Monique Bells Blog

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August 5, 2017

Last night was the first of my watches that lasted the full 4 hours. It was really cool to be there for a full shift; normally, my roommate Hanis and I are on what’s called the “Z-shift,” meaning we get to watch Jason ascend or descend on the Z axis. Put in very simple terms, it means we just get to see a bunch of marine snow while Jason either goes up to the boat or down to the seafloor. On our shift yesterday, they used the ship to lift a junction box that weighs more than a ton! They moved it back to its correct position and got it set up again. A few years back, the junction box was knocked over by som event. So, the Jason crew spent well over 12 hours trying to get it upright and replaced with the new junction box.

I sat at the stern of the ship today, rather than the bow. It was an interesting experience, you’re much closer to the water there, and can notice even the tiniest ripples across its surface. Water is so interesting… One perturbation of its wild surface, and a shockwave is sent through its body, which goes on and on until interference from a solid body or from another passing wave stops it. Normally on clouded days like today, the ocean is dark, just a few touches up from pitch black… but if a current runs through it, like when the ship’s rudders activate, the near-black water turns a bright cerulean. The ocean is the only place I have noticed that defies all common sense: I have seen its surface be wild and untamed, I have seen it calm and gentle. I have seen things under the water that shouldn’t exist: lakes and other bodies of fluid, flames at the top of El Guapo, all varieties of biological monstrosities, some of which can survive without brain or gut. Our division of science has only just scraped the surface of the possibilities beneath the ocean. I am grateful that I still have many years ahead of me, to discover and to explore: I can’t wait to see what future findings will reveal.

This ship really is amazing… The first day we sent our ROV into the water, I was worried the ship would drift away from the JASON and problems would arise… As it turns out, this ship is able to lock in on a certain set of coordinates and stay at those coordinates despite movement from the ocean. So, the ship is constantly moving, constantly readjusting with minor movements to remain in the exact position it needs to be in. There are also ways to move this ship sideways (which ships aren’t exactly supposed to do), so it won’t even spin or turn. In cases like the dive mentioned above, when the ship must be used to move equipment, it can move sideways to save time and ensure the equipment moves only as much as it absolutely needs to. I haven’t been on many ships, however this ship is the most versatile and incredible vessel thus far.

I am in the high hopes that I will have the opportunity to experience many, many more ocean-going vessels in the future, on countless new adventures.

August 4, 2017

Our checklist on the “Leg 1 Activities” board is quickly dwindling down. There’s only a few things left to us. Despite rough waves and strong currents interferring, and weather conditions halting progress on occasion, the board is almost complete. I am amazed at the amount of work a team of people can get done in a week and a half. Congratulations to the JASON team, who have worked hard to maneuver our ROV through harsh conditions to get the job done, and congratulations to the crew for keeping things going in the meantime, and the science party for pulling everything together.

Speaking of the crew, I have discovered the chefs here are quite evil. Everybody else assumed they were trying to fatten us up, but until last night, it was not confirmed. One of the ship’s chefs told me, “If you haven’t gained at least five pounds by the time you leave this ship, we haven’t done our job right.” Yesterday, they served delicious cookies with lunch, an extremely rich chocolate cake for dinner, and some chocolate covered strawberries for desert after the cake! And they talked me into eating a little of all three. Today, they made “comfort food” for lunch: macaroni, grilled cheese, chips, and a few things I couldn’t have that were not vegetarian, but looked equally as good (or as bad, if you are trying to watch your figure). Sometimes you just can’t help it, everything they cook on this ship is delicious, creative, and beautifully plated. Then, they offer ice cream that’s in a freezer, behind a glass door, all day long… right next to the many, many containers of candy, trail mix, chocolate, and assorted nuts and crackers.

I suppose the chefs can’t be that evil, if they put in such long days and work their hands all day long cooking and washing and prepping… I wonder if they put in as many hours as my Uncle does. In my short twenty-one years, I have never met his equal as far as role models go. He is easily the hardest worker I’ve met to date. That means: the chefs don’t quite take the metaphorical cake. It goes to my uncle… so long as it’s given to him on the weekend, and is made with all-natural ingredients.

