Showing posts from May, 2021

Ankommen (Arrival)

There's this spot on the B deck where everything is quiet. There's a grate that vents warm air from somewhere inside the ship. There are no whirring fans, and it's protected from the wind. I can see out over the blue-gray water all the way to the clouded horizon. It's like this little protected bubble. On the lower decks, there are engineers drilling holes, clacking on keyboards, and making hydrophones chirp. There are crew members hauling ladders around and stringing cables. The helicopter pilots are preparing for their daily flight. It's Richard Scary's Busytown down there, and by contrast, my little spot feels darn close to a sensory deprivation chamber. It's nice. We crossed a line sometime yesterday, and the air turned dry and cold. The waves have dampened, and the sun is hidden by a canopy of gray felt. It all feels eminently familiar, if only I take the time to notice. Less than 24 hours remain until we reach our first sampling station, and  I am s

The crow's nest

The ladder to the crow's nest "Nice jumper!" Dee pronounced as she stepped into the stairwell. The short, spunky Australian carried a cloth bag, several metal water bottles, and a roll of tin foil. "Right then," she gestured for me to follow. "Up we go." We checked in with the bridge officer on watch and then headed over to a door marked "Kein Zugang" – "no entrance." Dee opened it confidently and gestured for me to look up. A metal ladder stretched several tens of meters over my head, and I could see sunlight through the opening at the top. We donned climbing harnesses, clipped ourselves to the safety line, and ascended one by one to the crow's nest. Dee's research is not your typical Arctic marine biology. She studies atmospheric microplastics. Apparently, plastics released into the environment get smashed up into little bits that then accumulate in air, water, and sediment. Dee's goal is to quantify where they are,

Aufbau (Building)

The bright red numerals on the lab clock read 14:45. Not even 3 pm, and we were done for the day. How in the world had that happened? I ran through the list in my head. Change the batteries in both pumps – check. Clean and grease the O-rings – check. Connect the pumps to my computer – check. Run a quick dry test to make sure they work – check. Show Kharis how to assemble the filter – check. One of the pumps was already in place on its lander, and the other would be secured there soon enough. We were finished much, much faster than I thought. It's a relief, really. Here I thought we would spend the next few days wrestling with stainless-steel bars, drilling holes, and sighing in frustration at a geometric puzzle. Triangular lander, rectangular pump frame, cylindrical housing – you get the idea. None of it turned out to be a problem. Normen and his team were on top of it. We're done. Probably the most exciting moment today was when Kharis and I connected the first pump to my c

Vorbereitungen (Preparations)

A larvae lander on Polarstern 's working deck Our first task on board is to get everything ready for sampling. A lot of people don't fully realize this, but when a science party first boards a ship, the labs are just empty rooms. Every single thing you need at sea has to be brought with you – microscopes, sample jars, disposable gloves, even bungee cords and ratchet straps to hold it all in place. The lab didn't take that long to build up – maybe 2 hours. Our larger task is preparing the lander that will carry our deep-sea plankton pumps to the Arctic seafloor. My collaborators at AWI offered two of their own landers for our use this expedition, which I was extremely grateful for. For those of you who don't know, a lander is basically a giant stainless-steel frame with floats at the top and weights at the bottom. You stick whatever samplers you want onto the frame, release it over the side of the ship, and let it sink to the seafloor. When you want the lander back, you

The transit

Polarstern 's helideck On windy days, I love to stand on the helicopter deck and listen. Air rushes through the upturned metal grates that line the helipad and make this absolutely gorgeous noise. It's high-pitched and whistle-like. You could convince me it was a flute choir tuning before rehearsal. I've heard this sound before - many times, actually - not only on Polarstern but also in downtown Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Metal grates abound in Longyearbyen, in the form of hand rails, fences, and snow-removal stations at the entrance to most buildings. That's it, one of my favorite sounds in the world - swift wind through a metal grate.  We have been at sea for only three days, but I am fully adjusted. My stomach has solidified into a dense, nausea-immune rock. I am floating seamlessly between German and English, triggered subconsciously by the faces of my shipmates I have come to associate with each language. Rusty maritime skills that went woefully unused during the pan


Polarstern entering the lock in Bremerhaven Bremerhaven is a city that moves. I've heard it described as a heart beat - the atria contract, and blood rushes in; the ventricles contract, and blood rushes out. The tide rises, and imports flow in; the tide falls, and exports flow out. Up and down the river they go, the sailboats, cargo ships, and yachts, carrying cars and electronics and produce and people. The very lifeblood of a continent. This city has a pulse. It is in the air, in the streets, reverberating off of the plain white houses, vibrating the bridge under my feet. It is a low, pervasive rumble, like the heavy bass line of some distant music. I feel it in my rib cage, and I know I am alive.  View out to the city from the lock There is no separating the city from the port in Bremerhaven. The city is the port, and the port is the city. Waterways are interlaced with every neighborhood from Wulsdorf to Lehe. On the ride from our hotel to the ship, we passed (in order) the fis

