Khadijah Homolkas Blog

A few days ago we finally got the chance to dive on the new eruption on the northern rift of Axial Seamount. Everyone packed into the ROPOS control room as the vehicle descended down to the new eruption site, and you could tell how excited everyone was to be the first to lay eyes on it since it’s documented eruption in April, 2015. We didn’t have to go very far until we found the contact between the old eruption and the new. With huge pillow basalts as far as the eye can see, the toe of the new eruption was easily distinguishable.

The vehicle traveresed up the new pillows, taking samples that Deb thought would be easy to recover onto the ROPOS porch. As the survey continued, extensive lmicrobial growth was observed on the pillows. The pillows in the subsurface are still warm with residual heat, so diffuse warm seawater rises up from the pillows.  These are conditions that make microbes really happy. Two niskins were taken above the warm fluids, so I’m going to see if mafic alteration has any effect on the K isotopes in the surrounding seawater. I doubt that it will have any effect because the concentration of K in seawater is so high, but you never know! That’s the beautiful thing about research.

We traversed along the fissure zone for a few hours, and saw was more pillow basalts, minor lobate flows and some skylights. I really wanted to see some lineated flows, some whorls in particular, but Deb said that for this eruption where we were that pillows would dominate. As a geology major I have seen a lot of pillow basalts, really any kind of basalt, but I never knew that you could get so much topographic relief with pillow basalts. They were huge! You learn something new everyday.

Overall it was a really cool dive, and I am now apart of the first team that laid eyes on the Axial Seamount eruption of 2015. I think that’s a really awesome thing to be able to say! I could write a novel on all of the things that we saw on this dive, but some things you just have to see in person.

July 26

Today has been a sick day.

I’ve been sick for the past few days with a cold. I haven’t gotten seasick at all on this cruise, but now I came down with a sore throat and a head cold. For the most part it’s bearable, but it’s the pressure in my head that is really making it difficult to be productive. Sitting outside helps some, but it’s just so cold!

I processed a ton of chlorophyll samples today, which with the help of Krista and Joe, went pretty fast. I’m almost done collecting my seawater samples too.  I only need a few more, and I’m getting pretty excited to get back to the lab and start analyzing them. Even if I turn out to be wrong it’ll still be interesting! That’s my favorite thing about my project, and it only makes me work harder to make sure that I collect the proper samples and filter them correctly. No one knows for sure what the outcome will be and I find that very exciting! Have I said that I’m excited?

The stars haven’t been out too much lately since it’s been very cloudy, but the sunrises have been pretty awesome. We haven’t been diving a lot on my watch, so instead we’ve been doing a lot of deck operations to get the deep profilers recovered and deployed. Krista and I have been taking pictures and video for Mitch of all of the deck operations that are going on out on the fantail. They’ve been starting the mooring deployment at first light, so it’s been cool to watch how they handle of all the different lines. It’s a lot like a choreographed dance, which you can pick up on pretty easily after watching them a few times. Transferring lines, working with the winches, changing the pulleys, is all a fairly dangerous operation. But these people are the best in their field, so there’s no better team to do it!

July 22

Today has been productively confusing, if that makes sense.

So I’ve been trying to tackle my K isotope project from a different angle in hopes of trying to convey a better story. One would normally think that science doesn’t really follow a narrative, but I’ve recently learned how important a scientific narrative is, especially if you want people to care about your work. It is a difficult task however, and I’ve really been struggling with it over these past few days. I’ve always thought that my project was great because it was extremely focused and straightforward, but in that respect it was very hard to get people excited about the importance of K isotopes. It has been difficult coming up with different questions to ask because there is such a fine line between what I am able to accomplish, and what I would need an entire lifetime to achieve. The ocean is such a dynamic system, and within that dynamic system you have even more dynamic systems. It’s pretty much the oceanographic version of Inception. I’ve been asking the question, “Are K isotopes homogenous throughout the ocean?” It’s a very blunt question, which I previously thought was good, but I need to expand that somehow. Why should people care? What does that tell us about the oceans and all of those dynamic systems? These are the questions that I’ve begun to wrestle with. The problem however, is if the K isotopic composition turns out to be heterogeneous, then what do I need to further explore that? What data do I need to collect? I would be answering my initial question: Is the K isotopic composition homogenous with respect to vertical, horizontal, latitude and longitudinal variables? The answer would be no, and I could conclude that seawater would make a poor geostandard. However, why is it heterogeneous then???? That is a difficult question to answer, and I could do a PhD dissertation on exploring those controlling factors. But with that being said, even if I don’t answer those questions, I could maybe point future studies in the right direction, and I think that that is worthwhile. However, none of these questions tell that enthralling of a story, and it brings me back to square one.

