Jessie Hilds Blog

My thoughts move a mile a minute and apparently so does this blog. My apologies for the lack of structure.

The last three days have gone by in a flash; so fast in fact that I can’t really decipher what happened on which days. It’s amazing how this trip has felt like one continuous day that is broken up only by small naps. Today I was told by Brendan that if you have to look at your computer to see what the date is, then you have successfully acclimated to life at sea. The only time when time itself matters is for meals and getting to your watch on time. But low and behold, we have started day 15 at sea and I have a really hard time believing it.

The other students and I have found it really fascinating to ask everyone “what is your life story? How did you get here?”. Not a single person has had an answer that is similar, which in my opinion is phenomenal. Follow your passions and life will bring you to where you want and need to be, and if for some reason you don’t like where you are, make a change. People are afraid to change the monotony their life may have become and this fear prevents them from becoming who they want to be. These are only some of the lessons that everyone on this boat has taught me.

Anyway, back to the boat. The last 3 days have been filled with all different kinds of fun. While diving over hydrate ridge, we were able to see the largest methane plume that Deb has ever seen. This plume was evident on the sonar up to about 400m off bottom. Looking at the sonar image was incredible. Brendan had taught me what to look for while mapping the seafloor and this can kind of be tricky at times. This plume, on the other hand, was impossible to miss. It almost seemed as if each individual bubble could be seen in the column that rose from the seafloor. It was even possible to see which direction the currents were carrying the escaping methane. We got to go check out the plume on one of our dives while it was going off the way it was. While descending in the water column we could see the bubbles coming off of the bottom and hitting ROPOS. There were so many bubbles in fact that at one point in time they built up on our camera lens making it nearly impossible to see out if it.

We also did a lot of CTD work over the last couple days. I must say, initially the CTD intimidated me and I was afraid to mess up while taking samples. Now I know how to fill each different container, I know what we will be analyzing, and I know how we are going to analyze it. My favorite part about the CTD is dumping out the extra water and setting it up again for the next dive. As time has gone on, I have stopped asking what does this do; now I ask how does it work? What does the data tell us? Ive come accustomed to the equipment we are working with and now I want to know more about what it actually tells us.

We’ve had some great talks over the last few days. Brendan and Rick had a joint talk about methane. Rick talked mostly about its composition while Brendan talked about mapping the methane bubble plumes and getting samples via a roset. Brendan talked about an instrument abbreviated as ADCP (acoustic doplar current profiler), basically this device sends out acoustic data and is able to track the different current patterns underwater. I am incredibly fascinated by this instrument and I asked a ton of questions about, and even though he spent a long time explaining how it works I still don’t really get how it does it. I definitely want to learn more about it. Skip spoke to us about weather and gave us a ton of really cool websites that can track wind, wave movement, temperature, precipitation, ect. I really love watching patterns on the Earth change.

ROPOS gave us a tour while we were transiting. I have no experience in the realm of mechanics, robotics, and I suck at technology. Keith was successful in explaining the components of ROPOS and how it works in terminology that hopeful oceanographers would understand. There would be times when he began talking about something super complicated, saw the looks on all of our faces, and subsequently would start over explaining it in super simple terms. There is so much to learn in the world and its kind of freaky how even if I learn as much as I can, I still will never know so much about everything.

The last few days I have spent a lot of time with the other students in the bio lab helping Lauren cut tubbing for here senior thesis. We recovered instruments abbreviated MOSQUITO and OSMOI from the sea floor. This instruments continuously suck up water samples into their coil of tubbing (a few millimeters in diameter). This tubbing then needs to be cut into different segments (45cm or 1m) and the water must be pumped into a small vile. This work takes forever, each coil lasting several hours. Its not a difficult task but it takes a long time and needs a lot of people (about 6).
Because we spent so much time helping cut tubbing, we weren’t able to see that we were transiting. Whenever I came out of that room we were doing a dive at a different location than we had been the dive before. We were at Slope Base, then back to Hydrate Ridge, then out to a buoy some place, then back to hydrate. It was hard to keep track about where we were.