The quarantine

Stepping out the glass door onto the narrow balcony, I could instantly feel the fog on my skin. It was chilly and gray, just how I expected for the port city this time of year. I put both hands on the railing and started scanning my surroundings. "Yoo-hoo!" the call came from above me. I tilted my head up and to the right, and there was Thomas, leaning over his own balcony railing on an upper floor, waving at me. It's been two years since I last saw him, and I am delighted to be back.  Friends, I am in Bremerhaven, Germany , my second home . More precisely, I am in a hotel room in Bremerhaven, Germany, which I will not leave for the next 10 days. I can step out onto the balcony and gaze longingly at the water, but I cannot touch it. I am just blocks away from my adopted grandmother , but I cannot visit her. I am confined to this space for the time being, but once (if) I survive, I will get to travel on my favorite ship with some of my favorite people to my favorite plac

Croissant community

Some of my best days begin with a text from Caitlin . We have shared adventures at sea in coastal  Oregon  and the western Atlantic . We have been present for some of the major events in each others' lives . After being separated from her for over a year thanks to a global pandemic and two busy careers, I was delighted to once again start a good day with a text from my dear friend. This time when my phone chimed, the screen displayed a request for baked goods. You see, Caitlin is currently quarantining in Woods Hole prior to a research expedition. She's stuck in a small cottage with her current labmates (new PhD students at my alma mater) and several other collaborators,  tantalizingly close but unable to reach our local French bakery. The chief scientist wanted pastries, and Caitlin passed on the request.  Ok, let's be honest, I would have used just about any excuse to go hang out on that cottage's front lawn.  We stayed distant - ridiculously distant - and masked, al

Pond day

One of my cores deployed in the sediment Sometimes, my work involves sitting at a computer and writing code. Sometimes, my work involves tediously sorting animals under a microscope. Sometimes, my work involves writing pages on end to meet a deadline. But every once in a while, my work lets me take off and go diving. Those are the best days. As you know, I've been working to make push core samplers for my lab. The design is based on one commonly used in deep-sea biology with remotely operated vehicles, so I had to make several modifications for SCUBA divers. An essential step in this process was figuring out whether a diver could actually work with my cores and collect sediment samples. So I packed up my cores and headed to Hathaway Pond.  First, I tested the cores out near the shore. The sediment was coarse and sandy, so I had a hard time pushing them into the ground. I knew sediment at greater depths would be finer and easier to work with, so I took one of my cores in hand and s


Testing out my push cores at the beach. Sediment inside the tube means it worked! Friends, it is finally May. There's always something about the start of this month that I find jarring - it's when I snap out of my winter haze and realize that field season is coming. All the things I promised myself I would do over the winter need to be finished ASAP because there are cruises, experiments, and trips to prepare for. Summer draweth nigh.  I have a hard deadline coming up - a day by which I need to have all my ducks in a row - and to be honest, it feels like the right verb to describe my motion towards that deadline is "plummeting." I am not approaching the deadline, I am not sneaking up on the deadline (nor it on me) - I am plummeting toward the deadline. Uninterrupted free-fall.  After I finished building my push cores , I tested them in the field and put together an instructional manual to share with my lab members and colleagues. Check - one major piece down.  My came

Push core

Recently, I've been working in my lab to build samplers called push cores. They're clear plastic tubes that can be pushed into the seafloor to collect sediment samples. Usually, push cores are deployed by remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), but I wanted a smaller set that could be handled by SCUBA divers. To get started, I wanted to gather reference images, so I searched "push core" online. What I got back was page after page of ab-blaster workouts and personal trainers. No, I do not want to push myself and build core strength, Google. Not what I meant!  A set of push cores that I made I was actually able to get the original drawings of WHOI's push core design from our machine shop, which helped a lot. I had to redesign the handles (which were supposed to be welded steel - I can't weld) and make sure the cores were small enough to fit inside a standard cooler so we can keep them cold during transits at sea.  The good news about designing sampling gear for diver

The crinoid paper

Friends, you may recall that last summer, my intern, Mimi, worked on describing the process of development in the Arctic feather star Poliometra prolixa . The specimens she used in this analysis were collected as part of a long-term recruitment experiment in the HAUSGARTEN observatory in 2017. The project had several twists and turns along the way - starting with the fact that I had incorrectly identified the species ( it happens ). We got substantive, detailed reviews of our paper from crinoid experts, revised it according to their suggestions, and even added some  high-tech imagery  to highlight the unique features of our specimens.  All of our work has paid off, because today, our paper was published in the journal Invertebrate Biology . You can find it here . I'm very excited to see all our hard work in print!