Showing posts from March, 2015


"Alabama, Arkansas I do love my ma and pa Moats and boats and waterfalls Alley-ways and pay phone calls... Home is wherever I'm with you" - "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros Well, I guess you could say I'm almost home. To be honest, I probably misuse the word "home" on a regular basis, because I refer to a lot of places by that name. I blame my parents. When I was a kid, we would take multi-week roadtrips every summer in my mom's minivan. By the time I graduated high school, I had seen all the continental 48 states, plus one Canadian province, and whenever we were on the road, we would refer to our hotel as home. We'd get to the end of a long and wonderful sight-seeing day, and we'd look at each other and say "Let's go home" - to the hotel, of course. My mom always loves to say that home is where your family is. It's a modern tradition for Oregon residents to photograph their feet on the carpet

Lonesome dreams

"I land on an island coast Where the only souls I see are ghosts I run through a wooded isle And chase the sunlight mile after mile And I feel like I know this place As a tree line breaks in a wide open space I stare at a bright red sun And search all day, never find anyone" - "Lonesome Dreams" by Lord Huron There's a point at the end of every cruise when I come to the shocking realization that I am alone. Right now, I am sitting on possibly the world's most comfortable chair in a hotel room that I could never hope to afford by myself. I am barefoot; my hair is down (neither of which have happened for the past 42 days); and I am alone. Really, truly alone. I said goodbye to the last of my shipmates a few minutes ago in the hallway, and my room feels strangely quiet and oddly empty. Gone are the 2-a.m.-to-2-p.m. working shifts. Gone are the steel-toe boots. Gone are the hard hats, the life jackets, and the knife in my pocket. I no longer have to smother

Red, right, returning

"The '3R' Rule 'Red Right Returning' is the essential rule of thumb for using the lateral system. This means that when entering one body of water from a larger body of water (i.e. returning to a harbor from a bay or sound); keep the red aids to starboard (right) side and green aids to port (left) side. In addition, each aid is numbered, and these numbers increase as entering from seaward." - U.S. Aids to Navigation System , published by the U.S. Coast Guard A lot has happened in the last 48 hours, so allow me to catch you up. We'll go in chronological order. Dolphins riding the Thompson 's bow waves as we pulled into San Diego. 1) The steward made a steak and lobster dinner for our last night at sea. It was epic. 2) Andrew and I packed, palletized, prioritized, padded, and packed all of the gear for the lander on board the ship. 3) I saw dolphins. 4) We arrived in San Diego. 5) All hell broke loose. Land ho! 6) I lead a field tri

Victory lap

Free vehicles for the win. Every time I check our coordinates on the lab monitor, the latitude is just a little bit higher. Every time I walk outside, the air seems just a little bit cooler. We're heading back to San Diego now, and if you think the transit is taking longer than it did on the way out, you're right. We actually stopped and sampled another station on the way, because we finished our regular sampling two days early. Better said, the cruise had two weather days built in that we didn't have to use, so we filled the time with extra sampling. A victory lap, if you will. Ain't what she used to be This cruise has been extremely productive - actually, it's the most productive cruise I've ever been on. We had perfect weather the whole time. We had no major catastrophes, and we didn't even lose any gear (both of which are completely normal). For the free vehicles alone, we had 45 deployments. Forty-freaking-five, and not a single free vehicle

It's a trap

If you were fortunate enough to be on the Thompson deck yesterday, or if you were a bird circling the ship, you would have seen our longest, most complicated operation yet. As our final act before leaving station and heading home, we deployed a sediment trap mooring that will stay underwater for the next year. The mooring is the same one we picked up at the beginning of the cruise (see my post here ). It contains two sediment traps at different heights above the bottom, plus meters and meters of chain, rope, floats, and a train wheel to anchor it all to the seafloor. Yes, that's right. A train wheel. Round 1: train wheel, acoustic release, and the first sediment trap. Photo by Brie Maillot. Deploying the mooring took a total of 4 hours, mostly because we had to do it in sections. There was a small group of us designated to help on deck, and others were welcome to watch from an upper level. We had buckets of ice with cold drinks staged at various places on deck, because wh

The secret life of birds

My sexy mugs. Photo by Adrian Glover. Sup, yo. Name's Benjamin Bartholemew Benedict Baker, but most people just call me Booby. Never heard of me? Well, I'm sure you know my cousin, Buster. Dude's got blue feet. Get that - a blue-footed booby. Freakin' whack. Anyway, I'm just chillin' over the Pacific, catchin' fish, you know the deal. Just flyin' along, seein' fish flicker under the water, dive bombin' 'em like the world's gonna end. It's a pretty simple life. Na, but seriously dude, lately stuff's gotten kinda crazy up in here, ever since this ship full of dudes showed up. Freakin' humans, can't ever get away from 'em. It's like they think they own the world or sumthin'. It's like "Hey guys, just doin' my thing here! Why you gotta put your ship right where I was chillin'? You anti-booby or sumthin?" Me and my buddies keepin' watch. Photo by Brie Maillot. And the worst pa

