Showing posts from May, 2015

Speak to me

So how did you spend your Friday? Mine was quite eventful. It started with an e-mail; then I crunched numbers, killed a tree, stared at the wall, and took a giant step forward.   Me retrieving specimens from ROV Kraken II aboard NOAA ship Nancy Foster in 2012. Photo by Megan Chesser. You see, I've been working on analyzing data from shipwrecks off the east coast of the U.S. I got to visit the shipwrecks in 2012 with other scientists as part of a large, multi-disciplinary project. The wrecks are all located at the continental shelf break, about 100 m or so below the surface, so we used an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) deployed from a research vessel to view the shipwrecks and collect samples. I've had the videos in my possession for about 3 years now, but I'm just getting around to analyzing the data. (Yes, that kind of a time frame is perfectly normal.)  The cool thing about the shipwreck videos is that several different researchers are working on them fo

I would rather

Remember how I told you about that project I did last summer that I was going to repeat this summer that involved planting cement blocks with plastic settlement plates off the Oregon coast? Well, if you don't, see this post and this post . The story of this particular project left off with me having all my materials ready to go but just waiting for the weather to calm down. I needed 3-4 ft seas or less to go offshore and outplant my blocks. Well, the weather offshore finally got calmer this week, so I spent most of yesterday afternoon scrambling to get all 10 heavy cement blocks loaded onto the boat. Then I came back in the evening to tie the ropes on, and I even came in early this morning to attach all the settlement plates. I had all my things ready. I had a volunteer helper. The Coast Guard predicted 1-3 ft seas. Everything was set. Except that the Coast Guard was wrong. One thing you need to learn, my friends, is that even marine biologists, yes, even I, get seasick. Th

On impact

Yesterday, something happened to me for the first time ever. I opened my e-mail inbox to find a message from a science reporter. Check it out: Hi, I’m a science writer with  Science  magazine in D.C. I’ve written a short news blurb about your discovery of the living macroalga 166 m deep in an Arctic fjord. I need an image to run with the story, and I was hoping that you’d be able to send me one. Either image in figure 2 of the paper would work, but if you have another that you like better, that’s great, too. Thanks, E I immediately read the message out loud to a friend, because only when pronounced did the words begin to seem real. A science reporter - a real person, someone with a journalism degree, who is employed by a magazine and paid to write news stories about science - is interested in my work. Mine. Of all things! Granted, the article is going to be very short - the reporter just calls it a "blurb" - but still, I consider it a leap forward. This

In the silence

"Soft and fragile There is grace in the dead of silence As we dream gentle hands are shaping Further, higher as the new day enters... We opened the door Found a way we hadn't seen before Found a reality that shields us and clothes us Makes us hungry for things the day can offer" - "In the Silence" by Asgeir The institute feels a lot different on a Saturday. Of course it does; I'm the only one here. Most weekends, there might be one or two other stragglers that stop in - people checking on experiments or picking up an item they forgot - but today, it's just me. It is silent. To be honest, I think I prefer the lab on off-days. There are no undergraduates stopping in to ask only mildly meaningful questions. There are no distinguished guests for my adviser to bring through the lab and show off his graduate students to. The phone isn't ringing incessantly with people looking for my perpetually absent labmate. It's just me. And it is silent


I left myself one extra day after the conference, and I used it to see Salvador's historic city center, Pelourinho. The city center is on the west side of Salvador, facing All Saint's Bay. I shared a taxi over there with a few other students, and we set off to explore. A city square in Pelourinho As soon as we set foot in Pelourinho, I could tell it was different from the rest of Salvador. The streets were all cobblestone; the buildings were a different architectural style and bore bright, pastel colors; there were lots of open spaces and city squares - it felt like a step back in time. Pelourinho is the most tourist-oriented part of the city, as well, so there were little cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. It was raining that day, so peddlers sold umbrellas and ponchos on the street. Food carts lined the streets, and there were policemen watching from their full-size vans on every corner. I felt much safer knowing men with heavy weapons and lots of training were sta

Baia dos todos os santos

So, the conference is over, but we all stuck around. What in the world is a group of ecologically-inclined geologists, biologists, and habitat mappers going to do with a day in tropical Brazil? Well, GeoHab has the tradition of hosting a field trip to an area of local interest following each meeting, and this year, it was a boat tour of All Saint's Bay (Baia dos todos os santos). I was very excited to participate in this year's trip. Weathered buildings in Salvador We started early in the morning by boarding a bus and driving to the marina on the other side of the city. It was the only time I had actually gone through the city of Salvador, and it was interesting to see the interior. Unfortunately, the buildings were mostly in a dilapidated condition, but at one point, we circled a pristine man-made lake with statues of traditionally-costumed figures standing in the center of the water. This city has so many gems tucked into the matrix of weathered tin roofs and trash. Whe

A experiência cultural

Loud applause echoed in the room. The minute-taker closed her laptop, and the very last speaker set down his microphone. GeoHab 2015 was over.  The last day of the conference ended with a general business meeting, and I think by the time it was all over, we were glad to stand up and move around. Listening to presentations all day is a great way to network and communicate science, but it's not exactly the best for cardiovascular health. Our attentions spans were ready for a break.  I hung around in the conference hall for quite a while, chatting, taking business cards, writing down my e-mail address for anyone who asked. Sometimes, it feels like a conference ends just as I'm getting to know everyone, and I have to say that's the case for GeoHab. Nevertheless, I've made some great connections, and I look forward to seeing these colleagues again.  I had already arranged with several Brazilian conference attendees to accompany them for dinner and dancing that e

