Sunday, July 29, 2012

Land Ho!

We're back in Bridgetown, Barbados, and doing the final loading of boxes and equipment into our shipping container, and then it's time to hit the town and find a bar.  To say nothing of the fact that it's before noon on Sunday.  This is perfectly normal. ;)

Friday, July 27, 2012


And after an 'interesting' day, I and the other former 'polywogs' aboard the R/V Atlantis have now attained shellback status...

I'll write more later after some of the photos are posted... :)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Headed Home, Part 2

Whoo, spa night - always a fun time :)

But first, a recap of the last few days...

I mentioned we had four stations in the span of 30 hours... rather intense schedule, but out here, you learn to sleep when you can (granted, others resort to large volumes of coffee).

At the last two stations, the coring team encountered nothing but sand (no mud u__u) However, we did find some critters in the sand.

At one station, after the multicorer was brought back on board, I noticed something white moving inside one of the tubes.  On closer inspection, I found it was a sea snail!  He did a few laps around the inside of the core tube before burrowing back in the sand and hiding.  We snapped a few photos (on a different camera, unfortunately) before releasing him back into the blue yonder.

At our last station, I noticed another moving object in the core tube, and this time it was a little sand crab.  He didn't seem to be very excited about being removed from his normal realm, so he was returned too.

After we finished all the casts for plankton, coring, and water collection, we had a different operation, which was dredging the bottom in search of sea sponges.  One of our Brazilian collaborators has an interest in them, but had to wait until the end of the cruise to try to find them.

Lifting up the dredge

In the middle of recovery

Emptying the dredge net

There's some pretty interesting stuff coming up in the net.  It is a little sad to see how destructive dredging is though.  It really makes you think about fishing practices that use dredging as the primary means of catching fish... 

And now after a long day of tearing down the multicorer (I'd never taken it apart before!) Tonight after dinner we had the annual ANACONDAS spa night.  The stations included deep sea mud facials, shoulder massages, manicures, and tattooing.  Everyone from the science team got involved, and even some of the crew too! 

Once again, we are preparing for the equator crossing ceremony day on Friday, where anyone who has not previously crossed the equator must abide by the rules of those who have in honor of King Neptune.  It's all in good fun, as one of the requirements is having at least one finger nail and one toe nail painted in different colors, and having a tattoo of a sea creature.   It's rather fun with this group, because everyone knows it's all in good fun, and we all have a good attitude about the pending experience.... We'll see how it feels afterwards... 

So, my outer leg tat I stenciled on yesterday... 

The row of people receiving facials... 

Application of the mud facial...
There's my boys... covered in mud like normal ;) 

Mo giving Nick advice on painting his nails.

Sarah painting her toes... 

Jake decided to get a second tat in addition to his 'ocean' themed one ;)

I decided to make use of my other awesome stencil... 

Tomorrow's another day of cleanup and packing... with the day after being all crossing stuff... should be exciting... and kind of scary...

Headed for home

Today we started our 4 day transit back to Barbados.  It was a crazy rush to the finish with 4 stations in a span of 30 hours, but we're done and starting to pack things up and break our equipment down.

We're also taking the opportunity to relax a bit and have some fun.

First up, tonight we are having 'spa night' complete with deep sea mud facials, manicures, and shoulder massages.

On Friday we are having our official 'Equator Crossing' festivities/ceremony.  There is a long standing naval tradition of 'initiating' people who have not yet crossed the equator.  It's a day-long event where those who have crossed (shellbacks) spend the day making those who have not (polywogs) do silly things to appease King Neptune.   Details of the event will follow, but one of the requirements for the day is that everyone must have a tattoo of a sea creature, drawn on if necessary.  This is mine:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A 'Reel' story, and adventures on the continental shelf

So, a few nights ago around 3am, I was finishing up some model work on my computer and went by the computer lab before bed... The winch operator asked me if my undergrad was awake, because apparently two Mahi had been sighted swimming around the ship.  I headed out to the deck, since I knew where the rods were stashed... A few minutes of waiting, and lo and behold, a pair of Mahi swim into the light of the ship's deck lights chasing squid.

One of the crew guys and I start casting, and I cast out to the edge of the light/shadow and start reeling in.  All of a sudden there's a pull on the line, and the bigger of the two fish (looked ~2 feet or so from up on the ship) starts jumping around like crazy.  I reel in as fast as I can, trying to keep up with it's jumping shenanigans, but while the other guy ran to get the net, the fish popped off the lure.  (argh).

