Showing posts from 2019

Desert island

If you were stranded on a desert island, what would you want with you? It's a classic question. I've given various answers to the thought experiment over the years, but I finally settled on a definitive answer about 2 years ago. If I'm on a desert island, the #1 thing I want dive gear. You see, I've actually been to a desert island . It's called Bonaire, and it's in the Caribbean. Bonaire is incredibly dry, filled with cactuses and barren landscapes - a true desert - and the lack of rain means there is very little sediment runoff to the surrounding ocean. As a result, the waters around Bonaire are crystal clear, and coral reefs thrive here . The western side of Bonaire is essentially one giant marine park. You can drive along the coastal road, pull off at any number of painted stone markers , and waddle into the water for an amazing dive. Bonaire is known as the "shore diving capital of the world." I'm spending Christmas in Bonaire with

Film festival

A staple of my research is image analysis, which means I spend a lot of time looking at photos and videos of the seafloor. It sometimes amazes me how much you can learn from a single image. A frame grab from this year's ROV video, showing anemones and sponges on the paddle wheel of the Portland . This week, I've started analyzing the ROV video we collected from shipwrecks in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. As you might recall, I lead an interdisciplinary team of archaeologists, ecosystem managers, and videographers on day-trips over the summer and an expedition with telepresence outreach this September. We recorded hours of footage from the steamship Portland and the coal schooners Palmer and Crary . Now, I'm weeding through the footage to glean quantitative data about the biological communities that inhabit the wrecks. The first step is convert the ROV video to still images. To do this, I watch the video and pause it any time the ROV has a good, cle

The emerald city of Oz: part 2

Selfie outside the NSF building. Friends, I am at it again! I'm back in our nation's capital, the very emerald city of Oz. After following the Yellow Brick Road (actually the yellow line of the DC Metro), I have arrived at the headquarters of everyone's favorite federal funding agency, the National Science Foundation. I'm back in DC to meet with program officers and discuss my research. This trip is a sort of early-career pilgrimage, meant to introduce me to the funders, let them know I'm serious about science, and help me gather advice for future proposals. One of the trickiest things about writing NSF proposals is figuring out which program to send them to. There are some subtleties in subject matter covered by each program, and for example, a lot of my work falls somewhere between Biological Oceanography and Arctic Natural Sciences. It was helpful to speak with the program officers in person to figure out where the boundaries are. I do have to confess one

Anything-can-happen Thursday: part 2

One of my absolute favorite things is to open up a sample, having no idea what I will find inside , and analyze it. This week, I had the chance to do that. I received a box from Norway, thanks to some extremely helpful colleagues, and was able to analyze the last samples for my study on larval transport and settlement in the high Arctic. For the past two years, I've been opportunistically giving larval traps and fouling panels to colleagues who deploy and maintain oceanographic moorings. My samplers were small and simple, and the idea was to use the existing mooring infrastructure for a value-added research project. You may recall a set of my samplers was recovered this summer from the Fram Strait, and it held some surprises for me . Well, the last of my samples arrived in my lab this week, and I could not wait to break them open. Impressive hydroid growth on my larval traps! Photo by Angelika Renner. The first surprise actually came in an e-mail. One of my colleagues who

The emerald city of Oz

"We live in an age of progress...It is easier to swallow knowledge than to acquire it laboriously from books."        - L. Frank Baum in The emerald city of Oz Dear friends, I am on a journey to Oz. It has plenty of brick roads, a couple witches, and possibly some flying monkeys. It also sparkles emerald, because as far as science is concerned, it is the source of all "green." Yes, I'm talking about funding, and of course, the city I'm referring to is Washington DC. I was advised by my mentoring committee to reach out to program officers at each of the major federal funding agencies where I'm likely to submit proposals - NSF, NOAA, etc. It's common practice for scientists to solicit guidance from program officers on whether or not their proposed research fits a given funding program. As I'm learning, communicating directly with program officers is especially important for early-career scientists like myself, who have limited experience in gra


