Showing posts from February, 2015

Seen around the ship: Part 2

The lighter side of life at sea. Flying fish! I've seen them jump out of the water several times on other ships, but a couple jumped onto the Thompson deck. They wanted so badly to give their lives for science! Just the neighborhood kids hangin' out. Bananagrams! It's a spelling game like Scrabble, but much faster-paced. The Downwind Apocalypse: a couple of boobies pooped all over the bow. Adrian's 40th birthday meant a crazy wig and a pinata. Coffee break on some giant floats

Let's do some damage

Whenever things are going really well or the lander is on its way to the seafloor, Andrew says "Let's do some damage!" It's just his catch-phrase, I guess. We definitely did some damage to the seafloor this morning, because all four landers on board were deployed to the abyss. We started before dawn, kicking free vehicles overboard and pushing back the frontiers of science, one step at a time.  Cliff and Michelle deploying the camera lander. You're already familiar with the respiration lander, but what about the other three landers on the cruise? Well, allow me to introduce you.  Mackerel on the bait arm of the camera lander. We'll start with the baited camera. It's a metal frame with two video cameras to film fish, shrimp, and other scavengers on the deep seafloor. A mackerel is tied to the end of a long pole, and it serves as bait to attract the scavengers. We never know what, if anything, the camera has captured until it comes to the surface

Seen around the ship

Well, now that I've rambled about the lander for a while, it's time to show you the fun parts of life at sea. Practically every room on the ship is shared space, so we make life more entertaining for ourselves by posting funny messages. Here are some gems currently visible on the Thompson. On the hand dryer in the bathroom. Someone hung this blanket to shield their work station from the frigid  air conditioning. Check out the attached label (enlarged below). This appears on a diagram of an actual operation. Diva posted motivational mantras for us every day. For the record, it was a gummy worm. It's a bad day when even the ship's navigation system says you'll never arrive. This copper wire was used with one of the instruments on board,  but someone thought it should have a different purpose.  Truth. 

Almost perfect

In just 22.5 hours, Andrew and I turned around the lander and were ready to send it back down to the abyssal seafloor. We only get 6 deployments throughout the cruise, and with 3 benthic chambers on the lander, that means 18 chances to collect good data. We need every single one of them. Science is all about replication, so we need as many data points as possible. Unfortunately, it appears that nature has a different opinion - better said, nature has different priorities. She doesn't want us to collect our data, to uncover her mysteries, to steal her secrets. As of the second lander recovery today, the score stands: Team Sweetman: 2 Forces of nature, failed electronics, and other random crap: 4 That's right, friends. None of the three benthic chambers on the most recent deployment worked. The sediment on the seafloor was much softer than we expected, so the lander sank in too far and the benthic chambers were full of mud. Granted, there's supposed to be some mud in t

Got data?

So we sent the lander down, and 2 days later we got it back. End of story, right? Wrong. Lander recovery is only the beginning. As soon as the lander got on deck, Andrew and I swooped in to process the samples. I really wish I could show you some photos of the whole thing, but I didn't have a hand left to hold my camera - I needed 8 arms as it was. Out on deck, Andrew and I were surrounded by tubes, buckets, and bags. I had a pen in my hair, a Sharpie clipped to my shirt, and a notebook on my lap. It was quite the sight. Crouching next to the lander, I felt a bit like a nurse in surgery. Andrew said "spatula;" I handed him one. "Falcon tube" and I placed it in his hand. If he held a closed lid toward me, I opened it, and I wrote down everything he said. Every once in a while, I had to run samples to the freezer inside, but when I returned, it was straight back to business. After making it through our sediment samples, Andrew and I split up. He downloaded d

Poliris rises

My dear friends, do not be deceived. Appearances are not as always as they seem. You see, you have been misinformed: this whole time that I've been helping Andrew with the lander, I was actually working on a rocket ship. The lander is nicknamed "Poliris," which is a play on words. It's said that she rises out of the water like the Polaris missile, and since Andrew's institute is IRIS, Polaris became Poliris. I first heard this nickname early in the cruise, and I've been anxiously waiting to see the lander rise out of the water ever since. We sent the acoustic signal to call her up from the seafloor yesterday morning, and from the very beginning, we were astounded. She rose like a spacecraft bound for the moon, launching herself into orbit with titan force. Rise rates for the landers on board - not that anyone is keeping score. When you send an acoustic release signal, you listen first for a response from the lander to confirm that it was released. Then

