Friday, June 27, 2008

The tempest approacheth?

Today started rocking hard about 1 am when I was thrown from my top bunk. Apparently I had curled up in the fetal position to facilitate moving less and then my sheet decided to slip with me. Our rocking is apparently the result of a tropical storm and depression to our south. We've had a few good rocks around 30 deg which is pretty steep bu the killer is the consistent rocks between the teens and 20 deg. It makes everything you do in every day life that much more difficult. Tomorrow's and the next day's forecast doesn't look much more promising and CTD and over the side ops have been through periods of suspension depending on the size of swell we're getting. With all the rocking and rolling today we were treated with a pretty good sunset and a rainbow. Looks like the next little bit may be rough seas...

Handles around the bathroom facilitate showers at acute angles.
This puppy was peaking out around 25-30 today which was briefly exciting and then just plain annoying.
Unknown shark out from our ship circling today (about 10 ft long)
No more clear skies as we approach the north end of the two weather systems to our south.
Sunset with good clouds.

New Blog Bling

Thanks Dave for the new blog title screen. Even though I don't work with soil microbes and won't see land for another 2 weeks it's nice to have a piece of the continent on the blog.


Last year when we went on a cruise we had a noticeable absence of mammal activity. Yesterday evening we spotted a pod of dolphins and today we were visited by several whales who were curious about the CTD.

The visiting Pod snapped a few quick pics but wasn't able to get out the zoom in time so the zoom is a bit grainy on these.

Our curious whale for the day. His pod mates hung out on the horizon all day. After reviewing some literature on board we have deduced they were probably fin whales.
Our diel started yesterday and was called off when we lost the area of water we were tracking because of differential surface and subsurface currents. It was frustrating to get ten hours into a diel and have to abort, but the current one is going smoothly and will finish up in about 9 hours at 6 am.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

People of the Bubble

The people of the bubble are an interesting bunch. Despite their outward friendly appearances they are masters of their domains and rule with an iron fist once contained within a trace metal environment.

Randi- Sporting "super safety gear"
Trace metal chemistry can be a nightmare at sea. Trace metal oceanographers look at very small amounts of metals and their associated ligands, biological components etc. These amounts are often in the nano to pico molar range of concentration. Considering the ship is a big tub of Iron sometimes this is very difficult. To combat these things trace metal peeps, often construct what is known as a "bubble". Bubbles are basically plastic enclosures that house the trace metal people and their machinery they use to detect the metals in the water fractions they sample. Bubbles are built on wooden frames suspended from the unistrut frames in the lab and have positive air flow with special filters to keep any metal dust from coming in. On our ship there is also a bubble constructed within a "van". A van is basically a big shipping container that serves as a mobile lab that can be placed on deck. We have two vans on board. One for trace metal work which Tyler lives in (the trace metal van) and the other for radioactive isotope labeling (the rad-van) of primary productivity samples.

The entrance way to the TM van. Strip off anything metal which is possibly a contaminant and deck shoes here.Walk across a sticky mat which gets the "debris" off your feet and put on some plastic shoes.

Laminar flow hoods provide the protection for the sensitive bench instruments. This is the Randi and Tyler TM van and they say who is good to visit and who is too rusty to come in.
The large bubble Kristen likes to live in within the main lab.

Inside the bubble.
More inside the bubble. If there is metal in the bubble it is specially coated or composed so nothing becomes airborne.
Artwork on the outside of the bubble becomes more prominent after late night sampling. Compliments of the bag of sharpies now taped to it.

Trace metal samples are sometimes taken from special bottles called "go-flo" bottles. They are free of any metals that might leech into the water and have teflon coated metal where it is unavoidable. In addition they are lowered on a special spool of metal free rope. Using a steel cable like that used for the CTD can result in a spike Iron of two orders of magnitude greater in seawater. GF bottles are neat in that they are pressure sensitive and will not open until the bottle has reached a depth of generally 5 meters. This minimizes contamination from on deck operations or the air. When a desired depth is reached a teflon device called the messenger is dropped down the special line suspending the bottle. When it contacts the switch on the bottle the bottle fires and is closed, sampling the water depth desired. From here the bottle can be brought to the surface and stowed in a wooden mount box where aliquots can be decanted off. Samples are then taken to the proper clean room for processing.

