Sunday, August 20, 2017

The gathering

"Kirstin!" I heard someone call from behind me. Turning around, I saw my friend, Thorben, standing with wide-open arms and a smile of disbelief. "When did you get in?"

I walked up and gave him a hug. "About an hour ago," I said in German. 

Thorben switched into German as well. "How are you? It's been so long. I'm happy to see you. There are some members of the group here inside. Would you like to say hi?"

He lead me inside a waterfront restaurant with big windows, where a group of Germans had just finished dinner. Some of them I had met before, some I had not. All of them were from the Deep-Sea Ecology and Technology Group at the Alfred Wegener Institute, where I worked in 2011 - 2012. I settled into a chair and settled into the German conversation. Thorben asked me about my latest projects, about finishing my PhD, about Woods Hole, about life. He actually finished his own PhD about 6 months before I finished mine, so we sympathized with each others' adjustments to life after grad school. It felt good to catch up with him.

My favorite view in Tromsø: the fjord and the famous Arctic Cathedral
Friends, I am in Tromsø, Norway, and in about 36 hours, I will board the German research icebreaker Polarstern. I am beyond excited to be back in Norway, to be back among my German colleagues, and to take part in an incredible expedition. 

This is now my third time in Tromsø, and it feels more familiar every time I'm here. I took a walk along the waterfront this evening and even felt confident enough to turn inland and climb uphill. My mental map of this city is ever-improving. Sure, I'm still prone to lose my way among the narrow streets and cookie-cutter wooden houses, but the steep topography and dominant fjord provide very good landmarks for orientation. Tonight, Tromsø joined the list of places where I feel at home. 

Tomorrow, more of my colleagues will gather in this beautiful northern city, and Tuesday morning, we set sail. I look forward to a great expedition!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Noticing beauty: part 4

Seen at WHOI Beach

Quissett Harbor
Someone built rock stacks near Trunk River
Seen from Surf Drive Beach

Friday, August 11, 2017

Song for the departing interns

You came here to learn, to the Mullineaux lab
To Woods Hole, to the southwestern Cape
You were shy and reserved and preferred not to blab
For fear a bad impression to make

You read and you listened and you heeded advice
From scientists and mentors around
You opened your brains and saw with your own eyes
That the joys of our research abound

Your hands were awork and your minds were ablaze
For whatever the projects required
You came in on the weekends and even stayed late!
You seemingly never grew tired

To Meghan, whose ginger hair lit up the lab
In Redfield, room one hundred twenty
You've toiled and analyzed data for weeks,
Gaining experience plenty

I'm glad for the days that we both got to code
And decipher the language of numbers
Please carry these skills forth as long as you can
And for knowledge continue to hunger

Your research with oysters and their little babes
Will greatly increase understanding
I trust now that you'll go with more confidence
To your thesis and all it's demanding

For Deborah, your fire and ambition strong
Were always uplifting to see
Determined to always push science along
You inspired all here, even me

With samples from distant uncolonized vents
From nine degrees north EPR
You studied results of eruption events
Whether larvae came from near or far

Your passion for science will carry you, Deb
Through grad school and many late nights
Just know when your research is wrong, false, or dead
Relax, it will all be alright

Nicole, for your help on my experiments
I will for a long time be grateful
You counted and ID'd the plate animals
As assistant, you were ever-faithful

Your copepod work, though I missed it myself
Was enlight'ning to analyze with you
I trust that your readable, fine manuscript
Will be printed within a good journal

I loved teaching and chatting and trading ideas
I truly do wish you the best
For your gap year and then for your own Ph.D.
Press onward! Continue the quest!

For all of you, may this past summer have been
A springboard to launch your careers
And when you have made it or are lost and need help
You can call anytime, my dears

Mullineaux lab, summer 2017
Lauren (PI), Meghan (intern), Nicole (intern), me (postdoc), Deborah (intern),
Stace (Research Specialist), Susan (Emeritus)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The end

"Save yourself, serve yourself
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the rapture and the reverent in the right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched...
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's time I had some time alone"
- "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)" by R.E.M.

Well, friends, my succession experiment is done. This week, my intern and I collected our last round of data from Eel Pond and finished the experiment. It is over! Finished! No more!

As you know, the fouling panels at the WHOI pier surprised me in their last week by having barnacles. Well, Eel Pond had a surprise in store for me too. Do you remember the random plates that were covered in Ascidiella, the large squishy ascidian? Well, surprise! All of the Ascidiella disappeared. My plates that were covered in large, gelatinous mounds of the species were instead covered with small, new recruits of bryozoans and spirorbids. Another species of ascidian, Botryllus schlosseri, was also conspicuously absent from the plates. Botryllus used to cover large areas on my fouling panels, but it too has vanished.