The long, slow road

MVP trophy. As soon as we were finished processing samples from the lander's last deployment, Andrew announced it was time to take her apart. Six deployments is all we get - we're out of weights - so for us, the cruise is winding down. Lander or not, we're still at sea for the next week, so it's going to be a long, slow road home. The first thing to come off of the lander was the mast. It's a 10 ft fiberglass pole with a strobe light, a bright orange flag, and a radar reflector (aka Orb of Thor). When I disassembled it and brought the parts inside to ask Andrew what, if anything, he wanted to keep, he pulled out the tattered flag from the pile and handed it to me. "I want you to have this," he said with a smile. It's a reminder of the deployment that I ran solo, and let me tell you, I will hang that shredded piece of orange plastic in my apartment with pride. We took all of the electronics off of the lander, but the frame itself can't be di


After 6 lander deployments, the final score stands: Team Sweetman: 11.5 Forces of nature, failed electronics, and other random crap: 6.5 We win. To be honest, I was just relieved the lander came back. This deployment was different because Andrew allowed me to take charge. I was a bit nervous at first, but as I worked through the process of readying the lander, I was actually surprised at how calm I felt. By now, I know my way around the instrument, and Andrew made no secret of his faith in me. When the lander had successfully returned to the surface and was about to be recovered, Andrew actually approached me on deck, stuck out his hand, and congratulated me for getting her back. Best adviser ever. Two of the chambers worked, but the third one failed to close. It was dumping mud as we pulled the lander out of the water, so unfortunately, we didn't get any samples from it. We thought for a while that the battery may have run out of power and not been able to close the chamb

Nants ingonyama

"Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba           (Here comes a lion, Father) Sithi uhm ingonyama                           (Oh yes, it's a lion) Nants ingonyama bagithi baba Sithi uhhmm ingonyama Ingonyama  Siyo Nquoba                                          (We're going to conquer) Ingonyama Ingonyama nengw' enamabala"             (A lion and a leopard come to this open place) - Opening Zulu lyrics to "Circle of Life" from The Lion King Sunrises at sea are the best. 14 Feb 2015 14 Feb 2015 15 Feb 2015 15 Feb 2015 18 Feb 2015 Recovering the box core at dawn, 21 Feb 2015 2 March 2015 2 March 2015 Boobies with the rising sun, 2 March 2015 A cloud blocked part of the light, leaving a dark streak 3 March 2015 14 March 2015

Seen around the ship: Part 3

The lighter side of life at sea. The International Conference on What Species That Fish Is Another gem of a mantra from Diva Umpqua Dairy is located in southern Oregon, but one of their crates made it onto the ship! These squid flung themselves onto the deck, just begging us to preserve them. Cup decorating! It's pretty common on deep-sea cruises to decorate styrofoam cups and then attach them to our gear so they shrink at depth.  Oh, the fun when old pictures surface. That's our chief scientist, by the way. This sign appeared at the halfway-point in the cruise. I'm pretty sure this was supposed to say "Happy birthday," but since it was made out of single-serving coffee cups, I can understand some letters being used. Abyssline fitness challenge: bike or run back to San Diego (on a stationary bike or treadmill, of course).

The great fish chase

Dear friends, I bring you an adventurous tale, of brave scientists at sea. Free vehicles they had, in the Pacific east, to discover marine mysteries. Respirometer and camera were recovered just fine, but next up was the fish trap. The dreaded lander was cursed, or so say the crew; it could never be recovered last. The lander rose to the surface as it always did, and floated and flew its orange flag But when the captain pulled the ship alongside, there was just one tiny little snag. The fish trap, you see, went under the ship, and had no good time of it For the captain unaware thrust to port side and broke the poor lander to bits. The propellor had its way with the fiberglass box and tangled the rope as well Two fiberglass sides were worse for the wear, and the poor mesh looked just like hell When the crew finally brought the poor trap astern and hooked onto the blue rope The scientists squealed and pointed and shrieked - "Don't drive away! No! No! No!" Three f