"There is a lot of tedium in science. The need for replication means that you will end up doing the same task over and over and over again. One of the keys to being successful in science is figuring out what kind of tedium you mind the least." - a professor I admired as an undergraduate Right now, I'm working on an analysis of growth patterns in the deep-sea stalked crinoid Bathycrinus carpenterii . I have about 300 small juvenile specimens from a long-term recruitment experiment in the Arctic deep sea, and this dataset is just too rare and too precious to leave alone. I want to learn as much about these organisms as I possibly can. The first 50 of my slides, glued and labeled and stored in numerical order Like most studies, this one started in the library . I read everything I could about stalked crinoids, especially bathycrinids, and took copious notes. In the end, I decided to conduct a morphometric analysis of both juvenile and adult specimens, to see if

Gold record

Back in 2017, I worked with my German collaborators to finish a long-term experiment on recruitment in the Arctic deep sea . A lander frame with brick and plastic panels that had been deployed in 1999 was finally brought to the surface  in 2017, and I had the opportunity to see what was living on it. Some of you may remember one of the most common species on the panels was the crinoid (sea lily)  Bathycrinus carpenterii . Some of my crinoid specimens - those stalks are tiny ! The more I looked at the samples, the more I started to see a pattern. There were two distinct sizes of Bathycrinus on the panels - one large, one small. I started brainstorming reasons why there would be two different sizes, and I hypothesized that the two size groups had individuals of different ages - one older, one younger. If that's true, it means Bathycrinus carpenterii might have had only two reproductive events in the 18 years the experiment was taking place. Think about that for a second: if

Cardboard mountain

Back when I lived in Oregon , the other members of my church were very familiar with my travel habit. Every time I showed up for Sunday service, they'd greet me the exact same way: "Hi, welcome back! When do you leave again?" Every single Sunday. And I tell you what, they were right - every time I return from one trip, I'm already preparing for the next one. That is absolutely the case for me this week, because even though I just got back to Woods Hole, I am already (surprise, surprise) preparing for another trip. This winter, I'm going to spend some time in Svalbard , that archipelago north of Norway that is my all-time favorite place on Earth . Svalbard is on the front lines of climate change, as it's been warming rapidly over the last 20 years. Sea ice is receding, ocean temperatures are rising (even in the deep sea), and most recently, warm Atlantic water has started penetrating Svalbard fjords in mid-winter. When warm Atlantic water rushes in, it me

Cave country

“Sometimes you don’t need a plan, bro. Sometimes you just need balls.”  – my dive instructor’s T-shirt We packed the truck, left in the early morning, and headed west. I was eager to use my newly-minted rebreather skills in the real world, and today’s dive offered an opportunity for just that. My husband, Carl, rode beside Rob, our instructor/guide, while I curled up in the back. After a couple hours, we pulled off the highway and onto a dirt road in a state park. A rusty, unlocked gate served as a deterrent for anyone who didn’t know where they were going, and a large brown sign listed the rules: don’t dive alone; leave your certification cards on your dashboard; and be back by sundown. Emerald Spring was exactly what I was expecting for a dive site in cave country: an unassuming yet surprisingly deep hole in the ground in the woods. Many of the north Florida dive sites are actually surrounded by infrastructure – camp grounds and picnic tables and gift shops. At one well-k

Blue Grotto

“Dive more, post less” – motto of Amigos Dive Center, in north-central Florida Blue Grotto could be in a storybook. The heroes would arrive at the freshwater spring after a long, arduous journey through the north Floridian wilderness, drenched in sweat, thirsty, and tired. They would trudge along with their heavy packs and round a bend in the dusty trail, then find themselves facing an unimaginable oasis. The circular basin is filled with crystal-clear water, unencumbered by algae or silt. The glassy surface is disturbed only by sprinkles from the miniature waterfall above. Bluegill sunfish glide around in the upper layers, while a turtle named Virgil paddles lazily below. In reality, Blue Grotto is surrounded by a busy park with picnic tables and vans full of college kids, but its beauty was not lost on me. It was a perfect dive site to learn new skills. I’ve spent the last week in north-central Florida, a part of the world that divers simply call “cave country.” Thous