July 20

Today has been a day about self-reflection.

Living at sea has offered a strong disconnect from all of the terrestrial problems back on shore, and has really liberated my mind from any burdens that I previously carried. The more I think about what I’ve accomplished in my life, and what I’ve been through, the more I realize how subjective everything is. For example, there have been many instances where a final grade in a class doesn’t correlate with how hard an individual actually worked. I’m confident that many students can find this relatable, and equally frustrating. And from this I’ve come to realize, as discouraging as it is, that hard work doesn’t guarantee success. I strongly believe that a lot of people, especially college students, forget about that subjectivity.

During these past few weeks I know that I have changed. I’ve been exposed to an entirely new world of science, a world that I’m now in love with, I’ve found out what I like and what I don’t like, I’ve made incredible friendships, and I’ve gained confidence in my ability to conduct a research project on my own. This cruise has culminated everything that I’ve learned in college thus far, and has made me utilize that knowledge hands on. There’s honestly no better way to learn. Trial and error is such an important method for learning, as well as personal growth, and I try and embrace it whole-heartedly. I could completely finish my project and come to find that I did it all wrong. But even if I were to “mess it up” I would still learn something, and learning from your mistakes is very valuable at this point in my life. I know that the experiences that I’ve had here will continue to shape my life as I finish college. I know that I have a lot of growing up to do, and even more to learn, but no one can find himself or herself in a day.

I honestly don’t think that anyone on the planet knows who they are 100%, because if they did they would have to have experienced every experience in the universe that there is to experience, and that’s impossible! So I implore anyone who is feeling lost, or hopeless or self-conscious, to think about it objectively. You can’t actively seek who you are because it’s not something that can be found. Instead, you grow through the people you’ve met and the experiences that you’ve had. Every decision will impact you, some more than others, and that is conveniently enough, what growing up is.

July 19

We’re currently headed to the Port of Newport, and it’s a very gloomy day. Temperatures on shore will be in the low 60s and fairly windy. I’m excited to sit out on the bow and watch us dock, but I’m also heavy hearted. Three of my friends are leaving today with a 5-hour car ride ahead of them back to Seattle. We’ve grown so close over the past two weeks, but I didn’t think it would be this hard to say goodbye. Going from spending every waking moment with someone, not because you have to but because you want to, and then not seeing them at all is a difficult pill to swallow. I will miss our intense cribbage games, staying up till dawn casting CTDs, struggling through surprise ROPOS dives, watching the stars out on the bow, worshipping the auto titration machine, trying to understand the physics of relativity, cutting sample tubing till we’re blue in the face, and ultimately just being together. It’s a teary farewell, but it’s more like a “see you later”. We will all be reunited in the fall back on campus, but I intend on seeing them all much sooner than that. This is a thank you to everyone who has impacted my life on this journey, mentored me, comforted me and made me laugh. In particular I would like to thank Rick Berg and Ed McNichol for being an integral part in my success on this cruise. Thank you Rick for being a great resource and helping me think through the roadblocks that I’ve hit along the way with my project. I am also forever indebted to you for getting that thing out of my eye. That was a bad time. And Ed, you have been an amazing person to get to know, and I want you to know that I’ve taken to heart all of the wisdom and encouraging words that you bestowed upon us. None of us will ever forget Edwin McNicholback, the man who made us laugh till we cried, always offered help no matter what, and calmed our nerves about not knowing what we want to be when we grow up. With that being said, I’ll always remember to say, “Here’s to the crazy ones”, and drink a Mountain Dew in their honor.

July 16

Today I’m not sure what day it is.

The past few days are a total blur because my sleeping schedule has been even more horrendous. So I suppose I will write about what I can remember doing.

