Showing posts from 2020

Warmer in winter: part 2

"Windows frosted Summer's sleeping But I don't really mind" - "Warmer in winter" by Lindsey Sterling The setting sun between Water Street Kitchen and the Woods Hole Community Center Sunset panorama on Water Street, Woods Hole, MA High tide at Wood Neck Beach, Falmouth, MA   Low tide at Wood Neck Beach (same rock) Plovers (I think) on the beach Sunset from the WHOI pier

Warmer in winter

"Roads are closed Snow is falling But I don't really mind" - "Warmer in Winter" by Lindsey Stirling Seen in Falmouth, MA Seen in Falmouth, MA Snow on the beach Snow on the beach Frozen Crepidula fornicata on the beach

Battleship gray

 "Bit of a battleship gray day, eh?" I could hear Ed chatting with one of the forklift operators at the other end of the pier. He was right. The uniform gray of the sky matched the lead weights I packed into my buoyancy compensator jacket. A pile of snow melted slowly onto the concrete. The air was mild, not too humid, not too cold - kind of a metaphorical medium gray.  I didn't care. When there is a dive to be had, it could be the ugliest, grayest day in history, and I would enthusiastically spend all of it outdoors. You see, everything is different underwater, and if I had known how much I was going to enjoy diving into the sea , I certainly wouldn't have waited until my postdoc to learn how .  In my happy place. Photo by Kharis Schrage. As we descended down the line, I could feel my heart rate slow and my breaths lengthen as my mammalian dive reflex kicked in. My head and hands were awash in the frigid seawater, protected by think layers of neoprene, while the res

The fearless

 "Out of the dark, into the sun I'm in a higher state of mind A brand new start  I will transform into the fearless" - "Fearless" by Amaranthe Just a few barnacles on CATAIN's end cap.  Photo by Kharis Schrage. Friends, it is going to be a looooong winter. As covid cases surge in the U.S. and the days grow ever shorter, I am doing my best to stay focused on things that make me happy. Biking in the crisp morning air. Chocolate-covered cashews. Slanted afternoon sunlight on Eel Pond. And my favorite band's new album (see above).  This week, I got a chance to feel fearless. It's been 2 months since the last time we deployed CATAIN under the WHOI pier, which meant it was time to bring the camera back to the surface. I'm trying to get a continuous record of settlement over the course of a year, which CATAIN can do - I just have to charge the battery and download the data every 60 days.  CATAIN's electronic entrails. Here's the thing: it's

Hiding place

There's a little spot in the grass behind my lab that is completely hidden. It's shielded from Water Street by the Redfield building and from School Street by the bike shed. It's shadowy and poorly lit, so any passerby could easily miss a person standing there. But if you're in this little spot, you can see out all around you - to Eel Pond, to the Redfield lobby, to the parking lot, even the street. I like this little spot, because it makes me feel mysterious - I can see everyone, but they would never notice me. I don't know why I wanted to be hidden tonight. It's not like there was anyone around. But when the bells of St. Joseph's Chapel started chiming at 6:00 and I happened to be in that spot, I paused for a good long minute and listened. I felt the cold, dry winter air on my face. I noticed the small colored lights scattered across Eel Pond - blue on top of a boat, red and green on a restaurant dock. But mostly I paused, concealed in my spot, to apprecia

In print

It's always satisfying to see my work in print, and today, a new paper came out.  This paper concerns the swimming kinematics of larval snails. In 2018, a Mullineaux lab summer student, Brooke, conducted an experiment with  Crepidula fornicata  to see how larval swimming behaviors differ based on the presence or absence of food. Snail larvae use the same organ - the velum - for both swimming and feeding, so the trade-offs between these activities can influence how they're distributed in the water column, and by extension, how they disperse in ocean currents.  Crepidula fornicata larvae swimming in a dish, photographed using a dissecting microscope The paper's lead author, Michelle, has a background in fluid mechanics, so she brought this unique perspective to the larval swimming analysis. I worked with Brooke, Michelle, and the other authors to analyze and interpret the data, and I think what we found is pretty cool. Basically, when there's no food involved - larvae ar


