Hannah Gunderman Blog Leg 1

August 13:

An albatross flying over the bow. Credit: Hannah Gundermann, University of Washington; V22.

Its 3:00 am right now, and the ship is wide awake. Operating in 24-hour conditions has certainly been a whole new experience, and it is amazing how buzzing with energy the folks are even at the oddest hours. To be fair – I am not sure if it’s the excitement or the copious amounts of strong coffee, but regardless there is always something interesting happening on board.

Yesterday, I got to participate in CTD sampling for the first time. Not only, did it reveal the level of fluid and casual team work onboard, but the coordination of the numerous moving parts to operate advanced technology simultaneously.

Learning how to fire niskins for CTD sampling of ocean water. Credit: Hannah Gunderman, University of Washington, V22.

Right now, I am helping sample deep sea biologics. By that, I mean worms. Worms of all funky shapes and sizes. The little guys are fascinating, and it is hard to wrap my brain around their ability to survive in such harsh conditions.

The deep-sea critters are being collected for sequencing to better understand how they fit in these deep and dark environments, and how their disruption might have larger environmental impacts. They may be tiny, but they certainly are mighty. It’s not hard to believe that they may play vital roles within their ecosystems.

However, I for now am just trying to take all this new information in and absorb as much of the once-in-a-lifetime experiences as possible. That, and I’m washing my hands constantly as I get them dirty with all this incredible work.

This water column profiler and platform at 200 m water depth is covered in feathered stars, protists, sea urchins, and more. Credit. Hannah Gunderman, University of Washington, V22.

August 11:

Out here on the R\V Thompson, life finds away. While we’re getting our sea legs, adjusting to odd sleep schedules, and finding means of unplugged entertainment; there is abundant life making homes out of the deep-sea instruments maintained by the ROPOS. It is amazing how sometimes only 1 year or several months later, these instruments are teeming with organisms. They cling to them like an anchor preventing them from drifting endlessly into the watery blackness.

It makes me think of the hundreds of shipwrecks at the bottom of seas becoming entire habitats for deep-sea creatures. It also makes me wonder about how human influence affects these creatures that will most likely never get face-to-face with a human. How substantially has pollution affected deep-sea critters? How is climate change impacting the life down there? What sorts of things are continuously sinking in the ocean, and how are they changing ecosystem architecture?

These are some of the questions answered with data during these explorative missions. Furthermore, the R\V Thompson recognizes our roles as surveyors and investigators, respecting the home that is the ocean, and does its best to preserve and protect the life as they collect data.

A crab defends its new “home” from the ROPOS.Credit: Hannah Gunderman, University of Washington, V22

August 10: The creativity I use in the on-ship gym to stay active is nothing compared to the creativity of the culinary geniuses onboard R\V Thompson. There’s much to be done on ship and the shifts can be tiring, but the meals created for the crew and science team fuel us to do our best work. They are tangibly filled with love and dedication, reminding everyone on board that you can achieve amazing work with the right attitude and team even with limited resources.

I wake up every day excited for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and that much more excited to work in the ROPOS control room. I’m witness to many angles of deep-sea instruments that few will ever get to lay eyes on as well as the technicians working on precise and delicate maneuvers. It’s inspiring to share in their successes as we work to support their efforts.

Watching the R/V Thompson depart to begin Leg 1 of the VISIONS’22 expedition. H. Gunderman, University of Washington, V22.

August 8: As I try to gather my sea legs for the first time, I am stuck by the power and vastness of the ocean. Today, both senior and newcomer scientists onboard the R\V Thompson stood at the bow, watching the dock and city of Newport fade away behind us. It was exhilarating as the wind whipped our faces, and the abundant life drifted past. Moon jellies and sea birds floated side by side, seeing the ship off on its voyage. We watched them glide away from the ship while using the rolling motion of the ship to jump higher than gravity would seem to normally allow.

I had so much fun photographing the journey underway as I don’t want to miss a moment. I’m so excited to start working with the wonderful scientists and engineers aboard. Standing at the bow and gazing outside the windows only inspires me to think deeply about how to best spend my time where many will never get the chance to go.