I have two hypotheses for why the ascidians disappeared. The first is that Ascidiella mounds were heavy. In fact, the experimental panels got hard to lift out of the water when Ascidiella was so abundant. Maybe they sloughed off the panels, dragged off by their own weight. This explanation doesn't apply for Botryllus, though, since Botryllus was light and lay flat to the panel surface. Another possible explanation is that the ascidian disappearance was temperature-related. Similar to hydroids at the WHOI pier, they may have died in the ever-warming water. I have yet to download and analyze the temperature data from my loggers, but once I do, I will let you know what I find!
"Hey Kirstin, you match the plates!" - my intern, Nicole

With Ascidiella and Botryllus out of the way, the ascidian Botrylloides and all the bryozoans were able to flourish! Botrylloides is red-orange, and most of the bryozoans are tan-yellow, so the panels had a very bright color scheme this week. You can probably guess that orange is my favorite color just by looking at this blog, and as you might imagine, I was quite pleased to end the experiment with orange fouling panels!

Here's to the end of a great experiment!

Monday, August 7, 2017


"Like a lazy ocean hugs the shore
Hold me close, sway me more"
- "Sway" by Michael Bublé

As I turned around, I could feel the water resisting my motion. It was like moving through corn syrup as I kicked my legs and twisted my torso. Slowly, gracefully I spun. Cold water stung my lips, the only part of my skin that was exposed. But as I completed my aboutface, I could see tufts of red algae hanging suspended in the water. They were so still, almost frozen. The algal debris I had kicked up was stuck delicately in space. I stopped moving for a moment and watched the algal fronds hang there, then forget their places and begin to sink. It was peaceful.

Everything moves more slowly underwater. I've always been told that SCUBA diving is meditative, and now that I'm diving myself, I have to agree. There is nothing more relaxing than being underwater. The mammalian dive reflex lengthens my breaths, and resistance from the water slows down every motion. Kelp fronds and bryozoans and stringy red algae sway in the current. Particles hang suspended. Time disappears.

I'm not yet skilled enough to carry a camera on dives, but I wish I could show you the habitats I explored this weekend. I went to three dive sites near Cape Ann, north of Boston, and the seafloor at each site was gorgeous. Shell hash and boulders and kelp fronds and red algae. Pink sea stars (Henricia sp.) clung to the rocks while lobsters lurked underneath. Yellow bryozoans (Crisia sp.) stood up from the stones, where squishy ascidian colonies reigned (Didemnum albidum and Botryllus schlosseri). At one site, detached bits of red algae formed a thick mat on the seafloor. They drifted in the current like a rug getting pulled back and forth. At another site, giant boulders stood high, covered in a thin pink crust of coralline algae. A large club tunicate (Styela clava) protruded from a rock, its siphons open wide to feed. Nearby, a flounder lay motionless on the sand and hoped not to be seen.

Marine animals fascinate me, and being able to see them in person is a gift. Every time I emerge from the water, I think only about when I can go back. I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn diving and use it in my research. It was a wonderful weekend.

On the boat with my dive buddies for the day: my friend, Megan,
and my boyfriend, Carl

The ocean surface reflects the peace I felt underneath

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Revenge of the barnacles

When I first started my study of the mechanisms of succession in subtidal fouling communities, I thought it would be about barnacles. I thought the barnacles would be the first species to recruit to my panels, that they would have a huge impact on how the rest of the community developed, and that I could study that effect. Not so.
Look, barnacles!

There were barnacles, but not nearly enough to do a whole experiment with. I ended up focusing on other organisms - hydroids, ascidians, bryozoans. Well, this week and next, my study is wrapping up, and in an act of perfect irony, the barnacles started showing up. Imagine that!

I had been told there would be two pulses of barnacles, one shallower, one deeper, and I guess this is the deep pulse. The barancles are all in genus Balanus. The interesting thing, though, is that they're not on all of my plates. They're only recruiting to the plates where there was clear space because the dominant organism had previously been removed. For example, they're all over my "remove hydroids" plates at the WHOI pier but not abundant on plates in other treatments. Very interesting.

Ecology is full of surprises. The fact that barnacles finally recruited to my fouling panels in the last week of my study is pretty ironic. I had to laugh, but in reality, I have great data from my fouling panels and look forward to the analysis.

Well played, little barnacles, well played.  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Noticing beauty: part 3

Eel Pond sunset

Eel Pond fouling fauna

Seen in Falmouth Heights

Sailboat on Vineyard Sound

Beach rocks in Falmouth Heights

Botryllus schlosseri overgrowing Botrylloides violaceus