Ophelina meyerae

"Oh, I'll just check my messages quick," I thought, chewing the last of my breakfast as I prepared to step out the door. I scrolled through the bolded subject lines of my unread e-mails, some important, some not, until one of them caught my eye: You are about to have a polychaete named after you! I stopped short. Could this be real? The sender was Dr. Adrian Glover , a researcher at the Natural History Museum in London. I know Adrian; we had been on a research expedition together in 2015, and he's also the president of the Deep-Sea Biology Society . My curiosity was piqued.  I opened the message, and sure enough, it was real. Here's how it happened: When the Abyssline project started, Adrian's team knew they would have a lot of new species in their samples from the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (after all, it is a severely understudied area of the deep sea). When you describe a new species, you have to name it. So Adrian and his collaborators came

Stretch out

"Something so hard can be so easy if you just have a little help. In the right place, under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you’re supposed to be." - Hope Jahren in Lab Girl Leaning back in the seat, I stretched out my legs under the steering wheel. It was only 7 am, but traffic was already thick on highway 3. I was headed up to Boston for the day to meet with my collaborator, Hanny . Analyzing all the genetic data from our coral samples from Palau  is a big job. So big, in fact, that it requires more than your standard computer. There's actually a whole field, called bioinformatics, which centers around the analysis of large sets of biological data. I had never dabbled in bioinformatics before, but Hanny is good at it. She learned how to analyze genomic datasets during her PhD, so she agreed to give me an introduction to the techniques. Hanny, Niku, and I in her office at BU We spent all day in her office at Boston University with h

Study nature

Seen in the WHOI-MBL library "Study nature, not books" - Louis Agassiz The sign at right hangs in the entrance to the WHOI-MBL library on Water Street in Woods Hole. The sentiment seems odd for a library, but it hearkens back to the early days. Louis Agassiz is one of the fathers of marine research in the United States, who for years lead field schools for students and scientists in Woods Hole. His message to his fellow professors was clear: discoveries are made outdoors. I've spent a considerable amount of time with books over the past couple of weeks, as I try to work my way through the samples I collected in the Arctic. As you might recall, I got a lot of specimens of Bouillonia cornucopia , a hydroid that colonized my fouling panels . I had observed the hydroids to have gonadal tissue between their two rings of tentacles, and I thought the small spherical structures were eggs. But while I was certain the pink, branching tissue was involved in reproduction, the

In case you missed it

Friends, I'm sure many of you are wondering about our telepresence broadcasts, especially if you missed the live shows. The recorded videos will be uploaded to this page over the next several days. Right now, a few broadcasts are available. Below is the Portland memorial ceremony from Tuesday afternoon (top video) and two of our direct classroom interactions (one about marine technology, one about biology and archaeology) that were conducted via National Geographic's program Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants . Enjoy! The Portland memorial: The marine technology classroom program: The biology and archaeology classroom program: Our expedition was also covered by the Boston Globe , Cape Cod Today , the Cape Cod Times , Professional Mariner , the Portland Press Herald , and  Ocean News & Technology . Overall, our outreach program included nine direct interactions with 1,415 students in 28 schools. We also had four public broadcasts that were streamed to 21


"Create like a god Command like a king Work like a slave" - Constantin Brancusi My office is quiet. So quiet, in fact, that I notice for the first time the faint whirring of a fan in the ceiling. I am seated in the middle of the small green couch I inherited from the last scientist to occupy this office, and it occurs to me that this is the first time I've sat on a real couch in almost two months. Around me is an absolute chaos of equipment - gear from the ship, boxes from my last cruise , new purchases that were delivered while I was away, and miscellaneous leftovers from the renovation that took place in my absence. It's going to take me a long time to organize, but that is next week's problem. I've just said goodbye to my collaborators and the crew from R/V Connecticut  after a week at sea. We were broadcasting stories about our research to classrooms, educational venues, and the public via telepresence from the wreck of steamship Portland in Stellw

Telepresence on the horizon

Right now, I am sitting cross-legged on the desk in my office. I am surrounded by boxes and gear from my lab, which was renovated while I was at sea. In just a few minutes, I will gather the supplies I need and head out to the WHOI pier, where R/V Connecticut should be waiting for me. We're loading the ship today and will head out tomorrow to begin our investigations of the shipwreck Portland in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.  This cruise is highly media-focused with ROV video feed being streamed live online. It will also be my first time serving as chief scientist, so I am very excited! I encourage you to tune in throughout the coming week. We will be broadcasting on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. You can find more information about the project and planned broadcasts here:  Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution project webpage: National Marine Sanctuaries project webpage:

Spannung (voltage)

Everything that happens at sea is more vivid. I feel as if I have been rubbed raw, with only a thin layer to segregate my surfacing emotions from the outside world. Words come more easily; ideas show up in my mind more fully-formed. Every part of my nervous system is awake – feeling, thinking, experiencing, remembering. I can recall in perfect, high-resolution detail what happened at sea 2, 5, even 8 years ago, more so than any event on land. Energy courses through me. I become almost impervious to cold. Out here, I am a high-voltage human. This cruise has been trying for me on multiple fronts. The past 5 weeks have brought more storms to the ship than I have ever seen before, in the Arctic or anywhere else, and the consistently horrible weather meant that my research was pushed off until the very end of the cruise. Over and over again, I put together dive plans only to watch them get cancelled as the ship fled to the east or to the west to avoid 5 m waves. In the end, I only got 2

The reef

Martin leaned back and looked over his shoulder at me. “So? Where to now?” he asked. “Keep going northeast, along the ridge,” I answered. In front of me, the sonar glowed with a ragged stripe down the middle of its semicircular scope. I was in the ROV control van – a shipping container filled with monitors, servers, and controllers galore – on the deck of R/V Polarstern . The ROV was 1800 m below us, on top of a narrow, rocky ridge with sheer cliffs on either side. The seafloor was rough, with stones from the size of a grape to the size of a loaf of bread scattered across or buried in the mud. Sponges were everywhere – round ones and branched ones and tall ones and puffy ones. Hundreds of them, plus a number of species we had not seen at the last station. I had written a paper about this reef , located in the center of the HAUSGARTEN observatory, back in 2012, and I was overjoyed to learn more about it. One of my larval traps deployed on the seafloor. The lids will open a


“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads” - Henry David Thoreau I carried a larval trap in each hand, holding them away from my body so they didn’t hit my swift-moving legs. They were noticeably heavier now that they were filled with preservative. As I stepped out of the main hallway and onto the working deck, small white flakes swirled around my head. It was snowing! I took a breath of the cold, crisp air. Something told me it was going to be a good day. My main goal for this expedition is to begin a number of new experiments on the seafloor in the HAUSGARTEN, using an ROV named Phoca . The weather has been horrible over the last few weeks, so we were not able to deploy the ROV until now, and even then, we weren’t able to reach my main station. I spoke to the chief scientist, looked at the map, and picked a new station in the northern part of the HAUSGARTEN. The seafloor looked pretty steep, so I was hoping there would be rocks. A stone covered in sponges a


As I've been analyzing my samples from the moorings, I've been finding a lot of specimens of one species, Bouillonia cornucopiae . This species is an athecate hydroid, which might mean nothing to you but means a lot to me. Hydroids (there's not really a common name for them, sorry) live  A large Bouillonia cornucopiae individual on my frames attached to hard surfaces and filter the water to feed, and they're very commonly the first colonists on substrata in cold-water environments. Some of you may remember that hydroids completely took over the fouling panels I deployed under the WHOI pier for an experiment two years ago. Hydroids have also been ubiquitous on every recruitment experiment I've done in the Arctic, from 7 meters in a fjord right down to 2500 m at the central HAUSGARTEN station. What's strange about B. cornucopiae is that for as many of them settle on artificial substrata, I have never seen any on natural hard objects like dropstones. I

Fantasy world

Sea ice and fog in the western Fram Strait A bivalve in one of my larval traps in the East Greenland Current (996 m depth) "It looks like the entrance to another world," Carla shrugged as she shoved her hands deeper into her pockets. We stood on the upper deck of the ship, and in front of us, ice floes roamed lazily on the surface of the ocean, covered by a thick layer of fog. The ice was so slushy and the air was so moist, it felt like we had reached the critical point where states of matter cease to exist. There was no longer gas nor liquid nor solid, only dull grey moisture, and the very earth was breaking apart before our eyes. At any moment, we would become completely enveloped in the cloud. We would feel weightless and strangely euphoric and be unable to see, but then the fog would lift and we'd find ourselves back on the deck of the ship under a sunny, cloudless sky, and look up to see Narnia on the horizon. This expedition is my first time in the west