We saw dolphins the other day (I think?) and that was definitely really cool. We were in the galley eating dinner, a really good salmon dinner, when all of a sudden the bridge announced that there were dolphins playing around the bow. Literally a split second later, without speaking, we all jolted up and aggressively walked (you can’t run on the ship, duh) out to the bow. And just as promised there was a huge pod of dolphins being utterly adorable. It was a really awesome experience! Marine wildlife is just the most beautiful thing. I strongly believe that society, as a homogenous body, forgets about the beauty of the pure unadulterated earth. Even when you’re in a PNW city like Seattle, it’s incredibly easy to forget about what lies beneath the surface. It’s something that I encourage you to think about, and I mean really think about. When was the last time you remember experiencing the Earth as it was meant to be experienced?

Lets see what else… We’ve been playing a lot of Uno and Banana Grams, and those games get pretty heated. Everyone says I play dirty, which I do not agree with. I prefer to say: plays cunningly (*winks*). I’m starting to get sad because the majority of our friend group is leaving at the end of Leg 1, which is on Sunday! Too soon! I’m so thankful for these people, they’ve literally changed my life and I know that we will all continue to be friends back on shore. When I’m around them I don’t feel like I’m weird, and I think that’s a great gauge of friendship ☺

On the science end of things, my K isotope project is going really well! I’m getting in the groove of filtering my samples and sometimes I get to ask the ROPOS crew to fire the niskins, which is awesome! It makes me feel cool. I seriously wish I had Deb’s job though, I would feel so powerful, but I would use that power for science of course! LETS STUDY ALL THE VOLCANOES!

July 15

Interstellar Seas
This is a poem I wrote after watching Interstellar with the crew, stargazing, and contemplating life. It’s about the universe, frustrations of the mind, and the undeniable human condition of needing to explore.

The ocean breeze is heavy with the smell of salt.
White caps break loudly over the bow as we steam forth into the void. 
The dark surface of the water blends seamlessly with the sky, making our eyes struggle to adjust to the absence of light.
Slowly, the stars come into focus, and more appear as we patiently gaze.
We admire stars that have long since been cold; our eyes receiving their last transmissions.
A milky cloud encompasses the length of the sky, reminding us of our place in the infinite night.
Our minds seem boundless as they project past the darkness that cloaks the ship.
The sea lulls us with her peaceful lullaby, making the sound of crashing waves no longer alien to our ears.

The bow bobs up and down in the increasing winds, and we huddle together as we fantasize about journeying into the hostile breadths of what lies beyond.
My worldly tethers anchor me firmly to the earth while my eyes sweep the star littered sky.
Can we truly ever escape the shackles of our mind?

The bow rocks as we hit the anxious waves, and my mind enters fearlessly into the fray.
Should I look back, or should I brake free of the tethers that so tightly bind me?

The winds continue to pick up as we head into the storm, and the romantic idea of the interstellar is yanked from my grasp.
My consciousness is taking on water; slowly sinking.

S i n k i n g.

I think I’ll hold on for a little while longer, but Darkness approaches, and I go gently into that good night.

July 13

 After lunch we got a talk from T-Pain (Ken, the marine tech) about his life and his experiences. It was pretty much story time, and it was awesome. The things that’s he’s done and seen I couldn’t even really imagine. It’s crazy to hear how a lot of these people get into sailing. I swear I’ve never heard the same reason or story twice.The more I’m on the ocean the more I like it, and I now understand it’s appeal. Since being out here, the cliché “The Sea is calling” has become a real phenomenon. Once in awhile I think about what life is going to be like back on land, and I doubt that I’m going to look at things the same way that I did. I also doubt that I will ever have a normal sleeping schedule again.

ROPOS came up this morning around 0200 and I had fired the niskins on this dive so I had to go out and collect the seawater samples from the ROV on deck. And that was cold once again. And my socks got wet. And it was a bad time, but working on ROPOS was cool. So the sock sacrifice was worth it.

After ROPOS was up we started doing CTD casts and ended up staying up the entire night. We went to sleep around 0900, and struggled our way through breakfast. We were all awake by 1400, and after dinner Deb gave an awesome talk about Hydrate Ridge, Axial Seamount and Lost City. It was a two-hour talk and it just flew by. It was a lot of information thrown at us, but I learned a lot and now know what to expect when we arrive at Hydrate. I don’t know about anyone else, but I could listen to Deb talk forever.

