Katie Keils Blog

June 27, 2018

We’re only two days away from returning to port, so time is more valuable than ever.

My shift in the ROV control van was cancelled this morning due to choppy seas that put an abrupt halt to all ROV Jason operations. I slept in – a bit longer than I meant to, I must admit – and ended up missing breakfast. I needed the extra sleep, though, since I spent a significant portion of the night sitting in the science lab with Brendan, a pHd student at UW. Since we couldn’t deploy Jason, we used ship time to map a section of the seafloor with sonar in search of new methane seeps. He explained the ins-and-outs of the ship’s sonar technology and the methodology of identifying a plume on the map. Although it was a previously discovered methane seep, I was ecstatic to point to the screen and identify an active methane source right under our ship. Brendan’s transects were scheduled to last for seven hours, so as exciting as real-time seafloor mapping is, I do have my limits.

The majority of my day was spent working on my VISIONS 2018 project. We, the students, are tasked with completing a project by fall quarter, so I started to make some serious headway on mine. Since I find it absolutely fascinating, I will be creating a documentary of the sonar technologies on board for outreach purposes. On this leg of the cruise, we have two scientists on board from MARUM at the University of Bremen in Germany, that are deploying two sonar instruments on the seafloor at Southern Hydrate Ridge. Their sonar technology is unique because instead of projecting down towards the seafloor like last night’s operations, their instruments point upwards and complete a continuous 360-degree scan of the surrounding area. Their technology can be deployed for several years to get a long-term time series dataset of methane seep activity, which is both rare and invaluable. I spent the morning finalizing my interview questions, interviewing them in the ship’s bridge, and getting a tour of their single-beam and multibeam sonar instruments on deck. I’m hopeful that my documentary will be able to depict the (seemingly endless) capabilities of sonar and illuminate the functionality of two specific scientific instruments deployed in the Cabled Array.

I’ve spent the rest of my available free time helping transport and prep instruments such as the Mosquito (Multiple Orifice Sampler and Quantitive Injection Tracer) on the undervator, discuss projects with my classmates, and capture footage of the operations… also, eating. The food here is so superb. Tonight, we had poke, chickpea marsala, broccoli, and mashed potatoes for dinner with an apple crisp and ice cream for dessert. I’ll miss quite a few things when I get back to port, and the food is right there near the top of the list.

June 26, 2018

Unfortunately, the smooth seas didn’t come today.

My 2:45 AM alarm didn’t feel any easier than it did my first night, but the sights to be seen in the ROV control van are always worth the lack of sleep. Today, we had operations at the Slope Base site, where we swapped out equipment at an astounding 2,900 meters deep (or approximately 9,500 ft). Although I wasn’t able to see the infamous ‘weird fish’ (Genioliparis kafanovi), I was able to spot a look-a-like fish that blindly squirmed in front of the ROV cameras. Honestly, any organism found that deep is interesting.

Unfortunately, the wild ocean swells continued throughout my shift, sending water bottles, coffee, and cups full of snacks flying around the ROV control van… as well as sending my stomach into knots. The second my shift was up, it was off to bed again – an unfortunate routine forming.

After a much-needed nap and respite from the waves, I got a tour of the bridge – easily the best view on the ship. I learned the basics of steering the R/V Revelle and the technology (e.g., the dynamic positioning system, sonar and charting instruments), as well as a few captivating stories from the Captain himself. I’ve spent the rest of the day working on finalizing my outreach project ideas, learning about scientist’s projects on board, and recovering from seasickness.

Saltines and water for now, but I know more excitement is on the horizon.

June 25, 2018

Today has been a blur. Seasickness is certainly not for the weak of heart.

We were met with some rougher seas, leaving me either bedridden or in the head for most of the day. Although it’s been an exhausting day, it was not short for highlights.

I was able to make it through my first shift, where we swapped out an old ‘tripod’ (or camera) for a new one and used a large piece of equipment called an ‘undervator’ (or underwater elevator) to transport the equipment installed last year back on board the ship. While surfacing, the ROV pilot turned on some music, which kept spirits high as we completed another operation. Then, it was straight to bed.

I made it out of the bunk a few times throughout the day: once for dolphins that were swimming alongside our boat, and again for a survey of two methane seeps: Einstein’s Grotto and Smoky Caverns. I saw flounder, microbial mats, hagfish, sea cucumbers, and a variety of starfish. Unfortunately, I missed the shark and translucent squid seen in earlier ROV operations.

The students also got a tour of the ROV Jason, which instilled in me a new appreciation for the machine, the engineers behind it, and the operations altogether. One of the pilots walked us through all the cameras and scientific instruments, such as a CTD (measuring conductivity, temperature, and depth) and a magnetometer (measuring magnetic fields). He explained that on the top of the ROV is approximately 3,000 pounds of syntactic foam, or compressed foam used for regulating buoyancy. The Launch and Recovery System (LARS) alone was impressive – a 40,000-pound crane and 30,000-pound operating system have to be placed on the boat within a few millimeters of each other.  As a scientist, I was surprised to find that the behind-the-scenes operations are as interesting as the science itself.