The last few days we have encountered some more weather. The waves have gotten bigger and at times the wind was over 30 knots. ROPOS cant dive when the swells are over 2m high or the wind is over 20 knots, its just too dangerous of an operation. I have been having some weird dreams and I think I can attribute it to the larger movement of the boat.

Right now I’m sitting on the bow again (my favorite place to think and observe the sea around me) watching as the larger waves move the ship. It’s a beautiful sight watching the bow pitch up while the stern pitches down. From the work room, it appears that the waves are a lot larger than they actually are because when one looks through the door frame the boat moves in such a way that you may only ever see sky or sea at one point.

Land is in sight which mean my time on the Thompson is coming to an end. I have a gut feeling this wont be the end though, I like life at sea ☺

July 14

This world cant be real

For the most part I write my blogs a day or two after the fact. I'm really glad that we have to write blogs because it serves as my journal here at sea. Writing gives me time to reflect on all that has happened throughout each day. I cannot even fathom that day 10 here at sea has already come and gone. Where has the time gone? I looked at the date and became sort of panicked that I only have 5 or so more days left on this amazing ship, with these incredible people, surrounded by this gorgeous water. Minutes flow to hours which flow to days in a blink of an eye. I didn’t really realize how much I love being out at sea until writing this blog. Im sitting on the bow of the ship on a beautiful sunny day. There’s a slight wind so the sea is dotted with white caps as far as the eye can see. The horizon stretches out uninterrupted for 360 degrees except for the bridge which towers above the bow. Clouds dot the sky which is otherwise a lighter blue that contrasts in the darker sea. The hum of the engines can be felt in every vessel of my being. There hasn’t been a moment of quite on the ship because the engines are constantly running. Im going to miss the familiar hum that has proven to be my companion over the past few days. 

I have become accustomed to the soothing roll of the ship as every wave passes underneath our 274ft frame. I know that throughout the ship, everyone is doing their part to make this cruise run smoothly. We are all helping to revolutionize the science of oceanography and it is incredibly exciting. In the control room, I know that there are least 10 people transfixed by the footage our HD camera on ROPOS is transmitting up from the deep. All sorts of life can be seen on the incredible structures we are studying. Everything moves at a much slower pace down on the sea floor. Every move of every creature is deliberate, they don’t have energy to waste, making it seem like time has actually slowed down in the depths of the sea. The few fish that live that deep down seem to be stagnant, not afraid of our technology. One can watch as the ROPOS crew manipulates miniature replicas of ROPOS’s arms and the robot so mimics the crew member’s movements. On deck a cluster of APL engineers are always working hard to build and finalize the equipment that ROPOS is deploying. Together we all make it happen and it’s a lovely atmosphere to be in. I can see myself on a boat for the rest of my life. Water always makes me think about really profound things, and having been surrounded by it for 11 days now I have come to question everything in my life. What do I want to do with my life? Where do I want to take myself? Only time and vast amounts of exploration will tell.

July 13

While at sea, a regular sleep schedule is nonexistent and if someone does have a regular schedule they are doing something wrong. It pains me every time that I go to sleep because I know when I do, Im going to miss something incredible.

As I had stayed up the whole night helping cast CTDs, I was exhausted by 7am. I powered through and waited to eat breakfast before going to sleep. I nabbed a quick 5 hours of rest before emerging from my bunk. While I was asleep, we conducted our final dive at axial and began our transit to hydrate ridge (about an 18 hour journey). I worked on my project for a bit before dinner. Kearstin and I have decided to make a video about ROPOS (remotely operated platform for ocean science) which is our amazing robot like tool that we deploy into the water column and control from the ship. Its hard to choose a direction to go for our video because there are so many fascinating components. I think we are leaning towards making it about how ROPOS has helped revolutionize oceanography. We will try and humanize ROPOS by showing videos of it working down below but then pull it back to show the geniuses on board that make the whole Cabled Array project happen. There is a ton of work to do for this video but it is proving to be fun work.