There she goes

After about 8 hours of "final" preparations, we finally sent the lander down at 9 am. Deploying a lander is tricky business. The whole thing weighs about 3.5 tons. It's 7' high, not including the 10' mast, and maybe 5 or 6' across. She's a beast. Andrew and I checked, then double-checked, then triple-checked the lander. We tightened down the screws. We made sure there were no air bubbles in the equipment. We applied high-vacuum grease to each of the electrical connections. We made sure all the connections were water tight. Andrew and I in our usual pose: crouched next to the lander, double- or triple-checking something. Photo by Lee Frey. Actually, one of the great challenges of working with the lander is the juxtaposition of the frame's massive size with the sensitive nature of the electronics it carries. The two exist on completely different scales. Working on the lander means using a delicate touch, fine motor control, and a close attention

Midnight Warriors

My day today began at 1 am. I was actually a little late. Andrew and I had agreed to meet in the main lab at 12:30, but I somehow missed my alarm. Thankfully, the AUV deployment that was scheduled to come before our lander deployment was taking longer than expected, so I was still in the clear. We only had a few hours before the lander was supposed to go down, and it was time for final preparations. I could feel the air around me, thick with pensive energy, and the Europe song started playing in my head: "It's the final countdown..." One of the lander weights under a leg of the lander. Our first task was to put the weights on the lander. Just like the mooring I described in an earlier post, the lander is controlled by an acoustic release. We attached weights to it just prior to deployment, and these weights will be later released at the seafloor when we recover the lander. Here's the thing about the weights, though: they're 500 lb each. We had to lift them

On station

At about 6 am yesterday, we reached our first station! We recovered a sediment trap that had been deployed during a previous cruise, so now we have a nice picture of organic matter input to the seafloor over the course of a year. The majority of the food that arrives at the seafloor falls from shallower depth - dead animals, fecal pellets, dead plankton, discarded mucus. It sounds absolutely disgusting, but that's the menu for deep-sea benthos. In order to understand how much and what kinds of organic matter are supplied to the seafloor, we have to intercept and catch it, so we deploy sediment traps.  The sediment trap A sediment trap is essentially a giant funnel. It has a grate over the opening to filter out large objects that could clog it, and at the bottom, it narrows to a sample bottle. The sample bottles are held on a rotating platform and switch out throughout the year, so you can see how much organic material is deposited at the seafloor during different seasons. 

Cool water

Downtown San Diego, seen from the ship as we steamed away When I last left you, my friends, the cruise was just getting underway. The optode software was finally working; the ship was pulling away from the dock; and I was dead exhausted. The Night of Desperate Phone Calls is now two days behind me, and the ship has been steaming away from San Diego ever since. Sunset over the Pacific, 13 Feb 2015 I suppose that after my last text-heavy entry, I owe you some pretty pictures. Actually, one of my favorite things to do on a ship is to photograph the sky. Out here, far away from city lights, skylines, and smog, we get beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Clouds, if there are any, stretch all the way to the horizon. You can see storms coming from miles away. I absolutely love the sky at sea.  Shortly after sunrise, 14 Feb 2015 There's not much to do on board for these first few days, since we're just steaming out to the sampling sites. I expected myself to be s

Baptism by fire

Well friends, do I have a story for you. It's been 24 hours since we left port in San Diego, and I've already managed to destroy and then re-establish my circadian rhythm. This cruise started with a baptism by fire. On Wednesday afternoon, Andrew and I had finished building and organizing most of our equipment. We had come far enough that it was time to pull out the optodes (dissolved oxygen sensors) for the lander and get them ready to go. We had already tested the optodes at home in Norway and they all worked, so this was just one final check before the cruise got underway. Here's the thing: in order to be able to change the settings on the optodes and download data from them at sea, we needed a software package. We had downloaded several different standard packages (called "terminal programs") before leaving Norway, but none of them were able to both control the optode settings and download data from them. Only one piece of software, engineered by the compa

