July 7, 2019
Ah, transit days. If yesterday was a feast of work, this is the famine that follows. In this case, though, that may not be true. I was able to stay busy for most of my waking hours, although, since I stayed up until 4:30 in the morning doing CTD sampling with Julie and Katie, the time I spent asleep wasn’t an insignificant part of the day.
Transiting always feels like a relief that allows you to get some rest, but at the same time I often feel restless when there is nothing to do. Having gotten used to so much happening at once on the ship, it feels somewhat foreign to see the library filled with people playing games and reading books.
Transiting is a great opportunity to talk to people and learn from them, though. I was excited to be able to share my thoughts about Sealog, the system we use to log all JASON ops, with its creator, Webb Pinner and my fellow student Katie. We both know the system pretty well from using it over the past two years and were glad when Webb asked us for input on how to improve it and how to customize it for Cabled Array cruises in the future.
After dinner, we were also able to get a fantastic presentation from Mike Vardaro about deep sea biology. I learned a lot more than I was excepting to! In his presentation, Mike started with the history of studying the deep sea- which, I learned, covers 60% of the earths surface!- and worked his way around to improvements to continue studying the deep sea. It is fascinating to me how little we have been studying the oceans given how many thousands of years it has been important to humans. Mike also talked about his own research over the years, which was really exciting. I have noticed that most people talk about the research they do or help with very casually, but this is underselling the importance and excitement of it.
July 6, 2019
To quote Julie, the work on the ship is either, “feast or famine” in terms of how much we need to get done at any given time. It seems like twithoday it felt like we were feasting on the amount of work that had to be done. I bounced around from various jobs all day, and it was rather exciting, albeit exhausting. I was able to help Mitch with processing samples from the PPS and help Orest with sampling from the RAS. Having previously known next to nothing about these systems, it was a great opportunity to ask questions and learn how they actually work.
I keep saying this, but it is really amazing and I feel like I need to emphasize how open and willing everyone on the ship is to answering questions. Being on a ship like this quickly forces you to form a community with the others on the ship. Because we eat together, work together, and even live together while we are out here, the sense of connection we have and the bonds we form with each other are like no other. Because of this, I was able to ask a lot about each system I was helping Orest and Mitch with and was able to learn more about them than I even hoped to.
After finishing up with that, I ran off to my shift in the control van where I got to see the secrets of the deep sea revealed before me.
July 3, 2019
When I was a kid, I went through a period where I was obsessed with fairy tales, the old kind meant to scare kids into behaving that often didn’t have a happy ending. The images that these stories painted in my mind my were so wild and vivid and colorful, I thought that nothing in real life would be able to compare to them.
As it turns out, I was wrong. Looking at a hydrothermal vent with the mass of life that surrounds it- from bacterial mats of blinding white, soft looking protists in lavender, bright red tube worms, and an orange sponge-like creature (I think it’s bacteria) that bounces around through the water when you stir it up- feels like reading a fairy tale. In their haunting beauty, they look like towers where a princess would be locked up or a dragon would store its gold.
This is all to say that we have made it to Axial Caldera and are looking at hydrothermal vents again and I am very happy about it. I feel like I could spend days in the control van looking up as this bizarre environment unfolds before the eyes of JASON to see what else the ocean could be hiding from me.
July 2, 2019
Waking up during transit is always a strange experience. For one thing, being on the ocean makes you lose sense of what ‘place’ really means- no matter where you are, you are surrounded by swirling, sapphire blue that feels like it could swallow you at any second. This blue inkiness could be a slightly different color or have different swirl patterns, but to the untrained eye, it looks the same. What is under the water is what changes dramatically, but of course you can’t see that without going far, far below the surface. This culminates to trick your mind into thinking that ‘place’, at least when it comes to the ocean, isn’t real.
For another thing, being in transit shakes the entire ship. Hinges creak, anything not tied down rolls around, and curtains swing. When awake, you can immediately feel when we are moving versus when we are staying in place thanks to the ships stellar dynamic positioning system. Waking up in the middle of this, however, is alarming when you are still half-asleep and trying to figure why everything is moving and there is a slap of the waves like the banging of a metal gong against the sides of the ship. You quickly figure out that the ship is in transit, but to where?
The next step is figuring out where we are heading. If, like what happened to me last night and it is 3:30 in the morning and hardly anyone is up, it might be a challenge to find someone to ask. Luckily, it is nearly a guarantee that someone is up at these odd hours between night and morning.
When I finally found someone to ask, she told me that we had just begun our 17-hour transit to Axial. I was excited to go to Axial and once again see its famous hydrothermal vents, but I was also excited to go back to bed instead of having a 4am shift that I did not feel prepared for. After the bizarre experience of waking up during transit, I went back to bed only to repeat the cycle in a few more hours.
