The past day and a half have been the epitome of bittersweet.
I can't say that I'm not ready to go home. My family and I have been through a lot this last year and I struggle not being home to support them and encourage them. More than anything I miss the sound of my three year old nephew squealing Aunty and telling me about his latest favorite show about sharks or fish tanks or how he found a bug while he was digging in the gravel next to his house. It might not sound like much but it's these little things that happen everyday that can carry the most weight in someone's mind, especially when you know what you're missing and you know that everyone's time here is limited in one way or another.
On the other hand, there's nothing more inspiring than being out on the boat with such an amazing group of peers and scientists. To be able to learn from them and to hear about their studies and research sparks a curiosity in me that takes over a good amount of my mind and thoughts. I feel that I am very lucky to be out here on this ship to learn from the experiences of all the unique and charming people out here including the scientists, students, marine techs, engineers, and AB and ship crew. I specifically enjoyed learning more about spectrophotometric determination of pH as I have been interested in the carbonate system and state of our oceans chemistry for some time. But we don't just learn science out here, we learn about life. Most of my conversations with everyone have provided me some perspective on what I would like to do with my degree after graduation. I have discussed the ups and downs of many options like state run programs, U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife, looking for specific labs that I would enjoy, Coast Guard, the Navy, and many more all from people with first hand experience. One of the most inspiring lifestyles to me, of one of the most AWESOME persons aboard, is that of a woman who works on the ship as an AB and spends much of her free time traveling and scuba diving at some of the most beautiful places. She kindly shared a handful of photos of her ventures with me when she thinks of places that I might enjoy to hear about, and I'm so thankful she does.
I am also looking forward to shrinking our cups! What we do for this is color 12 oz styrofoam cups with visions of ROPOS, sea critters, lava flows, or pretty much anything we like, an then we send them down on the CTD to 2600 meters. The intense pressure at depth squishes the styrofoam cups down by four or five sizes, saturating the colors and miniaturizing our drawings. I've made two this trip, both of which I plan to give as gifts. One, of course, is for Hudson and is covered with one big shark and his name in primary colors across the top.
Everything seems to be moving extremely slow today. It's like the ship itself is holding its' breath while we approach the Axial site where the last eruption occurred in April of this year. There are many possibilities of what could be there but without visiting, we really don't know the exact geological morphology or the life that is present. We will hopefully see large microbial mats and maybe "snow blowers," which are vents that while they emit fluids, catch a white microbe species in their flow and carry it into the water. It's so exciting to be here with these scientists and be able to be the first group to lay eyes on the newly formed rock from the flow.
Today was the first day I woke up feeling fully rested. I was able to sleep a full 9 hours which was wonderfully refreshing. We were still steaming to Axial at this point and were moving through some waves about 10 ft high that were far enough apart to give the boat a feeling of smooth movement. However, I found that this made showering a difficult balancing act and ended up feeling pretty nauseous afterward. I had to take a Dramamine and rest for a little while but am feeling much better after the thoughtful kitchen help set out some fruit, salami, cheese and cracker snacks. I am really looking forward to tonight's ROPOS dive which will be longer and include an instrument recovery; but, more importantly, we'll be at Axial Seamount, a volcano that has erupted in the recent past.
Pulling myself out of bed at 3:30am is still a struggle today, but the view of the sun coming up over the water is completely worth it. I love my shift from 4am to 8am. The quiet morning when no one is around but the sea, sun and sky is my favorite time.
There was not too much going on today other than some deck operations, and we are preparing for a CTD cast and then a 20 hour steam out to Axial Base to begin one of the longer ROPOS dives. I have spent most of my day absorbed in my book The Soul of an Octopus, which is an insightful work that provides a real insight into the possibility of another form of a conscious mind in animals and it's place in science. After finishing, I was also able to spend the later part of the evening learning about how to measure pH of gathered sea water samples using spectrophotometry. This is a subject I am very interested in and I highly appreciated the chance to be able to test my hand at it, as conducting this method can be somewhat finicky and sensitive to human error. I did this until it had passed midnight and then went to bed for some necessary rest.
This morning consisted of a short watch of ROPOS ascending from a dive to retrieve an HPIES package, which is an instrument used to measure average current velocities, a deck operation that was much more complicated than I could have expected with multiple lines, wenches, extra blocks and an efficient amount of communication between members on the aft deck and the bridge and science party, and finally a wonderful breakfast comprised of bacon, eggs, hash browns, fruit and cottage cheese and a corned beef and sweet potato hash. It doesn’t get much better than that and it is currently not even 8 am. I also helped doing some video of the operation which was a little difficult with the pitch and roll of the boat, but not nearly as difficult as it seemed watching the engineers putting the mooring for the deep profiler off the A-frame of the aft deck.