We keep casting, in hopes that they're still hanging out... but I can't see them.  Then, crazily enough, the same fish hits my lure _again_.... and this time, I set the hook as hard as I can, and he starts fighting.  In what seemed like moments, I'm fighting the fish, reeling in as I can, when the handle of the reel just snaps off in my hand (!).   The reel is screaming away as the fish made for the hills, and I yell for help from the crew guy... who comes and finds that the handle has cleanly snapped off... but dashes of to grab a pair of vice grips... he proceeds to take apart the reel a bit so that he can get a clean grip on it, and manages to start reeling the fish in using the vice grip reel handle... (ridiculousness~!)

The rod was bending like crazy, and before long, he had it at the side of the ship.  I had a long net in my hands, but either couldn't see the fish in the shadow of the ship, or it kept diving under the ship, or it wasn't close enough to the surface.

And just when we thought we would get it on deck... the spool of the reel broke completely.  I grabbed the line to pull it in hand over hand, but as I was doing that, I felt the fish pop off the hook -_____-

Quite an adrenaline filled night, to say the least... the crew guy cast out at the smaller mahi that was still hanging around, and hooked it... but it too popped off the hook as I was trying to get the net again...

*sigh*  If we had landed that bigger fish, it would have been epic.  There's a lesson about fishing with crappy equipment in here somewhere... but ah well.  You win this round, mahi... we shall meet again hopefully...

In other news... after that night of infamy, we moved onto the continental shelf off the coast of Brazil.  Where once we were coring in 4000m of water, now we're dropping it in 20 m.   o_O

It's a completely different ballgame now.  The North Brazil Current, which conveys the plume waters to the northwest, is really strong here, sometimes moving as fast as 2.5 knots (nautical miles per hour).  This causes the instruments we deploy to 'kite' in the water, as they get dragged along.  This can be rather challenging to work in, as we typically need our instruments to be straight up and down.  The ship's crew has been doing a great job to help maneuver the ship to get the best samples.

Some photos of the work going on at these coastal sites:

Preparing to deploy one of the optical measurement instrument suites.  The instrument below is called the 'FRRF' which stands for Fast Repetition Rate Fluorometer. It measures fluoresence (which can detect pigments like chlorophyll) in the upper ocean as a means of measuring the amount of photosynthesis occurring.

Here Sarah is rinsing her sample canisters in advance of the CTD cast.  Sarah is a member of the Montoya group that measures the abundance and isotopic composition of suspended particles in the ocean.

And here's the deployment of the CTD.... notice the bright green water off to the side?  Last night it was brown!

Here's Brandon of the zooplankton team waiting for their surface net tow to come back... The continental shelf is far too shallow to use the MOCNESS, so they use smaller nets instead.

Here comes the net...

Now what about my group's work on the shelf?  In addition to the screaming fast current, we face another problem - the mud on this part of the shelf is very soft and soupy, which makes coring a challenge.  The way our corer works, is that the outer frame 'lands' on the sea floor and stops moving, allowing the center part of the corer to continue moving down, which triggers a release mechanism to close the lids and feet covering the core tubes.

We've been having a problem of the release mechanism not firing at all, even after hitting the bottom.  Once of our recent modifications has been to attach wood 2x4s to the frame, to give it more surface area to prevent the frame from sinking the same amount as the center spider.

Unfortunately, 6 tries in, we still haven't managed to get cores back on board yet.  We've come up with some new ideas to try and we'll give it a go again tomorrow when we're at the next station which happens to be right in the river mouth.

The multicorer with its new skids...

And now.... a sunset...

Til next time.....

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Huh, now that's odd...

Today we reached Brazilian waters, 4º 49'N, 50º 00.1'W, where we dropped what will probably be the last 'deep' multicore of the cruise.  The rest of the stations will be up on the continental shelf in water depths of < 100m.

I announced a last opportunity for people to crush cups on the multicorer, and we filled the mesh bag yet again.  All of the cups made a return, and we got 8 beautiful 50-55 cm cores!  We also got a couple surprises too.

The first was a deep sea fish, which had its lower jaw caught onto the laundry bag holding the cups!  It is perhaps a gulper eel, but I have yet to talk to the fish specialist as to what he thinks it is.

Probably one of the oddest things I've ever seen caught by the multicorer~!

Or at least... that's what I would have said until we started processing and discovered something else...

This station happened to be in much more shallow water than we've cored at previously.  Over last two cruises, all of the coring stations occured in waters deeper than 3500m.  This is because in shallower waters, there is enough carbon deposition at the sea floor to support larger organisms like burrowing worms, which move sediment and water 'artificially', or in a way that is different from diffusion alone.

Pumping water through the sediments, as burrowing organisms do, changes the chemistry of the pore waters, and makes it much more complicated to model, and explain the processes occurring there.