The Go flo is prepped.
Kristen manning the line to keep it spooling correctly and keep it from contacting metal on the ship.
Attaching and sending the messenger down to trigger the go-flo bottle.
The go-flo arrives on the surface with the messenger closed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Today I witnessed my first green flash. The green flash happens when the sun sets on a well defined flat horizon. In the last instant on light from the sun the spectrum it usually goes through (oranges and reds) shifts again and the sun momentarily appears green, especially when viewed through binoculars. Unfortunately I had my zoom lens inside so no good pics of the sunset today or the green flash. If it's nice tomorrow I will prepare and try again.

The sunset that led to my first green flash.
The ship's cozy lounge area which received a big screen prior to our departure. As you can tell by the crowd now, there's another Sex and the City Marathon on the TV.
Kathy and Kelly checking the temperatures to confirm the bottles fired at the appropriate depths. The CTD will need to work well without a hitch for the next day especially.
Tomorrow starts our first "diel" where we will be deploying the CTD every hour for sampling during the day and every two at night for 24-28 hours. It's an extremely exhaustive technique but gives some interesting data about cycling of stratified communities we're interested in over a full day's period. I'm assigned to 14 hours of "day shift" and I'll be helping sampling through the night so please excuse my lack of posting for the next 48 hrs. (calculated with recovery time) Next time I'll talk a little about trace metal oceanography we have on board and the "people of the bubble".

Fish are food not friends...

Jeff and I have been slaving I think quite well we're making great headway and already have thousands of samples to sort through when we get back to see what all this filtering we're doing means. Every now and then between, eating, sleeping, and trying to stand up without falling over we do find an hour here and there to enjoy some other things going on on the boat.
So catching back up on happenings on the New Horizon yesterday we had a mild fish bonanza. Jake had his lines in along with Buddy (crew members) and I noticed on had a fish. I buzzed the bridge to slow down the ship from the aft deck phone and pulled it in with some work gloves that happened to be Jeff's. Man was it strong! After wrestling this guy to the deck he proceeded to barf squid up on me and bleed all over me till I got control of him. He was hooked through one eye so we couldn't really throw him back. So we got under way again and then bam! We caught 8 more of these guys so eventually after a few stops we had to mandate no more fishing since it was actually disruptive to our progress between stations. The cook had a grill out on deck and we had grilled jack for dinner.

The Jack that started it all.
A short bloody battle of man vs. fish ensued.
With man the victor by a slim margin fishy got to sleep on ice.
Jacks have a really neat blue stripe and sharp everything protruding from their bodies.
In the evening we were also treated to our first view of land in about 9 days with this gem of an island.

Gifts! A tradition of the EZ lab is when people go on research trips they get little parting gifts to open from the lab. Thus far Jeff and I have been randomly selecting gifts and some of them are quite awesome. In particular Jeff opening this "Laser Top" which provides plenty of on deck entertainment during night casts. We also have opened up bubbles, finger puppet sea creatures, and monster squirt guns. We're waiting a little longer before we open some more.


This card my grandmother made for me before I left tells the tale of the past few days... without the harbor and presence of humanity. Speaking of where we are if you have found the page with the ship's coordinates you will need to get rid of a few commas and periods to get them to work on google maps if you want to track where we are.

Well our satellite connection has been down the past few days and it's been mighty lonely not being able to talk to loved ones or get any messages out. At one point the sat phone was even down but I think everything is coming around on that end. On the upside weather has been beautiful with increasingly clearing skies during the day and the same at night, allowing for captivating star gazing. Here's a few quick pics if I can get them up before the internet goes down again and if I have a connection I promise to get some more content up tonight. We've seen a lot and done a ton of work in the past few days...