For the longest time, I knew we had an exercise room on the ship, but I couldn’t find it. Thank you to Alex, who finally showed me where it was. I went for a mile-long jog today on the ship’s treadmill and did a few inclined sit-ups, while also taking some videos of the equipment for my outreach project. Looks like the ship’s chefs won’t quite put five pounds on me. I am very impressed with the ship’s exercise room, I wouldn’t have thought there would be so much equipment on the ship to keep fit. A treadmill, a rower, an inclined sit-up board, and a cycling machine, not to mention a weight room a few decks above, yoga balls, and a yoga class. If only I had known about these from the first day! All those cake and cookie calories I could’ve burned off!

Today is going to be a day dedicated to cutting back my videos on my outreach project and making sure I have every video I need… because despite popular belief, we are not going to be on this boat forever, and I don’t want to go home and realize I missed a vital video of something.
And now, it is time for dinner. Hopefully the chefs have been kind enough to avoid making desert today.

August 3, 2017

It has reached that point of the cruise, the one where people start talking about what needs to be done by the time we reach port. That means it’s almost time to go home. It’s been a real adventure, and I’ll be sorry to say goodbye to the ship and the sea even if it’s only for a little while. This was the first time I ventured out to sea, and it will not be the last.

So far, I have compiled nearly 60 short videos (each less than 30 seconds), some pictures, and some dialogue captions for my outreach project. All that’s left to do is go home, put them in order and add animations and a voiceover. I could probably do all of that on the ship, but I’d rather wait to add the audio… it will be much quieter back home and I will have a lot more tools at my disposal.

On a side note, Chris taught us some more knots. We made paracord bracelets, which are both fashionable AND can save your life one day. Those are the best kind of wearables; maybe I can teach Tyler how to make them, so he can have one bracelet for his ankle and one for his wrist.
We did another CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) recovery today. I love seeing science come to life; all through my years studying oceanography, they give us charts of dissolved oxygen with depth, temperature with depth, salinity with depth, the list goes on and on. We are told to memorize these charts, make sure we understand why the charts do what they do… but today, I actually contributed to the science behind that chart. We collected samples from the CTD, which descended to 2,900 meters, of salinity, chlorophyll, nutrients, dissolved inorganic carbon, and dissolved oxygen. It was difficult work, we had to think of every little potential contaminate. Our fingers on the inside of the lid is a contaminate, the previous contents inside the sample bottle are contaminates, even the air itself is a contaminate. I gained a newfound respect for those charts and all the work that went in to making sure they were accurate: the precision, the repetition, the early morning wakeup calls to ensure the sun can’t contaminate the samples. Samples have to be collected swiftly but with accuracy and precision, all to ensure there is no contamination. It’s a lot of work, but it is worth it to get those samples… and it was worth the effort for me to learn… I only hope I didn’t contaminate too many precious samples!

A few days ago, we all decorated these Styrofoam cups. Then, they sent them all down in a bag under the CTD. By the time we got the bag back, all of our cups had shrank to a tiny fraction of their original size! Pressure is an amazing thing and I love that I now have a little souvenir from this trip. I’ll have to show everybody back home in a few days, they’re really cool.

August 2, 2017

We had another “naked dive” today, which means our ROV Jason went down with nothing but itself, no instruments, no tools, just the ROV on a scouting mission at Southern Hydrate Ridge. This dive was not as exciting as the first, the landscape was a little more barren with no hydrothermal vents, but it still had a beauty all its own. I was surprised to find that, even in an area devoid of vents, there was still whole areas covered in bacterial mats and life everywhere we looked! We saw some methane seeps, rockfish of all different colors and types, hagfish, starfish, all sorts of massive crabs with scrawny little legs (one of which almost got a marker dropped right on his head, good thing he was smart enough to move out of the way), flatfish and all types of mollusks. One of the many, many amazing things about life is that it will always find a way. Different ecosystems host different types of life, and every life form fills a niche within that ecosystem. The ocean never ceases to amaze me… it drives me to rethink everything I thought I knew, to keep my mind open, and to never stop discovering.