After dinner, Deb gave a wonderful presentation about axial, hydrate ridge, and her work in general. Everything that she teaches in her 3 credit winter course she touched upon in a 2 hour span. Obviously it was a ton of information but I wasn’t overwhelmed by it. We had been at Axial for about a week before we conducted this meeting so everything she talked about I had seen with my own eyes. It was great because she explained the geological processes that formed the area. Geology really really fascinates me and the more I learn about it the more I love it. Deb talked about her expeditions in Alvin, the submersible that can hold 3 people. She has been on over 50 dives and 12,000 feet below sea level. I laughed when she said that sometimes she had more dives than her pilots had been on. As cool as it would be 12,000m below the sea surface I think I might get sort of claustrophobic in that little vessel. She talks to a lot of younger kids about her job and she often describes being in Alvin as “3 people crammed into the front seat of a Volkswagen Bee while in the middle of winter in a snowy mountain range without a map and you have to find your way around”. That’s crazy.Before going to bed, Dianna and I helped Julie filter sea water for chlorophyll.

I had referred to my room in my first blog as a sensory deprivation chamber, but I have promptly changed my mind. The only sense that is being deprived is vision. The forward science berthing rooms are located near the bow of the ship, where it is really really loud all the time. If anybody has issues falling asleep and staying asleep when there is any sort of sound, I would not recommend oceanography as a career. Sleeping last night was a nightmare. I ended up starting my day at around 6:30 on the morning of the 14th because I had given up on the prospect of sleep. For some reason there was a loud bang every few minutes that lasted for probably 3 hours. This bang sounded like large bombs were going off somewhere out at sea. When I asked at breakfast what the noise had been, Ed (the incredibly hilarious video project manager on board) made a comment that the ship was making 20 year olds have Vietnam flashbacks and asked if I heard his response or if my ears were still ringing. Turns out no one really knew what the noise had been because only the front most cabins heard it. The best guess was that it was waves slapping the side of the ship (the sea got pretty rougher last night) or the anchor hitting something. In my slumber, my brain wanted to make sense of the noise so I had a very elaborate (but equally as strange) dream. In this dream, we were slightly offshore from a protected island which wasn’t actually attached to the core of the earth but simply floating. Giant trees stretched for the sky, and their roots sank through the water column to the seafloor. The tree roots were the only thing that held the island in place. Mitt Romney had implemented a new system for deforestation by throwing bombs under the island to detach the roots and harvest the wood. This dream progressed for quite some time as the banging in my bunkroom continued.

July 10

So after my long stretch without sleep, I slept wonderfully. Even though I woke up around 10, my brain didn’t really wake up until around 1 pm. I have no recollection of what I did until then. After lunch, I helped Brendan, Katie and Jesse gather water filters from one of the instruments we pulled off of the bottom.

Seven days have passed in a flash. I have gotten accustomed to account for the roll of the ship with every step that I take so now I don’t swerve all over the place when I walk. Its going to be weird when we get back on shore and I wont have to worry about making sure everything is latched down and wont move when the boat encounters weather or waves. So far we have had excellent weather and all of our dives have gone gloriously. Its also going to be super weird to sleep in silence. My room is really close to the bow so it is never quite. The noise hasn’t ever kept me up because the roll of the boat puts me instantly to sleep.

July 9

Jesse and I finally had our first watch late on the 5th which was an exciting change. Up until this point we have always found ourselves only within ROPOS dive turnarounds. During this watch we were working on the shallow profilers so ROPOS was sent down 200m below the sea surface. We got to see the dive the whole way through as it only took just under 4 hours. After the dive, we began the transit to Axial summit where we will spend many days placing equipment and exploring the hydrothermal vents that have been discovered within this caldera.

While transitting, Kearstin, Malea, Jesse, and I went out on the bow to observe the ocean at night. When we first got out on the bow, it was so dark compared to the fantail that we couldn’t see 2 feet in front of us. Gradually our eyes adjusted as we stared off into the dark night. We were fortunate because as we sat out there, the thin cloud cover began to blow off and we were able to get our first glimpse of the stars. As we are 300 miles off the west coast and the only ship for miles, there is zero light pollution which makes star gazing pretty incredible. I hope that there will be another clear night so we can gaze again. There was a very memorable moment when what we thought were stars began to gradually come closer and closer to us. It wasn’t until they were about 15m away from us and after a minor scare that it might be some sort of alien invasion did we realize that it was a flock of white birds.

