June 16, 2019:
Today I finished reading one of the books I brought with me. I used to read a lot when I was younger, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve aged out of my voracious appetite for books. Have the books become too boring or have I become too boring? Anyway, I brought a book with me to sea and I finished it quickly. It was pretty good. I think maybe my attention span is a little bit longer out here.
There was a long Jason dive today, and I spent a lot of time in the control van. We saw tubeworms, scale worms, basalt flows, and superheated gas-rich fluids flowing into the cold ocean water, which was incredible. Aside from that I’ve mostly been chilling out, watching Letterkenny in the ship’s video room, and talking to other students and members of the science crew (because I have a lot to learn from them)!
I walked around the perimeter of the ship today to get a good look at the open ocean and it wasn’t as flooring as I expected. You would think that kind of view would make you feel isolated or alone, but it really doesn’t feel like that on this ship, especially because there are so many people to meet and places on the vessel to explore. If anything, the only downside to being out here is not having ice cream. I kind of miss ice cream.
June 15, 2019:
Today we made it to the base of Axial Seamount and we made the deepest dive of this leg of the cruise at a whopping 2600 meters! Part of the dive took place during my watch, which I thought would be exhilarating although it was mostly just a bunch of sitting there while watching Jason descend into darkness. On the way down I did see a lot of jellyfish, though, in colors like soft cream and blood red. I honestly didn’t even know there were red jellyfish but apparently there are.
Also, there are way more jellyfish in the ocean than you would expect. There are also way more weird colonial creatures in the ocean than you would expect, which create strange floating silhouettes that kind of look like speckled jellies, but they’re really made of lots of different creatures, floating around in the darkness. There are also lots of different types of starfish, and one looks like it’s made of large plumy feathers and they fly through the water like Dr. Seuss creatures.
We also took a tour of the engine room today, which was more enlightening than I expected it to be. We learned a lot about the way the ship moves, how it’s propelled, and the different mechanisms that contribute to that propulsion. I won’t bog you down with the details, but it was very interesting and had to do with thrust as well as traditional propellers.
The engine room was very loud, which I know, must be shocking- but you can’t even speak to another person in there and expect them to hear a word you say. My dad was in the Navy and lost some of his hearing working in the engine room and I understand why now- there’s not much that foam earplugs can do to save your sad little eardrums from the constant roar of machinery working together to push a huge metal container through the ocean.
Also, we haven’t even gotten to look at hydrothermal vent ecosystems yet, but today I learned that tubeworms, organisms without a gut that rely on bacteria that feed off of gases from the vents to provide energy from them, actually have a larval stage where they have a gut and eat food… but they ‘grow out of it’ when they’re adults and get a new organ that uses the bacteria! That might sound like rambling but it’s so novel it blows my mind.
We’ll get a peek at a vent ecosystem later tonight, which I can’t wait for. Also, I briefly ran away while typing up this blog post to go look at whales near the ship! That’s the closest I’ve ever seen whales- even though they weren’t even that close. But the view out there is amazing, I’ll take a picture for you guys.
June 14, 2019:
Hey guys, today has been pretty eventful. I got to work my first shift on the boat, which started at 6:30 this morning. That’s definitely earlier than I’m used to being awake, but it wasn’t bad at all because the ship was still buzzing with activity, which made it feel less early than it actually was. I got to log video data for a few Jason dives, taking pictures every so often and switching around which cameras were recording and streaming the dives. For those of you who don’t know, Jason is the name of the robotically operated vehicle that this cruise is using to manage operations in the ocean. I’ll attach a picture above so you can see what I’m talking about, it looks like a giant square submarine with huge metal arms because, well… that’s exactly what it is.
Yesterday was also my first night sleeping on the open ocean, which went better than expected. I didn’t roll off of the top bunk like I feared I might, and I slept like a baby, albeit a baby that was being rocked by an over enthusiastic rocker.
We made a short transit last night (~ 2 hrs) to the site we are currently at, the Slope Base, which meant more intense motion on the ship. A few crew members have suggested I have my sea legs now, and for my own sake I hope they’re right because we have a 16-hour transit starting soon after the time that I’m writing this. I’ll keep myself busy to try to fool my body into thinking that it isn’t being thrown around like a ragdoll.