My new favorite place on the ship is right at the bow. There’s a little bench there, right at the nose, so you can sit and see the massive expanse of ocean that stretches on for miles. It’s absolutely beautiful, especially when the sun glances off the ocean spray. It looks like someone has thrown diamonds into the water. I wish Mason could be here to see it… He would love it, the wind and the ocean spray. If he were here, we would sit out on the bow together, laughing and joking, watching the water and having a competition to see who could get more soaked by the ocean spray.

Afterwards, we would probably play some extremely competitive game, or put on a movie in the theater room (and yes, they have a room on this ship dedicated to movies and entertainment) and talk and joke through the whole thing. Maybe someday.

It's hard to believe 9 days have already passed aboard the Revelle… With all the activities we do and the knowledge we obtain, it feels like we have several extra hours packed into each day. If I had to estimate, I would say the ratio is about 1:2, for every day that passes, it feels like two have passed. I’ve had so much fun out here on the open sea, and I’ve learned about as much in these nine days as I would have learned in half a quarter at school. However, I will not be entirely disappointed at the end of these last five days, when it’s time to return home. I wonder if I’ll be able to fall right back into my old routine, or if I’ll struggle to readjust.

August 1, 2017

The boat is really rocking today! We’re on another transit to another part of Axial.

The area around Axial is gorgeous!! I knew there would be vents and I knew they would be beautiful, but I did not anticipate just how incredibly stunning they would be. Axial definitely far exceeded my high expectations. There were “underwater flames” on top of a hydrothermal vent called El Guapo; it reminded me of a very tall candle. While we were there, a little bit of the chimney broke off. It was very cool to see! I learned that the chimneys are actually very fragile when they first form. From pictures, they look so sturdy, I hadn’t expected them to be so fragile.

We cruised through the caldera of Axial, and down through the lava flow from the 2011 eruption. There were the most amazing archways and pillars; it looked like an ancient civilization had built them and placed them there, and yet incredibly enough, they were formed by lava and water. They are the kind of architecture that is edgy and elegant, and more beautiful than many houses on land I have seen. We even collected some rock samples from the sea floor! You could see the sheet flows over the top and the vesicles in the rock underneath. I had to keep reminding myself that the things we were seeing on that screen were right beneath our feet, it wasn’t from some documentary and it wasn’t a movie from some fantasy realm.

We passed by a snowblower, Skadi. Most of the snowblowers have stopped “blowing snow,” which are actually bacterial bioforms. Skadi, formed after the 2011 eruption at Axial, still had a flow coming out of it! I was expecting all of the snowblowers, especially from 2011, to be long gone and everything around them to be dead… but Skadi was still going, and the surrounding area was full of life, and it was absolutely beautiful! It didn’t even look like something from under the water, it looked like something from another planet. I would highly recommend watching the highlights from the dive if you have time, because it was absolutely incredible. I am so fortunate to be given this opportunity to see scientific work at its finest, in exploration in machinery and in the lab. It is an experience I would trade for very little in this world.

I can’t wait to see everyone back home and show them what I’ve found and to share my knowledge. While I am counting down the days until I get to see you again… I am also counting the days until I get to come back out on the open sea on another incredible journey.

July 31, 2017

For some odd reason, there is a direct correlation between my phone battery and Pokemon Go. Since there is no data connection all the way out here, I can’t play Pokemon Go. My phone never dies, I have to charge it once every couple of days and I don’t even fully charge it. Usually it gets to right around 63% and then it lasts at least three days before needing another charge. It’s great.