The ocean was wrong

It's a hot, sunny day in the tropical Pacific, and I just finished processing the samples from the respirometer lander's 5th deployment. I actually never told you about deployment #4, so before I get ahead of myself, let's back up. Deployment #4 was about half successful. When the lander came on deck, one of the chambers was hanging open, and water was visibly draining out of another. We ended up getting good samples from only one chamber and halfway-decent samples from the one with the drained water. As best we can figure, the sediment was too hard at that station, so the chambers had a hard time closing. Andrew and I fiddled with the chambers, and they seemed to work just fine on deck. The computers responded to our commands immediately, and the chamber doors had no trouble closing. I could tell Andrew was a bit frustrated, so I tried to lighten the mood. The ocean was working against us, I told him. It was tired of us stealing her secrets. We knew too much, so like t

Hump Day

On Wednesday, just two days ago, we passed the halfway point in the cruise. Hump day! The first 21 days of our 42-day expedition are now in the past, and we're still going strong. The chief scientist suggested we throw a "hump party" at the change of the watches, around 2 am. I'm on the morning shift, so when I pulled myself out of my room at 0200 hours, I headed straight to the galley to find this supposed party. It was dead. Empty. A ghost town. Just a tad bit confused, I headed outside. A box core had just come on deck, so the emptiness of the galley was immediately explained. Two shifts worth of scientists crowded around to get their share of the samples. I guess the party was on deck. Celebration or not, it was nice to know we've made it halfway. I guess you could say that a couple of us made our own Hump Day party when cleaned out the box core, because what started as throwing the extra mud overboard ended up in a mud-and-water fight. I had mud on my s

Problem solvers

We're getting the lander ready for another deployment tomorrow, so while there were a few calm minutes on deck, we put the lander's weights on. I've described this process to you before - it involves lifting the 3-ton beast about 10 inches into the air and sliding freakishly heavy weights underneath her. It is a delicate operation and a tour de force. Wire rope: the difference between sinking and floating Getting the weights on was no problem, but a few minutes later, there was a loud snap. I peeked around the corner to find Andrew standing inside the lander's ring of floats, holding a segment of frayed wire rope. He handed it to me. "Could you go see if the ship has any more of this?" When things break at sea, you have two options: (1) make do, or (2) give up. You can't just run to the hardware store and buy more of whatever you need. It's either on the ship, or it's not. I turned to one of the crew members, Brian. He's been on the T

Measuring time

When you're at sea for long enough, the days start to run together. Sea time is expensive, so we don't waste time by taking breaks - or weekends. There are operations going on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, until you get back to port. So how in the world is a scientist at sea supposed to keep track of the time? Make marks on the walls? Etch tallies into the deck of the ship? Keep a calendar like normal people? Ah, my friends, none of these extreme measures are necessary. To keep track of how much time you have spent at sea, all you have to do is look at the food being served in the galley. A long-haul cruise goes through very specific stages, marked by the appearance - or rather disappearance - of certain foods. First, there's No Nutella Day. It doesn't matter how much Nutella the steward stocks for the cruise, it is always the first thing to disappear. It usually only takes a few days. At this point, you probably haven't even reached the first station, and you


After recovering the respiration lander today, the score stands: Team Sweetman: 5 Forces of nature, failed electronics, and other random crap: 4 We have officially turned over the score. Absolutely everything worked this time. All three benthic chambers penetrated the seafloor to exactly the right depth. All three lander computers carried out their sampling programs flawlessly. The algal injectors worked; the optodes recorded their data; the stirrers did their job. If there was an official deep-sea biology victory dance, I'd be doing it right now. Lander recovery days are always the longest days. We called Poliris to the surface about 3:30 am; she was on deck at 5:11, and I finished processing samples around lunchtime. By the time the 2 pm science meeting rolled around, I felt like three days had passed since the morning. Ah, but life is good. We have three more deployments left in the cruise, and we're going to make the best of them. Bring. It. On.

Let's do some damage: Part 2

We recovered three of the landers yesterday - basically everything except the respiration lander. The baited camera, baited trap, and plankton pump all need to stay down for 24 hours at a time, while the respiration lander stays down for 48. Anyway, I suppose I may have been a little overzealous in my last post, describing how we were going to "do damage" to the deep seafloor, because the sea decided to rebel. It heard my words and lashed back. The deep did damage to us. Gnarly. You see, one of the floats on the fish trap lander imploded. It just couldn't handle the pressure of the deep sea anymore. We could tell something was wrong soon after calling the lander to the surface with the acoustic release, because the trap was rising much more slowly than normal. The trap has four floats, so with one of them rendered useless, it only had 75% of its normal floatation. Glass powder - the remnants of an imploded float Thankfully, only one of the floats was affecte