O jantar

I'm not sure how many scientific conferences you've been to, but I feel I should introduce you to the tradition of the conference dinner. One one designated evening, all the participants get together at a pre-determined, pre-booked location for dinner and social hour. Now, if you've never been to a conference dinner yourself, you're probably picturing a civilized, highly educated, reserved group of sharply-dressed people discussing their work over cocktails and a catered meal. Your mental image would be mostly correct - well, at least about "sharply-dressed," "catered," and "cocktails." But "reserved" we most certainly are not. My conference dinner table. Photo by Almir Santos. Not to brag, but I ended up at the best table for the GeoHab conference dinner. The dinner was held in a glass-walled terrace at the Bahia Yacht Club, which, by the way, was downright stunning. From the moment we sat down, a loud-mouthed German at our

O apresentação

At exactly 8:06 am, I opened my hotel room door. I was wearing a solid orange sundress and sandals, and I clutched a flash drive in my hand. That flash drive contained all I really needed for the day: a PowerPoint file explaining my research on deep-sea dropstones. With a long, deep breath, I embraced the new day and marched off to deliver my presentation. Photo by Almir Santos. My talk wasn't actually scheduled until after lunch, but I woke up early to run through the presentation and make sure it would fit into the allotted time. You'd be surprised how quickly 15 minutes can fly by, especially when talking about an interesting and complicated project in front of a crowd. The conference organizers used a small green maraca to keep the speakers in line: one shake after 10 minutes and two shakes after 12 minutes told the presenter when it was time to wind down. The mark of a good presentation is always the discussion that follows. Once the speaker finishes, there are a f

A gringa

Hello there, friends. I guess I missed out on updating you yesterday, because I went straight to sleep after getting back to the hotel. My presentation was today, so I wanted to get plenty of rest - but more on that later. For now, I'll fill you in on my Tuesday. It was a full day of conference presentations, and as always, I took copious notes. It's actually kind of interesting to watch other audience members during a talk, because each person writes down different things. (I can tell, because they are writing at different times.) I imagine if you compared two peoples' notes, you would find very little common content. Each of us takes out of a talk exactly what we need. As the presentations were winding down and groups started forming for dinner, I found myself surrounded by Brazilians. I am of course anxious to learn anything I can about the culture in Salvador, so I decided not to influence the decision of where we should go eat. I was ready for anything, and I trust

That thing I do

I'm doing that thing again. I'm doing that conference thing where I barely eat, I barely sleep, I smile incessantly and soak up the environment around me like a sponge in a desert oasis. This morning began with an absolutely fantastic discussion on future seafloor mapping priorities for Brazil. We split into groups by our depth range of interest, and of course I went for the deepest one. Throughout the discussion, I picked up on the subtleties of how science works in Brazil. For example, a large majority of the funding comes from oil companies, and there are several long-standing issues surrounding the sharing of data. In an ironic way, oil exploitation has helped protect sensitive habitats from overfishing, and there are some knowledge gaps in what structures the benthic communities. It was an eye-opening discussion for me, and I wrote down everything I could. Farol da Barra, Salvador After lunch, I teamed up with three other students from the conference to go see

Published: Part 2

I'd like to let you know that another manuscript of mine has been published. This paper is a short communication, and you can consider it a spin-off of my Svalbard image analysis. In the paper, my co-author, Andrew, and I report on the presence of a living macroalga at surprising depth (166 m) in a high Arctic fjords. I wrote the manuscript while in Norway, and it's not been published in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records. Enjoy!

A praia à noite

It's the end of the first day, and I have a lot of thoughts spinning in my head. I made a few friends, mostly by just sitting down next to random people, and I've already started a list of colleagues I want to converse with before the conference is over. It was a long day of introductory presentations, and my legs are exhausted from sitting. Dinner I wish you could taste what I had for dinner, because I have honestly no idea what it was. (I found out later it is called acaraj é .) One of the conference participants, a Brazilian from Natal, insisted we all try a typical Salvador dish from a nearby open-air cafe. We piled into cabs (because it's apparently too dangerous to walk on the street after dark, even in a large group) and drove just 5 minutes to the cafe. What we found were several food stands and hole-in-the-wall bars surrounding a sea of tables and chairs. Sturdy canopies shielded us from a light rain. Our Brazilian leader confidently approached one food stan

First impressions

Seen just outside my hotel. Friends, I come to you now from Salvador, Brazil, approximately 13° S, 38° 30' W. I'm camping out in my hotel at the moment, waiting on the afternoon rain storm to pass. I remember meeting a girl several years ago who had grown up in Malaysia, and she joked with me that she never had to check the weather. Every day, she said, was 75-80° F (24-30° C) and humid, with a rain storm in the afternoon. This must be a common weather pattern throughout the tropics, because I remember encountering the same thing in Samoa a few years ago, and Salvador is so far following suit. Humid, warm, rain in the afternoon. It's beginning to feel familiar. Salvador is an interesting city. Of course, it's in an absolutely beautiful setting, but the city itself is a bit piece-meal. There are very nice, fancy tourist hotels, small businesses, restaurants, and boutiques, but there are also plenty of run-down or abandoned old buildings. I walked around a little

May Day

I find it impossible to believe that today is May 1. The past month has positively flown by, and I have no idea where it went. I've been working on image analysis (as always), playing with data (no surprise there), and waiting for the weather to calm down so I can start my summer experiment (yep). Last night, I actually went to dinner with my fellow labmates. Craig, my adviser, called the dinner because one of his former students, now a professor at a different university, was coming to visit and deliver a seminar at OIMB. Craig is a gold mine of networking opportunities with former students all over the world, and he takes every chance to introduce us to one another. I joked with another student in Craig's lab that our meeting was essentially an academic family dinner. Our older sister was in town, so Dad wanted to get us all around one table. Of course I wasn't serious, but there is a grain of truth to genealogy metaphor. Jorge Cham, the genius behind Ph.D. Comics, ex