However, since this is probably our only opportunity to get cores from this area, we are coring at every opportunity, and will learn a lot about the sedimentary carbon cycle even though I will be utilizing a different modeling approach than I am using at the deeper sites.

Now, back to 'burrowing macrofauna' and our weird discovery.

While measuring the cores in the cold van, I happened to notice something odd protruding from the bottom of the core tube, which kind of looked like a sausage shaped balloon (or something else, but we're being PG here...).  

After calling in the nearby biologists for consultation (and much laughter), we determined that it was a type of tube worm.  There is a phyla of worms called 'Sipuncula', commonly known as 'peanut worms'.  They are bottom feeding, burrowing worms.

Hilarity was ensuing for quite awhile.  Why? well... here's the photo of it sticking out from the bottom of the core tube.  *laughter*

And now to get that image out of your head, here's a few photos of the coring team at work in the cold van... their natural habitat...

Nick and Jake, monitoring the Whole Core Squeezer.

Me with my Rhizon samplers...

Don't ask...weird things happen in the cold van... I think it was the beanie... ;)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me... on a boat

So today was my birthday.  First time I've ever been at sea on my birthday, but not really a bad thing.  I'm out here where few people get to go, and with a great group of people.  Last night several of us were up rather late playing cards when I found that another girl's birthday is also the 18th, and she's the same age as me too.  

Later in the morning I found that one of the girls on the cruise had made me a little birthday sign... all out of things found at my lab bench (haha, nice one Kristine! Thanks!)   There are always a few birthdays on these cruises, and even if you don't tell anyone, the crew knows, and the cooks normally write a Happy Birthday message on the galley whiteboard in the morning, so everyone finds out before long...

So what did I do today?  Well, I was hoping that we'd get to deploy the multicorer at this station, but unfortunately, the station ended up being deeper than we'd thought and it would have taken too much wire time, so we got bumped from the schedule.  A little disappointing, because I'd have been really interested to get data here, but we need to keep heading south to get to Brazilian waters.  Instead I spent my time sitting out on the fantail of the ship, enjoying some sun, and watching the deck ops.

The ship's techs were able to fix the MOCNESS, and so the zooplankton team was out in full force.  Some photos of their recovery of their second deployment are below.  The 'Moc' is a special net that allows them to capture samples of zooplankton from different depths, which allows them to look at the community structure, and if they sample at noon and midnight, they can track the daily migrations of different species.

The Moc coming up for recovery

Recovering the Moc, two people hook the Moc on either side to help keep it from swinging as they get it back on deck.

Landing the Moc on the deck.

Rinsing out the sample from the end of each of the nets.  The grey containers that catch the samples are called 'Cod-ends'

Sunday, July 15, 2012

2 Stations Down

This morning brought with it a new day of sampling, for most of the scientists on board, at least.  Being part of the coring team means that we do not core at every station (though if time weren't an issue, we totally would).

Most everyone on board is researching something that involves paying attention to the diurnal cycles of life, meaning that ocean processes behave differently during the day than they do at night. A flurry of activity starts just before dawn as people prepare for net tows and collecting water with the CTD.

CTD stands for 'Conductivity Temperature and Depth', and is the primary means of collecting samples of water throughout different depths in the ocean.  It consists of a ring of hollow cylindrical bottles, what we call the rosette, and each tube has a top and bottom seal that can be closed on command.  When deployed, all the caps are open, allowing water to pass freely through it as the rosette descends to the deepest target depth. On the way down, sensors attached to the frame provide key measurements of the water properties, including chlorophyll and oxygen content. Then, the bottles are 'fired' (meaning closed) at chosen depths on the way back up.  This way, we're able to get 'snapshots' of the ocean.

Rounding out the morning sampling is the zooplankton group who use a specialized instrument called a 'MOCNESS', which is able to collect zooplankton from different depths in the ocean.  Unfortunately, they'd been having problems with it at station 1, and those troubles continued today.  With how routine sampling can get out here, it's sometimes easy to forget how lucky we are to be able to get these samples and do our science.  During each deployment, there is a number of things that could go wrong and leave us with nothing, yet somehow we pull through and the data keeps coming.

Oceanography is a field that brings out each person's inner 'Macgyver', as when problems come up, we have very limited resources with which to solve them.  We try to plan and pack for every scenario we can think of, but generally there's at least one situation that requires some jury-rigging or invention to resolve on every cruise. It's all part of the fun :)

For my group, today consisted mostly of sample analysis, prepping the multicorer for our deployment at station 2b.  We noticed that the inner 'spider' that houses the core tubes was much more wobbly than normal.  It sounds like an easy fix - just tighten a giant bolt; but this bolt is attached to a huge piece of metal that has a few hundred pounds of lead bolted on to it. We ended up using three ratchet straps to lift the middle section to support it while we tightened it with a deck wrench. Problem solved!

