Floating Forests

Rockfish around kelp Monterey Bay Aquarium
Kelp is, perhaps, more important than you might guess: Not only does it thicken your toothpaste, it supports whole marine ecosystems where it grows. It is important enough to have a Zooniverse project devoted to watching it grow, through Landsat images.

Satellite imagery is a great way to monitor the world – providing frequent, comprehensive pictures of the whole planet. But in-situ observations also have their place: people on the ground, interacting directly with the system being monitored, can often provide a detail and precision that the satellite records lack.

One of the unexpected joys of oldWeather is that it provides in-situ observations of a vast range of different things. Most often kelp is mentioned in the logs simply as a highlight of a day at sea:

Fine weather. Light breeze from South. At 2.30 took in and furled the sails. Passed a piece of kelp. [Yorktown, May 1892.]

4 to 8 a.m. Overcast but pleasant. Airs from NE. Passed some kelp. [Same, a day later.]

Sometimes we see the kelp interacting with the environment:

Saw a large patch of kelp with a dozen seals hauled out on it. [Rush, June 1891]
Sighted a whale and a bunch of kelp. [Yorktown, May 1892]
At daylight passed much drift kelp, to one large batch a boulder about 3 ft in diameter was attached [Patterson February 1885]

Occasionally they do seem to be actively surveying it:

Steaming along at various speeds, locating outer limit of kelp beds off La Jolla, fog gradually increasing, log hauled in. [Pioneer, spring 1923].
Continued sounding passing inside of Aleks Rock. No signs of kelp were seen. [Patterson].

But the most interesting mentions feature it as a hazard to navigation. I suspect most of our log-keepers would see definite benefits in any decline of kelp:

Slowed down a few minutes on account of kelp. [Concord, August 1901]
4:15 Kelp ahead, full speed astern … Ran about 1/2 mile SWxW and ran into kelp again. Wreck bore E 1/2 N. Stopped and backed away from it [Patterson].
found four masted schooner “Watson A. West” in the kelp on the outer edge of the shoal, broadside to the beach, close in and in dangerous position [Unalga, October 1916].
Between six and seven o’clock, patent log registered only 3.9 knots: hauled in rotator and found it fouled with kelp; cleared it, and allowed 2.6 knots for the discrepancy. [Commodore Perry, July 1896].
Found spar buoy #16, two hundred yards NE of true position and in kelp. [Commodore Perry, February 1903].
At 10.36 sighted what appeared to be a pinnacle rock. Stopped ship lowered boat and after inspection the object proved to be a much worn spar, heel up, with kelp attached. [Yorktown, June 1894].

We don’t have that many observations of kelp – we probably won’t be much help to the Floating Forests team mapping the distribution, but we do have our own viewpoints to add – aspects that the satellites will never see:

Thanks to all those who’ve transcribed such records from the logs.

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