 "No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this" - "Desert Rose" by Sting Have you ever been stung by a jellyfish? Or touched the tentacle of an anemone? Some of them hurt; some don't. All cnidarians (jellies, anemones, and their relatives) have stinging cells in their tentacles called cnidocytes. Since I've been working on a paper about a cnidarian recently - the hydroid Bouillonia cornucopia - we're going to take a time-out and talk about cnidocytes. Cnidocysts in Bouillonia cornucopia . Photo by Caitlin Plowman. First of all, they're super cool. The "sting" you feel is actually a little mechanical barb piercing your skin. In some species, like intertidal green anemones on the west coast of North America ( Anthopleura xanthogrammica ), the barbs aren't strong enough to actually penetrate your skin, so it just feels sticky. Cnidarians use their barbs to capture prey and defend themselves against predators. A mechanical stimulus ch

Der Schrei der Natur

One of the best life decisions I ever made was taking two semesters of modern art my freshman year of college. It completely revolutionized my worldview. It taught me to embrace abstract expression. Every once in a while, I'll come across something in science that reminds me of a great work of art , and I absolutely love it when that happens.  The screaming hydroid gonophore. Photo by Caitlin Plowman Today, it was a microscope slide. Three holes in the gonophore of an athecate hydroid looked exactly like Edvard Munch's The Scream , and my mind went straight back to art class. Even though Munch was Norwegian, he originally titled the work in German  Der Schrei der Natur , which translates to "The cry of nature." And you know what, that microscopic artwork really spoke to me today. The Surrealist dreamscape of agony captured how I felt about deep-sea hydroid reproduction.  My major occupation this fall has been bringing half-finished projects one by one to the submissi


Just because I am staying home and modelling these days, doesn't mean everyone is. In fact, some members of our Stellwagen team have been busy in the field. We did the vast majority of the field work for our Stellwagen Telepresence Project (you know, the one with all the shipwrecks ) this summer with remotely-operated vehicles Pixel and PPE . We brought our audiences live to the sanctuary with telepresence in August, but one objective remained: find new shipwrecks.  Recovering REMUS at sea. Photo by Sean Whelan. You see, when we submitted the proposal for the Stellwagen project, we were planning to use sonar to survey the seafloor in the northeast corner of the sanctuary while we were at sea for telepresence . That didn't happen this year, thanks to covid , so we adopted a different strategy. We partnered with REMUS. REMUS stands for Remote Environmental Monitoring UnitS, and they're a class of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). If you're not familiar with REMUS, I


Choose your life partner wisely, friends. I sure did.  My husband and I have both been working from home for a couple weeks, and as hard as it is for me to stay home so much, I'll admit, spending my workdays in close proximity to a robotics engineer has certain benefits. Take computer science, for example. As you know, I've recently been working to design a model that simulates how fouling communities undergo succession. I successfully simulated recruitment of different species and made them die off when the temperatures got too hot, but I was having a hard time making them grow. One problem was that my model took so long to run, I had to wait a good 10 minutes each time just to know if my latest tweak had worked. At that rate, generating 1,000 simulated datasets for 4 different models and 5 experimental treatments was going to have my computer running for over 3 years. It was untenable. I was probably going to have to learn how to use my institution's high-performance comp

Biofouling in the deep

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to make a virtual presentation at the Marine Research and Education conference (MARESEDU) in Moscow. Usually, the conference is in person, but this year, the organizers adopted a hybrid model as a result of the pandemic. I was asked to participate in an international virtual session about biofouling in the deep sea. If you have a chance, I encourage you to check out the recording when it appears on the MARESEDU website , because the session was extremely educational. I presented results from the long-term recruitment study I did with German collaborators in the Arctic deep sea and showed preliminary results from CATAIN . My presentation generated good questions, which I was proud of, but for me, the best part of the session was listening to the other speakers. Two of them addressed fouling by microorganisms and bacteria on deep-sea substrata; another spoke about the role that biofouling on oil rigs plays in spreading invasive species across th


The fawn in my yard  "Mother, make me a big tall tree So I can shed my leaves and let it blow through me" - "Mother" by Florence + The Machine Friends, I don't need to tell you this, but 2020 has been hard. We're nearing the end of it now, so I'm trying to take inspiration from the deciduous trees outside and let things go. Actually, yesterday, a baby deer - a fawn - showed up in my backyard. My husband and I gazed out the large window in our dining room as the fawn nonchalantly nibbled on ivy. It was a beautiful moment of calm.  Yes, this year has been hard. It feels like every day, there is something new to figure out or fix. Almost as if the pandemic is a long, complex piece of code that I have to debug with no manual and very little else to go on. That's right, friends, as you can probably tell from that metaphor, I have been coding again. I stepped away from the model I was working on during this spring's lockdown  to focus on lab work , fi

