 

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