Die Verankerung (the mooring): part 2

"Do you want to grab sample tubes and come over?" Theresa signaled with her hands to compensate for the noise. The winch was still whirring as more of the mooring came aboard, and the helicopter was trying to land on the upper deck. I nodded and started heading toward my lab. Theresa's water sampler had been deployed at the very top of the mooring, just 25 m below the surface, and it was covered in biological fauna. I was grateful she let me have a pass at the instrument before cleaning it off for re-deployment. I filled 7 or 8 tubes with hydroids, mussels, and scallops. Theresa pointed to a limp red blob on the frame of her instrument: "I think this one is a slug." She was using the common name in German, Nacktschnecke, which literally translates to "naked snail." I nodded and pulled it off the instrument with my forceps, then grabbed several others like it. Back in the lab, I put the "naked snail" in a dish of seawater. Immediately, e

Die Verankerung (the mooring)

My samplers emerging from the water I clapped my hands together to stimulate blood flow to my fingers. Bouncing on my toes a little, I pulled my scarf higher over my face. It wasn't even that cold outside, except I had been standing there for hours. Three moorings were being recovered, and I had samplers on one of them. I wasn't sure how long the recovery would take, but I did not want to miss it. The long, thin line of the mooring rolled over a pulley suspended over the side of the ship. White spokes painted onto the solid orange wheel spun clockwise, marking meter after meter as the line was spooled onto the winch. Every once in a while, a device would surface – a funnel-shaped sediment trap or a columnar ADCP. The boson would raise his closed fist to signal the winch to stop; then crew and scientists would attach lines to the device, raise it with the crane, and set it down gently on deck. Sampler after sampler was carted away to the various labs as I waited patiently

Workshop woman

Friends, I described my ideas for experiments to start on this cruise as "half-baked," and I chose that word purposefully. It wasn't meant as an insult to myself but rather a true reflection of reality. There was limited opportunity prior to the cruise for me to meet with the ROV team about the underwater operations I wanted to complete, and besides, we're using a smaller ROV this year than previous years. I had definite goals and plans in mind, but I knew I was going to have to improvise. I basically showed up on board with a box of raw materials and have spent the first week trimming my samplers to the ROV's space and weight limitations. In terms of my baking metaphor, I showed up with batter and a selection of differently-shaped cake pans. The cages and frames I built out of PVC One of the items I want the ROV to plant on the seafloor are predator-exclusion cages. The rectangular cages are meant to keep predators like sea stars and fish away from some of


The atmosphere on the main deck was electric. Scientists gathered excitedly near the row of shipping containers stored in the bow. Zip ties were cut, locks were undone, handles were turned, and one by one, the giant metal boxes that carried our gear were cracked open and their contents dispersed. We spent most of the morning striding back and forth along the main hallway, carrying boxes, dragging pallets, or signaling teammates. The hallway filled with an organized chaos for the next few hours as box after box and pallet after pallet emerged from the containers. Those whose belongings had not yet emerged stood in the corners, helping where they could and always watching for any item bearing their group's color code. This was my task for the first part of the morning, as I alternated between lending a hand and staying out of the way. My three boxes had been shipped to the AWI's warehouse months ago, and while I had a verbal promise from the logistics departments that my things w

Dinner for one

Every year on New Year's Eve, a video called "Dinner for one" plays on German TV. It's on every channel, every year. It's tradition. What's strange is that the film is in English, and it has little if anything to do with New Year's Eve. The film is about an old woman's birthday. She is old enough that most of her friends have died, but she still insists on celebrating her birthday with the same old crowd around the table. She sets the plates and fills the wine glasses and then conscripts her butler to play the roles of her deceased companions. He spends the evening running from chair to chair, holding conversation and toasting his employer. Course after course, the butler consumes enough wine for 5 or 6 people, and as the film goes on, he becomes increasingly and hilariously drunk. Since we left Polarstern's home port in Bremerhaven, Germany, my shipmates and I have felt very much like the butler in "Dinner for One." We hit bad weathe