One of the ways I’ll hopefully be keeping busy is working on my project, which will hopefully involve interviewing people on the ship to see exactly how they all found their way to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. As you can imagine, the kinds of people finding themselves in the middle of the ocean usually have some kind of a good story so I’m hoping that this project will be pretty fun.
Aside from all that, what have we actually done this past day or so at sea? Well, we’ve been using Jason to dive down to the depths of the ocean to retrieve equipment installed last year and deploy new equipment that is part of the Regional Cabled Array system.
We’ve also been sampling the water column, which basically means we’re trying to figure out exactly what’s going on with the ocean from top to bottom. This involves lots of dangling of heavy equipment over the side of the ship with liens and caables and dropping it into the water, and then collecting lots of samples in small bottles, which basically means we numerous small bottles of seawater for ship and shore-based analyses.
For all you foodies out there, great news- the food out here isn’t bad. For example, I had some perfectly scrambled eggs with breakfast potatoes and fruit this morning, and a nice bean and cheese enchilada with salsa and guac for lunch. Unfortunately, this also means that I’m eating better than I usually do during any given day living by myself.
I’ll end this here because our 16-hour transit is starting and I don’t know if staring at a computer screen is going to be doing me any favors. Bye for now!
June 13, 2019:
Hey everyone! This is going to be my first entry into the log I’m keeping at sea, and I’m pretty excited to start it. I’m not totally sure how huge my audience is going to be outside of a few close friends and family, but it’s nice to feel like this is my soapbox to talk to the whole world about what being on the Atlantis is like. First of all, let’s talk about the fact that the R/V Atlantis (the research vessel I’m on right now if you haven’t figured it out already) is the research vessel that the Atlantis space shuttle is named after.
The shuttles in NASA’s fleet were named after iconic oceanographic vessels, including Columbia, which was named after the Columbia Rediviva, the first ship to explore the Pacific Northwest and circumnavigate the world. It’s crazy knowing that you’re sitting in a ship that shares its namesake with another ship, both exploring the unknown.
The unknown is inseparably intertwined with ideas of adventure and purposes greater than oneself, which might sound cheesy, but it’s true. My curiosity for what lay beneath the horizon beyond what I could see was seeded by movies like Stardust, Treasure Planet, and Pirates of the Caribbean. If you knew me as a kid you would know I loved pirates, and that isn’t because I loved pillaging and plundering. It’s because movies like those mentioned above painted a portrait of the sea being an endless swath of space that represented independence- a vessel- for transportation to distant lands, and filled with sunken treasure and alien creatures. (I really hope you all appreciate my use of the word vessel here- hope I’m making my English teachers proud).
Being on the ship right now is exciting, there’s nothing for miles in any direction, but it doesn’t feel lonely. There are flocks of birds that zip by, flying close to the water, and gulls that float above us every once and a while. We even saw a whale in the distance once we left shore, breaching out of the water every few minutes and producing huge frothy splashes. I tried to film it but who knows if I captured anything between not being able to tell where my camera is pointing and me falling over every few seconds and shifting the camera angle.
That’s another thing, the ship rolls. Duh, obviously, everyone knows that. But when we’re moving between sites, I’m telling you guys, we roll. Sometimes, when people are intoxicated, they talk about ‘the spins’, where it’s hard to walk and your stomach gets sick because it feels like everything is spinning. Well, imagine that everything IS spinning and it doesn’t stop for hours. The normal force changes under your feet every few seconds, changing your relationship with gravity, rearranging the food in your stomach, and making you stumble into walls and over chairs. I didn’t know if I got seasick before coming on this trip and let’s just say that now I do know.
I’ve been taking lots of videos and photos and I can’t wait to share them. That way, you guys can get a glimpse into life at sea without having to go and figure out exactly how seasick you get like me. The next time I check in I’ll be able to tell you all exactly what it’s like working in the control van (which controls the remotely operated submersible Jason), which I’m super stoked about. Bye for now! Cross your fingers for calm seas.
PS, my seasickness is better so please don’t feel the need to fly out here on a helicopter and save me.