Showing posts from 2017


"Humans were never meant to hibernate" - message on a T-shirt I waddled across the snow-covered dock, laden with gear. I was wearing my dry suit and had a SCUBA tank on my back. A regulator and two waterproof lights dangled over my shoulders. On my hips, I carried an extra 10 lb of lead, plus 2 lb on each ankle. I already had my mask and gloves on, but I was carrying my fins. Slowly, I shuffled my feet through the snow, keeping my balance on the wintery pier. The cold air felt good in my lungs.   Carl had told me to get in the water as quickly as possible so my regulator didn't freeze up again - we had climbed out to fix it once already. As I approached the edge of the instrument well, I lifted one leg over the wooden barrier, then the other. I leaned on a storage bin to slide on my fins. I shuffled to the edge, put the regulator in my mouth, and... SPLASH! The  41° F water surrounded me. I could feel the cold, salty sting on my neck and my lips, the only p

One giant desk

Friends, I am so behind. I've been out of touch for over two weeks, but with good reason, I assure you. I have been swamped with work - proposal writing, paper revising, intern mentoring, dive training, and general running around like my hair is on fire . Since I last wrote, I attended the DeSSC meeting (pronounced "desk," short for Deep Submergence Science Committee). Twice a year, the major players in deep submergence in the United States get together and talk about the future of their work. The group includes engineers in charge of the major vehicles ( Alvin, Jason, Sentry ), managers for the programs that fund them (mostly NSF), and the scientists who consistently use them. At one of the meetings each year, there's also a New User Program, designed to introduce students, postdocs, and young faculty to the vehicles. New Users have a chance to speak with the program managers about funding opportunities, ask the vehicle engineers about how to best use them, and con

Stay Puft Marshmallow Woman

"Stay Puft Kirstin!" my fiancé beamed as he attached the hose to my suit. He turned on the compressed air tank at the other end and pushed the button on my sternum to inflate the suit. It filled with air, bubbling out around me until I looked like a marshmallow woman.  "This feels so weird!" I exclaimed, feeling my new full-body garment swell with air. My fiancé released the inflator button and stood back to look at me.  "I think it fits," he announced. "Now raise your left arm."  Lifting my elbow, I heard air rush out of the dump valve on the suit's left side. I slowly deflated.  Friends, as many of you know, I learned to SCUBA dive this year . It's a great way to access habitats between the intertidal and the deep sea, explore the biodiversity around me , and get outdoors. It's my new favorite thing. Well, diving in New England is complicated by declining water temperatures in winter. Below about 50° F, it's unsafe to be

Blowing in the wind

"How many seas must a white dove sail Before she sleeps in the sand?... The answer is blowing in the wind" - "Blowing in the wind" by Bob Dylan Ah, the age-old question of life. One that every scientist seeks to answer. The great mystery of research: how many proposals must a postdoc write before she gets funding? Friends, science is all about grants. My current funding is due to run out in the spring, and so I'm currently in application mode. Well, I suppose I'm always in application mode, but now it's just with a little more urgency. Every scientist goes through this. In order to get a project (and their salary) funded, they have to write a proposal. You draft a plan for your project, write an introduction, list the important scientific questions, outline your methods, propose a budget, and then submit the whole thing to a funding agency. Some grants are funded, but the majority are not. So far this year, I've had two fellowship applications

No words

"The heart is hard to translate It has a language of its own It talks in tongues and quiet sighs In prayers and proclamations  In the grand days o f great men and the smallest of gestures In short shallow gasps... All of my stumbling phrases never amounted to anything worth this feeling... Words were never so useful So I was screaming out a language that I never knew existed before" - "All this and heaven too" by Florence and the Machine Rolling my green suitcase beside me, I walked through the sliding glass doors. I spotted him immediately. He was standing behind the waist-high barrier in the international arrivals hall, waiting for me. He was wearing black dress pants and a blue button-down shirt, holding a bouquet of orange and red flowers.  I quickened my pace as I crossed the linoleum floor. By the time I got to him, I was at risk of breaking into a jog. He opened his arms and wrapped them around me, the bouquet in his left hand colliding with my