And all the rest of it

Slowly but surely, the ship is coming together. Slowly but surely, the deck equipment is getting built. Slowly but surely, the lab is getting organized. I started the morning with a run to Home Depot for last-minute supplies. Andrew gave me a list of miscellaneous things to grab - cable ties, duct tape, paracord - everything you might need on a ship. I also stopped by a local marine lab to grab some chemicals and non-standard supplies that had been delivered for us there. Have you ever driven through urban southern California with 10' fiberglass poles strapped to the top of a rental car? 'Cuz I have. I got back to the ship a little after noon and found Andrew on the deck. He had already added some equipment to the lander and was working on putting together a flag. We lashed a piece of bright orange fabric to one of the 10' poles and then bolted it to the top of the lander. When we recover the lander at sea, the tall orange flag will ensure we can see it from far away.

Blue streak

Mark came up and stood next to me on the wooden pallet. The tall, muscular Scotsman had a cigarette between his lips. "Is that a blue streak on the float over yonder?" he asked, gesturing in front of him. He had been waiting on me for a good 15 minutes. "Yeah, that's one finished," I answered. Mark stepped forward, heaved the finished float onto his shoulder, and carried it down the dock. To my right, I could see Andrew waiting for him, looking like a child on a jungle gym as he was perched atop the lander's metal frame, bolts in his fingers, whistling a tune. Mark held the float against the frame while Andrew bolted it on. Meanwhile, I finished tightening the last bolt on the float in front of me and marked it with blue spray paint. No cracks. Ready for deployment. The lander frame and attached floats on the dock. We spent a large part of the day like this; me opening the float covers to check for cracks, Mark and Andrew assembling the lander. Whe

Traveler, not tourist

I'm not exactly sure why, but I've always despised the word "tourist," and I've never wanted it to be applied to me. The word just conjures up images of pasty people in Bermuda shorts with obnoxious cameras asking ignorant questions. I know it's not an entirely accurate image, but regardless, I'd much rather be considered a traveler. To me, a traveler is someone who goes to a new place and tries to experience the culture, to understand the people who live there, to blend in and really connect with a place. A tourist just treats the world as their personal playground. All labels aside, I've gotten to do some touristy things in San Diego the last couple days. The majority of the equipment for the cruise was delayed and won't be delivered until Monday, so we have some extra time on our hands. I've never been to San Diego before, so it is nice to experience a little bit of the area around me before we head out to sea. Fighter jets on the flig

Carmen Sandiego

"She goes from Nashville to Norway Bonaire to Zimbabwe, Chicago to Czechoslovakia and back! She'll ransack Pakistan And run a scam in Scandinavia Then she'll stick 'em up Down Under And go pick-pocket in Perth She put the Miss in misdemeanor When she stole the beans from Lima Tell me where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?" - "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego" by Rockapella Ok, true confession: I'm a child of the '90s. The lyrics above come from the theme song to a PBS game show from the early 1990s called Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?  According to Wikipedia, "the show was created partially in response to the results of a National Geographic survey that indicated Americans had alarmingly little knowledge of geography, with one in four unable to locate the Soviet Union or the Pacific Ocean." (Ouch!) In the past few years, my mom has started calling my Carmen Sandiego, not because I'm an international petty

Dreaming out loud

I have drafted this blog post a thousand times. At first, it was supposed to be a firm protest titled "You can't make me," in which I described my how emotionally unprepared I was to leave Norway. Then I re-wrote it as a contemplative piece, reviewing my time here and reflecting on the simple advice from my adviser that prompted me to apply for the grant. I was so convinced that I was going to feel contemplative on my last night in Norway that I even had a song quote picked out for the post. It was from "Yellow Light" by Of Monsters and Men. As I sit here now, in the middle of my empty room, I don't feel any of the things I expected to. I didn't cry tonight. I just had dinner with my housemates like any other day. I didn't feel the world spinning around me or feel the weight of a page turning in my living biography. I just felt...normal. This is my life, I guess. It's hellos and goodbyes, culture shock, and visits to the immigration office.