Today was all about riding the ‘wave’ and making lemonade out of lemons, but I am hopeful for smoother seas tomorrow.

June 24, 2018

I knew yesterday that there would be a lot to learn, but I realize now that I hadn’t even begun to grasp the magnitude of it all. Thankfully, growing pains aren’t always so painful.

As an interdisciplinary scientist with a primarily terrestrial-focused undergraduate education and professional career, I sometimes find myself “lost at sea”. I am well-versed in planktonic organisms, ocean acidification, and oceanographic concepts pertinent to my area of study in graduate school, but benthic environments and marine technology are outside of my comfort zone – which is entirely why I embarked on this cruise. Unsurprisingly, the ocean is the best place to have a crash course in all things oceanography.

Day two definitely delivered. My 4AM shift came faster than I had hoped, but the excitement of my first shift (and a cup of coffee) helped me stay focused in the ROV control van filled to the brim with computer screens and scientific jargon. I quickly learned the basic layout of the room, including the location of the sonar screen, ship cruise track with ‘pingers’ on the ROV and cable floats, and various camera angles. Four people sat before me: the navigator, the scientist (or the “hotseat”), the pilot of the ROV, and the wench operator. I am in charge of annotating the live stream footage of the dive, whereas my partner takes pictures and powers some of the video equipment. Together, we all work as an integrated unit to conduct the operation in an effective, efficient, and well-documented manner.

During my shift, we deployed a shallow profiler assembly (SPA) at a 200-meter platform on the Slope Base Vertical Mooring. I’ve always had an affinity for biology, so I had difficulty peeling my eyes away from the marine life darting across the screens to the focus on ROV operations. We saw everything from pyrosomes to ctenophores, and the entire room shared a laugh when a starfish kept getting in the way of the ROV’s arms during a difficult task. Next thing I knew, my shift was over, it was light outside, and time for breakfast.

While steaming to our next site (Endurance Offshore), I sat outside to settle my stomach since I hadn’t quite gotten my sea legs. Before long, I saw a blow and spray in the distance that sent me sprinting to grab my binoculars from the main lab. I followed the whales as they crossed the boat’s path and got some great views of them surfacing. I spent the rest of the day in the ROV van watching footage of gigantic black cod and skillful ROV maneuvering, catching up with colleagues while watching nearby albatross, and making new connections during mealtimes.

There’s never a shortage of things to do, see, and learn, and I’m excited to continue getting into the rhythm of operations on board and retaining some of the complex terminology-  growing pains or not.

June 23, 2018: 

The ocean feels like coming home.

Last summer, this girl from Arkansas went on her first research cruise in Washington state’s Puget Sound for nine days… then repeated it again a couple months later. Now, as I type, this same girl finds herself in the open ocean… with no signs of stopping. Clearly, I’ve gotten hooked.

When I found myself waking up on the R/V Roger Revelle this morning, I had to pinch myself. This boat is over 200 feet longer than the R/V Clifford A. Barnes – my previous vessel – and definitely feels like it. I traded in my flimsy pad for a mattress, my one head (i.e., bathroom) shared with the entire boat for a semi-private head shared between four people, and my comically cramped deck workouts for a small gym. However, after getting lost in the “labyrinth” of hallways and doors on the way to breakfast, I realized there may be more to get used to than expected.

We set sail from Newport, OR at approximately 10AM, and I couldn’t wait to get on the bow to take in the adventure ahead. On deck, I was met with smooth seas, fair skies, and naturally, a crew of giddy scientists and crewmembers with cameras in hand to capture the scenery: sandy beaches, a lighthouse, two vocal sea lions, and at least three whales. Although I consider myself a lover of invertebrates, I can never seem to dampen my excitement around marine mammals, and promptly began a running tally of all the marine life sightings. Within the first hour, I already had a sizeable list.

We had about a five-hour steam to our first site: Slope Base, which is located near the Oregon continental shelf. The hours flew by due to a combination of getting settled in our respective bunks, a game of Scrabble, and conversing with colleagues. I am one of ten Visions 2018 students going out to sea on Leg 1, and I quickly learned that each of us have unique skillsets, experiences, and strengths to bring to the table, and that I have a lot to learn from them, too.

One of our primary duties is working daily four-hour shifts in the ROV (remotely operated vehicle) van, a room packed full of computer monitors where we watch, document, record, and control all of ROV Jason’s actions. My bunkmate and I are assigned to work the 4AM to 8AM shift, so we spent some time in the van getting used to the various screens, duties, and positions to ready ourselves for the quickly approaching morning. Due to the daunting 2:45AM wakeup call, we got to bed early and after a sloshing around in my bed for an hour and a bout of seasickness, I was able to find a moment to fall asleep to the rhythmic waves slapping the side of the boat.

Although so much feels new – the crew, the technology, the study sites – so much feels familiar – the science, the excitement, the feeling of being back where I belong – and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has to offer.