We began our first decent in the Axial Caldera early on the morning of the 6th. When the team lowered ROPOS into the water, I went to take a quick hour and a half power nap (at 2:30 am) because I didn’t want to miss the first time we saw a hydrothermal vent while on this cruise. At around 4am we reached bottom and it was a matter of moments before I laid my eyes upon my first hydrothermal vent. I had seen images of vents in textbooks and on the internet and people had described how amazing these structures are, but seeing them first hand while rocking back and forth with the waves of our 274ft floating home 300 miles from land was an incredible experience. An experience that is nearly indescribable. But I know that every person on this ship (and any person that has been on a research cruise like this one) understands what I cannot explain. There is an amazing peacefulness about sitting in the quite control room with ~15 other individuals who decided to wake up early to observe the first hydrothermal vent of the cruise. We spent the majority of the day placing instruments and exploring this magical area. Its incredible that such vast amounts of life can be supported nearly 2 miles beneath the sea surface. One must remember that sunlight doesn’t penetrate below 600m, yet at these vents there is profound amounts of life surviving in the darkness. They depend on nutrients and bacteria that surround the vents.
Because ship time is so valuable hardly anybody gets any sleep. Ask any of the scientists and they usually respond that they got a much needed 3 hours last night and 4 hours the night before. Towards the end of July 6th I had slept 3 hours in a 50 hour time period and it was extremely evident that my brain was not really processing what was happening around me, but I didn’t want to miss anything so I stayed awake along the others. I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by such inspired and enthusiastic scientists, engineers, and crew members.

July 8

We ran two CTDS this morning and all the students helped to collect samples because there was a lot of them. After we hosed off the CTD and rigged it back up, I went into the lab and helped Brendan analyze pH samples. He is a great resource and is really good at explaining things. He has spent a lot of time mapping things, so while I helped him with his pH samples he gave me an in-depth history of mapping the seafloor that ranged from sailors using lead lines to satellites that use gravitational anomalies to detect bathymetric differences in areas.  He talked about the multibeam sonar that this vessel has and how we will use it to map the differences in the bathymetry caused by the recent eruption of Axial Seamount. He also talked about AUVs and how they are able to obtain 1m resolution bathymetric data. I find mapping and bathymetry incredibly fascinating and I cannot wait to help him gather data. He will also be mapping bubble plumes at hydrate ridge and Im excited for that as well.

I cannot believe its only been 5 days, time really doesn’t exist while at sea. Although I cannot wait to finish the prerequisites at UW, I now am beginning to understand how important that baseline knowledge truly is. Nearly everything builds off of those basic classes. Ive learned so many things in the classroom and I have never truly grasped the importance of them. The application of what I have learned has transferred things I memorized in class into actual knowledge and that is incredibly important to me.

July 7

I'm usually one of those people that must write down information in order to jog my memory later on. So anytime I'm told something really cool, something is explained to me, or I observe something that fascinates me or raises questions I will write it down. I'm starting to fill my notebook with really interesting information from the cruise. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I cannot emphasize it enough, the people on the ship are so friendly and approachable. Because I grew up in the mountains of a landlocked state and I’ve only ever taken one oceanography class I know very little about the ocean. Everyone onboard is incredibly gifted at explaining things, including the older students. As one of the youngest students, I still have a ton of school ahead of me and have yet to take many many classes that will help me understand the chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes that occur in the ocean (and on earth in general). I wanted to come on this cruise to learn what life as an oceanographer is like. Life at sea is very fascinating.

Everyone is always busy: there is always something going on, no matter what time of day. The ROPOS crew works in 12 hour shifts so they utilize every second we have on the research vessel. A lot of the dives so far have been recovering equipment and replacing it with new equipment. It has been fascinating watching the ROPOS team work to get everything accomplished. The technology is incredible. We can control the robots manipulators (arms) while he is nearly 2 miles beneath the sea surface; ROPOS’s toolbox is equipped for the mission on hand. It’s crazy to me how everything works. Today I sat in the control room for a while and watched the ROPOS team recover and deploy equipment on the shallow sea profiler which rests in the water column 200m below the surface.