The deployment of the Deep Profiler took a large part of the early morning and afternoon and included many steps to insure safety of the deck hands and the instrument. This instruments general setup includes a large weight that sits on the ocean floor, a dock station where it is charged and relays information through another cable to the rest of the array, a large buoyant float that sits beneath the waters surface at the top of the setup to keep the cable taught, and the instrument which moves up and down this cable. I was fortunate enough to watch this instrument being tested and learned from two of the engineers how the docks charging and communications work for this impressive ocean sensor. The Deep Profiler is capable of running multiple tasks including taking measurements of pH, conductivity, temperature, depth, acoustic readings, and can also support other sensors with its creative battery pack.
All the excitement only continued through the rest of the day. The food is always amazing, but I was more than happy when I walked upstairs to find freshly steamed brussel sprouts as a side for dinner. They became more of my main course and I was thankful for a full helping and some delicious seasoning. To finish off the day, the ROPOS crew dove to observe the Deep Profiler. On arriving on the bottom at 2,890 meters the cameras spotted a fish that, before the visions expeditions, hadn't been seen since 1979. The Genioliparis ferox is related to the sucker fish and is quite an interesting creature, with its streamlined body and wide set eyes above its tentacle like mouth appendages. It was really neat to see this fish that was so rare but that seems to be a trend when studying the deep ocean. The Instrument was not yet at it's docking station while I was observing the dive but I was told it was succesful in getting there at a later time. This must have been a big moment for the engineering and science crew because the instrument is using a new way of charging called induction which is something I am still not too clear on but I iknow it involves magnetism and, amazingly, is able to be done without a water tight seal.
Before my day ended I spent some time coloring a styrofoam cup for my nephew Hudson. The cup is going to be added to a bag on one of our CTD casts and "minitiarized" by the intense pressures at depth. A peer and I, Tracie, looked through the seashore audubon and some of the gathered biology pictures taken by ROPOS to make them realistic, well at least she did. Mine is not nearly as mosaic but I know Hudson will like the shark on it and I can't wait to see his eyes light up when he sees his perfectly sized shark cup. Tracie is an aspiring children's author and I share her passion for bringing the things we learn here to a younger audience in a relatable presentation. For me this specifically includes my intelligent little nephew but I appreciate her determination for a wider audience.
Lastly, tomorrow I may be able to help gather sea water samples and try my hand at determining the pH using spectrophotometry. This means adding a liqiud to the sea water sample, called an indicator solution, and using light absorbancies to determine its acidity. With a good amount of data that is well recorded with each samples depth, lattitude, and longitude, I can then use a computer program to create a visual aid of the pH of the water column where the samples were taken in the vertical and horizontal, depending on where and how many samples I am able to complete. I am looking forward to this task because I enjoy leaarning about ocean chemistry.
The first day is always a little rough. I heard this statement a few times from other science crew members and it was too true last year on the ship for one of my good friends who was sea sick. This time around has hit me hard. Last year I was excited by the motion of the big waves as soon as we were past the safety of the jetty but this year I was a little nervous and hadn't eaten well after a long car ride from Seattle to Newport. It made a noticeable difference in the state of my stomach and head and I think I may have already slept more hours than spent hours awake since we left the docks.
That aside I have been picking some of my peers' brains trying to decide on an interesting project. Some of my interests in the past included the carbonate system, especially in and near the Northern Pacific Gyre which is a warmer body of water that circulates north of the equator. The warmer temperature of this body of water can affect the air and sea gas concentrations and it can also vary from other areas in its pH. It would be interesting then to observe gas concentrations and/or pH in this system, along with temperature, to see its variability both at the surface and with increasing depth. I would specifically like to learn more about spectrophotometric determination of pH which is a process of determining the acidity of a sea water sample after adding an indicator and measuring its absorbance.
Even after not feeling too ship-shape, there is still no place I would rather be. I am thankful for every opportunity I have to come out on the water with this group and the determination in both my peers and the other scientists in each of their studies is inspiring in the way of always making me want to do more. I will have my first scheduled shift from 4 am to 8 am and I'm hoping it will include some exciting ROPOS or aft deck operations but on the boat there are many variables to be considered in all operations.
Every time I see the Thomas G Thompson, my first thought is that most pictures do not do it justice. It is a huge ship and fitting it in a single picture is a challenge depending on your distance from it. Even then, if you do succeed fitting the whole of it in a frame, it can degrade its true grandeur without another object to provide some scale. This is not a problem when standing beside it in person. Its sheer size when sitting in the water could intimidate a three story building and its length requires a reasonable sized dock. It is immediate in demanding your attention and combined with the other siege of your senses by the salted air and bristling wind, there is no sweeter greeting.
I was excited to get on board as soon as we arrived and enjoyed meeting all of the people I would share the next week and a half with. It is a very diverse group this leg and there are students from Western Washington University and Grays Harbor aswell as students from the University of Washington participating. It is so neat to hear about their background knowledge and experience whether it is in electrical engineering, biology, chemistry, or geology. I am very thankful for how open and informative this group of scientists is. Learning in this kind of a setting is a whole different experience.