The best-laid plans of scientists often go awry when they actually get into the field.
“That’s when designing an experiment becomes adapting an experiment,” said Peter Traykovski, an oceanographer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).
Traykovski had to adapt earlier this year when he confronted one of the most dynamic places on Earth—the New River Inlet in North Carolina.
The inlet is a narrow, meandering chokepoint where the river and the Atlantic Ocean collide, where waves, winds, tides, and currents constantly jostle one another in unpredictable ways.
Traykovski and WHOI colleague Rocky Geyer had planned on using an underwater robotic vehicle to survey the sandy seabed.
But shoals in the inlet proved too shallow and dynamic at low tides to accommodate the vehicle, so Traykovski had to improvise.
He bought a commercial catamaran kayak, rigged scientific gear onto it, and navigated himself into the inlet to get detailed sonar images of the rippling sands.
Traykovski was among researchers from several institutions who have converged on New River Inlet in a five-year project funded by the Office of Naval Research to study the complex dynamics that move water and sand in inlets and river mouths.