Right before lunch there was a pod of 30 or so Dahl porpoises sighted off the front of the ship. A bunch of us went and watched 2 of them play off the bow for a while before they swam back to their pod; It was amazing to see them. The water is an unbelievable dark clear blue, impossible to describe. We still have amazing weather, Deb says she has never seen it like this for so long. After lunch, Malea and I went back to the bow and watched the water for awhile and a small shark, about 4 ft long, came up to the surface to inspect some orange kelp that was floating along. Malea and Kearstin had seen a shark during the descent of ROPOS the night before and we have come to the conclusion that it was probably the same shark. We spent some time googling what shark it could have been and we have determined that it was probably a dogfish shark.

The ROPOS team finished up their dive at Slope Base and we began the ~20hr voyage to Axial Seamount. Ed, the media specialist, gave a presentation during the student meeting. He gave some great advice about completing media projects and he talked about the importance of the outreach component of research projects, like this one, that require vast amounts of funding. After dinner, Kadijah and I went up to the bridge and talked to the chief mate and the captain for a long time about navigation and general things about the ship. Everything is so fascinating to me. While steaming over to Axial Seamount, Malea and I spent a long time sitting on the bow feeling how the boat moved with the waves. The waves were small, but it still felt like a rollercoaster when you have your head over the railing. We watched Interstellar and had a great discussion about space, physics, and life afterwards.

July 6

We encountered one such hiccup in the initial dive so we brought ROPOS back on board. While ROPOS was being attended to, we were able to conduct an unexpected CTD. We took the CTD down to 1000 m and then brought it back up collecting water samples at certain dictated depths.  Orest took the time to explain what the sensors on the CTD measure, including pH, oxygen levels, temperature, salinity, ect. He showed me how to trigger the bottles to close at certain depths in order to obtain water samples. Once the CTD was on deck, several of the students and I were taught by Orest how to collect the water for different tests. You have to be conservative with the water in the bottles because the different things you can test for (pH, salinity, nutrients…) are required to be in different containers. There are certain techniques that you must use in order to obtain samples that aren’t contaminated. While collecting samples that will be tested for their gaseous qualities, you have to be sure that there are no air bubbles in the container. These air bubbles contain gaseous qualities that obviously weren’t present in the water column that they were collected from. A lot of the water samples cannot be analyzed on the boat and therefore must be filtered, frozen, or refrigerated until our arrival back to UW. There are certain things that can be analyzed on the boat. These include pH and oxygen levels. A bunch of us students help Julie analyze the samples that were to be tested for oxygen. We got to use an automatic titrater which was incredible. In gen chem you spend so many hours in lab meticulously titrating samples by hand and its so easy to over titrate. With this automatic titrater you press a button and it dispenses 10uL making it so easy to get the exact endpoint.

I will add here that understanding chemistry is very important for an oceanographer and my general chemistry knowledge is coming in handy but at the same time I still don’t understand a lot of things. The people on the boat are so open and welcoming and they love to share their knowledge. You can go up to any person on the boat and ask “what are you doing? Why are you doing it?” and they will explain in detail whats happening and why its happening. Its amazing to be around so many highly qualified individuals. I am learning so much about oceanography, the equipment we are using, the technology behind the equipment, and how things on the boat work. Asking questions and getting answers just makes me want to know more, the beauty of life as a scientist. There will always be something to be learned and asking a question is the first step.
Im scheduled to have watch in the ROPOS room from 2000-2400 but so far there hasn’t been a dive during that time period. My watch partner, Jesse, and I have always found ourselves in the turnaround period on deck. So during my 4 hour shift on the 6th, we ran another CTD. I helped take more water samples, this time for nutrients, chlorophyll, pH, and CO2. After we finished collecting samples I helped Ken hose down the CTD in freshwater and move it back to its protected area on the fantail. The ship has rainboots on board for personnel to use and I am very thankful for that, although I did soak my pants while cleaning off the CTD.

