A handful of North Coast residents, startled when they heard repetitive foghorn blasts on the morning of Sept. 4, may be reassured to learn that those mournful-sounding warnings were from a research vessel shrouded in fog off the coast of Cambria.
The Atlantis, an 83-meter ship part of the fleet based at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, a world-renowned nonprofit organization dedicated to ocean research, is studying certain effects in continental-shelf waters along the Central Coast, according to Mark Ohman, the chief scientist on board.
The “Atlantis is a global-class research vessel in the U.S. academic fleet and is specially outfitted to carry the submersible Alvin and to conduct general oceanographic research,” according to Woods Hole.
Ohman is a Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor and lead principal investigator on a long-term ecological-research program on current conditions in the California ecosystem.
He said in an email interview from the ship that he’s leading a group of scientists and graduate students, most of them from Scripps, on this expedition.
The team of 33 in the science crew along with 24 other crew members is making a series of measurements in continental shelf waters from Cambria to just south of Point Conception, Ohman said.
“At the moment, we are trying to determine the role of dissolved iron coming from continental shelf sediments in stimulating phytoplankton blooms in the coastal upwelling zone off Central California,” he said, adding that the 32-day research expedition is drawing to a close. “This is part of our larger study of how a changing climate is affecting ocean food webs and altering carbon sequestration in the ocean.”
At mid-morning last Wednesday, the foghorn blasts were heard about once a minute for at least a couple of hours. In Cambria, the heavy fog had mostly retreated to the shoreline, but was still fairly dense on the water.
That foghorn-blast pattern is a basic warning to other mariners that the ship was there, according to Scott Kathey, regulatory and emergency-response coordinator for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
He said maritime rules state that “in low-visibility conditions, all vessels are required to signal,” and “different horns or sequences mean different things.” A repetitive single blast simply means, “I’m here,” he said, and acts as an alert about a navigational hazard.
Nevertheless, it’s not a common sound along the North Coast shore, so some residents took to social media Wednesday to find out what was happening.
“I hope no Cambria residents have lost sleep on account of us, but as you can imagine, the foghorn is a practical necessity in these conditions,” Ohman said.
You can track the Atlantis’ current location here.