I am sure Tyler will be ecstatic to know that I have been trying lots of new foods aboard the Revelle, my favorite being stuffed bell pepper. It had mushrooms, spaghetti sauce, cheese, and a crumbled-up veggie burger. Here’s the part where Tyler will get really excited: I am willing to try veggie burgers when I get back home, if only in small amounts at first. My one condition is that we must make a stuffed bell pepper soon after I get back; it’s delicious! To my amazing boyfriend, I love you very, very much and I miss you dearly. It gets even worse when Corey decides to go through his “teenage girl” playlist which has lots of romance songs in it.

Our trip to the Caldera of Axial and in turn, our dive through the hydrothermal vent field has been very stalled; there was about a three hour delay on the dive last night, which forced us to push our exciting dive today into the afternoon. It should be taking place any minute now and it’s going to be awesome! People back home should absolutely look through the footage of the dive, it will be worth it I’m sure.

Today I learned how to tie EVEN MORE knots; one of the engineers who sits next to me is always showing his crew mates how to do new knots, so I jump in when I can. I am now convinced there is a knot for every situation, there’s even a doily-looking knot used to nail to staircases so people don’t slip, and another to wrap around metal bars to make a grip (it can also be used to make an awesome bracelet!). If I have the time, I’ll make some for people back home, as souvenirs.

July 30, 2017

This is quite literally a last minute blog for today. The scientists and engineers like to keep us waiting, we finally got to Axial and did only shallow dives. Finally, halfway through my shift, we began descending to the seafloor at Axial Base, some 2,600 meters down. Unfortunately, my shift is now over and we still are not at the bottom. I’ll have to stay up awhile to see it.

Tomorrow morning is going to be a very exciting dive! After breakfast, we finally get to see a hydrothermal vent field! The van, which is a high-tech room used to monitor and control Jason while it is in the water, is going to be immensely crowded… Looks like I’ll be eating a quick breakfast to get the best spot.

The trip to Axial was fairly bouncy… I feel bad for the students and crew who are easily sea sick or have succumbed to seasickness. For those of us who do not get as nauseous, I have found it is very, very fun to stand out on the front of the ship and jump really high right as the ship is at the top of a wave. It makes you feel weightless, like you’re jumping around on the moon. Of course, if you time it wrong, you’re going to have the opposite effect and it will feel like you weigh a million pounds.

Mom would be happy to hear I technically won our game of monopoly… I’m sure knowing her daughter is good at manipulating, haggling, and dealmaking in a capitalist world would make her very proud. The reason I say “technically” is because we ended up just counting our total net worth because we didn’t want to make the game any longer than it already was.

My outreach project is coming along nicely; I was taught lots of amazing new knots today, including a trucker’s hitch and my new favorite, a whipping knot. I made sure to film all the knots I’ve learned so I can make a section about knot making on my outreach video. As for my science project, it sounds like we will be able to go to the caldera of Axial! I am so excited!! Also, it sounds like I will be able to use measurements taken from a scientific instrument called an ACDP, which uses the doppler effect to gauge currents in the area, to compare with the model made for Axial.

The days are passing me by so quickly… I have learned much and laughed lots aboard the Revelle, and there are still several more days to fill with memories and knowledge!

July 29, 2017

We’re off, to Axial! I can’t wait to get there, our ETA is 0300, so 3:00 in the morning. First dive takes place at 0700, I’ll be up bright and early to see the first dive. If all goes according to plan, I will be comparing actual data around Axial to a recent model of currents around Axial. We are still searching for the scientific paper on this model, it was released within the last 6 months, so very recently. I have Deb to thank for helping me with the idea, it was fun talking with her about Axial’s snow blowers and surrounding geology; I greatly appreciated the opportunity to talk with someone who is very knowledgeable about the field and the region…  Until we reach Axial, however, today is going to be nothing more than discussion.

I finally decided to break the seal on the grape soda Papa gave me for my trip; I shared it with a few new friends and some other crew members. It’s surprisingly good considering it’s grape flavored. When poured, it fluffs up with pink-purple bubbles and looks awfully fancy. The taste is sweet but still with a little tartness from the grape, and it does not taste like grape medicine! I had a glass at lunch while looking through the history books in the library. Papa would probably love to look through some of them, I’m sure he has a great historical story for every book there.