July 5

We spent nearly the whole day steaming to our location at Slope Base. For the majority of the steam over, many people were helping out on the fantail getting the equipment ready for deployment. There is a lot of preparation that needs to happen before the oceanographic equipment is deemed ready for deployment. This includes strapping all the wires down so they don’t flap around as ROPOS carries them over 2 miles beneath the sea surface. We finally arrived at Slope Base around midnight and began our first dive. The concept of a “work day” doesn’t exist while on an oceanographic vessel. They work around the clock to get everything that needs to get done done. The ocean is a finicky place and you never really know how long you will have good weather for so everyone on board is working incredibly hard while we have this amazing calm weather. There has been a few mechanical and electrical hiccups but these haven’t caused more than a few hour delays.

July 4

The Thompson left the UW dock around 0700, all personnel were required to be on board by 0600. The captain wanted to get an early start as he was concerned that there would be increase in boat traffic as it is 4th of July. Once we got into the Ballard area we had to go through the locks. This is an area where the water level on one side of a cement wall is higher than that on the other side. The ship enters an area where it is enclosed on all sides and the water level is adjusted so that when the ship is released it is done so at the appropriate water depth. Once we were through the locks we hung out in the Sound near Ballard as ROPOS conducted a test run. ROPOS hadn’t been in the water since November because it underwent technical updates, now the technology it is using is from 2015. Every part of ROPOS, except for one, worked and luckily there was a spare for the part that didn’t work. 

I took a nap after lunch so I missed the initial launch of ROPOS, but I was awake for a lot of the testing and ascent. I hung out in the ROPOS control room and watched as the crew did their work. There is one guy navigating ROPOS, another controlling the vehicle, and two guys control each of ROPOS’s arms. These guys have worked together for so long that they don’t even need to talk to each other: they know what their partner will do before they do it. I went onto 02 deck and watched as they pulled ROPOS out of the water. They took ~20 lemons (I’ll need to ask for the specifics about what the lemons actually do) off of the cable before ROPOS emerged. Once ROPOS emerged, the crane bent down and connected itself to ROPOS and placed it perfectly onto its platform. Once ROPOS was secured, we continued our journey to sea (about a 3600 hr journey).

We had a 4th of July BBQ for dinner. Later in the evening we got to see some fireworks from the deck of the ship. From our vessel’s position from shore the fireworks were rather unimpressive, but still whats the 4th without fireworks? We watched the sunset and it was a gorgeous red with the dark silhouette of the mountains. We started Horrible Bosses 2, but called it a night before we even got half way through it. Sleeping was an interesting experience. I have never been so far from shore in a boat, especially not a vessel of this size. The waves picked up and they were probably about 9 ft tall. We had good weather so these waves weren’t a problem but as a rookie at sea, I wasn’t frightened per say, but I was a little freaked out. Kahdijah came up to our meeting area at about 2 in the morning convinced there was a storm. She went into the ROPOS control room and asked about the weather and whether or not the waves were safe. The control guy laughed and took her outside to show her how great the weather was. Our bunk rooms are pretty low in the boat so we feel every wave. Once we got out of the sound, the waves switched to the sides of the boat so it was more of a rocking motion rather than a head to toe movement. Once we got into the rocking motion it was much easier to sleep.

July 3:
Kearstin and I arrived on the ship around 1700. Deb showed us the ROPOS control room, ROPOS itself, as well as her office, our berthing rooms, dinning hall, ect. Students were required to be on the ship by 2000. Once all the students were on the ship, we introduced ourselves and hung out in video room and watched Jurassic Park. We all retired to our rooms for the night. I am the only occupant in my room. The rooms are a lot more spacious than I had originally thought. I am in room 17 in the forward science berthing section of the boat.  In this berthing area, there is two to a room and two rooms share a head. Within each room is a bunk bed equipped with a guard rail as well as a blackout curtain. There are no windows in our berthing area, making it essentially cause sensory deprivation.