July 1, 2019
This morning we set sail for the last leg of this years Cabled Array cruise. I am a little sad that this is our last VISIONS adventure for the year. We left at about 7:30 in the morning because this was the best time according to the tides. When we are coming out of the jetty, we have a pilot on board to help us navigate the difficult passage. The pilot doesn’t sail with us though, so once we reach the open ocean, they must jump into a Coast Guard tugboat and return to shore!
I missed the first time that it happened, so I was determined to catch it this time. The Atlantis sailed in a donut to smooth the waves for the tugboat to sail right along side the back deck. A ladder was thrown overboard and the pilot darted from ship to boat. It was amazing how easy they made it look! I’m certain the pilot must have had a lot of experience doing that by how deftly they moved from one vessel to another. After that, the tugboat headed back to shore and we headed farther out to sea.
Katie G. and I gave a few people a tutorial of what goes on in the JASON control van so that they will be able to help log in the future. Following that, we had a fire drill and general safety meeting. I was feeling a little seasick at this time, though, so I was glad that I had tried on my gumby suit last leg and didn’t have to worry about trying it on and trying not to hurl at the same time. I decided to lay down in the hopes of feeling better.
By the time that I got up again, we were on station at Endurance Array Offshore and I was feeling much better. I was feeling so good, in fact, that I went into my shift early (to be fair, that was actually an accident). We were recovering a deep profiler and cleaning the cable for it.
The deep profilers have always been really interesting to me. They sit on a huge cable that stretches nearly from the sea floor to a float that sits at 220 meters and holds the cable up. A profiler or crawler then moves up and down on this cable that allow us to get detailed data from the water column. It’s a relatively simple idea, but the deep profilers themselves are in no way simple. Instead, they are an incredible feat of engineering that I can’t totally understand. Regardless of how well I understand the mechanisms that drive them, they are truly amazing instruments that give us data like we have never seen before.
June 28, 2019
Waking up this morning, I was shocked to realize that it was the last day of this leg. I say it every year, but I think it needs to be said- time works differently on a ship. Because my nights were bisected by my 1-6:30am shift, everyday felt like two extremely short days followed by a brief nap instead of one normal length one. During my last shift for this leg, Joshua- a fellow student scientist and my watch partner throughout this leg- we got a chance to talk to Katie B. about general life advice and about school before she moves to New Zealand for grad school. While I am extremely happy for her, I am also a little sad that I will no longer be able to work with her.
After lunch, I was lucky to get to go on a tour of Alvin led by Drew Bewley who I have actually known since I was able to go on my first VISIONS cruise. I know him from working with JASON, but I had no idea he was a pilot in training for Alvin! He was very knowledgeable about the submersible and gave an extremely thorough tour both inside and out of the submersible.
When I was a junior in high school, I competed in a fantastic competition called Ocean Bowl where students formed teams with others from their school and competed by answering questions about oceanography. Through that, I learned about Alvin for the first time and was entranced. The submersible was the first deep sea submarine and has been used since 1964! It is extremely complex, and I cannot say I understood most of what Drew said when he talked about the engineering of the sub, but this does not take away from my amazement at such a novelty.
I was even able to go inside and, when I was finally seated in the cramped metal sphere that makes up the cabin of Alvin with my knees pulled up to my chest, my high school self was excitedly screaming. Coming onto the Atlantis, I was content just to see Alvin in the hangar, but I had no idea I would be able to get a tour! Definitely a great way to end Leg 3. I am excited to see what Leg 4 has in store for us, but admittedly sad that many of the people I have gotten close to on this leg will be leaving.
June 27, 2019
I woke up this morning to an amazing shift in the control van. We were doing a survey of the instruments at Einstein’s Grotto which allows up to take photos and videos of all the instruments to use for reference, in videos about the instruments, and for the site summary book, which is essentially a yearbook we make every year of each instrument currently deployed. We then moved south and tried to find methane bubble plumes, but unfortunately we were not able to find any.
However, just being able to really take in the deep-sea environment of Southern Hydrate Ridge, or SHR as it is abbreviated, was incredible. SHR is very rocky terrain covered in huge white bacterial mats with amazing creatures that live in this bizarre ecosystem. This ecosystem is supported by the chemicals slipping from cracks in the sea floor. Chemosynthetic bacteria are able to use this as food, allowing a whole ecosystem to spring up around them. Before coming onto the cruise for the first time, I had no idea that autotrophs could utilize anything besides light for food and learning this was a huge shock to me, as it seems to be for most people.
Learning this and being able to see such a community is completely different, though. The diversity of life for such an extreme environment is shocking and much of it cannot be seen with the naked eye or, I should say, on camera. Putting so much emphasis on documenting such a site makes much more sense when you see the beauty of it. Each year, I am blown away yet again as I get to see such an ecosystem live through the eyes of JASON. While I cannot actually go and visit the inhabitants of Southern Hydrate Ridge, being in the JASON control van while we are there makes me feel like that’s exactly what I am doing.