Going platinum

It was a rainy Monday. I held my specimens tightly in hand and walked down Water Street. They were too delicate to trust to my backpack or even my pocket. After working all summer with my intern, Mimi , and then transforming her report into a publishable paper (with a mistake or two along the way), this was the final step - and those specimens needed protection. I arrived at the Central Microscopy Facility of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. MBL and WHOI are located right next door to one another and share a lot of resources, most notably our library. WHOI scientists are also allowed to use MBL's electron microscopes, which has benefited me greatly. You see, the last thing I needed for our study on the development of an Arctic deep-sea crinoid was scanning electron microscopy.  My crinoid specimens on their studs, ready for SEM. Some of them are small  enough, you can't see them on the studs. This is why we need electrons!  What is electron micro

Song of the crinoid

"This is a song about a boy A song about a little boy and his cebus  A song about a little boy and his three cebus The little boy had a sick cebu, a sad cebu, and a mute cebu And also a hippo" - "Song of the Cebu" from the children's series Veggie Tale s It's been an interesting week in the lab. As some of you might recall, my intern, Mimi, spent her summer describing the larval development of stalked crinoids in the Arctic deep sea. She used specimens I had collected in 2017 along with my German collaborators, as part of a long-term experiment in the HAUSGARTEN . At the end of her internship, Mimi produced a final report, which I then turned into a publishable scientific manuscript: "Ontogenetic development in the Arctic deep-sea crinoid Bathycrinus carpenterii ." We were ready to submit to a journal - or so I thought.  Before we submitted the paper, I reached out to two crinoid experts to ask for their input. I figured they'd come back wit

Herbst am See

"Herbst am See                                        Autumn on the sea Wetterwende, kalte Hände                  Changing weather, cold hands Als ich mit dir am Ufer steh'"         As I'm standing with you on the shore - "Herbst am See" by The Wise Guys (translation mine) Friends, it is officially autumn. There was about a week earlier this month when the weather forecast showed progressively cooler and cooler temperatures each night, and now, we've settled into a classic New England chill. I never used to notice the changing seasons, you know. I was always traveling to different climate zones and messing up my internal time-keeper. I'd go to the Arctic in summer , the tropics in winter , and half the time, when I got home, I'd have no idea what season  it was at all.  Covid took all of that away. The pandemic is the longest continuous time I've spent at home in 10 years, and I can feel it. There are changes in my mental state (not for the b

Beach to beach

 A few months ago, I got an email from Brazil. It was a from a researcher who studies genetic patterns in gastropods (snails) and who was on the hunt for a few species from New England. He had collected the specimens he needed several years ago but lost them when Brazil's national museum (Museu Nacional) burned down in 2018 . I remembered reading about the fire when it happened and thinking to myself that it would take years for science to recover from such a loss. Now, I was being presented with an opportunity to aid in that recovery, so I told the researcher I would help. He gave me the name of the cove and the beach where he had collected the specimens originally. He described the habitat I should look for and told me to bring a sieve. The snails are tiny, so you really can't find them without one. I was excited for the adventure. My husband and I headed over to the cove, and I set to work. We were there at high tide, so I set about snorkeling close to shore, keeping an eye

The end of telepresence week

The team in Scituate, MA The end of a project is always jarring. After working closely with a group of people for weeks on end, it feels weird to suddenly be without them . It's like being sucked instantly into a vacuum - both surreal and sad. Telepresence week concluded yesterday in the most fitting way possible - with a rainstorm. We had made countless adjustments to the plan for this project over the summer , mostly driven by the pandemic, so when it started raining, I couldn't help but laugh. Even at the last moment, nature had to throw us just one more curve ball. We moved all the cameras and electronics under tents to keep them dry, pulled out our jackets, and pressed on. The team at the Inner Space Center As soon as the last rainy broadcast concluded, we had a toast with the team and then began disassembling our equipment - "striking the set," to use a theater term. It took about an hour to pack everything into boxes and trucks, and when the boathou


PPE enters the Portland wreck. Photographed using ROV Pixel . Possibly the most exciting thing that has happened during telepresence week (aside from connecting with our audiences) is that our team has successfully penetrated the shipwreck Portland . On Tuesday, the weather was spectacular, and our at-sea team was able to carry out ROV operations. We showed live footage from the seafloor during two of our broadcasts. The team used ROV Pixel , the same vehicle we’ve been relying on all summer, and a brand-new, custom-built vehicle named PPE. In our case, PPE stands for Portland Penetration Explorer.  There’s a nice symmetry to that name, since the same acronym is used for Personal Protective Equipment - things like gloves and masks. PPE is the acronym of the year, and in some ways, the vehicle is a daughter of the pandemic. To reach the wreck, PPE hitches a ride on Pixel , then thrusts forward to leave her cradle and enter the wreck. Our ROV team collected some amazing foot

