Dr. Kim Martini

Dr. Kim Martini

Dr. Kim Martini is a physical oceanographer at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Kim was one of our first active member on Marinexplore and a true passionate about everything involving tech and oceans. When not at sea or in the lab you can find Kim on Deep Sea News where she blogs about the life aquatic.

How did you become an oceanographer?

I did my undergrad in Physics, and I went into a Physics PhD. Program, the next logical step. I realized then that I did not want to spend the rest of my life inside a lab. After receiving masters in physics, I started looking for jobs. I got really interested in two particular areas, Geophysics and Oceanography. I decided against geophysics because I did not want to spend the rest of my life looking at Snell’s law. Oceanography it was!

You like the tech side of ocean research, what do you think is the biggest technical breakthrough in this field in the past 5 years?

As graduate student, I was fortunate enough to participate on several research cruises, where I got lots of hands on experience putting together several million dollar moorings. Even though moorings are excellent tools to measure the ocean, scientists can only deploy a limited number which limits the area of the ocean that we can observe.

Fast forwarding, today’s revolution in oceanographic technology are the development of autonomous vehicles that are able to roam the ocean without the use of a ship. There are so many types now! The Argo program is amazing, having deployed thousands of drifting floats all over the world to profile the upper ocean. One vehicle I am really, really excited about are Liquid Robotics wave gliders. They can go for months at sea and collect all sorts of great atmospheric and oceanic data. The simple fact that they are easy to deploy, do not require the help of big ships and are relatively cheap compared to moorings, it makes them a great sampling platform.

Liquid Robotics Wave Glider

Wave Glider Image Courtesy of Liquid Robotics

What do you think are the limitations of these new technologies?

I am a little biased here, because I have been doing a lot of work in the Arctic recently, but one limitation is adapting remote sampling technologies for polar work. The oceans in the Arctic and Antarctic are very challenging to sample, because they are so remote, have extreme weather conditions and sea ice that could even crush your instruments. But that is also what makes autonomous vehicles so attractive, they can sample these frozen oceans while you get to explore awesome polar data sitting in your office with a warm cup of tea.

On your Deep Sea News profile, you say “my goal is to create simple and universal tools to not only quickly process data, but also to allow researchers to easily share these data using standardized public repositories.” What do you think is necessary for scientists to start sharing more of their data?

Making it easy! I am a physical oceanographer. We throw lots of instruments in the water and sample many different kinds of processes.

What I would like to have is software that works with human input. With a few button clicks, you look at the data, correct as you go and the software does the rest of the work for you.

Ultimately, most of us are using the same instruments. And all of these instruments output similar data, which should make it easy to archive and store. At this point, there is lots of software to analyze the data, but almost no software where you can click a couple of buttons and have a good data product come out.

Let me backtrack a bit, some data definitely has problems and a black box to process the data will not be able to fix every issue. You need to check your data, figure out what is good and what is bad. This process requires a ton of human effort right now, and most of the software is very basic. It is almost like we are stuck in a “command line” world.

My short answer is, if you could just upload data and there was an easy way to process it, a lot more people would share their data.

In your experience what makes data trustworthy?

If scientist describe what they have done really well, then I trust the data. If I disagree with their methods or particular steps, then I do not trust the data. I need transparency to make a decision on how trustworthy the data is.

Internal Waves

Internal Waves Photo Courtesy of NASA

You work with internal waves, and seem to have a specific interest for data visualization. How do you visualize complex ocean data? How can we present complex data with simplicity?

Oceanographic data can be very complex, often sampling several variables in several dimensions (time and space). But because we are monitoring a physical phenomenon, when I visualize my data I try to make it look like a tangible physical process.

I look at one property of waves called energy flux. Energy flux sounds really confusing if you do not know what it is, but it just shows you the direction a wave is propagating. And you can use an arrow to illustrate energy flux , a symbol that most people see every day. With an arrow, you know the direction the wave is heading and how strong it is based on the arrow size. I find that trying to link a quantity back to the actual physical processes of the wave really helps when trying to convey complex phenomena.

What is your experience so far using Marinexplore?

I have spent some time on it. It is an exciting product. I really like the polygon tool, how you can highlight large areas and grab all the data in it, it is very intuitive. Going back to what I said earlier it is nice to get away from the command line world and have a nice click-and-point interface to find data. It makes science easier.

Oceanographic Moorings Deployment

Oceanographic Moorings Deployment

Do you have any cool oceanography field studies stories you would like to share?

I did a lot of mooring in my graduate work. Before I got on a ship, I really did not know what that entailed. Back at the lab, we got these diagrams of what looked like a 2km long string with these ten tiny instruments attached to it. You really do not get a good sense of how big a 2 km mooring is until you are on the ship, on deck, ready to deploy.

Moorings this size are deployed using a self-explanatory method called anchor last. Typically, an oceanographic mooring has an anchor at the bottom to keep it in place, and a massive ball of floatation at the top so the mooring line stays upright. In an anchor last deployment, you drop the top float in water first. Then the ship steams forward so you can let out more line, stopping once in a while to put instruments on it.

Finally, you get to the grand finale, putting the anchor in the water. At this point, there is so much line out you do not even see the top float anymore because of the curvature of the earth!

Now you can not just push a massive 1000 lb anchor off the boat as it would be really dangerous. What you have to do is pick it up with a massive crane and hang it out from the stern of the ship. To release the giant anchor, you use this little contraption, a hook that opens up and frees the anchor when triggered. What’s amazing about the whole operation is how you trigger the hook, you just tug on a tiny little rope. Then most incredible thing happens, the huge 2000+ pound anchor and 2 km of steel cable that you have just spent hours reeling out just disappears. As an oceanographer, it is the best feeling. All that work completed with a wonderfully subtle flick of a line.