Benthic brotherhood: part 2

This story begins in Qingdao. I was sitting around a round table, having lunch at the Ocean University of China. The university dining services were apparently busy that day, because our group was combined with another group for lunch. A short woman in a blue shirt introduced herself to Ji and me. "Aren't you the one who wrote that modeling paper about fish genetics?" Ji asked. "I feel like I've seen you give a seminar before." The woman nodded and confirmed she had written the paper. She explained more about her research to Ji while we all found our places at the table, and I listened intently. Once she had finished, she turned to me. I introduced myself as a benthic ecologist postdoc from WHOI. She said she was from the National University of Taiwan. "Taiwan?" I leaned in. "Perhaps you know my friend, Stefanie. I'm going to Taipei to see her tomorrow." The woman did know Stefanie, and over the next hour, we discovered we had

World religion day

" Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer." - Psalm 19:14 Walking slowly with the crowd, I exited the lobby and stepped out into the rain. It was Sunday morning, and I was leaving church. I felt refreshed, renewed, and calm.  I wasn't sure what to expect from Taiwanese worship, but  I always enjoy experiencing different churches when I'm abroad.  This one called itself Lutheran, but it really had the makings of an American non-denominational mega-church. The service was held in a large room on the second floor of a skyscraper in downtown Taipei. There was a balcony for expanded seating and LED screens at the front to shown song lyrics and visual aids. The service format was also simplified, containing only music, announcements, prayers, and a sermon. Instead of a traditional organ, the songs were accompanied by drums, keyboard, and guitar.  Most of the song lyrics were tra

Misty city

Friends, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: it is the people I meet who make my mobile life worthwhile. After leaving Qingdao, I flew to Taipei, Taiwan, where I got to spend time with my dear friend, Stefanie. I'm not sure if you remember, but Stefanie and I met when I lived in Germany in 2011 - 2012. She's also a scientist with a travel habit, so we usually manage to be on the same continent about once a year. I've told you about visits with her before, in Boston , Hawaii , and the Netherlands . To be honest, I find it incredible that we manage to see each other as often as we do, since we're both moving targets. Stefanie is supportive and trustworthy, and I value her friendship greatly. Overview of Taipei from the gondola at the zoo We started with a city tour Taipei, and I have to unfortunately admit that it's not my favorite city. The air pollution hangs in the humid air like a mist, making any long-range view of the city shrouded in dirt

Grand tour

Before we left on our trip, Ji referred to Qingdao as "the Woods Hole of China." Woods Hole, Massachusetts has a number of private and federal research institutions, so it's a destination for ocean sciences. The village population is also disproportionately dominated by researchers. Qingdao is very much the same. Of course, the comparison meant I was picturing a small town and was surprised to find a city of 9 million people when I arrived in Qingdao, but the analogy stands. Qingdao has five large research institutions and plenty of researchers to go around. We took advantage of our time in Qingdao by touching base with each of the research institutions in the city. And let me tell you, we got quite the grand tour. We spent one afternoon at the First Institute of Oceanography, where I got to tour the institute's deep-sea geological collection. Rocks and mineral deposits from all over the deep sea, particularly hydrothermal vents, were housed in cases and displayed

Parallel universe

Leaning forward in my black leather chair, I grabbed my mug and took a sip of my green tea. The tea leaves were floating loose in the water, unencumbered by a mesh strainer. The hot water felt good on my throat. It was early morning, and I was in yet another conference room, this time back at OUC. Another WHOI scientist who was unable to travel with us video-conferenced into the meeting, and I listened to his voice rining out from Ji's laptop. One by one, his slides changed on the projector screen. I hugged my tea mug with my hands and leaned back onto the chair. I was relaxed. The meeting was for another WHOI-OUC project, and a large part of the discussion actually focused on similarities between Chinese and American oceanography. Think about this: both China and the U.S. have long eastern coasts that span sub-tropical and temperate latitudes. The east coast of China and the east coast of the U.S. both have a broad continental shelf and a strong current system - the Gulf Stream