6-21-08 We thought we saw a dead whale and then there was a bit of an eerie moment when we came upon a capsized vessel. Our best guess was it was a fisherman's vessel and they got into trouble and capsized. They probably didn't have an kind of communication and perished sadly, but it was a wake up call of how alone we really are out here and how important lines of communication and sticking together as a crew are. We circled the area a bit and blew several whistles to check for survivors but this hull and bit of debris was all that was left. We radioed the coordinates to the coast guard and then went on our way. The following morning's weather was much soother and eerily calm as well, just going to show how much the weather can change in a matter of hours out here.
The water out here is hard to describe it is so blue so here is a visual aid of open ocean water in action. Visibility here can be as much as 75-100 feet.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

OMZ now you know me

Oceanographers are basically professional water filtration junkies. We collect water from different depths in the ocean and then run many batteries of tests to make inferred relationships between microorganisms, physical parameters of the water (Peroxide levels, IronII, Zinc and other important nutrients), and sometimes associated macro organisms. We meet the need to sample certain areas of the water column with a device called the "CTD". The CTD(Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) The device holds a rosette of 24 bottles and these are "loaded or cocked" in the open position before lowering the whole unit in the water. The Bottle are remotely fired from a control station inside the dry lab and everyone involved in the cast decides what area they want to sample. They decide by physical parameters such as florescence and temperature which are relayed real time by the device as it descends. The other reason we leave the bottle open on the way down is they would simply collapse at depth from the pressure. As the rosette makes it's way back to the surface samples are taken based on the log observed as it descended to it's maximum depth. The first 300m of ocean (the euphotic zone-"where light can penetrate") water are generally of the most interest since this is where 99% of all the primary production takes place. Here are some pics of deployment of the CTD from today's station.

The CTd and bottle rosette.Their are 3 accompanying Mexican Scientists on the ship and today was their turn to deploy.

The CTD clears the ship via J-frame winch and is lowered into the Ocean.
As you can see the bottles have openings in the top and bottom to allow water from the sampling to pass through until a desired area is reached and a remote trigger snaps the bottle shut.
You can generally see the CTD for about 75-100 ft since the water is very clear out here.
Once the trip down is made everyone gathers and decides which depths they would like water from. This gathering is somewhat reminiscent of the the NYSE you see on TV.
After the CTD reaches the top temperature tests on each bottle confirm correct firing in the water column. We've had a few problems with 3 of the bottles so they are constantly getting checked.
Besides the two Mexican nationals Jeff and I are greatly outnumbered by the female scientists of the group. These alpha females eat all our food before we can get something to eat sometimes if we don't hurry when meals are served. (kidding) But we do have limited seating so you must eat quickly as to get all the science and crew through.
The reason I was able to stay up and type a post and compile data thus far, was a newly found 15 lb box of gummy bears in the snacking area of the galley. The sugar rush is about to crash however.
Over the next 24 hours we will be sampling 3 stations so until then I may not post. If you have any requests fro pictures of different areas of the boat send them my way. Otherwise I will just try to make an effort to represent the ship and operations as a whole. Until next time....

Monday, June 16, 2008

OMZ Monday?

Already it's Monday and I've forgotten which day of the week it is. Jeff and I survived a rough section of waves and today began sampling with the first official CTD cast. I'll forgo the narritive right now to catch up on some pictures depending on how fast I can load them.

San Diego the night before departure
F-15 maybe taking off
Coast Guard Chopper
Nuclear sub I think
Can you name this knot?
What does this guy do if he catches 3 at once?
Port water in the deck incubator.
Open ocean water in it today...very clear.
Hundreds of sailboats in the bay as we left.
This is what we'll see all around us for the next few weeks, the ocean is massive.
Annie is a school teacher from SC along for the ride.(background) She's hoping to take some knowledge back to the classroom where she teaches a marine science class. Here she's measuring chlorophyll with Kelly after the morning cast.
If you haven't noticed yet everything must be strapped down in case of rough weather, which we had Saturday night. A 100 lb dewer rolling around full of liquid Nitrogen would be a bad thing.