Showing posts from August, 2017

Frozen ocean

“Ten thousand miles apart A frozen ocean joins our hearts I can’t wait to meet you where The frozen waves, the ocean floors You’ll be standing on the shore I can’t wait to meet you there”   - “Frozen Oceans” by Shiny Toy Guns I was covered, absolutely covered, in layers of fleece and wool. I wore two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks, four layers on my legs and five on my core. I topped it all off with a fluorescent orange waterproof suit issued to me for the cruise. I was warm. Sea ice surrounding the ship I had been standing on the bow of the ship for about a half hour, watching over the side as we steamed north. I was helping my colleague, Melanie, by recording any pieces of trash I saw on the surface. Ocean litter is an ubiquitous problem, yes, even in the Arctic, and Melanie suspects the Fram Strait gets much of the flotsam from Europe because it is carried northward by the current. I had only spotted three pieces of plastic during my transect, but the


I had a fantastic German teacher in high school who often went to great lengths to teach us vocabulary. I’ll never forget the day he dressed up like a homeless man and pulled plastic vegetables out of the otherwise empty classroom trash can, naming each one as he went. Trust me, I remembered my vegetables after that. One day, our vocabulary word was “überraschen” (to surprise), and he taught us the verb in an extremely clear way. He chose a student from the class and instructed her to go wait in the hallway. Then he chose another student, instructed him to wait inside the classroom, near the door but just around a corner so he could not be seen through the door. He whispered something in the inside student’s ear (at this point, the rest of the class was thoroughly confused), then stood back and gestured for the outside student to come back into the classroom. As she entered the room, the inside student sprang out from his hiding place and made a loud noise. She squealed. The teacher t

Fake dropstones

Friends, it’s the end of another day at sea, and we have more samples to show for it. The ROV dive today was to sample a long-term experiment at the central Hausgarten station, begun by my colleagues last year. This particular experiment concerns dropstones, which are random rocks deposited on the seafloor by melting icebergs. They’re very common in polar regions, especially near the ice edge. They’re colonized by all sorts of beautiful sponges, anemones, and soft corals, and they create sheltered habitat for amphipods and shrimps. Some of you might remember I wrote a paper aboutdropstone communities as part of my PhD . Well, dropstones don’t just create habitat for sessile invertebrates; they also add heterogeneity to the seafloor. They alter the bottom current, creating turbulence and velocity gradients. Water flows around them in eddies, eroding or depositing sediment in the stone’s immediate vicinity. All of this affects the animals that live in the sediment, but until now, we


I am sitting in the winch control room, a long room full of white tables covered in computer monitors and cables galore. The outer wall is lined with windows overlooking the working deck. Outside, the Arctic sun tilts towards the horizon. A purple anemone (now closed up) collected for identification during the ROV dive. Today was our first day on station, and my team has spent the vast majority of it collecting samples. During an ROV dive, my colleague, Melanie, and I sat in the control van and showed the pilots which animals we wanted to collect. The AWI Deep-Sea Ecology Group has been monitoring the epibenthic megafauna in the Fram Strait since the early 2000s, and believe it or not, some of the species identifications are still unknown. Of course the easily-collected species were identified a long time ago, but there are still a few stubborn species holding out, refusing to be collected, keeping their names a well-guarded secret. Particularly shady groups are the anemon


Alright, friends, it's time I told you more about my cruise. I am going on the German research icebreaker Polarstern to the eastern Fram Strait. More specifically, we are visiting the Hausgarten, a long-term ecological observatory maintained by the Alfred Wegener Institute. This expedition is actually quite different from past cruises I've been on. For starters, every single person on board speaks German (I'm one of just 4 foreigners in the scientific party, and we're all fluent), so it's an entirely German-language cruise. Second, most of the scientific party is actually engineers. The expedition is called ROBEX, for "Robotic Exploration of Extreme Environments." The ROBEX project is a joint venture of 16 German universities and institutions to develop new robotic technologies for exploration in the deep sea and outer space, and this is their deep-sea demo cruise. There are a lot of new vehicles on board, many of which will be tested for the first t


I notice a slight ache in my quads as I climbed to the top of the stairs. Must be from my hike yesterday. Pushing myself forward, I cross the deck, climb another set of stairs, and reach my goal: the Peildeck (Pile deck). It's the top deck of the ship, the roof of the bridge, the highest point where scientists are allowed. Not much is up there – well, besides the weather sensors. It is exposed and windy and often cold, but it is my paradise. From the Peildeck, I can see to the horizon. The views are simply unmatched. Ice floes and polar bears and midnight sun and mountains. Northern lights and jellyfish and distant land and seals. I come up here to take in my surroundings, to get out of the lab and give my eyes a rest. But it's more than that. I come up here to decompress, to feel the sun on my face and the cold in my lungs. To breathe the air and feel the wind and thank God that I'm alive. On the Peildeck, I feel free. Trips to the Arctic are always good for my soul,

The gathering: part 2

I love meeting up with friends in foreign countries. The rest of my team for the upcoming expedition arrived in Tromsø today, and it was so good to see them again. On board the ship, the scientists will be divided into teams, and this is mine: myself and four other scientists from the Deep-Sea Ecology and Technology Group at the Alfred Wegener Institute. I've worked with these wonderful scientists before and co-authored scientific papers with two of them. Reuniting with them felt warm and comfortable. As we walked along the waterfront to find dinner, they asked about Woods Hole and caught me up on changes at the AWI. I asked about their kids. We swapped stories from past expeditions. My career is taking a more distinct shape now that I'm a postdoc, but I love knowing that I can return to and build on existing collaborations. My team is gathered. Let us set sail. My home for the next few weeks: R/V Polarstern parked at the dock in Tromsø My team: Pitty, Thoma

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 symp

Noticing beauty: part 4

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

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 con

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


"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 fro

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.