Benthic brotherhood

I was full from a delicious and adventurous lunch, and once again, I found myself following Ji into a conference room. This meeting used the same general format - researchers briefly presenting their work, followed by an open discussion - except this time, everyone spoke my language. Not Mandarin (I can still only say "hello" and "thank you") - they spoke Benthos. There's a benthic research group at the Institute of Oceanology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Qingdao, and I felt right at home with them. We spent a whole afternoon discussing our work.  I deeply enjoyed speaking with the IOCAS group because we have so many research interests in common. They specialize in macrobenthos - animals that live in the seafloor and are big enough to see with the naked eye - just like me. They work on ecology (ooh) and taxonomy (aah) of animals in the Chinese marginal seas. They have this amazing collection of samples from all over the Yellow Sea shelf and even the

Qingdao in pictures

Downtown waterfront This hilltop Buddhist temple is in Qingdao's "Old Town." This beach is directly across the street from the Institute of Oceanology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Small motorcycles are common, and riders use custom-cut blankets to shield themselves from road spray. The coastal mountain range, seen from the First Institute of Oceanography campus Translation fail. I think they're trying to say "Don't overfill your plate and then end up wasting food." Seen from the First Institute of Oceanography pier

Try everything: part 2

Friends, I hope you'll excuse me, but I just have to spend another post talking about Chinese food. I don't know what in the world we buy from Chinese restaurants in the U.S., but it is certainly not Chinese food. Steamed mantis shrimp For dinner Monday, we went to a restaurant in downtown Qingdao. The interior decoration was much more modern than at lunch, but the entryway to the restaurant was the same: aquaria and display tables, full of sea creatures about to become food. It was a smaller crowd (just four of us), but there were the same toasts, the same excessive number of dishes, and the same musical chatter in Mandarin. Two dishes stuck out to me at dinner. The first was steamed mantis shrimp - yes, mantis shrimp. Not the famous rainbow species , but a member of the Stomatopoda nonetheless. They have super long, meaty abdomens and taste just like crab. You have to peel the shell off like you would for a normal shrimp, but the meat doesn't come out quite as eas

Try everything

"I won't give up, no I won't give in Until I reach the end And then I'll start again No I won't leave I wanna try everything I wanna try even though I could fail"  - "Try everything" by Shakira Whenever I travel, I adhere to my personal Foreign Food Policy. The policy is simple: I will eat absolutely anything , but I have to know what it is before I put it into my mouth. Well, friends, China is the perfect place to stretch the limits of an adventurous eater. It is going to take an entire blog post just to tell you what I ate today.  Breakfast was actually pretty tame. Rice soup, steamed dumplings filled with bean paste, fried bread dipped in soy milk. All very bland flavors and familiar textures. Easy enough.  Then there was lunch. We carpooled from the university to a building that I never would have guessed was a high-class restaurant. We were ushered into a private dining room with an 8-person round table. Centered on top of the table,


I followed Ji through the dark wooden double doors and into the conference room. There was a long oak table in the middle, surrounded by ergonomic black leather chairs. There was a projector on the table and a large screen at the far end of the room.  There was an outer ring of chairs surrounding the table, pressed tightly against the walls.  Every chair at the table and around the walls was filled with a student or a professor. As we walked in, fifty eyes turned to take in the foreign guests. I was the only caucasian and the only non-Chinese speaker in the room.  One by one, the professors got up to explain their research, using the projector to show visual aids. Ji and I each made short presentations, and then a freeform discussion began to flow. WHOI has a cooperative research initiative with the Ocean University of China , so we were discussing ways to work together in the future.  It was actually really interesting to me to observe the dynamic among Chinese scientists. Academi


"I was inside looking outside The millions of faces But I'm still alone" - "Long, long way from home" by Foreigner Right now, I am sitting cross-legged on a king-size bed in a hotel room with a view. I am barefoot and grateful for the space around me after more than 20 hours of sitting in a plane. I am overlooking glass skyscrapers and brick high-rise apartment buildings. I can hear honking horns on the street below and a softly whirring fan behind me. I am in Qingdao, China. It’s been an interesting day. Got to admit, I was a little nervous before I left Boston, because I was headed to a completely new part of the world and didn’t know what to expect. This is my first time in China and my first time in Asia. I’m here with another WHOI scientist to try and build up collaborations with researchers in Qingdao. We have a packed schedule for the next few days, but I’m excited to see what comes out of our meetings. I want to share just a couple stories a


