Changing Seas

Every field trip is different. My career so far has included all sorts of field work - 6 weeks on a global-class ship in international waters, short day-trips in state waters, stints at land-based field stations, SCUBA trips, tidepooling, and pretty much everything in between. Each time, I get to know a new team, try new techniques, and flex my skills as a leader. No two field trips are the same. And this one is different from all of them.

Sure, I've been to Ny-Ă…lesund twice before. I've worked in the Arctic for over 10 years, including during the polar night. I've traveled with my PhD student, Kharis, twice already and am very familiar with her working style. So what makes this trip different? Well, we have a film crew.

David Diez films me preserving a sediment sample. Photo by
Alexa Elliott, Changing Seas/South Florida PBS.
That's right, Kharis and I have been shadowed by a producer and two videographers during part of our trip. They are from the South Florida PBS TV station, and the footage will be used in an episode of their show, Changing Seas. For those of you who don't know, PBS stands for Public Broadcasting Service, and it's a public, freely-accessible educational television station in the US. PBS is probably most famous for producing the children's show Sesame Street. Changing Seas is a series about scientific research into the impacts of climate change on the marine environment. WHOI collaborated with PBS to produce an episode all about the submersible Alvin last year, and it went so well that they decided to produce another episode about WHOI research. That's where we come in. 

Having a film crew with us in the field is a new experience for me. I was in charge of the Stellwagen Telepresence Project in 2019-2020 that involved live video streaming to classrooms, but this feels very different. Our research will not just be entertainment and engagement for students; it will be broadcast across much of the country and live forever online. The filming is a much slower, more controlled process, as well. For Stellwagen, we were fielding questions in real time; now, we have the chance to go back and redo things if they didn't look right at first. 

Jacquelyn Hurtado filming CATAIN while I build the
deployment box. Photo by Alexa Elliott, Changing Seas/South
Florida PBS.
The PBS team has been incredible to work with, honestly. Alexa, the producer, has a very clear vision of what she wants to capture and diligently watches to make sure she doesn't miss it. There have been very few times when we've had to go back and redo something because the camera didn't capture it the first time. The videographers, Jackie and David, are also both very conscientious about placing their equipment so it doesn't interfere with our science. It felt pretty weird at first, but Kharis and I have gotten used to working with a camera nearby. The only time things have gotten truly awkward was when David tried to film Kharis and me walking to the pier - Kharis walks so fast that David had to basically jog to keep up. Thankfully, he's used to filming basketball players, and we were able to giggle at the situation. 

During the trip, Kharis and I each sat down with Alexa for interviews. She had a notepad full of prepared questions and had even read several scientific papers to understand the background of polar night research. We covered environmental changes that have been taking place in the Arctic, why Svalbard is such a good study system, the scientific questions Kharis and I are trying to answer, and how I got into marine biology in the first place. Altogether, my interview lasted over 2 hours, and I think Kharis's wasn't much shorter. The editors should have plenty of material to work with! 

I was a little nervous about integrating a film crew into a field trip, but it's gone very smoothly. Since PBS is a non-profit, grant-funded, educational organization, we had quite a bit of automatic solidarity. Alexa, Jackie, and David are also communicative, patient, conscientious people, which has made working with them very easy. I'm hoping that the episode will provide a good forum for others to experience research in the high Arctic and maybe learn a little about larvae. It should premier on South Florida PBS sometime in June and be released to other PBS stations around the country thereafter. 

Bonus: since the PBS team comes from Miami, check out this humorous teaser video they made for the field trip!