Other than that, there is really not much going on today… I’ll be studying up on Axial and talking with friends while I wait the last 11 hours… Maybe a good game of Monopoly would speed things up. Here’s to a tomorrow filled with science and discovery!

July 28, 2017

It has reached that time of the cruise where the acclimating is over and the real project work is beginning. For an outreach project, I am doing a video composed of several short videos about getting ready for a moving boat, such as tying everything down and all the work that goes into it as well as some other observations I’ve had around the ship. I’m still trying to figure out what to do exactly for a scientific project. I want to contribute to science, do something really cool, but so far I haven’t come up with anything stellar. I’m planning on doing something around Axial Seamount, it’s a real point of interest… I used to look for it on a globe, think about what it looked like beneath the surface… Well, Axial Seamount and the Mathematician’s Seamount, which just has an odd name. I like to think the early oceanographers found so many seamounts when they first dove that they ran out of names and had to start naming them after college majors. At least the Mathematician’s Seamount isn’t called “Grizzly Bare” Seamount or “Baby Bare” Seamount… there are less fortunate seamounts than the Mathematician’s Seamount.

Grandma would be very happy to know they serve lots of fruits and vegetables on the ship… I have watermelon or grapes with breakfast, some other fruits for lunch along with a good portion of salad, and a smaller portion of salad with dinner. They even have hot chocolate on the ship and snacks like popcorn and ice cream. Who knew one ship could carry so many of my favorite food oddities?

We did some work with a CTD today, collecting samples and pouring water all over the deck. I’m thanking my past self for ensuring the hiking boots I got were waterproof… As Mom always told me, “Having wet socks is absolutely miserable!” Instead I got wet pant leggings. At least my socks are dry.

It’s really hard to believe this is my third day on the boat… The flow of time out on the water is hard to notice, one day passes smoothly into the next, and with scheduled mealtimes, there is not much variation. Thankfully I’m on a science vessel, if not for the scientific work varying from day to day there would be next to nothing to note on a day to day basis.

I’ll be working on doing research for my scientific project next… after all, it’s only a 19 hour transit from our current location out to Axial.

On a side note, I finally figured out how to add pictures to my blog folder, so I added the pictures of the sea critters I got to play with yesterday. Hopefully they all made it to the bottom of the ocean with only a little bit of nibbling.

July 27

2209: So far so good! I am currently on duty logging events that happen regarding the Jason dives. The food is excellent, the ship’s rocking feels very comfortable after several hours of constant rocking, and after only one day I’ve already learned so much! For example, it turns out those annoying raised doorways actually have a purpose OTHER than tripping anyone and everyone that walks through them. Apparently, they are meant to reduce water flooding from room to room. We had an abandon ship drill that required us to carry humongous heavy bags and a bulky lifejacket down two flights of stairs and then up another three. The feeling of nearly tripping every three steps was awesome. In between hours, we have been playing games like Dutch Blitz, which is a maddening combination of the games Speed, Uno, and Slap Jack. I think I may have broken someone’s finger trying to get my card down and made a few new enemies in the meantime. I’m shocked by how many luxuries there are, one of these being internet access, and another being an on ship theater room, a huge library with every kind of book and a case dedicated to movies.

The crew is very, very nice. We were playing Uno and a crew member asked to join. He had a good sense of humor and was very good natured when we teamed up on him. One of my favorite parts about this cruise is that I can openly walk up and talk to anybody, no matter how grumpy they seem, and they respond in a friendly manner. When we pulled Jason up the first time, there were some brittle stars and sea urchins stuck to it. I took a few pictures with them, their feet tickled my fingers. It’s been so much fun, I’m only sorry I only have about 8 or 9 more days to soak everything in. If Tyler is reading this, I hope he knows I love him very much and I already miss him. Hopefully the house work is going good and not too strenuous…

And now it’s about time to go back to the Jason van… only two more hours of logging, then time for bed.