"You should wear your helmet!" S exclaimed. "And make sure your lunch box is in view!" returned L. I set the timer on my camera, pressed, the button, and stepped back. Click! The shutter closed. It was lunchtime in the lab, and S had a VW bus lunchbox. L had brought her Halloween costume, a golden helmet meant to mimic early-era SCUBA gear, to work. The three of us were crowded around her laptop, watching the live feed from an ROV dive thousands of miles away. Because we're cool like that. The ROV live feed is from a research expedition that two other lab members are currently on. They're exploring hydrothermal vent habitats in the Gulf of California, and the cruise uses telepresence to engage other scientists and the broader community. It was fascinating to watch the video. The ROV was circling a pinnacle covered in tube worms - a big, bushy clump of white tubes. At the bottom of the pinnacle, zoanthids, little colonial anemones, covered the roc

The little stone

"How happy is the little stone That rambles in the road alone, And doesn't care about careers, And exigencies never fears; Whose coat of elemental brown A passing universe put on; And independent as the sun, Associates or glows alone, Fulfilling absolute decree In casual simplicity." - Emily Dickinson I always write when I'm about to leave work. I'll get to the end of my day, get to a natural stopping point, feel my mind wind down, and then get the urge to write. I need to review what I've done. I need to let my thoughts settle before I can go home for the night. It's been a busy week. I came back from Bonaire to a long list of important tasks, so I've been working through them one by one. It was overwhelming at first, but honestly, I've been massively productive. I applied for a visa for my next trip. I finished and submitted two scientific papers. I went to important meetings with other scientists. I got a new intern and started tea

Never let me go

"Looking up from underneath Fractured moonlight on the sea Reflections still look the same to me As before I went under... And it's breaking over me A thousand miles down to the seabed Found a place to rest my head Never let me go" - "Never let me go" by Florence and the Machine Looking up from underneath Right now, I am in the middle seat on a 737 on my way back to the United States. I am leaning on my boyfriend, watching the bright scarlet sunset through the oval window in the wall. I can’t focus on anything, and I can’t fall asleep. I just keep looking back through my pictures, reviewing species names, wishing I was underwater.  It's been an incredible week. My dive skills improved by leaps and bounds - my air consumption, buoyancy control, and ability to hold position in the water all grew and stretched and improved. I learned how to carry extra tanks and switch gas sources mid-water to extend the lengths of my dives. I practiced the a

Surface interval

At the end of every diving trip, you have to take some time off. It’s unsafe to fly within 18 – 24 hours of your last dive because your body is still releasing the nitrogen gas that’s been dissolved into your bloodstream at higher than atmospheric pressure. Exposure to altitude too soon could cause decompression sickness. So what are two divers to do during a surface interval on their last day in a desert paradise? Go explore on land, of course. We set out from Kralendijk and drove south along the western coast of Bonaire. It was a beautiful tour, and magically, everything that I had still wanted to show you in photographs was there and in the perfect light. I’ll show you below. Typical Bonaire vegetation We saw a flamingo! It was hanging out in a pool  of  rainwater near the beach. Flamingoes are the national bird of Bonaire. This lighthouse marks the southern tip of the island. Coral rubble beach and whitecaps in southern Bonaire Feral donke

Age of Aquarius

"When the moon is in the Seventh House And Jupiter aligns with Mars Then peace will guide the planets And love will seer the stars This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius" - "Aquarius" from the musical Hair "I don't think this is going to happen," my boyfriend judged disappointedly as he pulled off the road. We had just reached our planned dive site, Red Slave, at the very southern tip of Bonaire. Parked on the gravel, we could see over a pile of coral rubble to the sea. The wind was whipping past our truck windows, and there were white caps on the waves. Three surfers paddled toward the oncoming swells, and we watched them ride the cresting waves back to shore. Rule of thumb: never attempt to go diving where there are people surfing. There was no way we could make it through the surf safely, so we turned and headed back north. Just north of the Salt Pier, we chose another site called Aquarius. The entry looked easy, and the waves were muc