Outside of my normal lab duties, I also started prepping for the coring team's 'bonus' duty this cruise, which is crushing styrofoam cups!  We only have 2 stations where we'll be able to crush cups, and the first opportunity will be tomorrow at station 2b.  We'll do a second batch if necessary later at station 5.

Nick and Jake as we're about to make some adjustments to the multi-corer.

The Steinberg lab and some of the crew working with the tempermental MOCNESS. 

A preview of some of the cups to be crushed, also a styrofoam head from a school teacher who's been part of our project.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

And we're off!

Thursday morning the universe cried out in triumph as we received official clearance from Brazil.  As such, we finished setting up all our equipment in the ship's labs, and proceeded to secure everything for getting underway.  

While our days in port were busy on the ship, the nights were much more relaxed as we ventured out into Bridgetown, often ending up at a beach bar called 'The Boatyard'.  It's a nice little place, and the best part is that it has some inflated things to climb on moored out in the water.  A trampoline/raft, and an 'iceberg'.  After a long day working in the tropical sun and heat, it's great to go there and relax and take a swim out to the raft and relax for a time. 

Yesterday we left port at 8am, and started steaming south.  Most of the day was taken up by safety orientation where we learn what to do in an emergency, where to go, and how to put on a 'survival suit'.  Survival suits are also commonly called 'gumby suits' since they're rather ridiculous looking… 

We also finished setting up our lab space, and getting our instrument, the multi-corer ready for deployment at station 1.  We arrived at station 1 (11.5ºN, 56.7ºW) and my group was the first up to put something in the water… Hopefully to kick off the cruise with 8 perfect cores! 

It's in the water now… heading down to 4380 m.  I'm kind of glad we only have 2 deep casts, since waking up at midnight and working till 7am is somewhat tiresome. 

To see where the ship is, you can visit the WHOI website here: 

A cruise ship that was in port when we arrived... it was HUGE compared to the R/V Atlantis... 

Our ship.

Leaving port! 
 Almost out of the port...
 Bye bye Bridgetown.

Scientists in gumby suits. LOL.
Ta for now!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

And off we go!

Traveling has always been something of a marvel to me.  You wake up one morning and you're at home in your own bed. Then you go and sit for X number of hours and suddenly you're somewhere else, sometimes on the other side of the world.  How amazing is it that we have the capability of doing that? 

It's so fast compared to the team of oxen pulling settlers across the US, or sailing around the Americas to get to San Francisco. It's like magic.

I feel like I'm going to blink and be in Miami, and then again and I'll be in Bridgetown.

Blink blink.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Almost Clearance!

Today we have verbal confirmation that we will be allowed to sample in Brazil!  Hopefully paper approval comes soon!

In other news, I get on a plane tomorrow! agh!

Friday, July 6, 2012

T-minus 4 days...

In less than a week, I'll be boarding a plane to fly to Barbados to meet the R/V Atlantis for the third cruise supporting the ANACONDAS research project (  This is a special cruise, in that it wasn't in the original plan, but through the efforts of our Chief Scientist and others, we may (finally) get to go see the mouth of the Amazon River, collect vital samples from the 'river end' of the river plume, and cross the equator!   We will be sailing out for 17 days to collect samples from the Amazon River Plume, this time focusing mainly on the river mouth itself.

As the day of departure approaches, people have been asking me, "are you excited?" and the honest answer? I'm not really sure.  I think so, but I'm not really letting myself be excited. I think a lot of this is due to the fact that we still don't have 'official' clearance from Brazil to enter their territorial waters to take samples.  If we don't have that clearance by next Thursday when we're scheduled to leave port, the cruise won't happen.  I think I'm subconsciously trying to not get my hopes up (unlike the last two cruises).  Well, fingers crossed that we'll get to go.  ;)

Since I'm entering my last year of my PhD program, this is my last big foray into the field before huddling down with my laptop in a cave (a cave filled with lots of red wine) for the next several months.   This will be my 6th 'long' research cruise since I started working in the Ocean Sciences back in 2006.  When I return in August, I'll have spent 134 days at sea, not including the day trips that I've done here and there during my time at USC. That's a pretty long time for most people, though I know plenty of people who've sailed for far longer.

Getting down to business (so to speak)... this blog is going to be a vehicle to show my family and friends what exactly it is I'm doing on these boats on a more 'regular' basis.  I've been on all these cruises, and shown people pictures of various things, but it doesn't quite capture life on a research boat. (though it certainly captures the more 'random' things that can happen) So that's what I intend to do, in my copious spare time (Ha!), we'll see if I can hold to it, internet access permitting.

Next Stop: Barbados!