June 26, 2019
It’s interesting to have a blog. I normally journal about every other day, or at least I try to, though admittedly I am still using the journal I started in 2017. I have found that while I am on the cruise I have been replacing my journaling with blogging instead. I read all of the other student blogs and it is a really nice way to see how other students are experiencing the cruise as well. We all have very different take-aways from the cruise, even though we are all experiencing mostly the same things, which I find really interesting.
While I love reading through them all, I think that my favorite student blogs to read are those by students studying something other than oceanography, and this is for two main reasons. I am also not studying oceanography, so it is nice to have some solidarity in a sea of oceanographers. Additionally, this is my third year on the VISIONS cruises, so I understand most of what is going on. However, the people that understand probably the least are student scientists without an oceanography background. It is really refreshing to listen to them talk about how much they are learning and connect that to the feeling of when I first stepped foot on the ship having absolutely no idea what was going on or what to expect.
Despite having spent by now a decent amount of time on VISIONS cruises, I am amazed by how much I continue to learn every day. No one here knows everything that is going on, so we are always learning from each other. I think there is simply too much that happens on operations like this for one person to know everything about them, even those that have been doing this for years.
June 25, 2019
Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the happenings of the ship that I forget that I am actually on a ship. I am in the middle of the North East Pacific in the start of summer. So far on Leg 3, the weather has been perfect and the waves are some of the calmest I have ever seen. Not many get to experience this and even less get a chance to study in such an environment. It is very exciting, but sometimes I forget to pay attention to the beauty of the ocean when I am too busy paying attention to the equally exciting research on the ship.
When I had some free time before lunch, I made sure to take some time outside and really take in the ocean as much as possible. It was extremely refreshing. The open ocean is vastly different from the shore. The signature “smell of the ocean” disappears once you move past shallower waters, the water becomes a more intense blue that seems like the color of melted Jolly Ranchers, sounds of everything except for the ship and the lapping of waves fade away as do most of the life we have become comfortable with as part of our environment. No more trees, or grass, or bushes; no more insects to pester you; no more birds except for the huge sea birds you occasionally see riding the waves.
The open ocean is huge and completely foreign. I don’t think I would get used to it no matter how much time I spent on a ship. It is cold and at times very intimidating, but it is also dramatic and exciting. It demands your attention and I think I should listen to that more while I have the chance to.
June 24, 2019
Being on the ship somehow doesn’t feel real. I am experiencing something that none of my family members and most of my friends are completely unable to connect with or relate to. How can I look around and see nothing but water and an occasional floating object or other ship when my whole life is on land? It is certainly a feeling I have yet to get used to. It’s also something that is impossible to explain to those that aren’t able to experience it for themselves.
I couldn’t sleep very well last night, so early in the morning I helped Katie B. build an osmotic fluid sampler before going to the control van to log for my shift. I have been working with the osmo pumps for a few months before the cruise and understood the pumps but had never been clear on how they were put together to create a full system. Katie explained each step and made sure that I understood what was going on, which was extremely helpful because I have never done anything close to this before. While I wasn’t able to be there for the final connections because I had to go to my shift in the control van, I now have a much better idea of how the system works as a whole.
One of the beauties of being on a research vessel is that you never stop learning about everything that is going on. Each task is an opportunity to learn something new. Julie taught me how to do oxygen titrations and, in the process, I learned a lot more about chemistry than I knew before. Everyone here has a talent or skill that they are passionate about doing and they are all eager to teach you. Just asking one question can answer so many other things you didn’t even realize you had questions about. It is a very exciting environment and one that leads to growth and a better understanding of our world.
June 23, 2019
I heard someone at lunch today say, “The first day has gone really well” and that startled me. Having been on VISIONS cruises for the past 2 years, I had easily fallen into the familiarity and routine of the ship. It feels like so much more time than nearly exactly 24 hours has passed since we set sail yesterday.
My shift in the control van is at 1am, so I have had to take strategic naps throughout the day in order to make sure I am getting enough sleep. I think this contributes to the feeling of the cruise feeling like it has been longer than it has actually been.
On the flip side of the coin, I will not be on this cruise nearly as long as I was on the others and this worries me. The VISIONS cruises have become a big part of my summer that I always look forward to. I am so grateful that I am able to experience ship life and behind-the-scenes gathering of research year after year. It has definitely inspired and encouraged me to pursue more than I originally thought would be possible for myself.
I never used to consider science or engineering as a real career possibility for me. They seemed totally out of reach to me growing up, not something that a “real person” would ever do. But thanks to such incredible outreach that allows students with absolutely no qualifications or experience whatsoever get hands on experience doing real field work, I now not only consider science as a career, but consider myself a scientist-in-training right now.