Citizen Scientist to make space for the equipment necessary for the testing. For each flight, all the testing equipment has to be loaded and installed securely on board. This is not small, lab-style test tubes and gauges. First, an ungainly modular gantry for the electric winch is erected over the floor hatch; then two large and heavy-duty 12v batteries to power the winch are battened down; and the very expensive and complex CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) profiling package, the core testing unit in the program, is carefully suspended from the gantry. Next comes all the actual testing equipment, sample bottles and vials to transport the samples back to the lab and the Toughbook laptop used to record the data, plus all the cords and cables associated with the equipment. In the end, Mya and Laura are left with a tiny space to squeeze in to and work. Teamwork Well-oiled teamwork kicks in as the floatplane comes in low over the water and the pilot calls distance to mark. Sometimes with a little help from a headwind or tailwind and the ever present current, but always with great skill, he brings the plane to a standstill within feet of the waypoint. For Chuck, it’s a matter of pride. “Every time I do this, I try to do better,” he claims. Once the plane is on site, Mya and Laura get to work, lowering the
CTD to the exact depth – with the pilot assisting with timing the drop and helping to record results of the water tests. With so much equipment on board, there are inevitably breakdowns and glitches. Joe and Chuck are always ready to assist, repairing or jury-rigging anything they can, in the interest of keeping the project on track. The Kenmore pilots and the ECY technicians not only consider each other colleagues and team mates, but friends as well. They talk about their families – Mya recently had a baby and Chuck and Joe follow Louella’s progress as concerned friends. The onboard discussions switch easily between the state of the current algae bloom being collected, the DO (dissolved oxygen) content in a sample, the up-coming weekend weather, vacation days coming up and the fun they all had at a recent party attended by both Kenmore Air and ECY people. “It’s a different vibe,” Joe asserts, “when you spend 11 to 12 hours in a small plane with people. We’ve ended up with a working family.” From an outsider’s perspective, there is no division of loyalties within this group. This is a cohesive team forged through years of cooperation and understanding that is providing results that ultimately benefit the waters of Puget Sound and all who live here.
The primary pilot for the Department of Ecology Marine Flight Program, Joe Leatherman, is an eight-year veteran Kenmore Air pilot and regards his position as unique. Although he has no official scientific background, other than basic high school science and physics, he has become an integral part of the team, with what he calls his on-the-job training. He assists with the paper logs, hand sampling water and data entry and says working long days in the confined space of the floatplane adds a different vibe to the job. But even more than working with the team, he has learned to be a keen observer of the Puget Sound’s condition while flying his normal passenger flight schedule around the Sound and northern islands. Joe’s observations go beyond the weather and sea surface conditions, as he scans the water surface far below for anomalies like algae blooms, water plumes and jellyfish. He understands what the gradations in water color mean and makes notes to report to his Ecology colleagues. If he sees oil spills, he is able to report them long before they are visible from other vantage points. Joe Leatherman has become a Citizen Scientist. HARBORS |
The Seaplane and Boating Destination Magazine