Beach climber

“Kirstin!” someone calls from behind me. I turn to see David, rolling past me in his truck.  “My wife loved the broadcast,” he calls.  “Thanks!” I shout, giving David a double thumbs-up. I turn back to the beach while he drives away.  My beach spot in Scituate, MA Our break between broadcasts isn’t that long - just a mere two hours - but I am on a mission. I lift myself over the cement wall separating the road from the beach and gingerly place my left foot on a rock on the other side. I test my weigh t on the stone - safe enough. My right foot follows, and soon, I am in another world. I have no idea when was the last time I scrambled over a breakwall like this, but it feels like it’s been since college. My boulder acrobatics would be so much easier in hiking boots, but at the moment, I’m enjoying the fresh air too much to even notice my feet. Earlier today, a teenager asked me how I identified a sponge specimen we collected from a shipwreck - he wanted details.

Stellwagen Live!

It is telepresence week! Team Shipwreck is coming to you live from Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and I encourage everyone to tune in. We have live video footage from deep below the surface, thanks to ROV Pixel, commentary from research team members, and answers to all of your most burning shipwreck-related questions. You can tune in on Facebook, YouTube, or on the project website, found here: A diverse array of invertebrates on the wreck of the Portland

The end of the crinoid project...for now

Hello everyone, it’s Mimi again! I’m back for one more blog post before the end of my summer student fellowship at WHOI. It’s quite bittersweet and surreal to see all of my work culminating into one final presentation, poster and now a manuscript. Kirstin and I have been working in the past month to turn my WHOI report into something we can submit for publication, most likely to the journal Invertebrate Biology (which is super exciting!). To recap, the main purpose of this project was to be the first people to ever characterize the larval development of the stalked crinoid species, Bathycrinus carpenterii . In the end, we found that  the overall development process of all crinoids is pretty much the same, following the same phase progression from cystidean to pentacrinoid to juvenile. However, we also noticed that there are a few key morphological differences, most notably the discoidal proxistel. The discoidal proxistel in Bathycrinus carpenterii . Photographed at 35x magn

The situation

"This whole summer has been pretty wild, pretty crazy...lots of drama" - Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino in Jersey Shore Oh, covid, how you make our lives...interesting. I don't think I need to tell anyone that this year has been tumultuous and stressful, or how sick I've gotten of the phrase "the situation" - because you're probably feeling it too. "The situation is ever-changing" - "We'll just monitor the situation" - "In this unprecedented situation" - see what I mean? Ugh. Despite the pandemic, Team Shipwreck has pressed on with our investigations of the Portland and the Mystery Collier in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. I'm actually proud of what we've been able to accomplish so far, and I'm pretty sure this project is the only thing keeping me sane right now. Long days offshore with no cell service might sound strenuous, but for me, it's a fantasy world with no news. Our

The settlers

CATAIN. You may see a fouled housing, but I see data. Friends, in between spending days at sea on R/V Catapult looking at shipwrecks, I have another project that's at a very exciting stage. I've been collaborating with a group of engineers over the last year or so to develop a camera system that can photograph newly-settled juvenile invertebrates. The engineers kept calling it "LarvaeCam" as a working name (despite my insistence that it didn't photograph larvae), but I think I'm going to name it CATAIN - CAmera To Analyze INvertebrates. This name is also conveniently a nod to the nerd-tastic board game Settlers of Catan (because the camera photographs settlers, get it?). A snail crawling on CATAIN. The light part is its foot, and I think the skinny light part might be its radula. CATAIN got its first test deployments this summer, and the results look very promising. Our major innovation was photographing the settlers from the underside, using the c

Return to the Portland

Scituate Harbor in the early morning, as we headed out for a long day at sea A major focus of my shipwreck project this year is completing our documentation of the steamship Portland . This ship is sometimes referred to as "New England's Titanic ," because it was a passenger vessel that sank with all hands in a tragic storm in 1898. The ship's significance extends across the region, as descendants of the passengers and crew are still actively connected to its story. Last year, we were able to document a large fraction of the Portland wreck using ROV Pixel , but we wanted to make sure we got to 100% coverage on this historically important ship. The footage we collect is being used to build a 3D photogrammetric model of the wreck, so we can view all the structures in context and better understand how the site is transforming over time. One of the most important things we've done this year is fly Pixel over the top of the wreck. All of the superstructure a