It’s also a pretty clear day outside and we’re on our way to Hydrate Ridge (woot woot). Last night we set up the hammocks on the bow, but tonight it should be way better. Hopefully we will finally see some stars! We also had mashed potatoes and gravy for dinner, and it was amazing. 10/10 would eat again.

July 12

So today I licked a jellyfish, and it was really salty.

Here’s the backstory: since our first day in the open ocean, we’ve been seeing these little jellyfish on the top of the water. The cool thing about them is that they have these little “sails” that stick up out of the water. We’ve heard the crew talk about them briefly from time to time, but we didn’t know anything about them. So like the children that we are, granted we were also doing this for science, we decided to throw a bucket over board and try and catch them. We could only do it on the starboard side of the ship because ROPOS was in the water on the port side, and we quickly realized that tying a rope to a bucket and throwing it over was not going to work.

In a panic to try and catch the jellyfish before they all floated away, we went inside and grabbed one of the engineers to help us make our makeshift bucket system more effective. The answer was obviously duct tape. So we ended up with one rope on the bucket handle, and then another rope tied around the bottom and duct taped into place.  Making a long story short, we were out on the fantail for about an hour and caught 7 jellyfish. We screamed the entire time like children of course, and got a lot of looks from the crew, but it was so much fun.

We learned a lot about them though, which was the ultimate goal. We had thought that the entire jelly was translucent, but when we pulled them up they were bright blue! The vertical sail part was clear, but they had a flat part (horizontal to the water) that was bright blue. After freaking out for a few minutes, we gathered the courage to pick one up and look underneath. The top part of them is really waxy, similar to candle wax, and then the bottom is really hairy with really fine little tentacles. We took tons of pictures, you know your standard group selfies and a “pretend like I’m eating it” picture. And after a few minutes of peer pressure, I licked it. Malea also smeared one all of my face, which was a bad time. 

On the research side of things, I had ROPOS take some seawater samples around the hydrothermal vents at 1500m, 1400m and 1000m. One of the niskin bottles didn’t fire (sad face), but I got to empty them off of ROPOS at the end of the dive which was really cool. I had a bad time though when I had to empty the rest of the niskins and got drenched in frigid seawater. But I guess that’s what I get for being short. I originally didn’t want samples from around the vents, but I think it would be cool to compare these samples with those from the same depths in a different location. From that I could see if the vents have any influence on the surrounding potassium isotope composition of the oceans.

To wrap up the night, we watched the movie The Men Who Stare at Goats, and then made friendship bracelets after. We’re such kids. Mine turned out pretty bad… so I’m going to have to redo it at some point. I also haven’t gone to sleep because my watch starts at 0400, so we’ll see how tomorrow goes after this all-nighter.

July 11

Today I got ocean rocks.

ROPOS recovered some sulfide samples from the Escargot vent in the International District. The recovered sulfide samples look really awesome! The rock contains a copper-iron sulfide called chalcopyrite, but there are these white patches on it that I’m not sure what it is. I think it has to be either amorphous silica or anhydrite. It’s so weird to be looking at something that was on the bottom of the ocean a few hours ago. If you really think about it, its even weirder to think about how the minerals even form under the acidic conditions of the vents. You could start with just plain seawater, follow it through it circulation through the oceanic crust, being heated and enriched in the surrounding basement minerals, and then finally exiting the chimneys and precipitating sulfide minerals after being entrained in seawater. It’s a beautiful process, and it’s so cool that you can hold tangible evidence of that. Maybe it’s just because I’m a geology major, but I love that by just looking a rock you can know its entire history. I’m a marine geology fan girl, and I encourage everyone else to hop on the bandwagon! GEOLOGY ROCKS (*excuse the bad pun*).

July 9

Today was probably one of the best days of my life, and it’s only 9:22am. This morning I woke up for my normal watch in the ROPOS control room, and there was no way I could have prepared myself for what I was about to see. ROPOS had brought down a new HD camera and an OSMO fluid sampler to the Mushroom hydrothermal vent. Watching the Zeus camera on ROPOS was hands down the most amazing thing that my eyes have ever seen. After installing the new HD camera and connecting it to shore, ROPOS turned off its lights and only the small lights from the HD camera were shining on the vent. It was eerie and enchanting all at the same time. The dim lighting made it look even more like an alien world. The image was so clear that it almost looked animated. I took SO many pictures, and a lot of them turned out really great. I took this one picture of this sea cucumber floating up into the water column, and the HD camera was shining behind it so the organism came out super clear. It is an awesome shot, and I’m definitely super proud of it. The camera on ROPOS is so amazing, and you could easily see all of the super heated acidic fluids streaming out of the vent. It was so unbelievable. We all keep saying that when we go home no one will believe what we’ve done and what we’ve seen. It’s one of those things that you can only comprehend if you see it in person. And I feel so lucky that I get to keep these memories forever.

I only got an hour of sleep though last night because I had watch at 0400 hours and we all stayed up eating popcorn and talking about all of our gross injury stories as kids. It was a great night, very weird and gruesome things to bond over, but it was great. I’m sure we could all talk to each other for hours on end, and it’s a total shame that we have to sleep. Sleeping is so pointless, especially when there are broken bones to talk about, and oceans to explore. You quickly learn that when you’re aboard the Thompson you don’t sleep, because ain’t nobody got time for that. Literally.

July 8

The amount of information that I’ve learned in the past few days has been both exciting and overwhelming. Learning all of the instrumentation and their functions has been extremely tiresome, but it allows me to fully comprehend the scale of this expedition and its importance. Each instrument seems to be more complex than the next, and there are way too many abbreviations and acronyms to remember, but it’s super rewarding once you finally understand it.

The favorite part of my day has been actively logging the ROPOS dives. My watch is from 0400-0800 hours, which is not the most ideal time, but it is definitely my favorite place to be on the Thompson. As cliché as it might sound, I still can’t believe that I get to contribute to the success of this expedition. The dives for the most part have been going extremely well. The past few days we have been recovering instruments installed in 2014 and deploying new ones in their place. Watching the ROPOS crew work is nothing short of awe inspiring. They remind me of the crew from the movie Apollo 13. There are times when things go wrong, but they ALWAYS seem to find a way to complete the dive. They’re like oceanographic wizards. 

But on a more casual note, Malea and I have been asking crew members to tell us their “craziest stories” at dinner, which has been going extremely well. To make a long story short, the chief engineer told us about the worst storm that he’s ever been in. He was on a 900ft oil tanker in the Atlantic with 100ft swells that lasted for 4 DAYS STRAIGHT, and their engine was damaged, and they couldn’t stop to fix it or else they would capsize. Talk about a story.

July 5

I must say, I’ve had better mornings. Last night was a serious struggle to get any sleep once the ship began its transit through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Around 0100 hours the boat started to heave back and forth as we headed into strong northerly winds. The sensation that I had in my bunk was similar to that of a roller coaster; those few moments of weightlessness with that intense heavy feeling as you descend from the crest. Initially I was very concerned that I was going to get seasick, and I thought that I was utterly doomed last night, but I didn’t experience any nausea and have yet to hug the toilet. Knock on wood.

Breakfast was delicious and very needed after a night of being tossed around like a salad. I accidently sat in the captain’s seat at the breakfast table (*face palm*), which was a pretty embarrassing move on my part. However in my defense, the seat was not labeled. It was an innocent mistake! After I finished eating, I wandered out onto the fantail and helped Eric Olson, one of the instrument specialists, with the cables for one of the small junction boxes (or secondary nodes).

As of writing this blog, the highlight of my day has been learning about the Integrated Response Logging System (IRLS) that is used for the ROPOS dives, and the responsibilities that I will have during my hours on watch. I have the 0400-0800 watch shift, which will be a very difficult schedule to get used to. But I am very excited to be on watch during a live dive and see the live feed that ROPOS will be streaming. ROPOS is such an amazing piece of technology, and I feel very privileged to be able to log ROPOS dives as the vehicle descends and works on operations. It is a little intimidating, but it’s often the nerve-racking experiences that turn out to be the most memorable ones. I’m currently in the open ocean, an incredibly hostile and fickle environment, so why not try something a little scary? We’re scheduled to arrive at Slope Base at midnight, so only a few more hours until the real fun begins. Wish me luck.